Quarter Wit, Quarter Wisdom: Grammatical Structure of Conditional Sentences on the GMAT

Quarter Wit, Quarter WisdomToday, we will take a look at the various “if/then” constructions in the GMAT Verbal section. Let us start out with some basic ideas on conditional sentences (though I know that most of you will be comfortable with these):

A conditional sentence (an if/then sentence) has two clauses – the “if clause” (conditional clause) and the “then clause” (main clause).  The “if clause” is the dependent clause, meaning the verbs we use in the clauses will depend on whether we are talking about a real or a hypothetical situation.

Often, conditional sentences are classified into first conditional, second conditional and third conditional (depending on the tense and possibility of the actions), but sometimes we have a separate zero conditional for facts. We will follow this classification and discuss four types of conditionals:

1) Zero Conditional

These sentences express facts; i.e. implications – “if this happens, then that happens.”

  • If the suns shines, the clothes dry quickly.
  • If he eats bananas, he gets a headache.
  • If it rains heavily, the temperature drops.

These conditionals establish universally known facts or something that happens habitually (every time he eats bananas, he gets a headache).

2) First Conditional

These sentences refer to predictive conditional sentences. They often use the present tense in the “if clause” and future tense (usually with the word “will”) in the main clause.

  • If you come to  my place, I will help you with your homework.
  • If I am able to save $10,000 by year end, I will go to France next year.

3) Second Conditional

These sentences refer to hypothetical or unlikely situations in the present or future. Here, the “if clause” often uses the past tense and the main clause uses conditional mood (usually with the word “would”).

  • If I were you, I would take her to the dance.
  • If I knew her phone number, I would tell you.
  • If I won the lottery, I would travel the whole world.

4) Third Conditional

These sentences refer to hypothetical situations in the past – what could have been different in the past. Here, the “if clause” uses the past perfect tense and the main clause uses the conditional perfect tense (often with the words “would have”).

  • If you had told me about the party, I would have attended it.
  • If I had not lied to my mother, I would not have hurt her.

Sometimes, mixed conditionals are used here, where the second and third conditionals are combined. The “if clause” then uses the past perfect and the main clause uses  the word “would”.

  • If you had helped me then, I would be in a much better spot today.

Now that you know which conditionals to use in which situation, let’s take a look at a GMAT question:

Botanists have proven that if plants extended laterally beyond the scope of their root system, they will grow slower than do those that are more vertically contained.

(A) extended laterally beyond the scope of their root system, they will grow slower than do

(B) extended laterally beyond the scope of their root system, they will grow slower than

(C) extend laterally beyond the scope of their root system, they grow more slowly than

(D) extend laterally beyond the scope of their root system, they would have grown more slowly than do

(E) extend laterally beyond the scope of their root system, they will grow more slowly than do

Now that we understand our conditionals, we should be able to answer this question quickly. Scientists have established something here; i.e. it is a fact. So we will use the zero conditional here – if this happens, then that happens.

…if plants extend laterally beyond the scope of their root system, they grow more slowly than do…

So the correct answer must be (C).

A note on slower vs. more slowly – we need to use an adverb here because “slow” describes “grow,” which is a verb. So we must use “grow slowly”. If we want to show comparison, we use “more slowly”, so the use of “slower” is incorrect here.

Let’s look at another question now:

If Dr. Wade was right, any apparent connection of the eating of highly processed foods and excelling at sports is purely coincidental.

(A) If Dr. Wade was right, any apparent connection of the eating of

(B) Should Dr. Wade be right, any apparent connection of eating

(C) If Dr. Wade is right, any connection that is apparent between eating of

(D) If Dr. Wade is right, any apparent connection between eating

(E) Should Dr. Wade have been right, any connection apparent between eating

Notice the non-underlined part “… is purely coincidental” in the main clause. This makes us think of the zero conditional.

Let’s see if it makes sense:

If Dr. Wade is right, any connection … is purely coincidental.

This is correct. It talks about a fact.

Also, “eating highly processed foods and excelling at sports” is correct.

Hence, our answer must be (D).

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to follow us on FacebookYouTube, Google+, and Twitter!

Karishma, a Computer Engineer with a keen interest in alternative Mathematical approaches, has mentored students in the continents of Asia, Europe and North America. She teaches the GMAT for Veritas Prep and regularly participates in content development projects such as this blog!

GMAT Tip of the Week: Listen to Yoda on Sentence Correction You Must

GMAT Tip of the WeekSpeak like Yoda this weekend, your friends will. As today marks the release of the newest Star Wars movie, Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, young professionals around the world are lining up dressed as their favorite robot, wookie, or Jedi knight, and greeting each other in Yoda’s famous inverted sentence structure. And for those who hope to awaken the force within themselves to conquer the evil empire that is the GMAT, Yoda can be your GMAT Jedi Master, too.

Learn from Yoda’s speech pattern, you must.

What can Yoda teach you about mastering GMAT Sentence Correction? Beware of inverted sentences, you should. Consider this example, which appeared on the official GMAT:

Out of America’s fascination with all things antique have grown a market for bygone styles of furniture and fixtures that are bringing back the chaise lounge, the overstuffed sofa, and the claw-footed bathtub.

(A) things antique have grown a market for bygone styles of furniture and fixtures that are bringing
(B) things antique has grown a market for bygone styles of furniture and fixtures that is bringing
(C) things that are antiques has grown a market for bygone styles of furniture and fixtures that bring
(D) antique things have grown a market for bygone styles of furniture and fixtures that are bringing
(E) antique things has grown a market for bygone styles of furniture and fixtures that bring

What makes this problem difficult is the inversion of the subject and verb. Much like Yoda’s habit of putting the subject after the predicate, this sentence flips the subject (“a market”) and the verb (“has grown”). And in doing so, the sentence gets people off track – many will see “America’s fascination” as the subject (and luckily so, since it’s still singular) or “all things antique” as the subject. But consider:

  • Antique things can’t grow. They’re old, inanimate objects (like those Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader action figures that your mom threw away that would now be worth a lot of money).
  • America’s fascination is the reason for whatever is growing. “Out of America’s fascination, America’s fascination is growing” doesn’t make any sense – the cause can’t be its own effect.

So, logically, “a market” has to be the subject. But in classic GMAT style, the testmakers hide the correct answer (B) behind a strange sentence structure. Two, really – people also tend to dislike “all things antique” (preferring “all antique things” instead), but again, that’s an allowable inversion in which the adjective goes after the noun.

Here is the takeaway: the GMAT will employ lots of strange sentence structures, including subject-verb inversion, a la Yoda (but only when it’s grammatically warranted), so you will often need to rely on “The Force” of logic to sift through complicated sentences. Here, that means thinking through logically what the subject of the sentence should be, and also removing modifiers like “out of America’s fascination…” to give yourself a more concise sentence on which to employ that logical thinking (the fascination is causing a market to develop, and that market is bringing back these old types of furniture).

Don’t let the GMAT Jedi mind-trick you out of the score you deserve. See complicated sentence structures, you will, so employ the force of logic, you must.

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to follow us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter!

By Brian Galvin.

GMAT Tip of the Week: What Test-Takers Should Be Thankful For

GMAT Tip of the WeekIf you’re spending this Thanksgiving weekend studying for the GMAT in hopes of a monster score for your Round 2 applications, there’s a good chance you’re feeling anything but grateful. At the very least, that practice test kept you inside and away from the hectic horror that has become Black Friday, but it’s understandable that when you spend the weekend thinking more about pronouns than Pilgrims and modifiers than Mayflowers, your introduction to the holiday season has you saying “bah, humbug.”

As you study, though, keep the spirit of Thanksgiving close to your heart. Those who made the first pilgrimage to New England didn’t have it easy, either – Thanksgiving is about being grateful for the small blessings that allowed them to survive in the land of HBS, Yale, Sloan, and Tuck. And the GMAT gives you plenty to be thankful for as you attempt to replicate their journey to the heart of elite academia. This Thanksgiving, GMAT test-takers should be thankful for:

1) Answer Choices

While it’s normal to dislike standardized, multiple-choice tests, those multiple choices are often the key to solving problems efficiently and correctly. They let you know whether you can get away with an estimate, allow you to backsolve or pick numbers to test the choices, and offer you insight into how you should attack the problem (that square root of 3 probably came from a 30-60-90 triangle if you can find it). On the Verbal Section, they allow you to use process of elimination, and particularly on Sentence Correction, to see what the true Decision Points are. A test without answer choices would mean that you’d have to do every problem the long way, but those who know to be thankful for answer choices will often find a competitive advantage.

2) Right Triangles

Right triangles are everywhere on GMAT geometry problems, and learning to use them to your advantage gives you a huge (turkey?) leg up on the competition. Right triangles:

  • Provide you with side ratios, or at least the Pythagorean Theorem
  • Make the base-height combination for the area of a triangle easy (just use the two sides adjacent to the right angle as your base and height)
  • Allow you to use the Pythagorean Theorem to solve for the distance between any two points in the coordinate plane
  • Let you make the greatest difference between any two points in a square, rectangle, cylinder, or box the hypotenuse of a right triangle
  • Help you divide strange shapes into easy-to-solve triangles

Much of GMAT geometry comes down to finding and leveraging right triangles, so thankful that you have that opportunity.

3) Verbs

When there are too many differences between Sentence Correction answer choices, it can be difficult to determine which decision points are most important. One key: look for verbs. When answer choices have different forms of the same verb – whether different tenses or singular-vs.-plural – that’s nearly always a primary decision point and a decision that you can make well using logic. Does the timeline make sense or not? Is the subject singular or plural? Often the savviest test-takers are the ones who save the difficult decisions for last and look for verbs first. Whenever you see different versions of the same verb in the answer choices, be thankful – your job just got easier.

4) “The Other Statement”

Data Sufficiency is a challenging question type, and one that seems to always feature a very compelling trap answer. Very often that trap answer is tempting because:

A statement that didn’t look to be sufficient actually is sufficient.

A statement that looked sufficient actually isn’t.

And that, “Is this tricky statement sufficient or not?” decision is an incredibly difficult one in a vacuum, but the GMAT (thankfully!) gives you a clue: the other statement. When one statement is obvious, its role is often to serve as a clue (“you’d better consider whether you need to know this or not when you look at the other statement”) or a trap (“you actually don’t need this, but when we tempt you with it you’ll think you do”). In either case, the obvious statement is telling you what you need to consider – why would that piece of information matter, or not? So be thankful that Data Sufficiency doesn’t require you to confirm your decision on each statement alone before you get to look at them together; taking the hint from one statement is often the best way to effectively assess the other.

5) Extra Words in Critical Reasoning Conclusions

If you spend any of this holiday weekend watching football, watch what happens when the offense employs the “man in motion” play (having one of the wide receivers run from one side of the offense to the other). Either the defensive player opposite him follows (suggesting man coverage) or he doesn’t (suggesting zone). With the “man in motion”, the offense is probing the defense to see, “What kind of defense are you playing?”. On GMAT Critical Reasoning, extra words in the conclusion serve an almost identical purpose – if you’re looking carefully, you’ll see exactly what’s important to the problem:

Country X therefore has to increase jobs in oil refinement in order to avoid a surge in unemployment. (Why does it have to be refinement? The traps will be about other jobs related to oil but not specifically refinement.)

Therefore, Company Y needs to cut its marketing expenses. (Why marketing and not other kinds of expenses?)

The population of black earthworms is now almost equal to that of the red-brown earthworm, a result, say local ecologists, solely stemming from the blackening of the woods. (Solely? You can weaken this conclusion by finding just one alternate reason)

For much of the Verbal Section, the more words you have to read, the more difficult your job is to process them all. But on Critical Reasoning, be thankful when you see extra words in the conclusion – those words tell you exactly what game the author is playing.

6) The CAT Algorithm

For many test-takers, the computer-adaptive scoring algorithm is something to be angry or frustrated about, and certainly not something to be thankful for. But if you look from the right angle (and you know we’re already thankful for right angles…) there’s plenty to be happy about, including:

  • You’re allowed to miss questions and make mistakes. The CAT system ensures that everyone sees a challenging test, so everyone will make mistakes. You don’t have to be perfect (and probably shouldn’t try).
  • You get your scores immediately. Talk to your friends taking the LSAT and see how they feel about turning in their answer sheet and then…waiting. In an instant gratification society, the GMAT gives you that instant feedback you crave. Do well and celebrate; do worse than you thought and immediately start game-planning the next round while it’s fresh in your mind.
  • It favors the prepared. You’re reading a GMAT blog during your spare time… you’ll be among those who prepare! The pacing is tricky since you can’t return to problems later, but remember that everyone takes the same test. If you’ve prepared and have a good sense of how to pace yourself, you’ll do better than those who are surprised by the setup and don’t plan accordingly. An overall disadvantage can still be a terrific competitive advantage, so as you’re looking for GMAT-themed things to be thankful for, keep your preparation in mind and be thankful that you’re working harder than your competition and poised to see the rewards!

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to follow us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter!

By Brian Galvin.

Burn the Which! On the GMAT, That Is…

holy-grail-witchIt’s Halloween as I write this, but by the time you read it, November will be upon us, and you’ll be several days into a serious candy hangover. With that in mind, you’re probably in the mood for something boring and self-disciplined — or just to throw up — and I couldn’t think of anything that better accomplishes both than a little bit of sentence correction.

Unless you were a big reader in high school (or you’re a incorrigible grammar nerd, the type who brightens up when I use the word “incorrigible”), sentence correction is probably your least favorite part of the GMAT. You should know English, you do know English, but the GMAT wants you to feel like you don’t, and it’s amazing the rest of us can even find the will to live while we listen to you talk. It wasn’t bad enough for the test writers to undo years of hard work with your therapist to forget your high school math; now they’re making you feel inadequate about your own language (or in some cases, a language you busted your butt to learn as an adult).

Like it or not, however, that’s the game here: testing the subtle differences between everyday English, the sort you speak and type and are reading from me right now (“This is him! Who were you looking for?”), and black-tie, formal English, the kind you use to lose friends and alienate people (“This is he! For whom were you looking?”). And no word — see how I started that sentence with “and”? I’m on your side! — better stands for this distinction than “which”, a seemingly simple, everyday word that you and the GMAT test writers will be fighting a brutal war to control.

In your world, after all, “which” is used to describe anything. In your world, “He was being such a jerk, which was totally uncalled for,” or, “I took the GMAT this morning, which was the worst thing I’ve done since I felt off the stage in the first act of that school play,” are perfectly grammatical. In the GMAT’s world, however, they aren’t, and it’s all because of that “which”. In your world, “which” can describe the gist of the sentence, but in the GMAT’s world, it describes the noun that precedes it. Luckily, there’s an easy, 99% accurate way to test GMAT-approved usage of “which”:

CORRECT: (non-human noun), which (phrase describing that noun)

INCORRECT: almost anything else

So these are correct:

“The sun, which is actually a star, was once considered a god.”

“My car, which has multiple dents, two differently colored front doors, and a dog sleeping on it, is a bit of a fixer-upper.”

“I finally saw Wayne’s World 2, which I’ve been hearing about for years.”

In each case, “which” directly connects a noun to a phrase that describes that noun. The sun IS actually a star, my car DOES have multiple dents, and Wayne’s World 2 WAS what I’d been hearing about (I’ve been living under a rock since 1992).

As obnoxious as this rule is — and by no means do I encourage you to follow it in your own writing or speech — it’s easy to remember on test day. If you see “which” begin a modifier, make sure that it’s next to the noun it describes. If it is, lovely! If it isn’t, burn that which!

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to follow us on FacebookYouTube and Google+, and Twitter!

Quarter Wit, Quarter Wisdom: The Tricky Critical Reasoning Conclusion

Quarter Wit, Quarter WisdomAs discussed previously, the most important aspect of a strengthen/weaken question on the GMAT is “identifying the conclusion,” but sometimes, that may not be enough. Even after you identify the conclusion, you must ensure that you have understood it well. Today, we will discuss the “tricky conclusions.”

First let’s take a look at some simple examples:

Conclusion 1: A Causes B.

We can strengthen the conclusion by saying that when A happens, B happens.

We can weaken the conclusion by saying that A happened but B did not happen.

How about a statement which suggests that “C causes B,” or, “B happened but A did not happen”?

Do these affect the conclusion? No, they don’t. The relationship here is that A causes B. Whether there are other factors that cause B too is not our concern, so whether B can happen without A is none of our business.

Conclusion 2: Only A Causes B.

This is an altogether different conclusion. It is apparent that A causes B but the point of contention is whether A is the only cause of B.

Now here, a statement suggesting, “C causes B,” or, “B happened but A did not happen,” does affect our conclusion. These weaken our conclusion – they suggest that A is not the only cause of B.

This distinction can be critical in solving the question. We will now illustrate this point with one of our own GMAT practice questions:

Two types of earthworm, one black and one red-brown, inhabit the woods near the town of Millerton. Because the red-brown worm’s coloring affords it better camouflage from predatory birds, its population in 1980 was approximately five times that of the black worm. In 1990, a factory was built in Millerton and emissions from the factory blackened much of the woods. The population of black earthworms is now almost equal to that of the red-brown earthworm, a result, say local ecologists, solely stemming from the blackening of the woods.

Which of the following, if true, would most strengthen the conclusion of the local ecologists?

(A) The number of red-brown earthworms in the Millerton woods has steadily dropped since the factory began operations.

(B) The birds that prey on earthworms prefer black worms to red-brown worms.

(C) Climate conditions since 1990 have been more favorable to the survival of the red-brown worm than to the black worm.

(D) The average life span of the earthworms has remained the same since the factory began operations.

(E) Since the factory took steps to reduce emissions six months ago, there has been a slight increase in the earthworm population.

Let’s look at the argument.

Premises:

  • There are two types of worms – Red and Black.
  • Red has better camouflage from predatory birds, hence its population was five times that of black.
  • The factory has blackened the woods and now the population of both worms is the same.

Conclusion:

From our premises, we can determine that the blackening of the woods is solely responsible for equalization of the population of the two earthworms.

We need to strengthen this conclusion. Note that there is no doubt that the blackening of the woods is responsible for equalization of populations; the question is whether it is solely responsible.

(A) The number of red-brown earthworms in the Millerton woods has steadily dropped since the factory began operations.

Our conclusion is that only the blackening of the woods caused the numbers to equalize (either black worms are able to hide better or red worms are not able to hide or both), therefore, we need to look for the option that strengthens that there is no other reason. Option A only tells us what the argument does anyway – the population of red worms is decreasing (or black worm population is increasing or both) due to the blackening of the woods. It doesn’t strengthen the claim that only blackening of the woods is responsible.

(B) The birds that prey on earthworms prefer black worms to red-brown worms.

The fact that birds prefer black worms doesn’t necessarily mean that they get to actually eat black worms. Even if we do assume that they do eat black worms over red worms when they can, this strengthens the idea that “the blackening of the woods is responsible for equalization of population,” but does not strengthen the idea that “the blackening of the woods is solely responsible for equalization,” hence, this is not our answer.

(C) Climate conditions since 1990 have been more favorable to the survival of the red-brown worm than to the black worm.

Option C tells us that another factor that could have had an effect on equalization (i.e. climate) is not responsible. This strengthens the conclusion that better camouflage is solely responsible – it doesn’t prove the conclusion beyond doubt, since there could be still another factor that could be responsible, but it does discard one of the other factors. Therefore, it does improve the probability that the conclusion is true.

(D) The average life span of the earthworms has remained the same since the factory began operations.

This option does not distinguish between the two types of earthworms. It just tells us that as a group, the average lifespan of the earthworms has remained the same. Hence, it doesn’t affect our conclusion, which is based on the population of two different earthworms.

(E) Since the factory took steps to reduce emissions six months ago, there has been a slight increase in the earthworm population.

Again, this option does not distinguish between the two types of earthworms. It just tells us that as a group, the earthworm population has increased, so it also does not affect our conclusion, which is based on the population of two different earthworms.

Therefore, our answer is C.

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to follow us on FacebookYouTube and Google+, and Twitter!

Karishma, a Computer Engineer with a keen interest in alternative Mathematical approaches, has mentored students in the continents of Asia, Europe and North America. She teaches the GMAT for Veritas Prep and regularly participates in content development projects such as this blog!

The Critical Role of Reading in GMAT Critical Reasoning Questions!

Quarter Wit, Quarter WisdomMost non-native English users have one question: How do I improve my Verbal GMAT score?  There are lots of strategies and techniques we discuss in our books, in our class and on our blog. But one thing that we seriously encourage our students to do (that they need to do on their own) is read more – fiction, non fiction, magazines (mind you, good quality), national dailies, etc. Reading high quality material helps one develop an ear for correct English. It is also important to understand the idiomatic usage of English, which no one can teach in the class. At some time, most of us have thought how silly some things are in the English language, haven’t we?

For example:

Fat chance” and “slim chance’”mean the same thing – Really? Shouldn’t they mean opposite things?

But “wise man” and “wise guy” are opposites – Come on now!

A house burns up as it burns down and you fill in a form by filling it out?

And let’s not even get started on the multiple unrelated meanings many words have – The word on the top of the page, “critical,” could mean “serious” or “important” or “inclined to find fault” depending on the context!

Well, you really must read to understand these nuances or eccentricities, if you may, of the English language. Let’s look at an official question today which many people get wrong just because of the lack of familiarity with the common usage of phrases in English. But before we do that, some quick statistics on this question – 95% students find this question hard and more than half answer it incorrectly. And, on top of that, it is quite hard to convince test takers of the right answer.

Some species of Arctic birds are threatened by recent sharp increases in the population of snow geese, which breed in the Arctic and are displacing birds of less vigorous species. Although snow geese are a popular quarry for hunters in the southern regions where they winter, the hunting season ends if and when hunting has reduced the population by five percent, according to official estimates. Clearly, dropping this restriction would allow the other species to recover.

Which of the following, if true, most seriously undermines the argument?

(A) Hunting limits for snow geese were imposed many years ago in response to a sharp decline in the population of snow geese.

(B) It has been many years since the restriction led to the hunting season for snow geese being closed earlier than the scheduled date.

(C) The number of snow geese taken by hunters each year has grown every year for several years.

(D) As their population has increased, snow geese have recolonized wintering grounds that they had not used for several seasons.

(E) In the snow goose’s winter habitats, the goose faces no significant natural predation.

As usual, let’s start with the question stem – “… most seriously undermines the argument”

This is a weaken question. The golden rule is to focus on the conclusion and try to weaken it.

Let’s first understand the argument:

Snow geese breed in the Arctic and fly south for the winter. They are proliferating, and that is bad for other birds. Southern hunters reduce the number of geese when they fly south. There is a restriction in place that if the population of the geese that came in reduces by 5%, hunting will stop. So if 1000 birds flew south and 50 were hunted, hunting season will be stopped. The argument says that we should drop this restriction to help other Arctic birds flourish (conclusion), then hunters will hunt many more geese and reduce their numbers.

What is the conclusion here? It is: “Clearly, dropping this restriction would allow the other species to recover.”

You have to try to weaken it, i.e. give reasons why even after dropping this restriction, it is unlikely that other species will recover. Even if this restriction of “not hunting after 5%” is dropped and hunters are allowed to hunt as much as they want, the population of geese will still not reduce.

Now, first look at option (B);

(B) It has been many years since the restriction led to the hunting season for snow geese being closed earlier than the scheduled date.

What does this option really mean?

Does it mean the hunting season has been closing earlier than the scheduled date for many years? Or does it mean the exact opposite, that the restriction came into effect many years ago and since then, it has not come into effect.

It might be obvious to the native speakers and to the avid readers, but many non-native test takers actually fumble here and totally ignore option (B) – which, I am sure you have guessed by now, is the correct answer.

The correct meaning is the second one – the restriction has not come into effect for many years now. This means the restriction doesn’t really mean much. For many years, the restriction has not caused the hunting season to close down early because the population of geese hunted is less than 5% of the population flying in. So if the hunting season is from January to June, it has been closing in June, only, so even if hunters hunt for the entire hunting season, they still do not reach the 5% of the population limit (Southern hunters hunt less than 50 birds when 1000 birds fly down South).

Whether you have the restriction or not, the number of geese hunted is the same. So even if you drop the restriction and tell hunters that they can hunt as much as they want, it will not help as they will not want to hunt geese much anyway. This implies that even if the restriction is removed, it is likely that there will be no change in the situation. This definitely weakens our conclusion that dropping the restriction will help other species to recover.

So when people ignore (B), on which option do they zero in? Some fall for (C) but many fall for (D). Let’s look at all other options now:

(A) Hunting limits for snow geese were imposed many years ago in response to a sharp decline in the population of snow geese.

This is out of scope to our argument. It doesn’t really matter when and why the limits were imposed.

(C) The number of snow geese taken by hunters each year has grown every year for several years.

This doesn’t tell us how dropping the restriction would impact the population of geese, it just tells us what has happened in the past – the number of geese hunted has been increasing. If anything, it might strengthen our conclusion if the number of geese hunted is close to 5% of the population. When the population decreases by 5%, if the restriction is dropped, chances are that more geese will be hunted and other species will recover. We have to show that even after dropping the restriction, the other species may not recover.

(D) As their population has increased, snow geese have recolonised wintering grounds that they had not used for several seasons.

With this answer choice, “wintering grounds” implies the southern region (where they fly for winter). In the South, they have recolonised regions they had not occupied for a while now, which just tells you that the population has increased a lot and the geese are spreading. It doesn’t say that removing the restrictions and letting hunters hunt as much as they want will not help. In fact, if anything, it may make the argument a little stronger. If the geese are occupying more southern areas, hunting grounds may become easily accessible to more hunters and dropping hunting restrictions may actually help more!

(E) In the snow goose’s winter habitats, the goose faces no significant natural predation.

We are concerned about the effect of hunting, thus natural predation is out of scope.

Therefore, our answer is (B).

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to follow us on Facebook, YouTube and Google+, and Twitter!

Karishma, a Computer Engineer with a keen interest in alternative Mathematical approaches, has mentored students in the continents of Asia, Europe and North America. She teaches the GMAT for Veritas Prep and regularly participates in content development projects such as this blog!

GMAT Tip of the Week: Your GMAT Verbal (Donald) Trump Card

GMAT Tip of the WeekThe general consensus coming out of this week’s Democratic debate for the 2016 U.S. Presidency was this: the Democrats were quick to defend and agree with each other, particularly in contrast to the recent Republican debates in which the candidates were much more apt to attack each other.

The Democrats discussed, but the Republicans DEBATED, fiercely and critically. And – putting politics aside – one of the main issues on which those Republican candidates have attacked each other is “who is the more successful CEO/entrepreneur?” (And the answer to that? Likely Wharton’s finest: Donald “You’re Fired” Trump.)

So as you watch the political debates in between GMAT study sessions, keep this in mind: on the GMAT verbal section, you want to think more like a Republican candidate, and if possible you want to think like The Donald. Trump thinking is your Trump card: on GMAT verbal, you should attack, not defend.

Why?

Because incorrect answers are very easy to defend if that’s your mindset. They’re wrong because of a small (but significant) technicality, but to the “I see the good in all answer choices” eye, they’ll often look correct. You want to be in attack mode, critically eliminating answer choices and enjoying the process of doing so. Consider an example:

From 1998 to 2008, the amount of oil exported from the nation of Livonia increased by nearly 20% as the world’s demand soared. Yet over the same period, Livonia lost over 8,000 jobs in oil drilling and refinement, representing a 25% increase in the nation’s unemployment rate.

Which of the following, if true, would best explain the discrepancy outlined above?

A) Because of a slumping local economy, Livonia also lost 5,000 service jobs and 7,500 manufacturing jobs.

B) Several other countries in the region reported similar percentages of jobs lost in the oil industry over the same period.

C) Because of Livonia’s overvalued currency, most of the nation’s crude oil is now being refined after it has been exported.

D) Technological advancements in oil drilling techniques have allowed for a greater percentage of the world’s oil to be obtained from underneath the ocean floor.

E) Many former oil employees have found more lucrative work in the Livonia’s burgeoning precious metals mining industry.

The paradox/discrepancy here is that oil exports are up, but that jobs in oil drilling and refinement are down. What’s a Wharton-bound Trump to do here? Donald certainly wouldn’t overlook the word “Critical” in “Critical Reasoning.” Almost immediately, he’d be attacking the two-part job loss – it’s not that “oil jobs” are down, it’s that oil jobs in “drilling AND refinement” are down. Divide and conquer, he’d think, one of those items (either drilling or refinement) is bound to be a “lightweight” ready to be attacked.

Choice A is something that you could talk yourself into. “Hey, the economy overall is down, so it only makes sense that oil jobs would be down, too.” But think critically – you ALREADY know that the oil sector is not down. Oil exports are up 20% and global demand is soaring, so these oil jobs should be different. Critical thinking shows you that the general economy and this particular segment are on different tracks. Choice A does not explain the discrepancy.

Choice B is similar: if you’re looking for a reason to make it right, you might think, “See, it’s just part of what’s going on in the world.” But again, be critical. This is a bad answer, because it overlooks information you already have. Livonia’s oil exports are up, so absent a major reason that those exports are occurring without human labor, we don’t have a sound explanation.

Choice C hits on Trump’s “divide and conquer” attack strategy outlined above: if a conclusion to a Critical Reasoning problem includes the word “AND” there’s a very high likelihood that one of the two portions is the weak link. So fixate on that “and” and try to find which is the lightweight. Here you see that the oil is being exported from Livonia, but no longer being REFINED there. Those are the jobs that are leaving the country, and that explains why exports could be up with employment going down.

Choice D is tempting (statistically the most popular incorrect answer choice to this problem, with Trump-like polling numbers in the ~25% range). Why? Because you’re conditioned to think, “Oh, they’re losing jobs to technology.” So if you’re looking to find a correct answer without much critical thought and effort, this one shines like a beacon. But get more critical on the second half of the sentence: it’s not that technology makes it easier to obtain oil without human labor, it’s that technology is allowing for more drilling from the ocean. But that’s irrelevant, because, again, Livonia’s exports are up! So whether it’s Livonia getting that seafloor oil or other countries doing so, the fact remains that with oil exports up, you’d think that Livonia would have more jobs in oil, and this answer doesn’t explain why that’s not the case.

Here it pays to be critical all the way through the sentence: just because the first few words match what you think you might want to hear, that doesn’t mean that the entire statement is true. Think of this in Trump terms: Megyn Kelly might start a sentence with, “Mr. Trump, you’re arguably the most successful businessman of your generation,” (and you know Trump will love that) but if she follows that with, “But many would argue that your success was largely a result of your father’s money and that your manipulation of bankruptcy laws is unbefitting of an American president,” you know he’d be in attack mode immediately thereafter. Don’t fall in love with the first few words of an answer choice – stay ready to attack at a moment’s notice!

And choice E is similarly vulnerable to attack: yes some oil employees may have taken other jobs, but someone has to be doing the oil work. And if unemployment is up overall (as you know from the stimulus) then people are waiting to take those jobs, so the fact that some employees have left doesn’t explain why no one has filled those spots. When Donald Trump had to surrender his post as the star of The Apprentice, Arnold Schwarzenegger was ready to take his place; so, too, should unemployed members of the labor pool in Livonia be ready to take those oil jobs, absent a major reason why they wouldn’t, and choice E fails to present one.

Overall, your job on GMAT Verbal is to be as critical as possible. You’re there to debate the answer choices, not to defend or discuss them. As you read the conclusion of a Critical Reasoning problem, you want to be scanning for a “lightweight” word or phrase that makes it all the more vulnerable to attack. And as you read each answer choice, you shouldn’t be quick to see the good in the sentence, but instead you should be probing it to see where it’s weak and vulnerable to attack.

Let the answer choices view you as a bully – you’re not at the GMAT test center to make friends. Always be attacking, always be looking for words, phrases, or ideas that are an answer choice’s undoing. Trump logic is your Trump card, take joy from telling four of five answer choices “You’re Fired.”

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to follow us on Facebook, YouTube and Google+, and Twitter!

By Brian Galvin.

The Importance of Catching Details on the GMAT

Magnifying GlassIn our everyday lives, we all understand that attention to linguistic detail is important. When my wife tells me I need to pick up my daughter, I don’t unconsciously filter out minor elements like where my daughter is or what time I’m supposed to get her. Similarly, if you were on the phone making plans with a friend, you’d never hang up before knowing what you’d made plans to do.

Details aren’t just important – almost every conversation we have would be totally incoherent if we didn’t pay attention to them. And yet, for whatever reason, on the GMAT, we have a tendency to skim over these very same details without absorbing them. This tendency, I find, is particularly pronounced on Critical Reasoning questions. Take this question, which I reviewed with a student the other day:

Citizens of Parktown are worried by the increased frequency of serious crimes committed by local teenagers. In response the city government has instituted a series of measures designed to keep teenagers at home in the late evening. Even if the measures succeeded in keeping teenagers at home, however, they are unlikely to affect the problem that concerns citizens, since more crimes committed by local teenagers take place between 3p.m. and 6p.m. 

Which of the following, if true, most substantially weakens the argument? 

A) Similar measures adopted in other places have failed to reduce the number of teenagers on the streets in the late evening. 

B) The crimes committed by teenagers in the afternoon are mostly small thefts and inconsequential vandalism 

C) Teenagers are much less likely to commit serious crimes when they are at home than when they are not at home 

D) Any decrease in the need for police patrols in the late evening would not mean that there could be more intensive patrolling in the afternoon 

E) The schools in Parktown have introduced a number of after-school programs that will be available to teenagers until 6 p.m. on weekday afternoons.

My student broke down the argument quickly. He saw that the conclusion was that the city’s plan to keep teenagers at home in the late evening was unlikely to be successful because most teenage crimes were committed earlier in the day.

When I asked him to reiterate what the fine citizens of Parktown were concerned about, he shrugged and said ‘crime.’ Of course, this wasn’t wrong, per se, but it was incomplete. When I followed up and asked what kind of crime they were worried about, he was puzzled at first. It wasn’t until I asked him to reread the first sentence of the argument and to pay very close attention to adjectives that it clicked.

The citizens were worried about serious crime. And this makes sense. If someone told you that the neighborhood you were about to move in to had a very high crime rate, your reaction would not be the same if those crimes consisted largely of jay-walking as it would if you discovered that those crimes were more serious offenses. I then asked him to reread the sentence at the very end of the passage. This time, he got it.

While it’s true that the majority of crimes were committed between 3 and 6 pm, the argument doesn’t specify what kinds of crimes were committed during these hours. It’s this gap between the crimes that the citizens were concerned about – serious ones – and the crimes we’re given evidence about – all crimes – that is the key to this question. If the teenagers are jay-walking in the early afternoon, but engaging in far more damaging behavior in the evening, the plan to impose the curfew still makes sense, even if, technically, those jay-walking offenses constitute a majority of the crimes committed.

Now let’s go to the answer choices:

A: We’re trying to weaken the idea that the plan won’t work. If the plan didn’t work in other places, that certainly doesn’t weaken the idea that the plan won’t work in Parktown. A is out.

B: This looks good. Even though the crimes committed between 3 and 6 constitute a majority of the total crimes, these crimes are trivial. The citizens of Parktown are worried about serious crimes, which, if they’re committed at night, the curfew would help prevent. B is the correct answer.

C: This does nothing to address the core issue of the argument, which is that the plan won’t work because most crimes are committed before the curfew takes effect.

D: While decreasing the need for police patrols is a laudable objective, this isn’t relevant to the argument. Moreover, if the police patrols weren’t more available in the afternoon, when most crimes are committed, there’s certainly no reason to have more confidence that the curfew would be effective.

E: I am a fan of after-school programs, but the availability of such activities sheds little light on whether the curfew will work. After all, if teenagers are determined to commit crimes in the afternoon, the fact that they could join the Glee Club if they want to is unlikely to serve as an effective deterrent to whatever mischief they had planned.

Takeaway: Typically, when we talk about modifiers, we’re doing so in the context of Sentence Correction, but modifiers are no less important in Critical Reasoning. Information about “what kind,” “where,” and “when,” will be absolutely crucial to assessing any argument we encounter. If a modifier is present in the argument’s conclusion, but not in the argument’s premises, that is something we want to note. We make the effort to pay attention to these details when dealing with the mundane activities of our everyday lives, so let’s not neglect those same details on the GMAT.

*GMATPrep question courtesy of the Graduate Management Admissions Council.

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook, YouTube and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

By David Goldstein, a Veritas Prep GMAT instructor based in Boston. You can find more articles by him here.

GMAT Tip of the Week: Yogi Berra Teaches GMAT Sentence Correction

GMAT Tip of the WeekThe world lost a legend this week with the passing of Yogi Berra, a New York Yankee and World War II hero. Yogi was universally famous – his name was, of course, the inspiration for beloved cartoon character Yogi Bear’s – but to paraphrase the man himself, those who knew him didn’t really know him.

As news of his passing turned into news reports summarizing his life, many were stunned by just how illustrious his career was: 18 All-Star game appearances (in 19 pro seasons), 10 World Series championships as a player, 3 American League MVP awards, part of the Normandy campaign on D-Day… To much of the world, he was “the quote guy” who also had been a really good baseball player. His wordsmithery is what we all remembered:

  • Never answer an anonymous letter.
  • It ain’t over ’til it’s over.
  • It gets late early out here.
  • Pair up in threes.

And his command (or butchering) of the English language is what you should remember as you take the GMAT. Yogi Berra famously “didn’t say some of the things I said” but he did, however inadvertently, have a lot to say about GMAT Sentence Correction:

Pronouns Matter

What’s funny about his quote, “Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours”?

It’s the pronoun “they.” You know what Yogi means – go to other people’s funerals so that other people will come to yours. But in that sentence, the logical referent for “they” is “other people(‘s)”, and those other people have already been designated in the sentence as people who have already died. So the meaning is illogical: those same people cannot logically attend a funeral in the future. When you use a pronoun, it has to refer back to a specific noun. If that noun cannot logically do what the pronoun is said to be doing, that’s a Sentence Correction, illogical meaning problem.

What’s funny about his quote, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it”?

Again, it’s the pronoun, this time “it.” Since a fork in the road is a place where the road diverges into two paths, you can’t take “it” – you have to pick one path. And this is a good example of another sentence correction theme. In order to fix this thought (and the one above), there’s really not a pronoun that will work. “Them” has no logical referent (there’s only one fork) so the meaning is extremely important.

The only way to fix it is to change something prior in the sentence. Perhaps, “When you come to a turnoff on the road, take it,” or, “when the road presents a turn, take it.” On the GMAT, a pronoun error isn’t always fixed by fixing the pronoun – often the correct answer will change the logic that precedes the pronoun so that in the correct answer the previously-incorrect pronoun is correct.

Modifiers Matter

What’s funny about his quote, “Congratulations. I knew the record would stand until it was broken”?

Of course records stand until they’re broken, but in a grammatical sense Yogi’s primary mistake was his placement of the modifier “until it was broken.” What he likely meant to say is, “Until the record was broken, I thought it might stand forever.” That’s a perfectly logical thought, but we all laugh at the statement he actually made because the placement of the modifier creates a laughable meaning. So learn to spot similarly-misplaced modifiers by checking to make sure the language means exactly what it should.

Redundancy Is Funny (but sometimes has its place)

What’s funny about, “We made too many wrong mistakes,” and “It’s like déjà vu all over again”?

They’re redundant. A mistake is, by nature, something that went wrong. And déjà vu is the feeling that something happened before, so of course it’s “all over again.” Redundancy does come up on the GMAT, but as Yogi himself would point out, there’s a fine line between “redundant (and wrong)” and “a useful literary device”.

Take, for example, his famed, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over” quote. In a sports context, even though the word “over” is repeated, that sentence carries a lot of useful meaning: “when someone might say that the game is over, if there is still time (or outs) remaining there’s always a chance to change the result.” The world chuckles at this particular Yogi quote, but in actuality it’s arguably his most famous because, in its own way, it’s quite poignant.

What does that mean for you on the GMAT? Don’t prioritize redundancy as a primary decision point! GMAT Sentence Correction, by nature, involves plenty of different literary devices and sentence structures, and it’s extremely unlikely that you’ll feel like an expert on all of them.

Students often eliminate correct answers because they perceive redundancy, but a phrase like “not unlike” (a “not” next to an “un-“? That’s a redundant double-negative!) actually has a logical and important meaning (“not unlike” means “it’s not totally different from…there are at least some similarities,” whereas “like” conveys significantly more similarity). Rules for modifiers and pronouns are much more absolute, and you can get plenty of practice with those. Be careful with redundancy because, as Yogi might say, sometimes saying it twice is twice as good as saying it once.

It’s all in your head.

“Baseball is ninety percent mental and the other half is physical.”

To paraphrase the great Yogi Berra, 90% of Sentence Correction is mental and the other half is grammatical. When he talked about baseball, he was talking about the physical tools – the ability to hit, run, throw, catch –  as meaning substantially less than people thought, but the mental part of the game – strategy, mental toughness, stamina, etc. – being more important than people thought. The exact percentages, as his quote so ineloquently suggests, are harder to pin down and less important than the takeaway.

So heed Yogi’s advice as it pertains to Sentence Correction. Memorizing and knowing hundreds of grammar rules is “the other half” (or maybe 10%) of the game – employing good strategy (prioritizing primary Decision Points, paying attention to logical meaning, etc.) is the more-important-but-often-overlooked part of success. However eloquently or inelegantly Yogi Berra may have articulated his lessons, at least he made them memorable.

Getting ready to take the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook, YouTube and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

By Brian Galvin.

6 Simple Steps to Attack Critical Reasoning Questions on the GMAT

GMAT ReasoningThe first step in attacking any Critical Reasoning question on the GMAT is to identify the premises and conclusions of the argument being presented. While Strengthen, Weaken, Assumption and Resolve the Paradox questions include a conclusion in the stimulus, Inference questions require you to select the conclusion (answer choice) that directly follows from the information presented in the stimulus.

This can be difficult because several of the answers can appear attractive. Keep in mind, however, that for Inference questions, the correct answer must be true. Answers that are “likely to be true” or “could be true” based on the information provided in the stimulus seem attractive at first, but if they are not true 100% of the time, in every situation, then they are not the correct answer.

Another difficulty in approaching Inference questions is that with the many of the other question types (Strengthen, Weaken, etc.), your job is to select the answer that includes new information that either undermines or supports the conclusion. For Inference questions, you do not want to bring in information that is not in the stimulus. All of the information required to answer the question will be included in the stimulus.

Here is a 6-step approach that can help you to efficiently attack GMAT Critical Reasoning Inference questions:

1) Read the question stem first.

This will allow you quickly categorize the type of Critical Reasoning question (Strengthen, Weaken, Inference, etc.) and let you focus on identifying the premises in the stimulus. Questions such as, “Which of the following can be correctly inferred from the statements above?” and, “If the statements above are true, which of the following must also be true?” signify that you are dealing with an Inference question.

2) Speculate what you think the correct conclusion is.

Sometimes this may be difficult to verbalize, but having an outline or framework of what the “must be true” answer should include will help to eliminate some answer choices.

3) Evaluate the answer choices using your speculated answer.

You want to carefully read all 5 answer choices. As you read the answers, compare them to the answer, or the outline of the answer, you speculated. Some answers are obviously incorrect – either they are too narrow in scope, too extreme to be always be true, or do not follow the criteria laid out in the stimulus. Eliminate these answers. For other answer choices that seem attractive, keep them as possibilities. Once you have read all of the answer choices, you can then compare your list of possible answers using the criteria that the correct answer must be always be true.

4) Become a Defense Lawyer.

When comparing your list of possible answers, try to come up with plausible scenarios that would prove the answer being considered not true. Just because the stimulus says that “everyone sitting in the dentist’s office waiting room at 9:00 a.m. was a patient” does not necessarily mean that they were waiting for an appointment. Some could have already finished their appointment, and some could have been there dropping off another patient. Like a defense lawyer, you need to find every every scenario in which an answer choice might not be true in order to eliminate it from your options.

5) Be aware of exaggerated or extreme answers.

Because the correct answer must always be true, modifiers that exaggerate an element of the premise or make an extreme claim usually signify an incorrect answer. If the stimulus says, “Some of the widgets produced by Company X were defective,” an attractive, yet incorrect answer choice may exaggerate this statement with a modifier such as “most” by claiming, “Most of Company X’s widgets were found to be defective.” Furthermore, answers that include the terms “always”, “never”, “none” and the like are good indicators that the answer will not be true 100% of the time.

6) Be aware of answers that change the scope of the stimulus.

On more difficult Inference questions (as if they were not difficult enough), the test makers will tempt you to select an answer choice that slightly changes an element of the facts laid out in the stimulus. For example, the stimulus might discuss the decrease in the violent crime rate in City A over a certain time period.

The attractive answer that follows all of the elements of having to be true 100% of the time, but is still incorrect might discuss decrease in the murder rate of City A over that time period. While the answer would seem to fit the bill, the murder rate is not the same as the rate of violent crime – this changes the scope of the initial stimulus and we can therefore rule that answer out.

The correct inference or conclusion on Critical Reasoning Inference questions is very close to what is stated explicitly in the stimulus. Remember, the right answer choice on these question types must be true 100% of the time.

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook, YouTube and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

By Dennis Cashion, a Veritas Prep instructor based in Denver.

99th GMAT Score or Bust! Lesson 9: Talk Like a Lawyer

raviVeritas Prep’s Ravi Sreerama is the #1-ranked GMAT instructor in the world (by GMATClub) and a fixture in the new Veritas Prep Live Online format as well as in Los Angeles-area classrooms. He’s beloved by his students for the philosophy “99th percentile or bust!”, a signal that all students can score in the elusive 99thpercentile with the proper techniques and preparation. In this “9 for 99th” video seriesRavi shares some of his favorite strategies to efficiently conquer the GMAT and enter that 99th percentile.

First, take a look at the previous lessons in this series: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8!

Lesson Nine: 

Talk Like a Lawyer. When you click “Agree” on a user contract (think iTunes) or read through a GMAT question, you may just see an overkill of words. But thanks to lawyers, every word on that user agreement is carefully chosen – and that GMAT question is written the same exact way. In this final “9 for 99th” video, Ravi (a member of the bar himself) shows you how to talk and read like a lawyer, noticing those subtle word choices that can make or break your answer to those carefully-written GMAT problems you see on test day.​

Are you studying for the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook, YouTube and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Want to learn more from Ravi? He’s taking his show on the road for a one-week Immersion Course in New York this summer, and he teaches frequently in our new Live Online classroom.

By Brian Galvin

Beat the GMAT Verbal Section by Personalizing Questions

Integrated Reasoning GMATMy students often ask why the verbal section has to come at the very end of the GMAT. When they’re fresh, they complain, they’re able to answer a much higher percentage of questions correctly. Of course, this is precisely the point. Part of what the GMAT is assessing is your stamina and focus, both of which will certainly be flagging by the time you’ve been in the testing facility for over three hours.

Moreover, the questions themselves aren’t exactly known for their dazzling wit and soaring narrative verve. They’re boring. Reading Comp. passages are often tedious and technical, while Critical Reasoning arguments can feel so abstract as to be ungraspable. So how do we, as test-takers, combat this?

One answer, when it comes to those abstract Critical Reasoning questions, is to personalize the argument. I’ve blogged in the past about how our reading comprehension improves dramatically when we’re emotionally invested in what we’re reading, so why not attempt to trick ourselves into this state of heightened concentration?

If the CR question is about the impact of pesticide use on crop yields, I imagine I’m the farmer, and the well-being of my family is at stake. If the question is about how overtime pay will impact employee incentives, I imagine I own the business and that the consequence of my company’s compensation structure will impact not only me, but dozens of workers whose livelihood I’m responsible for. By creating these artificial stakes, I find that my brain is able to lock in on the minutia of the question in a way it can’t if the question is about some airy fictional farmer, whom I know exists only in the mind of some bureaucratic question writer.

Take an official question, for example:

In the past the country of Malvernia has relied heavily on imported oil. Malvernia recently implemented a program to convert heating systems from oil to natural gas. Malvernia currently produces more natural gas each year than it uses, and oil production in Malvernian oil fields is increasing at a steady pace. If these trends in fuel production and usage continue, therefore, Malvernian reliance on foreign sources for fuel is likely to decline soon. 

Which of the following would it be most useful to establish in evaluating the argument?

(A) When, if ever, will production of oil in Malvernia outstrip production of natural gas?

(B) Is Malvernia among the countries that rely most on imported oil?

(C) What proportion of Malvernia’s total energy needs is met by hydroelectric, solar, and nuclear power?

(D) Is the amount of oil used each year in Malvernia for generating electricity and fuel for transportation increasing?

(E) Have any existing oil-burning heating systems in Malvernia already been converted to natural-gas-burning heating systems?

If you’re anything like most test-takers, your eyes glaze over a bit. You know that Malvernia is not a real country, that it’s been invented for the sake of the problem. Consequently, the details of energy consumption in this non-existent country are not going to be terribly compelling to, well, anyone. This is by design. So let’s create some artificial stakes. Let’s say you’re the President of Malvernia. The economic well-being of your country, and, therefore, the prospects of your reelection, are going to be impacted by your country’s energy policy. Now let’s break down the facts:

  • Historically, you’ve relied on oil imports.
  • A new program converts heating systems from oil to gas.
  • You produce more gas than you use.
  • Oil production is increasing.

Based on this, you’ve concluded that your reliance on foreign oil will soon decrease. The question is what do you, as President, need to know to determine whether this prediction is valid?

Let’s break down each answer choice:

(A) The question of when production of oil will outstrip production of gas isn’t really relevant. In fact, if you’re using less oil as a result of the change in heating systems, and oil production is up, it’s possible that you can reduce your dependence on foreign oil without having to produce more oil than gas. A is out.

(B) Whether you are among the most dependent countries on foreign oil doesn’t matter. You are now, and we’re trying to determine if you will be in the future. This doesn’t help. Eliminate B.

(C) Hydroelectric, solar, and nuclear power aren’t relevant for this argument. We know that you’re dependent on foreign oil now, irrespective of other energy sources. It’s increased oil production and switching to gas that will, according to the argument, reduce this dependence. C is out of scope.

(D) Let’s say your oil consumption for electricity and transportation is increasing. Suddenly, the fact that you’re switching heating systems from oil to gas might not help – if your oil needs are going up in other areas, you may remain dependent on foreign oil. But if your oil consumption in these other areas is not increasing, that would reduce your dependence on foreign oil because your heating systems are switching to gas. D looks good.

(E) This doesn’t matter at all. We know that the systems are going to switch from oil to gas, so the question of whether some systems have already made the switch sheds no light on whether you will remain dependent on foreign oil.

D is the answer. Once you have the answer to whether your oil consumption for electricity and transportation is increasing, you’ll be better able to assess whether you will remain dependent on foreign oil, and, consequently, whether your reign as supreme ruler of Malvernia will continue.

Takeaway: There is plenty of research indicating that our comprehension improves drastically when we’re reading something we care about. When we put ourselves into the position of the agents having to make decisions in these arguments, we can transform a tedious abstraction into something that has a bit of emotional resonance, which will, in turn, result in a higher GMAT score.

*Official Guide question courtesy of the Graduate Management Admissions Council.

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook, YouTube and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

By David Goldstein, a Veritas Prep GMAT instructor based in Boston. You can find more articles by him here.

Why is There “Math” in the GMAT Critical Reasoning Section?

No MathThe Critical Reasoning portion of the GMAT will sometimes test basic mathematical concepts. My more verbally-minded students sometimes complain that this tendency is unfair, as the test seems to have imported a question-type from the section of the test that they find less agreeable into the section they consider their strength. But the truth is that the “math” in Critical Reasoning is really about logic and intuition rather than higher-level abstraction.

Take percentages, for instance. We can understand percentage reasoning without doing much calculation. When I introduce this topic, I’ll offer a simple real-world example:

In the 2014 playoffs, Lebron James made roughly 56% of his field goal attempts. In the 2015 playoffs, he made roughly 42% of his attempts. Therefore, he made fewer field goals in 2015 than in 2014.

You don’t need to be an avid basketball fan to recognize the glaring logical flaw in this statement. To determine whether that percentage dip is meaningful, we have to know how many shot attempts he was taking. Because he took so many more shots in 2015 than in 2014, he ended up making more field goals in that year, when his field goal percentage was lower. The notion that a percentage isn’t terribly meaningful without knowing the percent of what is obvious to everyone.

What the GMAT will typically do, however, is to test the exact same concept using a scenario that we may not grasp quite as intuitively. Consider the following official argument:

In the United States, of the people who moved from one state to another when they retired, the percentage who retired to Florida has decreased by three percentage points over the last ten years.  Since many local businesses in Florida cater to retirees, these declines are likely to have a noticeably negative economic effect on these businesses and therefore on the economy of Florida.

Which of the following, if true, most seriously weakens the argument given?

  1. People who moved from one state to another when they retired moved a greater distance, on average, last year than such people did ten years ago.
  2. People were more likely to retire to North Carolina from another state last year than people were ten years ago.
  3. The number of people who moved from one state to another when they retired has increased significantly over the past ten years.
  4. The number of people who left Florida when they retired to live in another state was greater last year than it was 10 years ago.
  5. Florida attracts more people who move form one state to another when they retired than does any other state.

The logic here may not be as obvious as the Lebron example, but it is, in fact, identical. The argument’s conclusion is that Florida’s economy will suffer negative consequences. The central premise is that of the people moving from one state to another, a smaller percentage are going to Florida now than were going to Florida ten years ago. The assumption is that a smaller percentage moving to Florida means fewer people moving to Florida.

This line of reasoning is no more valid than asserting that Lebron shooting a lower percentage in 2015 than in 2014 means he made fewer shots in 2015. Just as we needed to know if there was a change in the total number of shots Lebron was taking in order to evaluate whether the change in percentage was meaningful, we need to know if there was a change in the total number of people moving from one state to another in order to properly assess whether it’s meaningful that a smaller percentage are moving to Florida.

Let’s evaluate the answer choices one by one:

  1. The distance people moved doesn’t matter. Out of Scope. A is out.
  2. North Carolina isn’t relevant to what’s happening in Florida. Out of Scope. B is out.
  3. This is the logical equivalent of pointing out that Lebron took many more shots in 2015 than in 2014. If far more people are moving from one state to another now than were moving from one state to another ten years ago, it’s possible that more total people are moving to Florida, even if a smaller percentage of movers are going to Florida. This looks good.
  4. First, the number of people leaving Florida has no bearing on whether a smaller percentage of people moving to Florida will have an impact on Florida’s economy. Moreover, we’re trying to weaken the idea that Florida’s economy will suffer. If more people are leaving Florida, it would strengthen the notion that Florida’s economy will endure negative consequences. That’s the opposite of what we want. D is out.
  5. Tempting perhaps, but ultimately, irrelevant. Just because Lebron led the league in field goals made in both 2015 and 2014 (he didn’t, but play along), doesn’t mean he didn’t make fewer field goals in 2015. E is out.

The answer is C.  If more people are moving from state to state, a lower percentage moving to Florida may not mean that fewer people are coming to Florida, just as Lebron’s dip in field goal percentage does not mean he was making fewer field goals if he was taking more shots.

Takeaway: The “math” concepts tested in Critical Reasoning are, in fact, logic concepts. By connecting the prompt to a more concrete real-world example, we make this logic far more intuitive and easily graspable when we encounter it on the test.

*Official Guide question courtesy of the Graduate Management Admissions Council.

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By David Goldstein, a Veritas Prep GMAT instructor based in Boston. You can find more articles by him here.

Why You Shouldn’t Rely on Your Ear for GMAT Sentence Correction Questions

Phone InterviewThe other night, when we were reviewing Sentence Correction strategies in class, a student asked if it was acceptable to rely on his ear to find the correct answer. This was what he’d done when he’d taken his diagnostic test, and he’d performed quite well on this section, so he figured it just made more sense to devote his study time to other areas. It’s a common question. After all, if you’re naturally good at something, does it really make sense to make an investment of time and energy just to tamper with an approach that’s been effective?

Whenever I get this question, I always take pains to give a nuanced response. My goal, when I’m teaching, isn’t to indoctrinate anyone or impose a given philosophical approach to a problem. The last thing any of us should be doing when we take the GMAT is wringing our hands over whether our instinct for how to tackle the problem is the “right” one. However, some approaches have potential shortcomings that we need to be mindful of, and using your ear alone to solve Sentence Correction questions is no exception.

The first problem with using your ear alone is that while a good instinct for syntax and grammar is immensely helpful for writers, on the GMAT, this instinct will often cause us to reject sentences that are technically correct but are specifically engineered to sound a little off. If you were a question-writer for the GMAT, and your goal was to make a given question as challenging as possible, wouldn’t you make some correct answers sound a little strange to amplify the difficulty of the question?

In these cases, we simply have to use a blend of logic and grammar rules to rule out the four definitively wrong answer choices. The remaining answer, which sounds strange, but has no glaring errors, will have to be correct. Take this official question, for example:

For many revisionist historians, Christopher Columbus has come to personify devastation and enslavement in the name of progress that has decimated native people of the Western Hemisphere.

A) devastation and enslavement in the name of progress that has decimated native peoples of the Western Hemisphere.
B) devastation and enslavement in the name of progress by which native peoples of the Western Hemisphere have been decimated.
C) devastating and enslaving in the name of progress those native peoples of the Western Hemisphere that have been decimated.
D) devastating and enslaving those native peoples of the Western hemisphere which in the name of progress are decimated.
E) the devastation and enslavement in the name of progress that have decimated the native peoples of the Western Hemisphere.

I like to pride myself on having a good ear when it comes to Sentence Correction, but none of these options strike me as terribly appealing. Let’s evaluate them one by one:

A, in its entirety, reads as follows: Christopher Columbus has come to personify devastation and enslavement in the name of progress that has decimated native peoples of the Western Hemisphere.

Notice, the relative clause beginning with “that.” “That” has a singular verb “has,” meaning that the antecedent for “that” should be the closest singular noun. Here, the closest singular noun is “progress.” Read literally, the sentence is saying that progress has decimated native peoples! That makes no sense. Eliminate A.

B: Christopher Columbus has come to personify devastation and enslavement in the name of progress by which native peoples of the Western Hemisphere have been decimated.

Again, it sounds like “progress” is responsible for the decimation of native peoples. No good.

C: Christopher Columbus has come to personify devastating and enslaving in the name of progress those native peoples of the Western Hemisphere that have been decimated. 

Here “that” seems to refer to “native peoples.” The GMAT prefers “who” when referring to people. Moreover, the phrase “those native peoples that have been decimated” makes it sound as though there were some native peoples who were devastated and others who weren’t. This is not the intended meaning of the sentence. Eliminate C.

D: Christopher Columbus has come to personify devastating and enslaving those native peoples of the Western hemisphere which in the name of progress are decimated. 

This one is riddled with problems. Again the phrase “those native peoples” is problematic. “Which” appears to refer to people, when the GMAT would prefer “who.” And last the verb “are” implies that the action is happening in the present tense. Clearly incorrect.

That leaves us with E: Christopher Columbus has come to personify the devastation and enslavement in the name of progress that have decimated the native peoples of the Western Hemisphere. 

It still sounds off to my ear, but if we read the sentence without the prepositional phrase “in the name of progress,” we get: Christopher Columbus has come to personify the devastation and enslavement that have decimated the native peoples of the Western Hemisphere. This makes perfect sense. Notice that because “that” has the plural verb “have,” it must have a plural antecedent, so “that” refers to “devastation and enslavement.” Not the world’s prettiest sentence, but far superior to the other four options, each of which have glaring mistakes.

Takeaway: No single strategy will allow you to answer every question within a given category correctly. Because some correct Sentence Correction answers are engineered to sound strange, it’s important to keep logic and grammar in mind as we’re justifying our decisions to eliminate the incorrect answers.

*GMAT Prep question courtesy of the Graduate Management Admissions Council.

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook, YouTube and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

By David Goldstein, a Veritas Prep GMAT instructor based in Boston. You can find more articles by him here

Identifying the Paradox on GMAT Critical Reasoning Questions

Quarter Wit, Quarter WisdomLet’s take a look at a very tricky GMAT Prep critical reasoning problem today. Problems such as these make CR more attractive than RC and SC to people who have a Quantitative bent of mind. It’s one of the “explain the paradox” problems, which usually tend to be easy if you know exactly how to tackle them, but the issue here is that it is hard to put your finger on the paradox.

Once you do, then the problem is quite easy.

 

Question: Technological improvements and reduced equipment costs have made converting solar energy directly into electricity far more cost-efficient in the last decade. However, the threshold of economic viability for solar power (that is, the price per barrel to which oil would have to rise in order for new solar power plants to be more economical than new oil-fired power plants) is unchanged at thirty-five dollars.

Which of the following, if true, does most to help explain why the increased cost-efficiency of solar power has not decreased its threshold of economic viability?

(A) The cost of oil has fallen dramatically.

(B) The reduction in the cost of solar-power equipment has occurred despite increased raw material costs for that equipment.

(C) Technological changes have increased the efficiency of oil-fired power plants.

(D) Most electricity is generated by coal-fired or nuclear, rather than oil-fired, power plants.

(E) When the price of oil increases, reserves of oil not previously worth exploiting become economically viable.

Solution: We really need to understand this $35 figure that is given. The argument calls it “the threshold of economic viability for solar plant.” It is further explained as price per barrel to which oil would have to rise in order for new solar power plants to be more economical than new oil-fired power plants.

Note the exact meaning of this “threshold of economic viability”. It is the price TO WHICH oil would have to rise to make solar power more economical i.e. the price to which oil would have to rise to make electricity generated out of oil power plants more expensive than electricity generated out of solar power plants. So this is a hypothetical price of oil. It is not the price BY WHICH oil would have to rise. So this number 35 has nothing to do with the actual price of oil right now – it could be $10 or $15. The threshold of economic viability will remain 35.

So what the argument tells us is that tech improvements have made solar power cheaper but the price to which oil should rise has stayed the same. If you are not sure where the paradox is, let’s take some numbers to understand:

Previous Situation:

– Sunlight is free. Infrastructure needed to convert it to electricity is expensive. Say for every one unit of electricity, you need to spend $50 in a solar power plant.

– Oil is expensive. Infrastructure needed to convert it to electricity, not so much. Say for every one unit of electricity, the oil needed costs $25 and cost of infrastructure to produce a unit of electricity is $15. So total you spend $40 for a unit of electricity in an oil fired plant.

Oil based electricity is cheaper. If the cost of oil rises by $10 and becomes $35 from $25 assumed above, solar power will become viable. Electricity produced from both sources will cost the same.

Again, note properly what the $35 implies.

Raw material cost in solar plant + Infrastructure cost in solar plant = Raw material cost in oil plant + Infrastructure cost in oil plant

0 + 50 = Hypothetical cost of oil + 15

Hypothetical cost of oil = 50 – 15

That is, this $35 = Infra price per unit in solar plant – Infra price per unit in oil plant

This threshold of economic viability for solar power is the hypothetical price per barrel to which oil would have to rise (mind you, this isn’t the actual price of oil) to make solar power viable.

What happens if you need to spend only $45 in a solar power plant for a unit of electricity? Now, for solar viability, ‘cost of oil + cost of infrastructure in oil power plant’ should be only $45. If ‘cost of infrastructure in oil power plant’ = 15, we need the oil to go up to $30 only. That will make solar power plants viable. So the threshold of economic viability will be expected to decrease.

Now here lies the paradox – The argument tells you that even though the cost of production in solar power plant has come down, the threshold of economic viability for solar power is still $35! It doesn’t decrease. How can this be possible? How can you resolve it?

One way of doing it is by saying that ‘Cost of infrastructure in oil power plant’ has also gone down by $5.

Raw material cost in solar plant + Infrastructure cost in solar plant = Raw material cost in oil plant + Infrastructure cost in oil plant

0 + $45 = $35 + Infrastructure cost in oil plant

Infrastructure cost in oil plant = $10

Current Situation:

– Sunlight is free. Infrastructure needed to convert it to electricity is expensive. For every one unit of electricity, you need to spend $45 in a solar power plant.

– Oil is expensive. Infrastructure needed to convert it to electricity, not so much. For every one unit of electricity, you need to spend $25 + $10 = $35 in an oil fired power plant.

You still need the oil price to go up to $35 so that cost of electricity generation in oil power plant is $45.

So you explained the paradox by saying that “Technological changes have increased the efficiency of oil-fired power plants.” i.e. price of infrastructure in oil power plant has also decreased.

Hence, option (C) is correct.

The other option which seems viable to many people is (A). But think about it, the actual price of the oil has nothing to do with ‘the threshold of economic viability for solar power’. This threshold is $35 so you need the oil to go up to $35. Whether the actual price of oil is $10 or $15 or $20, it doesn’t matter. It still needs to go up to $35 for solar viability. So option (A) is irrelevant.

We hope the paradox and its solution make sense.

Karishma, a Computer Engineer with a keen interest in alternative Mathematical approaches, has mentored students in the continents of Asia, Europe and North America. She teaches the GMAT for Veritas Prep and regularly participates in content development projects such as this blog!

How to Evaluate the Entire Sentence on Sentence Correction GMAT Questions

Ron Point_GMAT TipsAs the Donald Trump sideshow continues to dominate American news, politics is again being pushed to the forefront as the country gears up for an election in 15 months. The nominees are not yet confirmed, but many candidates are jockeying for position, trying to get their names to resonate with the American population. This election will necessarily have a new candidate for both parties, as Barack Obama will have completed the maximum of two elected terms allowed by the Constitution (via the 22nd amendment).

This means that we can soon begin to discuss Barack Obama’s legacy. As with any legacy, it’s important to look at the terms globally, and not necessarily get bogged down by one or two memorable moments. A legacy is a summary of the major points and the minor points of one’s tenure. As such, it’s difficult to sum up a presidency that spanned nearly a decade and filter it down to simply “Obamacare” or “Killing Bin Laden” or “Relations with Cuba”. Not everyone will agree on what the exact highlights were, but we must be able to consider all the elements holistically.

On the GMAT, Sentence Correction is often the exact same way. If only a few words are highlighted, then your task is to make sure those few words make sense and flow properly with the non-underlined portion. If, however, the entire sentence is underlined, you have “carte blanche” (or Cate Blanchett) to make changes to any part of the sentence. The overarching theme is that the whole sentence has to make sense. This means that you can’t get bogged down in one portion of the text, you have to evaluate the entire thing. If some portion of the phrasing is good but another contains an error, then you must eliminate that choice and find and answer that works from start to finish.

Let’s look at a topical Sentence Correction problem and look for how to approach entire sentences:

Selling two hundred thousand copies in its first month, the publication of The Audacity of Hope in 2006 was an instant hit, helping to establish Barack Obama as a viable candidate for president.

A) Selling two hundred thousand copies in its first month, the publication of The Audacity of Hope in 2006 was an instant hit, helping to establish Barack Obama as a viable candidate for president.
B) The publication in 2006 of the Audacity of Hope was an instant hit: in two months it sold two hundred thousand copies and helped establish Barack Obama as a viable candidate for president.
C) Helping to establish Barack Obama as a viable candidate for president was the publication of The Audacity of Hope in 2006, which was an instant hit: it sold two hundred thousand copies in its first month.
D) The Audacity of Hope was an instant hit: it helped establish Barack Obama as a viable candidate for president, selling two hundred thousand copies in its first month and published in 2006.
E) The Audacity of Hope, published in 2006, was an instant hit: in two months, it sold two hundred thousand copies and helped establish its author, Barack Obama, as a viable candidate for president.

An excellent strategy in Sentence Correction is to look for decision points, significant differences between one answer choice and another, and then make decisions based on which statements contain concrete errors. However, when the whole sentence is underlined, this becomes much harder to do because there might be five decision points between statements, and each one is phrased a little differently. You can still use decision points, but it might be simpler to look through the choices for obvious errors and then see if the next answer choice repeats that same gaffe (not a giraffe).

Looking at the original sentence (answer choice A), we see a clear modifier error at the beginning. Once the sentence begins with “Selling two hundred thousand copies in its first month,…” the very next word after the comma must be the noun that has sold 200,000 copies. Anything else is a modifier error, whether it be “Barack Obama wrote a book that sold” or “the publication of the book” or any other variation thereof. We don’t even need to read any further to know that it can’t be answer choice A. We’ll also pay special attention to modifier errors because if it happened once it can easily happen again in this sentence.

Answer choice B, unsurprisingly, contains a very similar modifier error. The sentence begins with: “The publication in 2006 of the Audacity of Hope was an instant hit:…”. This means that the publication was a hit, whereas logically the book was the hit. This is an incorrect answer choice again, and so far we haven’t even had to venture beyond the first sentence, so don’t let the length of the answer choices daunt you.

Answer choice C, “helping to establish Barack Obama as a viable candidate for president was the publication of The Audacity of Hope in 2006, which was an instant hit: it sold two hundred thousand copies in its first month” contains another fairly glaring error. On the GMAT, the relative pronoun “which” must refer to the word right before the comma. In this case, that would be the year 2006, instead of the actual book. Similarly to the first two choices, this answer also contains a pronoun error because the “it” after the colon would logically refer back to the publication instead of the book as well. One error is enough, and we’ve already got two, so answer choice C is definitely not the correct selection.

Answer choice D, “The Audacity of Hope was an instant hit: it helped establish Barack Obama as a viable candidate for president, selling two hundred thousand copies in its first month and published in 2006” sounds pretty good until you get to the very end. The “published in 2006” is a textbook dangling modifier, and would have been fine had it been placed at the beginning of the sentence. Unfortunately, as it is written, this is not a viable answer choice (you are the weakest link).

By process of elimination, it must be answer choice E. Nonetheless, if we read through it, we’ll find that it doesn’t contain any glaring errors: “The Audacity of Hope, published in 2006, was an instant hit: in two months, it sold two hundred thousand copies and helped establish its author, Barack Obama, as a viable candidate for president.” The title of the book is mentioned initially, a modifier is correctly placed and everything after the colon describes why it was regarded as a hit. Holistically, there’s nothing wrong with this answer choice, and that’s why E must be the correct answer.

Overall, it’s easy to get caught up in one moment or another, but it’s important to look at things globally. A 30-word passage entirely underlined can cause anxiety in many students because there are suddenly many things to consider at the same time. There’s no reason to panic. Just review each statement holistically, looking for any error that doesn’t make sense. If everything looks good, even if it wasn’t always ideal, then the answer choice is fine. It’s important to think of your legacy, and on the GMAT, that means getting a score that lets you achieve your goals.

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam.  After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.

GMAT Tip of the Week: Kanye West’s Everything I Am Teaches Critical Reasoning

GMAT Tip of the Week“Everything I’m not made me everything I am,” says Kanye West in his surprisingly-humble track Everything I Am. And while, unsurprisingly, much of what he’s talking about is silencing his critics, he might as well be rapping about making you an elite critic on Critical Reasoning problems. Because when it comes to some of the most challenging Critical Reasoning problems on the GMAT, everything they’re not makes them everything they are. Which is a convoluted way of saying this:

On challenging Strengthen and Assumption questions, the correct answer often tells you that a potential flaw with the argument is not true.

Everything that’s not true in that answer choice, then, makes the conclusion substantially more valid.

Consider this argument, for example:

Kanye received the most votes for the “Best Hip Hop Artist” award at the upcoming MTV Video Music Awards, so Kanye will be awarded the trophy for Best Hip Hop Artist.

If this were the prompt for a question that asked “Which of the following is an assumption required by the argument above?” a correct answer might read:

A) The Video Music Award for “Best Hip Hop Artist” is not decided by a method other than voting.

And the function of that answer choice is to tell you what’s not true (“everything I’m not”), removing a flaw that allows the conclusion to be much more logically sound (“…made me everything I am.”) These answer choices can be challenging in context, largely because:

1) Answer choices that remove a flaw can be difficult to anticipate, because those flaws are usually subtle.

2) Answer choices that remove a flaw tend to include a good amount of negation, making them a bit more convoluted.

In order to counteract these difficulties, it can be helpful to use “Everything I’m not made me everything I am” to your advantage. If what’s NOT true is essential to the conclusion’s truth, then if you consider the opposite – what if it WERE true – you can turn that question into a Weaken question. For example, if you took the opposite of the choice above, it would read:

The VMA for “Best Hip Hop Artist” is decided by a method other than voting.

If that were true, the conclusion is then wholly unsupported. So what if Kanye got the most votes, if votes aren’t how the award is determined? At that point the argument has no leg to stand on, so since the opposite of the answer directly weakens the argument, then you know that the answer itself strengthens it. And since we’re typically all much more effective as critics than we are as defenders, taking the opposite helps you to do what you’re best at. So consider the full-length problem:

Editor of an automobile magazine: The materials used to make older model cars (those built before 1980) are clearly superior to those used to make late model cars (those built since 1980). For instance, all the 1960’s and 1970’s cars that I routinely inspect are in surprisingly good condition: they run well, all components work perfectly, and they have very little rust, even though many are over 50 years old. However, almost all of the late model cars I inspect that are over 10 years old run poorly, have lots of rust, and are barely fit to be on the road.

Which of the following is an assumption required by the argument above?

A) The quality of materials used in older model cars is not superior to those used to make other types of vehicles produced in the same time period.

B) Cars built before 1980 are not used for shorter trips than cars built since then.

C) Manufacturing techniques used in modern automobile plants are not superior to those used in plants before 1980.

D) Well-maintained and seldom-used older model vehicles are not the only ones still on the road.

E) Owners of older model vehicles take particularly good care of those vehicles.

First notice that several of the answer choices (A, B, C, and D) include “is not” or “are not” and that the question stem asks for an assumption. These are clues that you’re dealing with a “removes the flaw” kind of problem, in which what is not true (in the answer choices) is essential to making the conclusion of the argument true. Because of that, it’s a good idea to take the opposites of those answer choices so that instead of removing the flaw in a Strengthen/Assumption question, you’re introducing the flaw and making it a Weaken. When you do that, you should see that choice D becomes:

D) Well-maintained and seldom-used older model vehicles ARE the only ones still on the road.

If that’s the case, the conclusion – “the materials used to make older cars are clearly superior to those used in newer ones” – is proven to be flawed. All the junkers are now off the road, so the evidence no longer holds up; you’re only seeing well-working old cars because they’re the most cared-for, not because they were better made in the first place.

And in a larger context, look at what D does ‘reading forward’: if it’s not only well-maintained and seldom-driven older cars on the road, then you have a better comparison point. So what’s not true here makes the argument everything it is. But dealing in “what’s not true” can be a challenge, so remember that you can take the opposite of each answer choice and make this “Everything I’m Not” assumption question into a much-clearer “Everything I Am” Weaken question.

Are you studying for the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

By Brian Galvin

How to Interpret GMAT Critical Reasoning Questions

Ron Point_GMAT TipsInterpreting what is being asked on a question is arguably the most important skill required in order to perform well on the GMAT. After all, since the topics are taken from high school level material, and the test is designed to be difficult for college graduates, the difficulty must often come from more than just the material. In fact, it is very common on the GMAT to find that you got “the right answer to the wrong question.” This phrase is so well-known that it merits quotation marks (and eventually perhaps its own reality show).

What does this expression really mean? (Rhetorical question) It means that you followed the logic and executed the calculations properly, but you inputted the wrong parameters. As an example, a problem could ask you to solve a problem about the price of a dozen eggs, but along the way, you have to calculate the price of a single egg. If you’re going too fast and you notice that there’s an answer choice that matches your result, you might be tempted to pick it without executing the final calculation of multiplying the unit price by twelve. While this expression is often used for math problems, the same concept can also be applied to the verbal section of the exam.

The question category that most often exploits erroneous interpretations of a question is Critical Reasoning. In particular, the method of reasoning subcategory appropriately named “Mimic the Reasoning”. These types of questions are reminiscent of SAT questions (or LSAT questions for some) and hinge on properly interpreting what is actually stated in the problem.

Let’s look at an example to highlight this issue:

Nick: The best way to write a good detective story is to work backward from the crime. The writer should first decide what the crime is and who the perpetrator is, and then come up with the circumstances and clues based on those decisions.

Which one of the following illustrates a principle most similar to that illustrated by the passage?

A) When planning a trip, some people first decide where they want to go and then plan accordingly, but, for most of us, much financial planning must be done before we can choose where we are going.
B) In planting a vegetable garden, you should prepare the soil first, and then decide what kind of vegetables to plant.
C) Good architects do not extemporaneously construct their plans in the course of an afternoon; an architectural design cannot be divorced from the method of constructing the building.
D) In solving mathematical problems, the best method is to try out as many strategies as possible in the time allotted. This is particularly effective if the number of possible strategies is fairly small.
E) To make a great tennis shot, you should visualize where you want the shot to go. Then you can determine the position you need to be in to execute the shot properly.

This type of question is asking us to mimic, or copy, the line of reasoning even though the topic may be totally different. The issue is thus to interpret the passage, paraphrase the main ideas in our own words, and then determine which answer choice is analogous to our summary. Theoretically, there could be thousands of correct answers to a question like this, but the GMAT will provide us with four examples to knock out and one correct interpretation (though sometimes it feels like a needle in a haystack).

Let’s look at the original sentence again and try to interpret Nick’s point. The first sentence is: The best way to write a good detective story is to work backward from the crime. This means that, wherever we want to go, we should recognize that we should start at the end and work our way backwards. This is a similar principle as solving a maze (or reading “Of Mice and Men”). The second sentence is: The writer should first decide what the crime is and who the perpetrator is, and then come up with the circumstances and clues based on those decisions. This means that, once we know the ending, we can layer the text with hints so that the ending makes sense to the audience. Astute readers may even guess the ending based on the clues (R+L = J), and will feel rewarded for their keen observations.

Summarizing this idea, the author wants us to start at the end and work our way backwards so that we end up exactly where we want. The next step is to apply this logic to each answer choice in turn:

For answer choice A, when planning a trip, some people first decide where they want to go and then plan accordingly, but, for most of us, much financial planning must be done before we can choose where we are going, the first part about choosing a destination is perfect. However, the second part goes off the rails by introducing a previously unheralded concept: limitations. The author was not initially worried about limitations, financial or otherwise, so answer choice A is half right, which is not enough on this test. We can eliminate A.

Answer choice B, in planting a vegetable garden, you should prepare the soil first, and then decide what kind of vegetables to plant. While this is good general advice, it has nothing to do with our premise. Starting with the soil is the very definition of starting at the beginning. A more correct (plant-based) answer choice would state that we want to start with which plants we want in the garden and then work backwards to find the right soil. This is incorrect, so answer choice B is out.

Answer choice C, good architects do not extemporaneously construct their plans in the course of an afternoon; an architectural design cannot be divorced from the method of constructing the building, changes the timeline (much like Terminator Genysis). We must consider both issues simultaneously, which is not what the original passage postulated. We can eliminate answer choice C.

Answer choice D is: in solving mathematical problems, the best method is to try out as many strategies as possible in the time allotted. This is particularly effective if the number of possible strategies is fairly small. This is not only incorrect, but particularly bad advice for aspiring GMAT students. In fact, the author is describing backsolving, because we are starting at the answer and working our way backwards. We are not proposing “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks”. Answer D is out.

This leaves answer choice E, to make a great tennis shot, you should visualize where you want the shot to go. Then you can determine the position you need to be in to execute the shot properly. Not only must it be the correct answer given that we’ve eliminated the other four selections, but also it perfectly recreates the logic of planning backwards from the end. Answer choice E is the correct selection.

For method of reasoning questions, and on the GMAT in general, it’s very important to be able to interpret wording. If you cannot paraphrase the statements presented, then you won’t be able to easily eliminate incorrect answer choices. Part of acing the GMAT is not giving away easy points on questions that you actually know how to solve. If you read carefully and paraphrase concepts as they come up, you’ll be interpreting a high score on test day.

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam.  After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.

The Easiest Type of Reading Comprehension Question on the GMAT

Ron Point_GMAT TipsReading comprehension questions on the GMAT are primarily an exercise in time management. If you gave yourself 30 minutes to complete a single Reading Comprehension passage along with four questions, you would find the endeavour very easy. Most questions on the GMAT feature some kind of trap, trick or wording nuance that could easily lead you astray and select the wrong answer. Reading Comprehension questions, while occasionally tricky, are typically the most straightforward questions on the entire exam.

So why doesn’t everyone get a perfect score on these questions? Often, it’s simply because they are pressed for time. Reading a 300+ word passage and then answering a question about the subject matter may take a few minutes, especially if English isn’t your first language or you’re not a habitual reader (you’ve only read Game of Thrones once?). Add to that the possibility of two or three answer choices seeming plausible, and you frequently waste time re-reading the same paragraphs over and over again in the passage.

Luckily, there is one type of question in Reading Comprehension that rarely requires you to revisit the passage and search for a specific sentence. Universal questions ask about the passage as a whole, not about specific actions, passages or characters. I often define universal questions as the “Wikipedia synopsis” (or Cliff’s notes for the older generation) of the passage. The question is concerned with the overarching theme of the passage, not about a single element. As such, it should be easy to answer these questions after reading the passage only once as long as you understood what you were reading.

Let’s delve into this further using a Reading Comprehension passage (note: this is the same passage I used previously for function, specific and inference questions).

Nearly all the workers of the Lowell textile mills of Massachusetts were unmarried daughters from farm families. Some of the workers were as young as ten. Since many people in the 1820s were disturbed by the idea of working females, the company provided well-kept dormitories and boarding-houses. The meals were decent and church attendance was mandatory. Compared to other factories of the time, the Lowell mills were clean and safe, and there was even a journal, The Lowell Offering, which contained poems and other material written by the workers, and which became known beyond New England. Ironically, it was at the Lowell Mills that dissatisfaction with working conditions brought about the first organization of working women.

                The mills were highly mechanized, and were in fact considered a model of efficiency by others in the textile industry. The work was difficult, however, and the high level of standardization made it tedious. When wages were cut, the workers organized the Factory Girls Association. 15,000 women decided to “turn out”, or walk off the job. The Offering, meant as a pleasant creative outlet, gave the women a voice that could be heard by sympathetic people elsewhere in the country, and even in Europe. However, the ability of the women to demand changes was severely circumscribed by an inability to go for long without wages with which to support themselves and help support their families. The same limitation hampered the effectiveness of the Lowell Female Labor Reform Association (LFLRA), organized in 1844.

                No specific reform can be directly attributed to the Lowell workers, but their legacy is unquestionable. The LFLRA’s founder, Sarah Bagley, became a national figure, testifying before the Massachusetts House of Representatives. When the New England Labor Reform League was formed, three of the eight board members were women. Other mill workers took note of the Lowell strikes, and were successful in getting better pay, shorter hours, and safer working conditions. Even some existing child labor laws can be traced back to efforts first set in motion by the Lowell Mill Women.

The primary purpose of the passage is to do which of the following?

(A) Describe the labor reforms that can be attributed to the workers at the Lowell mills
(B) Criticize the proprietors of the Lowell mills for their labor practices
(C) Suggest that the Lowell mills played a large role in the labor reform movement
(D) Describe the conditions under which the Lowell mills employees worked
(E) Analyze the business practices of early American factories

The most frequent universal question you’ll see is something along the lines of “what is the primary purpose of this passage”. In essence, it’s asking you to summarize the 300+ word passage into one sentence, and that is difficult to do if you don’t remember anything about the passage. Ideally, you retained the key elements during your initial read. If need be, you can reread the passage, noting the main point of each paragraph in about five words. The synopsis of each paragraph, especially the last one, should give you a good idea about the overall goal of the passage.

In this passage, each paragraph is talking about the labour strife at the Lowell textile mills of Massachusetts in the 1820s. The first paragraph describes the conditions at the mill and sets the stage, the second paragraph describes the worker strike and subsequent resolution, and the third paragraph discusses the legacy of these workers. The overall theme has to capture the spirit of the entire passage, which is often summarized in the final paragraph (often the author’s conclusion). Pay special attention to that paragraph in order to determine why the author wrote this text and what he or she wanted you to learn from it.

Let’s look at the answer choices in order. Answer choice A, describe the labor reforms that can be attributed to the workers at the Lowell mills, is a popular incorrect answer. The goal of the passage is to shed light on these events, and describing the labor reforms attributed to these workers seems like a good conclusion, but it is specifically refuted by the first line of the third paragraph: “No specific reform can be directly attributed to the Lowell workers…” This means that answer choice A, while tempting, is hijacking the actual conclusion of the passage, as we cannot describe things that do not exist, and is therefore incorrect.

Answer choice B, criticize the proprietors of the Lowell mills for their labor practices, seems like something the reader could agree with, but is completely out of the scope of the passage. The mill is not being scrutinized for their labor practices; rather, the efforts of certain people are being underlined. If anything, the text suggests that the conditions at this mill were better than most at the time (and still today in certain countries). Answer choice B is somewhat righteous, but ultimately wrong in this passage.

Answer choice C, suggest that the Lowell mills played a large role in the labor reform movement, is supported by what is being said in the final paragraph. The legacy of the Lowell mills is being discussed, and since other workers were inspired by the events that transpired at these mills, the Lowell mills played a significant part in the larger labor reform movement. While this answer focuses somewhat on the third paragraph, don’t forget that the final paragraph has the most sway in the majority of passages, just as the last section of a movie is usually the most important section (the denouement, in proper English). Answer choice C is correct here, as the passage is primarily discussing the legacy of these events.

Let’s continue on for completion’s sake. Answer choice D, describe the conditions under which the Lowell mills employees worked, focuses on one small portion of the first paragraph, and even then the conditions are not covered in great detail. It’s a big stretch to try and claim that this is the primary focus of the entire passage, and thus can be eliminated fairly quickly.

Answer choice E, analyze the business practices of early American factories, is an answer choice that seems to bring some larger context to the passage, but is even more out of scope than answer choice B because it’s much broader. Only one mill is being examined in the passage, and its business practices were not even the main focus of the passage, so broadening the scope to all American factories is certainly incorrect. Answer choice E can also be eliminated, leaving only answer choice C as the correct selection.

Generally, universal questions do not require a rereading of the passage as the questions are primarily concerned with the broad strokes of the passage. If you didn’t grasp the major facets of the passage when reading through it, you probably didn’t understand the passage at all. If you understand the major elements of the passage as you read through it the first time, noting the primary purpose of each paragraph as you go along, you’ll be ready for any question in the universe.

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam.  After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.

99th Percentile GMAT Score or Bust! Lesson 4: Think Like a Lawyer on Critical Reasoning

raviVeritas Prep’s Ravi Sreerama is the #1-ranked GMAT instructor in the world (by GMATClub) and a fixture in the new Veritas Prep Live Online format as well as in Los Angeles-area classrooms.  He’s beloved by his students for the philosophy “99th percentile or bust!”, a signal that all students can score in the elusive 99th percentile with the proper techniques and preparation.   In this “9 for 99thvideo series, Ravi shares some of his favorite strategies to efficiently conquer the GMAT and enter that 99th percentile.

 

Lesson Four:

Think Like a Lawyer.  Your natural inclination is to just click “I agree” to the iTunes Terms & Conditions, but to lawyers each word in that agreement is carefully chosen to build a case.  Thankfully, on the GMAT the Critical Reasoning problems you see will be 99% shorter than those Terms & Conditions, but you’ll need to train yourself to think like a lawyer and notice how carefully chosen those words in the prompt are.  In this video, Ravi will demonstrate how his law degree has helped him become a master of GMAT Critical Reasoning, and how you can summon your inner Elle Woods (or Johnnie Cochran) to conquer CR, too.

Are you studying for the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Want to learn more from Ravi? He’s taking his show on the road for one-week Immersion Courses in San Francisco and New York this summer, and teaches frequently in our new Live Online classroom.

By Brian Galvin

When Not to Use Parallelism on the GMAT

Quarter Wit, Quarter WisdomWe know that we are often tested on parallelism on the GMAT. The logically parallel entities should be grammatically parallel. But today, we need to talk about circumstances where you might be tempted to employ parallelism but it would be incorrect to do so.

For example, look at this sentence:

A New York City ordinance of 1897 regulated the use of bicycles, mandated a maximum speed of eight miles an hour, required cyclists to keep feet on pedals and hands on handlebars at all times, and granted pedestrians right-of-way.

Is everything ok here? Well, it certainly seems so. We have four elements in parallel:

regulated …

mandated …

required …

granted …

But actually, there is a problem in this sentence:

‘regulated…’ will not be parallel to the rest of the three elements. The rest of the three elements will be in parallel.

Before we explain why, let’s take a simpler example:

The girl sitting next to me wears blue everyday, eats only waffles, and listens to music in office.

The sentence will not be ‘The girl sits next to me…’ because ‘sit’ is not parallel to other verbs. “sit” modifies the girl and is not used as a verb here. It is a present participle modifier modifying ‘girl’. It specifies the girl about whom we are talking.

Similarly, in the original sentence, ‘regulate’ is modifying ‘ordinance of 1897’. It is telling you which ordinance of 1897.

The other verbs ‘mandated’, ‘required’ and ‘granted’ are used as verbs and are parallel. They are assimilated under ‘regulate’. They tell you how the ordinance regulated.

How did it regulate?

mandated …

required …

granted …

Hence, you cannot use ‘regulated’ here. You must use ‘regulating’  – the present participle modifier to modify the ordinance. So you have to think logically – are the items in the given list actually parallel? Are they equal elements? If yes, then they need to be grammatically parallel too; else not.

Here is the complete official question:

Question: A New York City ordinance of 1897 regulated the use of bicycles, mandated a maximum speed of eight miles an hour, required of cyclists to keep feet on pedals and hands on handlebars at all times, and it granted pedestrians right-of-way.

(A) regulated the use of bicycles, mandated a maximum speed of eight miles an

hour, required of cyclists to keep feet on pedals and hands on handlebars at all

times, and it granted

(B) regulated the use of bicycles, mandated a maximum speed of eight miles an

hour, required cyclists to keep feet on pedals and hands on handlebars at all

times, granting

(C) regulating the use of bicycles mandated a maximum speed of eight miles an

hour, required cyclists that they keep feet on pedals and hands on handlebars

at all times, and it granted

(D) regulating the use of bicycles, mandating a maximum speed of eight miles an

hour, requiring of cyclists that they keep feet on pedals and hands on

handlebars at all times, and granted

(E) regulating the use of bicycles mandated a maximum speed of eight miles an

hour, required cyclists to keep feet on pedals and hands on handlebars at all

times, and granted

Solution:

From our above discussion, we know that we have choose one of (C), and (E).

(A), (B) and (D) put regulate parallel to the other verbs.

Still, let’s point out all the errors of these options:

(A) regulated the use of bicycles, mandated a maximum speed of eight miles an

hour, required of cyclists to keep feet on pedals and hands on handlebars at all

times, and it granted

Parallelism problem – regulated cannot be parallel to mandated and other verbs. Also, ‘mandated’ is not parallel to ‘it granted’. Besides, ‘required of X to do Y’ is unidiomatic.

(B) regulated the use of bicycles, mandated a maximum speed of eight miles an

hour, required cyclists to keep feet on pedals and hands on handlebars at all

times, granting

Parallelism problem – ‘regulated’ is parallel to ‘mandated’ though it should not be.

‘granting’ is not parallel to ‘mandated’ and ‘required’ though it needs to be parallel.

You also need an ‘and’ before the last element of the list ‘and granted …’

(D) regulating the use of bicycles, mandating a maximum speed of eight miles an

hour, requiring of cyclists that they keep feet on pedals and hands on

handlebars at all times, and granted

This is not a valid sentence because the main clause does not have a verb. ‘regulating…’, ‘mandating…’ and ‘requiring…’ are the present participle modifiers.

‘granted…’ is not parallel to the other elements. Besides, ‘requiring of X that they do Y’ is unidiomatic.

Now let’s look at the leftover options:

(C) regulating the use of bicycles mandated a maximum speed of eight miles an

hour, required cyclists that they keep feet on pedals and hands on handlebars

at all times, and it granted

‘it granted’ is not parallel to the other verbs. Besides, ‘required X that they do Y’ is unidiomatic.

(E) regulating the use of bicycles mandated a maximum speed of eight miles an

hour, required cyclists to keep feet on pedals and hands on handlebars at all

times, and granted

Perfect! All issues sorted out!

Answer (E)

Karishma, a Computer Engineer with a keen interest in alternative Mathematical approaches, has mentored students in the continents of Asia, Europe and North America. She teaches the GMAT for Veritas Prep and regularly participates in content development projects such as this blog!

Avoid the Tempting Trap Answer on GMAT Questions

Ron Point_GMAT Tips

When looking through answer choices on Critical Reasoning questions, there is always one correct answer to the question. After all, it wouldn’t be fair if two different answers were both legitimate responses to the query being posed. However, just because the other four answers are incorrect, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t tempting. In fact, there is usually one choice the exam is pointing you towards selecting, even though it isn’t the correct option. This is often referred to as the sucker choice.

The sucker choice is an answer that seems to answer the question on the surface, but in actuality it is only a red herring. Answers like this will frequently provide redundant information, or play into your preconceived notions. As an example, if a couple has two children, and you’re told that child A is taller than child B, you’d naturally think that child A is older than child B. However, this doesn’t have to be the case, as the children could be adults (ironic, no?). A taller child does not necessarily imply an older child, but it’s certainly an assumption a lot of people would make.

Other examples of the sucker choice involve providing known information on a strengthen/weaken question, or giving an answer choice that seems reasonable but not 100% assured on an inference question. The choices will always seem reasonable, and in many cases, they will be the most popular answer choices selected. In many ways, the sucker answer choice is like smoking. It seemed like a good idea at the time, it feels good, and it can be bad for your (GMAT) health long term.

Let’s look at a question that deals with this very topic:

A system-wide county school anti-smoking education program was instituted last year. The program was clearly a success. Last year, the incidence of students smoking on school premises decreased by over 70 percent.

Which of the following, if true, would most seriously weaken the argument in the passage?

(A) The author of this statement is a school system official hoping to generate good publicity for the anti-smoking program.
(B) Most students who smoke stopped smoking on school premises last year continued to smoke when away from school.
(C) Last year, another policy change made it much easier for students to leave and return to school grounds during the school day.
(D) The school system spent more on anti-smoking education programs last year than it did in all previous years.
(E) The amount of time students spent in anti-smoking education programs last year resulted in a reduction of in-class hours devoted to academic subjects

On this Critical Reasoning weaken question, it’s important to note the conclusion and the supporting evidence. The conclusion is the middle sentence (The program was clearly a success) as that is unmistakably the author’s main point in this passage. The evidence is everything else, but especially the last sentence, because a decrease of 70% of student smoking on the premises would seem to support the author’s conclusion. We’re tasked with weakening this conclusion, so we must find evidence that refutes this evidence or otherwise makes the conclusion less likely to occur.

There is one trap answer on this question that a lot of students gravitate towards. I’ll let you reread the choices to see which one you singled out (cue jeopardy music).

The answer choice that most people like is B: students who smoke stopped smoking on school premises last year continued to smoke when away from school. After all, the logic seems sound. If students stopped smoking at school, and we’re trying to weaken the conclusion, then it would follow that students smoking everywhere else (at home, in the street, at the Peach Pit…) would weaken the conclusion. Furthermore, this is new evidence that seems to perfectly solve every element we care about. Many students select B here and move on with nary a thought that they just fell into a GMAT trap. (It’s a trap!)

Let’s re-examine the conclusion. The conclusion stated that the program was a success, and the program was defined as a county school anti-smoking education program. This means that the students were being educated in an effort to reduce smoking at school. If incidents of smoking at school decreased by 70%, then the program was a success, regardless of whether the students were smoking elsewhere. Indeed, the goal of the program was to reduce smoking in school, and answer choice B does not weaken that conclusion. It weakens the goal of curbing out smoking altogether, but that is a slightly different conclusion that is beyond the scope of this particular argument.

As such, answer choice B seems like a logical answer, but fails to meet the necessary criteria to be the right response. This means that we need to peruse the other four answer choices to identify the correct choice.

Answer choice A, “the author of this statement is a school system official hoping to generate good publicity for the anti-smoking program”, implies that the author may have a hidden agenda. While this may be true, it doesn’t account for the 70% decrease of on-campus smoking, so it doesn’t do a good job of weakening the argument given the evidence presented. We can eliminate this choice.

Answer choice C, “Last year, another policy change made it much easier for students to leave and return to school grounds during the school day” does indeed weaken this argument. If your only evidence is the decrease in smoking on campus, then any alternative explanation as to why that happened weakens your argument. The students may not be smoking on the grounds anymore, but they are still smoking at school, just a little further away than before. Indeed, the smoking policy may have had absolutely no effect on students’ habits whatsoever, greatly weakening the conclusion.

Answer choice D, “The school system spent more on anti-smoking education programs last year than it did in all previous years” actually somewhat strengthens the argument. If the school system put a lot of money into the program, then it would be more likely to succeed. Even if the school overspent, the success of the program is determined by the students’ smoking habits, not the program’s budget.

Answer choice E, “the amount of time students spent in anti-smoking education programs last year resulted in a reduction of in-class hours devoted to academic subjects” is also somewhat tempting, because it introduces the concept of side-effects. In the real world, we might do something that has unintended consequences, and look back on the decision as a mistake. Side effects don’t affect the success rate of the program, so this answer choice can be eliminated.

As we saw, answer choice C is the correct selection. However, it may not be the most common selection on this exam, as another answer choice was more enticing for a lot of students. The GMAT is designed to provide tempting answer choices that almost solve the issue at hand, but fall short in one crucial measure. On test day, be wary of these tempting sucker choices, or your exam score will go up in smoke.

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam.  After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.

2 Ways to Improve Your Pattern Recognition on GMAT Questions

patternIn 1946, a fascinating study about chess masters revealed that, for the most part, they had unexceptional working memories. This finding flew in the face of conventional wisdom, which held that chess masters must have had photographic memories to absorb thousands and thousands of scenarios they’d encountered throughout their years of training. Instead of relying on superior recall, it turns out that they were simply better than most at recognizing patterns.

Similarly, for all the dizzying content the GMAT requires you to internalize, the exam, more than anything else, is about pattern recognition. There are two ways we can improve at pattern recognition. The first, and most obvious, is that by doing many practice questions, our brains, like those of the aforementioned chess masters, will subconsciously absorb recurring patterns.

The second is to learn to recognize certain signposts and triggers that indicate what’s being tested. In Sentence Correction, for example, there are certain classic trigger words for parallel construction, such as “both,” “either/or,” and “not only/but also.” As soon as we see one of these constructions, we can immediately zero in on this part of the sentence and evaluate whether the items that follow the signpost are parallel to one another. If a phrase begins with “both in x,” for example, I know I want to see the parallel construction, “and in y,” in that same sentence. All of the other grammatical, stylistic, and logical considerations can temporarily be put aside. Once I’ve resolved this issue, if I’m left with more than one answer choice, I’ll look for other differences, but I’ll likely have narrowed my possibilities so much that the problem will be much less taxing than it would have been otherwise.

Take this Official Guide* problem, for example:

Many of the earliest known images of Hindu deities in India date from the time of the Kushan empire, fashioned either from the spotted sandstone of Mathura or Gandharan grey schist.

A) Empire, fashioned either from the spotted sandstone of Mathura or
B) Empire, fashioned from either the spotted sandstone of Mathura or from
C) Empire, either fashioned from the spotted sandstone of Mathura or
D) Empire and either fashioned from the spotted sandstone of Mathura or from
E) Empire and were fashioned either from the spotted sandstone of Mathura or from

The moment I see that “either” I’m focusing on this part of the sentence. Now watch how quickly I can eliminate incorrect options:

A) “either from spotted sandstone of Mathura or grey schist.” I want “either from x” or “from” I don’t have a second “from” here. A is out.

B) “either the spotted sandstone of Mathura or from grey schist.” See what they did here. Parallel construction begins when we see the parallel marker “either.” Now there is no “from” before the first item, but we do have it before the second one. “either x or from y” is not parallel. B is out.

C) “either fashioned from the spotted sandstone of Mathura or gray schist” Now we’re back to the original error of having “from x or y” rather than the desired “from x or from y.” C is out.

D) “either fashioned from the spotted sandstone of Mathura or from grey” A little better. We’d prefer “either fashioned from x or fashioned from y,” but at least we have the preposition “from” in front of both items. But now read that full first clause, “Many of the earliest known images of Hindu deities in India date from the time of the Kushan Empire and either fashioned from the spotted sandstone…” Well, that doesn’t make any sense. We’d want to say that the images date from the time of the Kushan Empire and were fashioned from the spotted sandstone. Without the verb “were,” the sentence is incoherent. Eliminiate D.

E) “either from the spotted sandstone of Mathura or from grey schist.” Now we see it. “either from x or from y.” We have our parallel construction. E is correct.

Let’s try another example*:

Thelonious Monk, who was a jazz pianist and composer, produced a body of work both rooted in the stride-piano tradition of Willie (The Lion) Smith and Duke Ellington, yet in many ways he stood apart from the mainstream jazz repertory.

A) Thelonious Monk, who was a jazz pianist and composer, produced a body of work both rooted
B) Thelonious Monk, the jazz pianist and composer, produced a body of work that was rooted both
C) Jazz pianist and composer Thelonious Monk, who produced a body of work rooted
D) Jazz pianist and composer Thelonious Monk produced a body of work that was rooted
E) Jazz pianist and composer Thelonious Monk produced a body of work rooted both

Again, we see one of the parallel trigger words. In this case, “both.” So the first thing I’ll do is examine the items that follow the parallel marker, “both rooted in the stride piano tradition.” If I begin a phrase with “rooted in x” I’ll want to follow that with “in y.” Notice that not only does the original sentence fail to do this, but the portion of the sentence we wish to change isn’t even underlined! Because we cannot produce a parallel construction here, we’ll need to eliminate the parallel marker “both” altogether. That means A, B, and E are all out. Now let’s evaluate C and D.

C) the clause, “who produced a body of work…” is set off by commas and functions as a modifier of Thelonious Monk. This means that the clause is incidental to the meaning of the sentence. But if we read the sentence without the modifier, we get, “Jazz pianist and composer Thelonious Monk, yet in many ways he stood apart from the mainstream jazz repertory.” Well, that doesn’t make any sense. “Yet” should connect two full clauses, but in this case, it connects the noun phrase, “Jazz pianist and composer Thelonious Monk” to the full clause, “in many ways he stood apart from the mainstream jazz repertory.” This is incoherent. Eliminate C.

That leaves us with D, which is our answer. Recognizing the pattern and focusing on parallel construction allowed us to ignore the rest of what was a fairly complex sentence.

Takeaways: The GMAT is less a test of memorization than it is an exercise in pattern recognition. There’s no getting around having to see many examples of questions to prime our brains to recognize these patterns on test day, but there are certain structural clues that provide insight into what a particular question is testing. If we internalize those structural clues, suddenly the patterns we’re tasked with recognizing become far more conspicuous.

*Official Guide questions courtesy of the Graduate Management Admissions Council.

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

By David Goldstein, a Veritas Prep GMAT instructor based in Boston. You can find more articles by him here

Fishing for the Right Answer to Critical Reasoning GMAT Questions

Ron Point_GMAT TipsWhile preparing for the GMAT, there will be certain question types that will appear over and over again. If you’re studying math, you know that you’ll see at least a couple of exponent problems that you’ll need to solve through algebra. If you’re studying sentence correction, you know that you’ll see at least a couple of misplaced modifiers that need to be modified in the correct answer choice. Some question types are so obvious that you know you have to prepare for them, even if you somehow manage to not see a single one on test day (kind of like fishing).

However, there are other question types that you rarely see on the GMAT. Questions about the volume of spheres (or the winds of winter), or conjugating verbs in the subjunctive mood just don’t come up that often on the GMAT. This means that some people feel like they can skip these lessons and concentrate on the “big fish”, as it were (more fishing analogies).

The problem is that, when you inevitably stumble upon a question you haven’t bothered to prepare for, you start panicking. Sometimes, the panic is not noticeable, but subconsciously you begin to lose confidence and wonder how you’re going to answer this question. The sad truth is that there’s a good chance you’ll have to take an educated guess and move on. This isn’t so bad, as long as the negative effects are limited only to the question being asked. Unfortunately, these qualms tend to linger with most test takers for at least a few questions afterwards.

The best strategy for someone who wants to do really well on the GMAT is to know every type of question that can be asked of you. Understandably, you should spend more time on the broad topics that are sure to be covered more frequently, but there should not be any “oh gosh” moments on the GMAT (unless you took the exam in the ‘50s) to zap your confidence.

Let’s look at an example and what to do if we’re really not sure what to do on a question.

Economic analysts predict that by 2030 populations of urban areas will have increased by 60%. This will have tremendous impact on the demand for water in these areas. The increased demand will exhaust the local supplies of water and potable water sources will be drawn to urban areas from longer distances, resulting in a dramatic rise in the price of water.

Which of the following roles do the two boldfaced portions play?

A) The first is the conclusion of the argument; the second is a prediction that serves as the basis for the argument.

B) The first is a prediction that serves as the basis for the argument; the second is the conclusion of the argument.

C) The first is a conclusion that serves as the basis of the argument; the second is a prediction that follows from the conclusion and is used to support the argument.

D) The first is a prediction that serves as the basis for the argument; the second is a prediction that follows from the conclusion.

E) The first is a prediction that serves as the basis for the argument; the second is a consequence that follows from the prediction and is used to support the argument.

Questions that ask about the roles of boldface sections fall under the Method of Reasoning subsection of Critical Reasoning.  These questions are somewhat rare on the GMAT, and as a result students don’t tend to have much experience with them. Trying to decipher them without much experience is eminently doable, but a little practice ahead of time will help ensure that your grade doesn’t sink on test day (I’ve definitely jumped the shark with these water metaphors).

The beauty of roles of boldface questions is that they’re asking you to evaluate two phrases, and the answer choices contain two elements. This means that you can look at them one at a time, independently of the other half of the answer choice, and eliminate the choices that don’t match up to your expectations.

Let’s look at the first section “Economic analysts predict that by 2030 populations of urban areas will have increased by 60%.The five answer choices all have a selection that ends with a semi-colon to describe this phrase. Looking at the choices above, A and C state “the first is a conclusion of the argument”, while B, D and E state “the first is a prediction that serves as the basis for the argument”. This section certainly seems like a prediction (the third word is even “predict”), but let’s dive into the passage more to identify the conclusion. This should be easy; as you’re tasked with finding the conclusion for any strengthen or weaken Critical Reasoning questions.

Using the “why?” test, it becomes apparent that the conclusion is the last line: “resulting in a dramatic rise in the price of water.” Why? Because of the increase in demand. Why? Because the increased demand will mean water will come from further away. Why? Because people are moving more and more to urban areas. Why? (I feel like Steve Austin here) We don’t know that, it’s just stated as a premise. Now that we’ve identified what the conclusion of this passage is, we can more convincingly knock off incorrect answer choices.

The first section is clearly a prediction, and the conclusion of the passage is the following sentence, so we can eliminate answer choices A and C because they do not correctly identify the role of this phrase. We then move on to the second bolded section of the passage: potable water sources will be drawn to urban areas from longer distances. Looking at the second half of the three remaining choices, we have:

B) “The second is the conclusion of the argument”

D) “The second is a prediction that follows from the conclusion”

E) “The second is a consequence that follows from the prediction and is used to support the argument”

Since we’ve already identified the conclusion of the passage, we can quickly eliminate answer choice B. The conclusion is that the price of water will increase given the increased demand, so answer choice D inverses the relationship between the bolded section and the conclusion. Logically, the fact that water will need to be drawn from further away will contribute to the increase in the price of water, not the other way around. Since this is used to support the argument, answer choice E will be the correct choice.

Logically, you should spend most of your time on question types you know are going to show up on the exam. That means that there may be some instances of seeing question types for the first time on test day. If that happens, remember that the GMAT is primarily a test of how you think, so use the same logical tenets you would use on any other question. Here, we identified the conclusion of a passage, eliminated answer choices inconsistent with our analysis, and ultimately found the only correct answer choice. If you do the same on test day, you’ll end up with a whale of a score.

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam.  After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.

GMAT Tip of the Week: Serenity and Sentence Correction

GMAT Tip of the WeekIf you’re reading this, you’re probably hoping for a 700+ score on the GMAT.  You’re probably wishing for a 700+ score on the GMAT.  And you may well be praying for a 700+ score on the GMAT.

And if you’re praying, one prayer in particular is your best hope to maximize your GMAT Verbal performance, regardless of whether you can benefit from divine intervention.  No matter your faith or belief system, the Serenity Prayer is critical to your Sentence Correction success:

 

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.​

You can view this as a prayer or simply a personal mantra.  But you’d better keep it close to heart.  On GMAT Sentence Correction problems you MUST maintain the serenity to accept that there will be sentence structures and word choices that you cannot change, and you MUST instead focus on changing those things that you can. Now let’s supply the wisdom to know the difference.

YOU CANNOT CHANGE:

The non-underlined portion.  Particularly when studying, many GMAT students love to protest problems on the basis that the non-underlined portion “doesn’t sound right” or “is awkward and clumsy” or “I think it has an error…this question is flawed!”.  In truth, the GMAT (and reputable creators of replica study problems) intentionally uses strange structures in large part to test your ability to maintain that serenity.  You can only change what they give you the option to change, and those who can’t handle the stress of having limited control are at a distinct disadvantage.

The five answer choices.  For many GMAT problems we all would prefer to just rewrite our own sentence.  How many times have you started to write a sentence in an email or essay then realized “I’m not sure if this is grammatically correct” and then deleted and written a brand-new sentence to avoid that uncertainty?  We all do that, regularly, and so on the GMAT you have that primal desire to want to write your own sentence. But you don’t have that option.  You have to accept that you can’t write your own answer choice and that “the game” is largely about your ability to play it by the test’s rules.

The author’s intent.  GMAT students love to ask “what if?” on Sentence Correction problems, motivated in part by fear “but what if they had two right answers?” and in part by protest “I don’t like the right answer so let me suggest this other right answer (like the point above) – okay hotshot teacher what would you do now?”.  This is virtually never a productive discussion, so accept the serenity that it’s a waste of your time.  There will always be exactly one correct answer and exactly four incorrect answers.  And whether that correct answer feels wrong or strange to you, it’s correct. And whether you think you could change that wrong answer you picked through a word change here or there, that’s not what the question was about.  The GMAT spends roughly $5,000 per question in research, development, and administration costs; these problems are “scientifically” chosen to look exactly the way they look. You can’t change the problem; your job is to learn from it.

YOU CAN CHANGE:

The underlined portion of the sentence.  They give you five ways to phrase that section and the only real choice you have in the matter is which of those five provides a logical meaning and is free from error.  That’s your job, so harness your “courage to change the things you can” toward making that choice effectively.

The way that you approach SC problems.  Most of us read from left to right and from top to bottom, but on Sentence Correction problems you can and should change that approach to suit your strengths. Attack major grammatical errors first, emphasizing those that you know you’re best at (for most of us those include subject-verb agreement, pronoun agreement, and verb tenses).  Defer choices that you’re not 100% certain on while you search for better ones; no one said you have to make a decision on A first, then B, then C…  You can hunt for the errors you feel most comfortable spotting, then work your way toward major differences between the remaining answer choices.

Your study mindset.  Much more on the verbal section than on the quant, students have a tendency to fight for their answer choice.  “But wait…”  “But what if…”  “But I thought…”  Which in and of itself isn’t a terrible thing; the fact that you’re heavily invested in the problem is a great sign.  But (there’s that word again) what’s most important isn’t being right in practice, it’s being right on test day.  Learning how the GMAT uses strange structures to throw you off is helpful; when you don’t like a correct answer, think about that structure or phrasing and pay attention to it when you see it in writing elsewhere.  When you fall victim to a trap, think about what tempted you with the wrong answer and how the testmaker threw you off the scent of the correct answer.  GMAT Sentence Correction rewards serenity, courage, and knowledge.  You have to have the serenity to accept that you can’t change most of what you’re reading and that you will undoubtedly find correct answers that aren’t written the way you’d write them.  You have to have the courage to deflect decisions you know you’re not good at and the patience to scan until you find decisions that you know you can make.  And you have to have the knowledge that it’s all part of the game and that those who succeed on these questions are the ones who recognize and embrace that.  You may not be able to pray your way to 700+, but the Serenity Prayer is a great start in that direction.

Are you studying for the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

By Brian Galvin

Watch Movies with a Critical Eye as You Study for the GMAT This Summer

Ron Point_GMAT TipsWith the summer blockbuster season around the corner, it’s easy for your studying motivation to wane. After all, the GMAT doesn’t have the same allure as the big budget Hollywood movies people line up to see every summer. However, while seeing a movie can be a welcome distraction, there is a lot we can learn from movies when studying for the GMAT.

As an example, when Tony Stark verbally jousts with Ultron in the latest Avengers movie, he is demonstrating critical reasoning and trying very hard to weaken his opponents’ argument. In Jurassic World, a hybrid dinosaur is created using data from various sources, as a conclusion would be created from various sources on a Reading Comprehension question. And in Terminator Genisys, a fractured timeline is created that resembles many tense errors in Sentence Correction (to say nothing of misspelling the title).

Arguably, every movie you see this summer will incorporate some elements of what’s covered on the GMAT (I’m still working on Magic Mike XXL).  The exam is designed to test your knowledge of logic using elements you have already covered previously in an academic environment. Moreover, the topics on the GMAT often arouse your own interests and pertain to things you care about. Indeed, sometimes the questions asked will even make you think of the movie you saw the week before to take your mind off the GMAT!

Let’s look at such an example, combining movies and GMAT in one sleek Sentence Correction question:

At major Hollywood studios, a much greater proportion of the population is employed than is employed by independent movie production companies.

A) At major Hollywood studios, a much greater proportion of the population is employed than is employed by independent movie production companies.

B) At major Hollywood studios they employ a much greater proportion of the population than independent movie production companies do.

C) A much greater proportion of the major Hollywood studios’ population is employed than independent movie production companies employ.

D) Major Hollywood studios employ a much greater proportion of the population than the employment of independent movie production companies.

E) Major Hollywood studios employ a much greater proportion of the population than independent movie production companies do.

This question begins with an absolute phrase “At major Hollywood studios…” that modifies the rest of the sentence. The second half of the sentence is a comparison between big budget studios and independent companies, highlighted by the trigger word “than”. With comparisons, we must always ensure that we are comparing similar elements and that these elements are in a parallel form.

Looking specifically at answer choice A, the absolute phrase “At major Hollywood studios” would need to apply to the rest of the sentence. (This is similar to the classic trailer opening “In a world…”). This structure would only be correct if the rest of the sentence were limited in scope to the major Hollywood studios. Anything outside of this scope would create an illogical discord between the modifying phrase and the rest of the sentence. Since the sentence deals with the entire population, it does not make sense to limit it only to the Hollywood studios, and this answer choice can be eliminated for this error in logical meaning.

Answer choice B, “At major Hollywood studios they employ a much greater proportion of the population than independent movie production companies do”, there is a pronoun error in the first five words. The antecedent for “they” is nebulous, because it conceivably refers to the studios, or the executives at the studios, or perhaps the HR department at the studios, or something else. The rest of the sentence isn’t great either, but one glaring pronoun error is enough to definitively eliminate this choice from contention.

Answer choice C, “A much greater proportion of the major Hollywood studios’ population is employed than independent movie production companies employ” changes the meaning into something that is not exactly English. The population has now been restricted to only the Hollywood studios’ population, and the comparison being made is illogical as well, as it is now comparing a population proportion to a movie production. Answer choice C is perhaps the worst phrase of the bunch and hopefully can be eliminated rather quickly.

Answer choice D, “Major Hollywood studios employ a much greater proportion of the population than the employment of independent movie production companies” starts off well, but makes the same comparison error that we saw in answer C. If the sentence begins by comparing major studios to something else, then that something else has to be a studio (or something analogous, my cousin’s garage for example). By comparing studios to employment, the answer choice makes an illogical apples-to-oranges comparison that precludes it from consideration.

Answer choice E, “Major Hollywood studios employ a much greater proportion of the population than independent movie production companies do” correctly compares studios to production companies, and makes no other type of error along the way. By process of elimination, this had to be the correct choice, but it’s always nice when the last remaining choice doesn’t contain any obvious errors or omissions. This answer choice is correct, and we can confidently select E as our answer before moving on to the sequel (or next question, as the case may be.)

When it comes to summer blockbusters, there’s always something to learn. Sometimes we learn something helpful in grammar, and sometimes we learn that physics don’t always apply (thank you Furious 7!). This summer, if you’re studying for the GMAT, don’t forget to take the occasional break to go and enjoy a good movie to give your mind a break from the rigors of Sentence Correction problems. Just don’t get butter on your GMAT books.

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam.  After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.

99th Percentile GMAT Score or Bust! Lesson 2: If the Answers Smell the Same, They Stink

raviVeritas Prep’s Ravi Sreerama is the #1-ranked GMAT instructor in the world (by GMATClub) and a fixture in the new Veritas Prep Live Online format as well as in Los Angeles-area classrooms.  He’s beloved by his students for the philosophy “99th percentile or bust!”, a signal that all students can score in the elusive 99th percentile with the proper techniques and preparation.   In this “9 for 99thvideo series, Ravi shares some of his favorite strategies to efficiently conquer the GMAT and enter that 99th percentile.

 

Lesson Two:

If Answers Smell the Same, They Stink.  GMAT verbal problems all carry the same basic instruction: select the best answer from this list of five; while that may sound straightforward enough, it actually lends itself to a powerful strategy.  Since there cannot be two correct answers, if two answer choices are too similar, you can infer that neither is correct.  In this video, Ravi explains how to leverage that strategy to save yourself from trap answers and ensure that your decision process takes place on the proper grounds.

Are you studying for the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Want to learn more from Ravi? He’s taking his show on the road for one-week Immersion Courses in San Francisco and New York this summer, and teaches frequently in our new Live Online classroom.

By Brian Galvin

Planning for Retirement (& the GMAT)

Ron Point_GMAT TipsWhen preparing for the GMAT, most prospective students start thinking about the schools they want to attend, the jobs they want to land and the opportunities they want to seize. After all, embarking on a new degree is an adventure that must be carefully prepared and thought out. Some students with long term thinking even begin thinking about something that most people dream of regularly: retirement.

Now, if you’re studying for an advanced degree, perhaps retirement is still many decades (or centuries) off. However, the day will likely come when you at least want to consider retirement, even if you don’t opt to do it for various reasons. Sometimes your economic reality keeps you gainfully employed, but often it becomes an issue of boredom, trepidation and even fear. Why would anyone fear retirement? Isn’t it supposed to be the culmination of your hard work so that you can enjoy your golden years without worrying about work and money? It is, at least in theory. However, in practice, it is a project that should be prepared for just like any other major life change.

In North America, many people retire and move to a sunny, warm climate such as Arizona or Florida. The temperate weather allows many people to enjoy outdoor activities regularly, sometimes in stark contrast to the cooler northern climates. (Winter is coming.) Many people are even opting to retire in other countries to take advantage of the increased buying power of their home currency. No matter whether you plan on retiring tomorrow or in 50 years, it is something you must consider at one point or another in your life.

The GMAT often features questions that discuss relevant topics and that arouse your own interests in order to make the questions more relatable. This is also a double-edged sword because the question must be solvable with only the information contained within the stimulus. Any outside information can’t help you, but the topic may still concern something you’ve contemplated in the past. Let’s look at an example that plays into the retirement theme:

In the United States, of the people who moved from one state to another when they retired, the percentage who retired to Florida has decreased by three percentage points over the past ten years. Since many local businesses in Florida cater to retirees, these declines are likely to have a noticeably negative economic effect on these businesses and therefore on the economy of Florida.

Which of the following, if true, most seriously weakens the argument given?

A) People who moved from one state to another when they retired moved a greater distance, on average, last year than such people did ten years ago.

B) People were more likely to retire to North Carolina from another state last year than people were ten years ago.

C) The number of people who moved from one state to another when they retired has increased significantly over the past ten years.

D) The number of people who left Florida when they retired to live in another state was greater last year than it was ten years ago.

E) Florida attracts more people who move from one state to another when they retire than does any other state.

This problem is a Critical Reasoning Weaken problem, which means that we should be able to identify the conclusion, examine the supporting evidence and find the gap between the two. The conclusion is that the economy of Florida will suffer based on shifting demographics. The evidence is that a smaller percentage of people are retiring to Florida than 10 years ago, coupled with the fact that Florida’s economy is dependent on these retirees. (Nothing about hurricanes or floods, though.)

If we had to predict an answer to this question, it would likely hinge on the fact that the evidence is a 3% decrease of all retirees who choose to move to Florida. Whenever you see a percentage as evidence, it should make you think that you may need to consider the absolute value as well (the reverse is also often true). Just because the percentage went down by 3%, that doesn’t mean that fewer people are actually going. You might still be growing, just growing slower than you were 10 years ago. Let’s look at the answer choices and see if any of them match our expectations.

Answer choice A, people who moved from one state to another when they retired moved a greater distance, on average, last year than such people did ten years ago, discusses the distance of these moves. This is clearly out of scope, as the question is only interested with the destination state, not in the original state. One mile (maybe you’re right on the border?) or one thousand miles are identical in this regard, so the distance travelled won’t matter. We can eliminate A.

Answer choice B,  people were more likely to retire to North Carolina from another state last year than people were ten years ago, is only concerned with North Carolina. There are clearly many other states that people can move to, but none of them are pertinent to the question about Florida. This answer choice is thus incorrect as well (and paid for by the North Carolina tourism board).

Answer choice C, the number of people who moved from one state to another when they retired has increased significantly over the past ten years, plays right into our prediction. Just because a smaller proportion than before is moving to Florida does not mean that there is economic collapse on the horizon. If 20% of one million people moved to Florida ten years ago, we could have more immigration by reducing the percentage to 17% but increasing the number of people to two million. As such, answer choice C weakens the argument significantly, as it could justify a sizable increase in relocations to the sunshine state. Let’s look at the other choices to confirm.

Answer choice D, the number of people who left Florida when they retired to live in another state was greater last year than it was ten years ago, turns the argument on its ear by discussing the number of people leaving Florida. While there is some merit in arguing that people are leaving the state in bigger numbers, it would actually support the argument that local businesses are in trouble. This answer choice is a 180° because it strengthens the argument instead of undermining it.

Finally, answer choice E, Florida attracts more people who move from one state to another when they retire than does any other state, is most likely true in the real world, but doesn’t help us in this question. If I have the most water in a drought, I may still not have much water at all. This answer choice doesn’t weaken the argument because it’s still entirely possible that the economy of Florida will suffer. Answer choice E can be eliminated. We now can confirm that it must be answer choice C.

For strengthen and weaken questions, it’s often best to attempt a logical guess at the answer choice based on the disconnect between the conclusion and the supporting evidence. Some statistical errors appear frequently on the GMAT, such as percentage and absolute number data that can be interpreted differently depending on the context. Like anything else in life, preparation is the key to success. Once you’ve mastered the finer elements of the GMAT, you can even start preparing your own retirement plan.

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam.  After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.

Exploit the Gap in Logic on Critical Reasoning GMAT Questions

Ron Point_GMAT TipsWhen dealing with strengthen or weaken Critical Reasoning questions, it’s important to have a rough idea of what the correct answer should look like. This process is often called “predicting” the correct answer, and it helps tremendously to avoid tempting but incorrect answer choices. It’s important to note that you won’t always be able to guess the exact answer choice provided, but you can get within the ballpark. After all, the correct answer is something that will hinge on the inevitable disconnect between the conclusion stated and the evidence provided in the passage.

Let’s focus on this disconnect first. If the GMAT provided you airtight arguments that were absolutely perfect, there would be no simple way to strengthen or weaken them. As such, the arguments provided inevitably have some kind of gap in logic contained between the conclusion and the evidence that theoretically supports that conclusion. Your goal is to identify that gap and either attempt to seal it up (strengthen) or rip it apart (weaken).

Of course, a dozen different answers could all weaken the same conclusion, so it’s not always possible to predict the exact answer ahead of time. However, all the answers that weaken the conclusion stem from the same gap (not banana republic) in logic, whereby the evidence provided does not quite support the conclusion stated. If you can identify the conclusion and the gap in logic, you tend to do quite well on these types of questions.

Let’s look at an example to illustrate this point:

Researchers have recently discovered that approximately 70% of restaurant lemon wedges they studied were contaminated with harmful microorganisms such as bacteria and fungal pathogens. The researchers looked at numerous different restaurants in different regions of the country. Most of the organisms had the potential to cause infectious disease. For that reason, people should not order lemon wedges with their drinks.

Which of the following, if true, would most weaken the conclusion above?

A. The researchers could not determine why or how the microbial contamination occurred on the lemon wedges.

B. The researchers failed to investigate contamination of restaurant lime wedges by harmful microorganisms.

C. The researchers found that people who ordered the lemon wedges at restaurants were equally likely to contact the diseases caused by the discovered bacteria as were people who did not order lemon wedges.

D. Health laws require lemons to be handled with gloves or tongs, but the common practice for waiters and waitresses is to handle them with their bare hands.

E. Many factors affect the chance of an individual contracting a disease by coming into contact with bacteria that have nothing to do with lemons. These factors include things such as health and age of the individual, as well as the status of their immune system.

There is a lot of text to review for this question, so let’s begin by identifying the conclusion. (Pauses an appropriate amount of time for review). The final sentence “For that reason, people should not order lemon wedges with their drinks” is the conclusion. In fact, the first three words can be removed, as they simply point to the fact that everything previous to that sentence is evidence to back up the ultimate conclusion. The passage concludes that we should not order lemon wedges (Antilles).

Let’s examine the evidence provided to back this up: 70% of the wedges observed are contaminated, and this contamination can lead to infectious diseases. Furthermore, the study was conducted in various locations across the country. This means we can’t weaken the conclusion by simply going two towns over. Apart from that, the sky’s the limit.

At first blush, this passage seems like a classic causation/correlation problem. The majority of lemon wedges are contaminated, so we shouldn’t order the lemon wedges in order to avoid falling ill. Well what if something else (say the water) was contaminated, leading to tainted lemon wedges. Then we’d avoid the wedges without avoiding the underlying cause of the diseases. In the general sense, avoiding the lemon wedges may not have the desired effect because there is nothing guaranteeing that it is solely the wedges that cause infectious diseases.

Now let’s look at the answer choices, keeping in mind that the correct answer choice should weaken the conclusion that the wedges are somehow responsible for any potential illness.

Answer choice A, “the researchers could not determine why or how the microbial contamination occurred on the lemon wedges”, doesn’t help in any real way. Just because you don’t understand how a virus works doesn’t make it any less dangerous to you (e.g. the Walking Dead). The problem is still the lemon wedges, even if no one is sure why. This answer choice can be eliminated.

Answer choice B, “the researchers failed to investigate contamination of restaurant lime wedges by harmful microorganisms” is quite obviously out of scope. Lime wedges have very little to do with lemon wedges (despite what Sprite says), so the cleanliness of the lime wedges is irrelevant to avoiding the lemon wedges. It is possible to be tempted by this answer choice if you conflate lemon with lime, especially if you’re tired, but a thorough analysis convincingly knocks this choice out.

Answer choice C, “the researchers found that people who ordered the lemon wedges at restaurants were equally likely to contact the diseases caused by the discovered bacteria as were people who did not order lemon wedges” is spot on. We had predicted that the problem was about lemon wedges being correlated to infectious disease without necessarily causing them. This answer choice tells us that people who didn’t order the lemon wedges were exactly as likely to fall sick as those who did. Therefore, avoiding the lemon wedges (the conclusion) will have no effect on your likelihood of feeling sick. This will be the correct answer, but we should look through the remaining two choices nonetheless.

Answer choice D, “health laws require lemons to be handled with gloves or tongs, but the common practice for waiters and waitresses is to handle them with their bare hands.” is almost certainly true, but does not weaken the conclusion. Newsflash: Not everyone follows health code guidelines. (I’ve seen Ratatouille). If anything, knowing such an uncouth practice is commonplace would strengthen the idea of not ordering lemon wedges. Answer choice D is incorrect, as our goal is to weaken the conclusion.

Finally, answer choice E, “Many factors affect the chance of an individual contracting a disease by coming into contact with bacteria that have nothing to do with lemons. These factors include things such as health and age of the individual, as well as the status of their immune system” is also true, but orthogonal to the issue of lemon wedges. Perhaps you could claim that healthy people have fewer risks in ordering lemon wedges, but still it would be a health risk. This answer does not weaken the conclusion in any way, and must therefore be discarded as well.

As indicated before, your prediction might not match exactly the correct answer choice, but it will exploit the gap in logic between the conclusion and the evidence. There will inevitably be (at least) one disconnect between the conclusion and the supporting evidence presented, your goal is to identify and elaborate upon that gap. If you successfully do that on test day, you can go toast your score with a celebratory drink, lemon wedges and all.

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam.  After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.

Identifying and Correcting Run-On Sentences on GMAT Verbal Questions

Quarter Wit, Quarter WisdomOn the GMAT, most sentence correction questions involve compound/complex sentences with multiple phrases, clauses and modifiers. Hence it is very likely that you will see some run-on sentences on your test. In the complicated sentences that we get on the GMAT, it is very easy to overlook that we are dealing with run-on sentences.

A run-on sentence has at least two independent clauses which are not connected properly. There are various ways in which a sentence may be run-on. Here are some of the most common circumstances:

  1. When an independent clause gives a suggestion/advice/command based on what was said in the prior independent clause:

GMAT is a very tricky test, you should work hard.

Here, we should either split the two clauses into two sentences by putting in a full stop or we should put a semi colon between the two clauses.

  1. When two independent clauses are connected by a conjunctive adverb such as however, moreover, nevertheless.

My grandmother is supposed to travel tomorrow, however, she is not feeling well.

Here, we should either split the two clauses into two sentences by putting in a full stop or we should put a semi colon between the two clauses

To read more on conjunctive adverbs, check out this post.

  1. When the second of two independent clauses contains a pronoun that connects it to the first independent clause.

Marcy is thrilled, she got permission to go to the school dance.

Although these two clauses are quite brief, and the ideas are closely related, this is a run-on sentence. We need to put a full stop or a semi colon in place of the comma.

Now that we have an idea of what run-on sentences are, let’s look at a GMAT Prep question where this concept is tested extensively.

Question: The Anasazi settlements at Chaco Canyon were built on a spectacular scale with more than 75 carefully engineered structures, of up to 600 rooms each, were connected by a complex regional system of roads.

(A) with more than 75 carefully engineered structures, of up to 600 rooms each, were

(B) with more than 75 carefully engineered structures, of up to 600 rooms each,

(C) of more than 75 carefully engineered structures of up to 600 rooms, each that had been

(D) of more than 75 carefully engineered structures of up to 600 rooms and with each

(E) of more than 75 carefully engineered structures of up to 600 rooms each had been

Solution:

Consider option (A): Remove all the unnecessary elements and get the skeleton of the sentence (primarily the subject and the verbs):

The settlements were built on a spectacular scale…, were connected …

The action verb “were connected” has no subject here. If it were to have the same subject as the first clause “the Anasazi settlements”, then there should have been a conjunction joining the two clauses together. This is a run-on sentence.

Consider option (B): The problem of run-on sentence has been rectified here by using past participle instead.
The settlements were built on a spectacular scale with more than 75 carefully engineered structures, of up to 600 rooms each, connected by a complex regional system of roads.

Remove the non essential modifier “of up to 600 rooms each” and you see that the 75 carefully engineered structures were the ones connected by a complex system of roads. Now it all makes sense.

To read more about participles, check this post.

Let’s look at the other options too.

Option (C): You cannot say “built on a spectacular scale of more than 75 structures”. You need “with” instead of “of”. The same problem exists with options (D) and (E) too.

Also, in option (C), the use of past perfect “had been” is not justified.

Option (D): As discussed above, “scale of” is incorrect in option (D).
It is also illogical “and with each connected” doesn’t clarify what of each is connected by roads.

Option (E): As discussed above, “scale of” is incorrect in option (E).

Also, it is a run-on sentence.

The settlements were built on a spectacular scale of more than 75 carefully engineered structures of up to 600 rooms each had been connected by a complex regional system of roads.

The two different clauses do not even have a comma in between here. Also, the use of past perfect “had been” is not justified.

Hope you understand run-on sentences a little better now.

Karishma, a Computer Engineer with a keen interest in alternative Mathematical approaches, has mentored students in the continents of Asia, Europe and North America. She teaches the GMAT for Veritas Prep and regularly participates in content development projects such as this blog!

Take Notes on Critical Reasoning Questions to Increase Your GMAT Score

writing essayImagine that you were tasked with writing questions for the GMAT. You have to produce questions that have a clear answer but will trip up a certain percentage of test-takers. How do you do that reliably? The most straightforward way I can think of is to simply inundate the test-taker with information. What elicits the loudest groans during Reading Comprehension? Long, technical passages. What is the most unpleasant thing to see in a Data Sufficiency question? Lots of complex information in the question stem.

It’s not that these questions are asking you to do hard things, but the information overload makes it hard to determine what it is that you have to do. In fact, there is a vast body of literature demonstrating that the human brain has fairly circumscribed limits when it comes to working memory. Certain questions are designed to exploit this hard-wired deficit.

So how do we combat the brain’s working memory limitations? As we learn more and more about how working memory functions, researchers have discovered effective techniques for improving it. One technique, which I mentioned in a previous post, is mindfulness meditation. Another proposed technique is the judicious use of certain kinds of brain-training games. (Note that the research on the efficacy of brain training is decidedly mixed. Some studies show a robust improvement in general fluid intelligence. Other studies conclude that the improvements participants make in the game are not transferrable to other realms. I’ll explore this in more detail in a future post.)

Though I am a proponent of practicing mindfulness – both for improving standardized test scores and for boosting our mental and physical health – and I certainly have nothing against brain-training, the best way to combat the strain that the GMAT puts on our working memory is simply to write things down. There’s no need to juggle all the dizzying elements in a complex question in your head. Break hard questions into smaller, more manageable bites.

Consider the following GMATPrep* Critical Reasoning argument.

Kernland imposes a high tariff on the export of unprocessed cashew nuts in order to ensure that the nuts are sold to domestic processing plants. If the tariff were lifted and unprocessed cashews were sold at world market prices, more farmers could profit by growing cashews. However, since all the processing plants are in urban areas, removing the tariff would seriously hamper the government’s effort to reduce urban unemployment over the next five years.

Which of the following, if true, most seriously weakens the argument?

  1. Some of the by-products of processing cashews are used for manufacturing paints and plastics
  2. Other countries in which cashews are processed subsidize their processing plants
  3. More people in Kernland are engaged in farming cashews than in processing them
  4. Buying unprocessed cashews at lower than world market prices enables cashew processors in Kernland to sell processed nuts at competitive prices
  5. A lack of profitable crops is driving an increasing number of small farmers in Kernland off their land and into the cities

When I read this and try to internalize all the information, I can actually feel the strain. It’s unpleasant. So let’s boil this way down. When there is a tariff, domestic farmers are forced to sell to domestic producers. This is bad for farmers because they don’t have access to all relevant markets, and it’s good for domestic producers, because they’re competing against fewer potential buyers. As an arrow diagram, it might look like this:

Tariff –> hurt farmers –> helps domestic producers

The argument is about removing the tariff, which would, presumably, produce the opposite result. Now the farmers benefit because they have an additional market to sell to, and the domestic producers are harmed because they have to compete with foreign producers to buy the raw cashews. Our new arrow diagram would look like this:

No Tariff –> helps farmers –> hurt domestic producers.

The argument’s conclusion is that because removing the tariff will harm the domestic producers, the end result will be rising unemployment in cities. So we can tack that on to the arrow diagram:

No Tariff –> helps farmers –> hurt domestic producers –> rising unemployment in cities

If we want to weaken this argument, we want an answer choice that shows that removing the tariff will not cause unemployment to rise in cities, but rather, that not having a tariff might be good for the urban employment rate. (And note the scope here: we’re talking about urban unemployment. Attention to language detail is always crucial in CR questions).

To the answers:

  1. Hard to see how the use of the by-products will shed much light on urban unemployment. Out of Scope.
  2. Other countries? We’re talking about urban unemployment in Kernland. Out of scope.
  3. This one is interesting. We know that removing the tariff benefits farmers. If more people are farming than processing, it stands to reason that more people benefit from the tariff’s removal. But does this tell us anything about urban unemployment? The farmers don’t live in the city. The producers do. So if those producers are hurt, urban unemployment can still go up, even if they’re outnumbered by farmers. No good.
  4. We’re told specifically that if the tariff were lifted, cashews would sell “at world market prices.” Any benefit from selling at below market prices could only be realized if there were a tariff. But we’re trying to show that removing the tariff is a good thing! This answer choice does the exact opposite.
  5. This is correct, but requires a little unpacking. Remember that the tariff hurt the farmers. So back in the tariff days, the farmers were struggling, and, according to this answer choice, were forced to flee to the cities. There’s no reason to believe that these farmers had jobs waiting for them, so this chain of events would raise urban unemployment. But, if we remove the tariff, the farmers benefit, and if farmers are doing well, they won’t have to flee to the city, which would actually reduce Exactly what we want. (Note also that we’re talking about urban employment. This is the only answer choice that even mentions cities.)

This was a tough one. The point here is that the best way to grapple with complexity is to distill information into digestible bits. Write down what you want in a single phrase or two. A full paragraph laden with terminology can be hard to work with. A simple arrow diagram, like “No tariff –> lower urban unemployment” is far more manageable. You have a scratch pad for a reason – to give your working memory a break.

* GMATPrep® questions courtesy of the Graduate Management Admissions Council.

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

By David Goldstein, a Veritas Prep GMAT instructor based in Boston. You can find more articles by him here.

Find Logical Meaning in Sentence Correction Questions on the GMAT

Ron Point_GMAT TipsOne of the hardest things about Sentence Correction is that it tests so much more than just grammar. Many students erroneously conflate Sentence Correction problems with high school grammar problems, and this can lead to avoidable mistakes on test day. Indeed, the rules you learned in high school still apply, but you must be able to recognize them among various other potential problems.  It’s fairly simple to spot an agreement error on a verb (there are one problem) or a misplaced comma (good, job bro), but sometimes you have to eliminate an answer choice because the sentence just doesn’t make sense.

Think about a sentence like “This table has four arms.” Grammatically, the sentence is flawless (although I use the term loosely). However, from a logical point of view, it doesn’t make any sense at all. Tables are colloquially said to have “legs,” even if these don’t exactly fit the Darwinian definition of the term, but they are not typically said to have “arms”. On the GMAT, this sentence is as incorrect as “This table have four arms,” but it’s much harder to see for most people. The error lies not in the grammar, but in the meaning.

In fact, there are two broad categories of illogical meanings on the GMAT. The first is the type described above: A sentence that just doesn’t make sense. The second type can be more subtle, as it constitutes the array of answer choices that change the meaning of the sentence. This error often occurs when the structure of the sentence is changed and no longer meshes with the rest of the sentence. A typical example would be changing from “Human beings have skulls…” to “The skulls of human beings”… Within the underlined portion, everything can seem fine. But if the rest of the sentence is discussing how human beings are remarkable adaptable creatures, this simple switch can have serious ramifications as it changes the meaning dramatically. Originally, human beings were remarkable creatures. Now only their skulls are remarkable creatures, which is completely nonsensical and thus not a valid sentence on the GMAT.

Let’s look at an example and see if we can keep the meaning of this sentence.

The Buffalo Club has approved tenets mandating that members should volunteer time to aid the community.

A) that members should volunteer time

B) that time be volunteered by members

C) the volunteering of time by members

D) members’ volunteering of time

E) that members volunteer time

This sentence is not particularly long, and the underlined portion is only five words, so each word should be weighed carefully. Most of the words are not underlined, so the sentence tells us that the Buffalo Club is mandating something specific, and the goal of this endeavor is to aid the community. The only options we have are the few words (Malcolm) in the middle of the sentence.

Using the original sentence (answer choice A) as a benchmark, we see that the club is mandating that members should volunteer their time. This sentence doesn’t have a glaring grammatical error, but the logical error here is quite noticeable. Mandating something means that it is required, so the verb “should” is illogical within the sentence. It’s like telling someone that they’ve arrived late to work for the past two weeks, and that they’re definitely fired. Maybe. Answer choice A is illogical because the word “should” contradicts the logic of the sentence and undermines the entire message.

Answer choice A is the only one to use the word “should”, so we cannot use that decision point to knock out any other choices. However, A does correctly begin with the word “that”, which is a correct idiom to be used with mandated. When something is mandated, it must either be “The club mandated that Ron win” or “the club mandated the victory be awarded to Ron”. Either way, the directive must be clear, and Ron must be declared the victor (now that’s what I call a win-win situation). Answer choices C and D can be eliminated because they do not follow either idiom of the verb, and the meaning of the sentence is distorted.

This only leaves answer choices B and E. Let’s evaluate answer choice B first, and we quickly notice that the sentence is more verbose than it needs to be. Furthermore, the sentence is switched to the passive voice because “time” is now the subject of the sentence, not “members”. Since the members are being mandated to do something, they must be the subject of the sentence, not the time they are volunteering. Answer choice B can be eliminated.

This leaves only answer choice E, and it is indeed the correct answer. Comparing it with answer choice A, it is exactly the same, except that it removes the superfluous “should”. In reality, the members are being mandated to help out the community, and this is non-negotiable (House of Cards’ Victor Petrov style) so there is no room for ambiguity by adding in a rider.

On the GMAT, the difference between a correct answer and an incorrect answer often comes down to which selection actually makes sense. Nowhere is this more common than on sentence correction problems, where the inclusion or exclusion of one word can dramatically alter the meaning of a phrase. Indeed, if you master the strategies of logical meaning on the GMAT, you will (not should) do well on the exam.

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam.  After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.

Succeed on Critical Reasoning GMAT Questions with This Causation Tip

causation goslingOh, causation on the GMAT.  Why do you cause so much stress in people’s lives?

Success on many Critical Reasoning questions really comes down to understanding whether one thing (“X”) causes another thing (“Y”) or not. For example, I moved to New York in 2007. Shortly thereafter, there was a huge drop in the New York stock market. Did I cause the crash (Y) simply by moving to New York (X)?

Of course I did! But that’s beside the point.

Take a look at the following question from an MBA.com practice CAT:

The growing popularity of computer-based activities was widely predicted to result in a corresponding decline in television viewing. Recent studies have found that, in the United States, people who own computers watch, on average, significantly less television than people who do not own computers. In itself, however, this finding does very little to show that computer use tends to reduce television viewing time, since_______.

Which of the following most logically completes the argument?

Let’s not even look at the answer choices yet. We can do quite a bit of “pre-work” on a question like this before the answer choices begin to sway us in various directions.

In the simplest terms, the argument states that some believe:

An Increase in Computer Usage (ICU) causes a Decrease in Television Watching (DTW).

And this makes some logical sense, right? We only have a certain number hours per day, and if we spend some time on our laptops, we might not have as much time to catch up on Girls and Shark Tank.

The argument then goes on to state a bit of evidence that seems to support the initial prediction:

Computer Owning (not quite the same as ICU, but in the same ballpark) actually correlates with Watching Less Television (DTW).

However, the argument then, a bit paradoxically, states that even though “Computer Owning and DTW” seem to happen at the same time, it is not the case that “ICU causes DTW.” Interesting.

Well, whenever you see a case like this on the GMAT, you’re better off coming up with a possible answer or two before checking out the answer choices. When the GMAT says that “X and Y happen together, but X did not cause Y,” a very strong possibility is that “Z” actually caused Y. What is Z? Z is anything else that might have caused Y.

Here are some possible answer choices that would work:

  • People can generally only afford either one computer or one television (implying that ICU doesn’t cause the DTW, but the price of a computer might).
  • Computer owners tend to be overworked professionals who have very little leisure time (implying that ICU doesn’t cause DTW, but a pre-existing condition of computer owners is strongly correlated with DTW before the computer usage is even mentioned).
  • Computers create an electromagnetic field that disables televisions from turning on (implying that ICU doesn’t cause DTW, but the physical properties of owning a computer might).
  • Computer owners, at the point of purchase, were forced by the Illuminati to sign a document swearing never to watch television under the penalty of jail time (implying that ICU doesn’t cause DTW, but intense pressure from an underground fraternity might).

At this point, you might be saying, “Whoa, those answers were totally out of left-field.” Indeed, you’re right. When the argument concerns X’s and Y’s, and we’re looking for a Z (something else that might have caused Y), then the correct answer might very well be out of left-field. Do not eliminate an answer simply because it seems random or unexpected. Instead, simply focus on the chain of logic. If your out-of-left-field Z supersedes X as the primary cause of Y, you’ve done a great job of weakening the causal link between X and Y.

Now let’s look at the real answer choices:

(A) many people who watch little or no television do not own a computer.

(B) even though most computer owners in the United States watch significantly less television than the national average, some computer owners watch far more television than the national average.

(C) computer owners in the United States predominately belong to a demographic group that have long been known to spend less time watching television than the population as a whole does.

(D) many computer owners in the United States have enough leisure time that spending significant amounts of time on the computer still leaves ample time for watching television.

(E) many people use their computers primarily for tasks such as correspondence that can be done more rapidly on the computer, and doing so leaves more leisure time for watching television.

Boom. Answer choice C basically says that ICU doesn’t necessarily cause DTW, because the demographics of computer users correlate strongly with DTW independently of actually using the computer. While this answer choice does not exactly provide a direct cause of DTW, it does strongly weaken the causal link between ICU and DTW, and that should be your main goal.

Does a “Z” always represent the answer on GMAT causation weakeners? Not always, but it occurs frequently enough that it’s worth spending 5-10 seconds coming up with one or two Z’s on a question like this. If nothing else, doing so can help solidify a more complete understanding of the argument.

Hopefully this Blog Post (BP) will cause you to Do Well on Your GMAT (DWYG). When was the last time BP caused something good to happen?

Are you studying for the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

By David Ingber

How a 99th Percentile GMAT Instructor Approaches Sentence Correction Questions

99The other night, in class, I had a student come up to me and ask how I really approached Sentence Correction. We’d done our Sentence Correction lesson a few weeks before, so the implication was that there was a little more to it than the framework we’d covered. The mundane truth is that there isn’t. Not really.

When I’m evaluating an SC problem, and nothing jumps out at me immediately, I really do run through the mental checklist we discuss in the lesson: is the meaning logical? Are the modifiers placed appropriately? Is there an issue with parallel construction? Etc. But I saw what this student was saying. In class, we move systematically from one kind of error to another, so they’re much easier to classify than when you’re taking a test and the sentence’s errors either aren’t terribly conspicuous or encompass multiple categories.

As much as I like to preach that it’s best to attack these questions systematically, no test-taker is an algorithm, so I thought it would be worthwhile to go through a few official examples and discuss how my approach, while always rooted in the framework I teach in class, leaves some room for instinctive adjustments. Put another way, the GMAT is a test of pattern recognition. If the pattern is immediately apparent, I think about a question one way, and if it isn’t obvious, my strategy shifts accordingly.

Here’s one example from the Official Guide where the pattern is pretty conspicuous.

Published in Harlem, the owner and editor of The Messenger were two young journalists, Chandler Owen and A. Philip Randolph, who would later make his reputation as a labor leader.

(A) Published in Harlem, the owner and editor of The Messenger were two young journalists, Chandler Owen and A. Philip Randolph, who would later make his reputation as a labor leader.

(B) Published in Harlem, two young journalists, Chandler Owen and A. Philip Randolph, who would later make his reputation as a labor leader, were the owner and editor of The Messenger.

(C) Published in Harlem, The Messenger was owned and edited by two young journalists, A. Philip Randolph, who would later make his reputation as a labor leader, and Chandler Owen.

(D) The Messenger was owned and edited by two young journalists, Chandler Owen and A. Philip Randolph, who would later make his reputation as a labor leader, and published in Harlem.

(E) The owner and editor being two young journalists, Chandler Owen and A. Philip Randolph, who would later make his reputation as a labor leader, The Messenger was published in Harlem.

In this case, the ol’ lizard brain jumps immediately into action. Anytime a sentence begins with an –ing or –ed verb, I’m immediately thinking about participial modifiers. This sentence begins with a the participal “published” so I know right away that I want who or what is published to immediately follow the phrase.  Well, it makes most sense to say that The Messenger was published, so I want The Messenger to come right after that initial participial phrase. The answer is C. In this case, after you’ve done dozens and dozens of examples that involve misplaced participles, the issue is glaring. For many test-takers, there’s no need to systematically go through that internal checklist. You’ll still want to read your answer choice with the original sentence and make sure the meaning is logical, etc. but you don’t have to process this problem with the kind of comprehensive rigor you’ll need for more challenging problems.

Now consider this Official Guide problem, which, to me, isn’t categorized nearly as easily as the previous example:

Over 75 percent of the energy produced in France derives from nuclear power, while in Germany it is just over 33 percent.

(A) while in Germany it is just over 33 percent

(B) compared to Germany, which uses just over 33 percent

(C) whereas nuclear power accounts for just over 33 percent of the energy produced

in Germany

(D)whereas just over 33 percent of the energy comes from nuclear power in Germany

(E) compared with the energy from nuclear power in Germany, where it is just over 33 percent

The original sentence doesn’t feel right to me, but it’s not as immediately evident what the problem is. So now I have to be a bit more systematic. Okay, maybe the answer choices will offer some clues. Still not obvious, but I do notice that B and E have the word “compared,” which means one potential issue is an inappropriate comparison. I also notice that the word “it” appears in A and E, so maybe there’s a pronoun issue. With these notions in mind, I’ll start going through my mental checklist. First, is the meaning logical, and if not, is a faulty comparison or inappropriate pronoun to blame?

The first thing I ask myself is “what does the “it” refer to?” Is the original sentence really saying, “Over 75 percent of the energy produced in France derives from nuclear power, while in Germany the energy produced in France is just over 33 percent?” That doesn’t make sense. So A is out because of illogical meaning/inappropriate pronoun.

Now in B, we see “compared.” Read literally, the sentence seems to be comparing the percent of energy produced in France to Germany, the country. That’s no good. We’d like to compare energy to energy and country to country. B is out.

C jumps out at me because we’ve eliminated both “compared” and “it.” “Whereas” signals a new clause entirely. So I have the first clause: Over 75 percent of the energy produced in France derives from nuclear power. And then I get a second clause: nuclear power accounts for just over 33 percent of the energy produced in Germany. The meaning is clear. Additionally, there seems to be a nice parallel construction, both clauses containing a variation of: X% of energy produced in Y. Not something I noticed initially, but a promising development. Hold onto C.

D also eliminates “compared” and “it,” so I need to focus on meaning here. If I read this literally, it seems to say 33% of the energy in France comes from nuclear power in Germany. Well, that would be an awfully generous gesture by Germany, but I can’t imagine this is the intended meaning of the sentence. D is out.

E We see “compared” again. Here, we seem to be comparing the percent of energy produced in France to the energy in Germany. So that’s not really logical. We’d want to compare the percent of energy produced in France to the percent of energy produced in Germany. And then that last phrase, ”where it is just over 33 percent” is a bit mystifying. 33% of what? Is “it” referring to Germany or to energy? E is out.

And we’re left with C.

Notice that on a superficial level, I’m using the same general principles for both of these questions, but my thought process looks a lot different when the problem is obvious than when the underlying issue is a bit more obscure. So our goal as test-takers is first, to do enough practice problems that we become adept at recognizing conspicuous patterns like the one we saw in the first example. And second, we want to have a systematic approach to address more complicated questions when they arise. A single approach or mindset just won’t work for every single question – the GMAT isn’t that kind of test.

*Official Guide questions courtesy of the Graduate Management Admissions Council.

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

By David Goldstein, a Veritas Prep GMAT instructor based in Boston. You can find more articles by him here

The Pitfalls of Confusing Correlation and Causation on GMAT Critical Reasoning Questions

causation goslingIn Stephen Pinker’s book, The Blank Slate, there’s an entertaining discussion illustrating the pitfalls of confusing correlation and causation. Pinker cites an old Russian folktale in which a Tsar discovers that, of his many provinces, the one that has the highest disease rate also has the most doctors. So he orders all the doctors killed. I’ll often make reference to this passage when I’m teaching Critical Reasoning because the absurdity of the argument is immediately apparent. Just because two variables are correlated, it doesn’t mean that one is necessarily causing the other.

Causality arguments show up frequently on the GMAT and they can be quickly encapsulated with a simple arrow diagram. So the above discussion involving the Tsar could be depicted on scratch paper like so:

Doctors –> Disease

x –> y

Typically, if we need to weaken one of these arguments, we’ll do so in one of two ways. First, it’s possible that cause and effect are reversed. Here it would mean that the disease was causing the doctors to come to the province. In arrow diagram form, it would look like this:

Disease –> Doctors

y –> x

Secondly, there may be a different underlying cause. In the case of our folktale, maybe it’s the case that poor sanitation is causing the disease.

Poor sanitation –> Disease

z –> y

To summarize: whenever we see a causality argument that needs to be weakened, we can distill it into an arrow diagram and then search for one of the two above scenarios.

Here’s an example from the Official Guide:

In the last decade there has been a significant decrease in coffee consumption.  During this same time, there has been increasing publicity about the adverse long-term effects on health from the caffeine in coffee.  Therefore, the decrease in coffee consumption must have been caused by consumers’ awareness of the harmful effects of caffeine.

Which of the following, if true, most seriously calls into question the explanation above?

A. On average, people consume 30% less coffee than they did 10 years ago.
B. Heavy coffee drinkers may have mild withdrawal symptoms, such as headaches, for a day or so after, significantly decreasing their coffee consumption.
C. Sales of specialty types of coffee have held steady, as sales of regular brands have declined.
D. The consumption of fruit juices and caffeine-free herbal teas has increased over the past decade.
E. Coffee prices increased steadily in the past decade because of unusually severe frosts in coffee-growing nations.

This one is straightforward enough to diagnose – we actually get the phrase “caused by” in the argument! As an arrow diagram, it looks like this:

Awareness of harmful effects of caffeine –> decrease in coffee consumption

According to our earlier analysis, this can be weakened in one of two ways. If cause and effect were reversed, the diagram be:

Decrease in coffee consumption –> Awareness of harmful effects of caffeine

Well, that doesn’t make sense. How could a decrease in coffee consumption cause a heightened awareness of the ill effects of caffeine? So we must be looking for an alternative cause:

Something else –> decrease in coffee consumption.

So that’s what we’re after: that alternative underlying cause.

A. On average, people consume 30% less coffee than they did 10 years ago.

There’s no different underlying cause here. In fact, this is reiterating the notion that coffee consumption has decreased. We already knew this. Eliminate A.

B. Heavy coffee drinkers may have mild withdrawal symptoms, such as headaches, for a day or so after, significantly decreasing their coffee consumption.

This isn’t an alternative reason for why people are drinking less coffee. In fact, the unpleasant withdrawal symptoms would be a pretty compelling reason to continue drinking plenty of coffee! Eliminate B.

C. Sales of specialty types of coffee have held steady as sales of regular brands have declined.

Again, no real alternative cause presented here. And, logically, this doesn’t weaken the argument at all. It’s certainly possible that while many coffee drinkers have cut back on their coffee consumption, the kind of aficionados who drink specialty coffee will continue to drink their double latte espressos without reservation. Eliminate C.

D. The consumption of fruit juices and caffeine-free herbal teas has increased over the past decade.

This one is often tempting. Students sometimes argue that it’s the appeal of fruit juices that is the alternative underlying cause we’re looking for. The problem is that we’re trying to weaken the argument, and this answer choice really isn’t incompatible with the conclusion. To see why, imagine that the argument is true: people find out that caffeine is bad for them, and so drink less coffee. It would be perfectly reasonable for them to then replace that morning coffee with alternatives like fruit juice and herbal tea. In other words, the increase in the consumption of other beverages wouldn’t be a cause of the decrease in coffee, but rather, a consequence of that decrease. D is out.

E. Coffee prices increased steadily in the past decade because of unusually severe frosts in coffee-growing nations.

Now we have our alternative cause. Perhaps it’s not the awareness of the ill effects of caffeine that’s caused this drop in coffee consumption, it’s an increase in price. The new arrow diagram looks like this:

Increase in price –> Decrease in consumption

And this makes perfect sense. E is our answer.

The takeaway: A simple arrow diagram can powerfully simplify the logic of any causality argument.

* Official Guide® question courtesy of the Graduate Management Admissions Council.

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

By David Goldstein, a Veritas Prep GMAT instructor based in Boston. You can find more articles by him here

What Figure Skating Can Teach You about GMAT Sentence Correction Questions

Figure SkatingLike many Americans, I get caught up in figure skating for exactly two weeks every four years. It’s a fascinating sport, but because I don’t follow it consistently, as I do with the NBA and NFL, I really have no idea how the figure skaters are being judged.

I see what appears to a be hiccup in the routine; the announcer says that it was a flawless set-up for an impressive jump. I see what appears to be a perfect routine; the scores come back and the skater is firmly in 13th.

When you see a GMAT question, you need to know exactly what criteria to use to “judge” a question, even if your first instinct is not correct. Check out the following question from a GMAC practice pack:

GMAT Question

At first, I thought “We do need the structure to be parallel!” Why did I think this? Because I saw the word whereas. When I see a comparison word like that, the first thing I look for is consistency between the two things we’re comparing. “Language areas” comes after the comma and is not underlined; like it or not, that phrase is not going anywhere.

Wanting to retro-fit my comparison to match my non-underlined portion, I hope and pray that I see something like, “Whereas language areas in adult brains are X, language areas in a child’s brain are Y.” Clearly, we can compare language areas to other language areas, so my next thought is that I’ll eliminate any answers that don’t satisfy this rule.

However, a quick scan of the underlined terms of comparison in each answer choice reveals that we don’t have such an opportunity.

  1. A) each language
  2. B) (ignorable prepositional phrase) each language
  3. C) each language
  4. D) each language
  5. E) each language

Whoa. I guess we’re going to have to go with “each language.”

What’s really going on here? “Whereas in some situations X happensthere are other situations in which Y occurs.” We aren’t comparing a thing to a thing; we’re comparing a situation to an analogous situation.

So, what do I focus on next? Simply making a complete sentence that comes right after a semicolon, and eliminating any answer choice that fails to make a sentence. If the answer doesn’t make a grammatical sentence anyway, then why should we care what it’s comparing?

Answer choice B just blows through the existence of a two-part comparison: “Whereas Situation X is a thing and Situation Y is a thing.” That’s not a sentence! We need it to say “Whereas Situation X is a thing <COMMA> Situation Y is also a thing.”

Answer choice C misuses a pronoun by having the plural word “they” refer to the singular noun “language.”

Answer choice D wrongly employs the past tense “occupied,” as the language ceased to exist before the study ended. (Or the adults all tragically died during the study.)

Answer choice E wrongly tries to pass off “Incomplete sentence + comma + AND + Complete sentence” as a grammatical structure to put after a semicolon. Nope.

So let’s recap. In a question that seems to be about comparisons, we just eliminated four answer choices on the basis of No Verb, Bad Pronoun, Bad Verb Tense, and Bad Sentence Structure. None of the wrong answers had anything to do with comparisons!

Meanwhile, I haven’t yet said a word about the correct answer A, and that’s because truthfully, I didn’t love A when I read it for the first time. When you don’t love A, but you can’t identify a tangible error, you just let it hang around. If you can drop four answer choices like the bad habits they are (as we did in B through E), then Mr. Lingering Around Answer A becomes your default champion.

Congrats, Answer Choice A. You’re the “Only Figure Skater Who Didn’t Fall on His Butt So He Wins By Default” of answer choices.

I don’t know much about figure skating, but I know that falling on your butt is not ideal.

Are you studying for the GMAT? We have free online GMAT seminars running all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

By David Ingber

Solving Inference Questions in Reading Comprehension on the GMAT

Ron Point_GMAT TipsOne of the most common things you’re going to do on the GMAT is to infer things. Inferring things is something we inherently do on a daily basis as human beings. If your friend tells you they’re preparing for a big presentation, you generally automatically infer they’re presenting to an audience and are nervous about public speaking. However, on the GMAT, inferring carries a little more baggage than in your everyday life. What if your friend is in charge of logistics for the presentation, or running the slideshow behind the presenter? Perhaps they are being presented in the debutante ball definition of the term? (niche, I know). On the GMAT, inferences have a high threshold they must always attain: the inferences must be true.

After preparing countless Critical Reasoning inference questions, this “must be true” mantra should already be indoctrinated into most GMAT test takers. However, this type of question also shows up in Reading Comprehension, offering a rare opportunity to excel at two different question types using the same concept. By the same token, it’s a concept that’s sure to show up on your test, and you shouldn’t lose easy points because you assumed something that wasn’t explicitly stated.

The approach I always use with students is to ask them: “Is this always true?” If it’s Thursday or a solar eclipse or you pass on the 1 yard line or Venus is in Scorpio… is this still true? Imagine every obscure, unlikely scenario, and make sure the answer choice still holds in that situation. (Seriously, who passes on the 1 yard line?) If this is the case for any scenario you can dream up, your inference holds. If you can imagine even one nice corner case (e.g. a prime number being even) where this doesn’t hold, then it cannot be the correct answer.

Let’s delve into this further using a Reading Comprehension passage. (note: this is the same passage I used previously for function and specific questions)

Nearly all the workers of the Lowell textile mills of Massachusetts were unmarried daughters from farm families. Some of the workers were as young as ten. Since many people in the 1820s were disturbed by the idea of working females, the company provided well-kept dormitories and boarding-houses. The meals were decent and church attendance was mandatory. Compared to other factories of the time, the Lowell mills were clean and safe, and there was even a journal, The Lowell Offering, which contained poems and other material written by the workers, and which became known beyond New England. Ironically, it was at the Lowell Mills that dissatisfaction with working conditions brought about the first organization of working women.

                The mills were highly mechanized, and were in fact considered a model of efficiency by others in the textile industry. The work was difficult, however, and the high level of standardization made it tedious. When wages were cut, the workers organized the Factory Girls Association. 15,000 women decided to “turn out”, or walk off the job. The Offering, meant as a pleasant creative outlet, gave the women a voice that could be heard by sympathetic people elsewhere in the country, and even in Europe. However, the ability of the women to demand changes was severely circumscribed by an inability to go for long without wages with which to support themselves and help support their families. The same limitation hampered the effectiveness of the Lowell Female Labor Reform Association (LFLRA), organized in 1844.

                No specific reform can be directly attributed to the Lowell workers, but their legacy is unquestionable. The LFLRA’s founder, Sarah Bagley, became a national figure, testifying before the Massachusetts House of Representatives. When the New England Labor Reform League was formed, three of the eight board members were women. Other mill workers took note of the Lowell strikes, and were successful in getting better pay, shorter hours, and safer working conditions. Even some existing child labor laws can be traced back to efforts first set in motion by the Lowell Mill Women.

The author of the passage implies that the efforts of the women workers at the Lowell Mills ________________?

(A) Were of less direct benefit to them than to other workers.

(B) Led to the creation of child labor laws that benefited the youngest workers at the Lowell mills.

(C) Forced the New England Labor Reform League to include three women on its board.

(D) Were addressed in the poetry included in the Offering.

(E) Were initially organized by Sarah Bagley.

The question is phrased in such a way that you must complete the sentence. Looking over the sentence, the active verb is “implies”, which means that we’re dealing with an inference question. This means that the correct conclusion to this sentence must be unimpeachable with regards to the passage. We must go through all the answer choices because inference questions inherently have multiple answers that could be correct. Our advantage is that four of the answer choices will be flawed and only one unassailable choice shall remain.

Let’s begin with option A. It essentially reads: “…the efforts of the women workers at the Lowell Mills were of less direct benefit to them than to other workers”. This seems about right because the passage states that the Lowell Mills workers couldn’t go on strike for long (paragraph 2). Conversely, it is also mentioned that “other mill workers took note of the Lowell strikes, and were successful in getting better pay, shorter hours and safer working conditions”. This makes it pretty hard to argue with answer choice A, but let’s continue and see if any other answer choices seem like contenders.

Answer choice B reads “…the efforts of the women workers at the Lowell Mills led to the creation of child labor laws that benefited the youngest workers at the Lowell Mills.” This seems like it could be correct, because the passage ends with a sentence about how some child labor laws can be traced back to the efforts of these women. However, there is no indication that these laws benefitted anyone at the Lowell Mills, and in fact were likely only instituted many years later. This answer choice affords a positive outcome to the situation, but is unfortunately unsupported by the passage.

Answer choice C reads “…the efforts of the women workers at the Lowell Mills forced the New England Labor Reform League to include three women on its board.” This might be the easiest answer choice to eliminate. Three members of the Reform League were women, but it is not guaranteed that this is due entirely to the worker strife. It is likely correlated, but it is impossible to defend that it is caused by the conflict. If we’re looking for bulletproof arguments, this one is full of holes.

Answer choice D reads “…the efforts of the women workers at the Lowell Mills were addressed in the poetry included in the Offering”. This is another strong candidate. The Lowell Offering was established as a journal written by the workers that contained at least some poetry in the first paragraph. Would it then be logical that the Offering would address worker malcontent during a strike? Likely, yes, but not guaranteed. Furthermore, would worker dissatisfaction necessarily show up as poetry versus an opinionated peace or an invitation to protest? It is likely that this happened, but there is no guarantee, and therefore this type of answer is incorrect for a GMAT inference question.

Answer choice E reads “…the efforts of the women workers at the Lowell Mills were initially organized by Sarah Bagley”. This answer choice is similar to answer choice D. It is quite possibly true, as Sarah Bagley seemingly had a powerful voice at the Lowell Mills, but there is no indication that she spearheaded the movement in any way. Had this been mentioned somewhere, it would have been unsurprising given the situation. However, on its own, it’s plausible at best, speculation at worst.

Since we’ve systematically eliminated answer choices B through E, the correct answer must be answer choice A. This makes sense because answer choice A seemed completely supported by the passage. Inference questions are typically exercises in process of elimination. If four answer choices can be purged (:anarchy), the remaining answer choice must be correct. If you can accomplish this task on the GMAT, you can infer with absolute certainty that you’ll select the correct answer.

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam.  After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.

Seemingly Contradictory Advice for Increasing Your Score on Reading Comprehension GMAT Questions

Newland_GMAT Tips“Trust, but Verify” is an important piece of advice for diplomatic relations. It seems a contradiction at first: if you trust, why do you need to verify? The answer is that some things are important enough to take the extra time and effort to check. Even the small chance that your trust is misplaced is reason to investigate the situation in enough detail to confirm that what you believe to be true is actually true.

Reading comprehension on the GMAT does not rise to the level of international trade pacts, or arms reduction agreements, but the same principle applies. In most instances, when you think you know the answer to a reading comprehension question, take the time and effort to go back to the passage and verify.

After all, the correct answer to most reading comprehension questions on the GMAT is based closely on something actually written in the passage. While an extra minute spent on a sentence correction question may not make the sentence any clearer, an extra minute spent going back to the passage to verify a reading comprehension answer can drastically improve your chances of answering correctly.

Two Types of Reading Comprehension Questions

Reading Comprehension questions can be broken down into two broad categories:

1) Questions with a specific enough question stem to guide you back to a particular portion of the passage, which you can then re-read to find the answer.

For the first type of question, you should almost always use the question stem to guide you back to a single paragraph and then to a particular portion of that paragraph. Even if you feel that you remember that portion of the reading well enough to simply answer the question, it is still in your best interest to take a few moments to return to the passage and make sure that you have the answer to the actual question that is asked.

  • Many reading comprehension questions that appear easy actually have a very high level of difficulty. For these questions, the answer choice that at first appears obvious based on your memory of the passage is usually an answer that requires you to make an assumption that, in reality, is not supported by the passage.
  • Take a few seconds and put forth a little effort to check that “obvious answer” against what is actually said in the passage. If the answer really is that easy you will quickly find the portion of the paragraph that supports it. If it is not so simple, you will have saved yourself from choosing the incorrect answer.
  • Trust that you remember the passage accurately, but verify your answer.

2) Questions that have a more general question stem and are based on the entire passage as a whole.

The second type of question has a more general question stem and it is not as clear where in the passage to return to confirm your answer. An example of the more general question stem is, “the author of the passage would most likely agree with which of the following?” You can see that there is nothing in the question stem to guide you back to a particular portion of the passage.

  • For these questions you should begin with process of elimination. Eliminate any answer choices that you are sure are wrong based on important characteristics of the passage such as the scope of the passage or the tone that the author uses.
  • Even on these questions you can still return to the passage to verify! The difference is that since the question stem does not guide you back to a particular portion of the paragraph, you need to use the answer choices themselves to help you return to the passage. You can go back to the passage to check the answer choices that remain after you have eliminated. The correct answer should be well-supported by the passage, while the incorrect answers are not.

With the proper techniques and effort, reading comprehension is an area of the GMAT that you can improve on quickly. If you want to become great at reading comprehension remember to “trust, but verify.”

Plan on taking the GMAT soon?  We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

David Newland has been teaching for Veritas Prep since 2006, and he won the Veritas Prep Instructor of the Year award in 2008. Students’ friends often call in asking when he will be teaching next because he really is a Veritas Prep and a GMAT rock star! Read more of his articles here.

Past Perfect without Past Tense on GMAT Sentence Correction Questions

Quarter Wit, Quarter WisdomRecall the golden rule of past perfect tense – The Past Perfect expresses the idea that something occurred before another action in the past. It can also show that something happened before a specific time in the past. We often ignore the “something happened before a specific time in the past” part of the tense.

For example, look at this sentence:

Robin had never cooked pasta before last night.

Here, we use past perfect “had cooked” without another verb in the past tense – why? Because we use past perfect to show that something happened before a specific time in the past i.e. before last night.

Similarly, sometimes in GMAT too, you may see past perfect where it seems reasonable but you may not find a verb in past tense. It could be because an action happened before a specific time in the past or there is an implied action in the past.

There is a reason why we brought up this point – check out the sentence given below:

According to some economists, the gains in the stock market reflect growing confidence that the economy will avoid the recession that many had feared earlier in the year and instead come in for a ‘soft landing’.

The sentence is similar to a correct sentence given in Official Guide. Note the use of “had feared” – many people question the use of past perfect here.

The reason past perfect is correct here is this:

People had feared recession earlier this year. But in the recent past, confidence is growing (so they do not fear recession anymore). The state of earlier this year has been over in the recent past. Now, the stock market is showing gains. This shows that people have been feeling more confident. So people “had feared recession” earlier in the year but some time in the year, the fear vanished and now it is reflecting in the form of gains on stock market. In such cases, our use of common sense is more important than the mere retention of grammar rules. Another thing that helps in such situations is that all other options would have a major fault. Let’s show you the actual OG question:

 

Question: According to some analysts, the gains in the stock market reflect growing confidence that the economy will avoid the recession that many had feared earlier in the year and instead come in for a “soft landing,” followed by a gradual increase in business activity.

(A) that the economy will avoid the recession that many had feared earlier in the year and instead come

(B) in the economy to avoid the recession, what many feared earlier in the year, rather to come

(C) in the economy’s ability to avoid the recession, something earlier in the year many had feared, and instead to come

(D) in the economy to avoid the recession many were fearing earlier in the year, and rather to come

(E) that the economy will avoid the recession that was feared earlier this year by many, with it instead coming

 

Let’s look at the errors in the other options:

(B) in the economy to avoid the recession, what many feared earlier in the year, rather to come You cannot use “what” in place of “which”. Also, the use of “confidence in A to avoid” is not correct. It should be “confidence that A will avoid”.

(C) in the economy’s ability to avoid the recession, something earlier in the year many had feared, and instead to come The placement of “earlier in the year” is incorrect here. It should come after “had feared”.

(D) in the economy to avoid the recession many were fearing earlier in the year, and rather to come Again, the use of “confidence in A to avoid” is not correct. It should be “confidence that A will avoid”.

(E) that the economy will avoid the recession that was feared earlier this year by many, with it instead coming “With it instead coming” doesn’t make any sense so this option isn’t correct either. So we see that all other options have fatal flaws.

Hence, in this case, option (A) is our best bet even though the use of past perfect isn’t the way we usually see it.

Karishma, a Computer Engineer with a keen interest in alternative Mathematical approaches, has mentored students in the continents of Asia, Europe and North America. She teaches the GMAT for Veritas Prep and regularly participates in content development projects such as this blog!

How to Attack GMAT Sentence Correction Questions Like a Boss

Many people think that finishing the GMAT verbal section on time hinges on quickly solving Sentence Correction problems. This is because these questions tend to have the shortest stimuli of any question type. Even if you’re a speed reader (hopefully you never ordered Mega Reading by Kevin Trudeau), it will still take a minute or so to sift through a passage that’s a few hundred words long. Sentence Correction problems sometimes have stimuli that are two or three lines, and therefore are prime candidates for quick dispatching.

However, sometimes you encounter Sentence Correction passages that are as long as paragraphs. Your job is the same no matter the length of the text, but Sentence Correction problems require you to evaluate every decision point among the answer choices. The longer the sentence, the more decision points you may have to consider. The number of false decision points also tends to increase as the sentence length increases. False decision points are differences between answer choices in which both options are acceptable, so making a choice based on such a decision point could erroneously eliminate a valid answer choice. Indeed, picking between an alternative and a substitute is an exercise in futility.

Another issue that comes up is mental fatigue. Conventional grammatical wisdom postulates that sentences longer than 20-25 words begin to lose their effectiveness, as the human brain struggles to process all the information. Run-on sentences can cause readers to disengage as they find themselves apathetic to the point that the author is trying to make. Often students report a lack of interest on longer passages, and an increased urge to simply select an answer choice (sometimes at random) to move on to a different question.

Let’s look at an example, which clocks in at an impressive 51 words.

The first trenches that were cut into a 500-acre site at Tell Hamoukar, Syria, have yielded strong evidence for centrally administered complex societies in northern regions of the Middle East that are arising simultaneously with but independently of the more celebrated city-states of southern Mesopotamia, in what is now southern Iraq.

(A)   that were cut into a 500-acre site at Tell Hamoukar, Syria, have yielded strong evidence for centrally administered complex societies in northern regions of the Middle East that are arising simultaneously with but

(B)   that were cut into a 500-acre site at Tell Hamoukar, Syria, yields strong evidence that centrally administered complex societies in northern regions of the Middle East were arising simultaneously with but also

(C)   having been cut into a 500-acre site at Tell Hamoukar, Syria, have yielded strong evidence that centrally administered complex societies in northern regions of the Middle East were arising simultaneously but

(D)   cut into a 500-acre site at Tell Hamoukar, Syria, yields strong evidence of centrally administered complex societies in northern regions of the Middle East arising simultaneously but also

(E)    cut into a 500-acre site at Tell Hamoukar, Syria, have yielded strong evidence that centrally administered complex societies in northern regions of the Middle East arose simultaneously with but

The first thing you might notice is that, not only is this sentence way too long, most of it is underlined. That means it will take a fair amount of time just to peruse the answer choices. Our best strategy will probably not be to read through the five similar answer choices without any specific goal.

With run-on sentences, you want to be methodical and review each decision point as it comes up. As noted before, some may be false decision points and you cannot eliminate any choice. However, some words are low hanging fruit, such as verbs or pronouns, which have to be in specific forms (i.e. singular vs. plural). Connectors to and from the underlined portion are often significant as well, since they serve as springboards from one section to the next.

Looking at the original sentence (answer choice A) and going through the words, we’re looking for verbs and pronouns that can help guide our decisions. The first verb encountered is “were cut”, but the verb cut is tricky because it has the same form in the past, the present and the future. Answer choice C’s “having been cut” seems unnecessarily wordy, but that is not necessarily enough to eliminate it outright, so we’ll keep it with an asterisk and continue looking for other verbs.

The next verb encountered is “have yielded”, and a cursory comparison of the other answer choices reveals a 3-2 split between “have yielded” and “yields”. The subject of the verb is “The first trenches”, which is plural. The verb formulation of “yields” only works if the subject is singular, and thus we can eliminate these answer choices with 100% certainty as they contain agreement errors. Answer choices B and D can both be eliminated.

Continuing on, the second verb we encounter is “are arising”. Everything else about specific locations, sizes of land and other minutiae can be ignored using the slash-and-burn technique. We’re on a mission to compare specific terms that can help illuminate errors in various answer choices. Answer choice C has “were arising” and answer choice E has “arose”. The subject of the verb is “societies”, and therefore any of the three could be correct from an agreement standpoint. However, the timelines vary from present to past continuous to simple past, and the rest of the sentence began with the past-tense verb “have yielded”, meaning that the present tense would be erroneous. Answer choice A can be eliminated because of a timeline error.

At this point, only answer choices C and E remain. The verbs are not identical in the two options, but either one could conceivably make sense, so we must look for other differences in order to differentiate between the two. Looking through the answer choices, there are no pronouns to compare, but the first and last words are not the same. These connectors often cause answer choices to be eliminated because they make sense with the underlined portion but they do not fit nicely into the rest of the sentence (like merging onto the highway on a horse and buggy).

Answer choice C is already on our radar because of the wordy verb choice, but let’s examine how it fits back into the sentence at the end. The societies “were arising simultaneously…” is missing the word “with” in order to make grammatical sense. You arise simultaneously with something else. The original sentence had this word, but answer choice C omits the key words, and it’s difficult to see because the text is so verbose. This incorrect construction dooms answer choice C. Only answer E remains as the correct choice.

As with any Sentence Correction question, process of elimination is the name of the game. However, when the sentences get very long, very technical, or otherwise disengaging, you have to go through the text in a methodical manner. The best words to compare are the verbs, the pronouns and the connectors to and from the underlined portion. If you have a sound strategy, you’ll be able to execute the run on sentence correction.

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam.  After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.