Quarter Wit, Quarter Wisdom: Are Official Answers Debatable on the GMAT?

Quarter Wit, Quarter WisdomLet’s begin with the bottom line: no, they are not. If you are thinking along the lines of, “This official answer cannot be correct! How can the answer be A? It must be C, or C is at least just as valid as A,” then you are wasting your time. The answer given is never debatable. What you should be thinking instead is, “The answer given is A, but  I thought it was C. I must find out where I made a mistake.”

The point is that since you are going to take GMAT, you must learn to think like the GMAT testmakers. The answers they give for these questions are the correct answers, so need to accept that – this way, the next step of figuring out the gap in your understanding will be far easier. Today, let’s take a look at an official question that is often debated:

The average hourly wage of television assemblers in Vernland has long been significantly lower than that in neighboring Borodia. Since Borodia dropped all tariffs on Vernlandian televisions three years ago, the number of televisions sold annually in Borodia has not changed. However, recent statistics show a drop in the number of television assemblers in Borodia. Therefore, updated trade statistics will probably indicate that the number of televisions Borodia imports annually from Vernland has increased.

Which of the following is an assumption on which the argument depends?

(A) The number of television assemblers in Vernland has increased by at least as much as the number of television assemblers in Borodia has decreased.
(B) Televisions assembled in Vernland have features that televisions assembled in Borodia do not have.
(C) The average number of hours it takes a Borodian television assembler to assemble a television has not decreased significantly during the past three years.
(D) The number of televisions assembled annually in Vernland has increased significantly during the past three years.
(E) The difference between the hourly wage of television assemblers in Vernland and the hourly wage of television assemblers in Borodia is likely to decrease in the next few years.

First, let’s look at the premises of the argument:

  • The hourly wage of assemblers in Vernland is much lower than that in Borodia.
  • 3 years ago, Borodia dropped all tariffs on TVs imported from Vernland.
  • The number of TVs sold annually in Borodia is same.
  • However, the number of assemblers in Borodia has decreased.

The conclusion is that the trade statistics will probably indicate that the number of televisions Borodia imports annually from Vernland has increased.

This conclusion might look logical, but it is full of assumptions.

Why does this conclusion seem so logical? Wages in Vernland are lower, so it would seem like TVs should be cheaper here. Borodia dropped all tariffs on imported TVs, which means there will be no artificial inflation of Vernland TV prices. Finally, the number of TVs sold in Borodia has not dropped, but number of assemblers in Borodia has dropped, which makes it look like fewer TVs are getting made in Borodia.

An onlooker might conclude that Borodia is importing more TVs from Vernland because they are cheaper, but here are some assumptions that come to mind:

  • The cost of a TV in Vernland is lower because assembler’s wage is lower. What if the raw material cost is higher in Vernland? Or other costs are higher? The cost to produce a Vernland TV could actually be higher than the cost to produce a Borodia TV.
  • Fewer TVs are getting made in Borodia, but that does not mean that Borodian assemblers have not become more productive. What if fewer assemblers are needed because they can actually complete the assembly process much faster? The number of TVs sold is the same, however, if each assembler is doing more work, fewer assemblers will be needed. In this case, the number of TVs made in Borodia might not have changed even though the number of producers dropped.

Coming to our question now: Which of the following is an assumption on which the argument depends?

We are looking for an assumption, i.e. a NECESSARY premise. We have already identified some assumptions, so let’s see if any of the answer choices gives us one of those:

(A) The number of television assemblers in Vernland has increased by at least as much as the number of television assemblers in Borodia has decreased.

This is the most popular incorrect answer choice. Test takers keep trying to justify why it makes perfect sense, but actually, it is not required for the conclusion to hold true.

The logic of test takers that pick this answer choice is often on the lines of, “If the number of workers from Borodia decreased, in order for Borodia to show an increased number of imports from Vernland, Vernland must have increased their number of workers by at least as much as the number of workers that left Borodia.”

Note that although this may sound logical, it is not necessary to the argument. There are lots of possible situations where this may not be the case:

Perhaps number of TVs being manufactured in Vernland is the same and, hence, the number of assemblers is the same, too. It is possible that out of the fixed number of TVs manufactured, fewer are getting locally bought and more are getting exported to Borodia. So, it is not necessarily true that number of TV assemblers in Vernland has increased.

(B) Televisions assembled in Vernland have features that televisions assembled in Borodia do not have.

This is also not required for the conclusion to hold – the TVs could actually be exactly the same, but the TVs assembled in Vernland could still be cheaper than the TVs assembled in Borodia due to a potentially lower cost of assembly in Vernland.

(C) The average number of hours it takes a Borodian television assembler to assemble a television has not decreased significantly during the past three years.

This is one of the assumptions we discussed above – we are assuming that the reduction in the number of assemblers must not be due to an increase in the productivity of the assemblers because if the assemblers have got more productive, then the number of TVs produced could be the same and, hence, the number of TVs imported would not have increased.

(D) The number of televisions assembled annually in Vernland has increased significantly during the past three years.

This is not required for the conclusion to hold. Perhaps the number of TVs being sold in Vernland has actually reduced while more are getting exported to Borodia, so the overall number of TVs being made is the same.

(E) The difference between the hourly wage of television assemblers in Vernland and the hourly wage of television assemblers in Borodia is likely to decrease in the next few years.

This is also not required for the conclusion to hold. What happens to the hourly wages of assemblers in Vernland and Borodia in the future doesn’t concern this argument – we are only concerned about what has been happening in the last 3 years.

Therefore, our answer is C.

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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!