GMAT Tip of the Week: Your Mind Is Playing Tricks On You

GMAT Tip of the WeekOf all the song lyrics of all the hip hop albums of all time, perhaps the one that captures the difficulty of the GMAT the most comes from the Geto Boys:

It’s f-ed up when your mind is playing tricks on you.

The link above demonstrates a handful of ways that your mind can play tricks on you when you’re in the “fog of war” during the GMAT, but here, four Hip Hop Months later in the middle of yet another election season that has many Millennial MBA aspirants feeling the Bern, it’s time to detail one more. Consider this Critical Reasoning problem:

Among the one hundred most profitable companies in the United States, nearly half qualify as “socially responsible companies,” including seven of the top ten most profitable on that list. This designation means that these companies donate a significant portion of their revenues to charity; that they adhere to all relevant environmental and product safety standards; and that their hiring and employment policies encourage commitments to diversity, gender pay equality, and work-life balance.

Which of the following conclusions can be drawn based on the statements above?

(A) Socially responsible companies are, on average, more profitable than other companies.
(B) Consumers prefer to purchase products from socially responsible companies whenever possible.
(C) It is possible for any company to be both socially responsible and profitable.
(D) Companies do not have to be socially responsible in order to be profitable.
(E) Not all socially responsible companies are profitable.

How does your mind play tricks on you here? Check out these statistics from the Veritas Prep Practice Tests:

Socially responsible

When you look at the two most popular answer choices, there’s a stark difference in what they mean outside the context of the problem. The most popular – but incorrect – answer says what you want it to say. You want social responsibility to pay off, for companies to be rewarded for doing the right thing. But it’s the words that don’t appeal to your heart and/or conscience that are the most important on these problems, and the justification for “any company” to be both socially responsible and profitable isn’t there in the argument.

Sure, several companies in the top 10 and top 100 are both socially responsible and profitable, but ANY company means that if you pick any given company, that particular company has to be capable of both. And it may very well be that in certain industries, the profit margins are too slim for that to be possible.

Say, for example, that in one of the commodities markets there simply isn’t any brand equity for social responsibility, and the top competitors are so focused on pushing out competition that any cost outside of productivity would put a company into the red. It’s not a thought you necessarily want to have, but it’s a possible outcome given the prompt, and it invalidates answer (C). Since Inference answers MUST BE TRUE, C just doesn’t meet that standard.

Which brings you to D, the correct but unpopular answer. That’s not what your heart and conscience want to conclude at all – you’d love for there to be a world in which consumers will reject any products from companies that aren’t made by companies taking the moral high ground, but if you look specifically at the facts of the argument, 3 of the top 10 most profitable companies and more than half of the top 100 are not socially responsible. So answer choice D is airtight – it’s not what you want to hear, but it’s definitely true based on the argument.

The lesson? Once you get that MBA you have the opportunity to change the world, but while you’re in the GMAT test center doing Critical Reasoning problems, you can only draw conclusions based on the facts that they give you. Don’t let your outside opinions frame the way that you read the problem. If you know that you have some personal interest in the topic, that’s a sign that you’ll need to be even more literal about what’s written. Your mind can play tricks on you – as it did for nearly half of test-takers here – so know that on test day you have to get it under control.

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By Brian Galvin.