GMAT Tip of the Week: OJ Simpson’s Defense Team And Critical Reasoning Strategy

GMAT Tip of the WeekIf you’re like many people this month, you’re thoroughly enjoying the guilty pleasure that is FX’s series The People v. OJ Simpson. And whether you’re in it to reminisce about the 1990s or for the wealth of Kardashian family history, one thing remains certain (even though, according to the state of California – spoiler alert! – that thing is not OJ’s guilt):

Robert Shaprio, Johnnie Cochran, F. Lee Bailey, Alan Dershowitz, and (yes, even) Robert Kardashian can provide you with the ultimate blueprint for GMAT Critical Reasoning success.

This past week’s third episode focused on the preparations of the prosecutors and of the defense, and showcased some crucial differences between success and failure on GMAT CR:

The prosecution made some classic GMAT CR mistakes, most notably that they went in to the case assuming the truth of their position (that OJ was guilty). On the other hand, the defense took nothing for granted – when they didn’t like the evidence (the bloody glove, for example) they looked for ways that it must be faulty evidence (Mark Fuhrman and the LAPD were racist).

This is how you must approach GMAT Critical Reasoning! The single greatest mistake that examinees make during the GMAT is in accepting that the argument they’re given is valid – like Marcia Clark, you’re a nice, good-natured person and you’ll give the argument the benefit of the doubt. But in law and on the GMAT, bullies like Travolta’s Robert Shapiro win the day. The name of the game is “Critical Reasoning” – make sure that you’re being critical.

What does that look like on the test? It means:

Be Skeptical of Arguments
From the first word of a Strengthen, Weaken, or Assumption question, you’re reading skeptically, and almost angrily so. You’re not buying this argument and you’re searching for holes immediately. Often times these arguments will actually seem pretty valid (sort of like, you know, “OJ did it, based on the glove, the blood in the Brondo, his footprint at the scene, etc.”), but your job is to attack them so you’d better start attacking immediately.

Look for Details That Don’t Match
If an argument says, for example, that “the murder rate is down, so the police department must be doing a better job preventing violent crime…” notice that murder is not the same thing as violent crime, and that even if violent crime is down, you don’t have a direct link to the police department being the catalysts for preventing it. This is part of not buying the argument – when the general flow of ideas suggests “yes,” make sure that the details do, too.

Look for Alternative Explanations
Conclusions on the GMAT – like criminal trial “guilty” verdicts – must be true beyond a reasonable doubt. So even though the premises might make it seem quite likely that a conclusion is true, if there is an alternate explanation that’s consistent with the facts but allows for a different conclusion, that conclusion cannot be logically drawn. This is where the Simpson legal team was so successful: the evidence was overwhelming in its suggestion that Simpson was guilty (as the soon-after civil trial proves), but the defense was able to create just enough suspicion that he could have been framed that the jury was able to acquit.

So whether you’re appalled or enthralled as you watch The People v. OJ Simpson and the defense team shrewdness it portrays, know that the show has valuable insight for you as you attempt to become a Critical Reasoning master. If you want to keep your GMAT verbal score out of jail, you might want to keep up with one particular Kardashian.

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By Brian Galvin.