Planning for the “Plan” Questions on the GMAT Critical Reasoning Section

Quarter Wit, Quarter WisdomAt Veritas Prep, we are often asked to discuss how to handle the “plan” Critical Reasoning questions test takers are asked on the GMAT. Here is how these questions are different from your regular strengthen/weaken questions – instead of a conclusion, we are given situations and plans to remedy a particular problem. We are then asked to evaluate the success of the plan or identify a weakness in the plan or an assumption of the plan.

Note that a plan question is very similar to a strengthen/weaken/assumption question. The main difference between them is that instead of being given a conclusion, you are asked to strengthen/weaken the possibility of a plan working out or an assumption made in the plan (looking at a few example questions will make this clearer). Let’s look at some examples of each of the three types of “plan” questions you are likely to come across on the GMAT exam:

Example 1 (the most common one): Which of the following will help us in evaluating the success of the plan?

In the country of Bedenia, officials have recently implemented a new healthcare initiative to reduce dangerous wait times at emergency rooms in the country’s hospitals. This initiative increases the number of available emergency nurses and doctors in urban settings: scholarships and no-interest loans are being offered to prospective students in these fields if they work in major city hospitals, relocation packages to urban centers are being offered for current emergency practitioners, and immigration rules are being changed to enable foreign emergency doctors and nurses to more easily move to Bedenia’s major cities.

Which of the following would be most important to determine in assessing whether the initiative will be successful?

(A) What percentage of current nurses and doctors work in emergency medicine.
(B) Which hospitals in Bedenia have dangerous wait times in their emergency rooms.
(C) Whether a career in emergency medicine pays substantially less than other types of medicine.
(D) Whether wait times could be reduced by means other than increasing the number of available nurses and doctors.
(E) Whether many foreign doctors and nurses are currently not allowed to enter Bedenia.

Plan: Reduce the dangerous wait time by increasing the availability of emergency nurses and doctors in urban settings by providing scholarships, offering relocation packages and changing immigration rules.

We need to find out whether this given plan will actually reduce wait time. Note that we are not worried about what else could reduce the dangerous wait time or what else this plan could do. The only point of concern for us is whether this plan will reduce the wait time.

This plan intends to increase the availability of emergency nurses and doctors in urban settings, so ask yourself this question: is this actually what is required? Do the urban hospitals have dangerous wait times? What if only rural hospitals have wait times and that is where the impetus is required? Answer choice B addresses exactly this question and, hence, will allow us to determine whether or not the initiative will be successful. Therefore, the answer is B.

Now look at our second example:

Example 2: Which of the following provides an argument against the plan?

In the last two years alone, nearly a dozen of Central University’s most prominent professors have been lured away by the higher salaries offered by competing academic institutions. In order to protect the school’s ranking, Central University’s president has proposed increasing tuition by 10% and using the extra money to offer more attractive compensation packages to the most talented and well-known members of its faculty.

Which of the following provides the most persuasive argument against the university president’s proposed course of action?

(A) It is inevitable that at least some members of the faculty will ultimately take jobs at other universities, regardless of how much Central University offers to pay them.
(B) Other universities are also looking for ways to provide higher salaries to prominent members of the faculty.
(C) Central University slipped in the last year’s ranking of regional schools.
(D) The single most important factor in ranking a university is its racial and socioeconomic diversity.
(E) The president of Central University has only been in office for 18 months and has never managed such a large enterprise.

Plan: Protect the school’s ranking by retaining its most prominent members by increasing their compensation.

We need to find a persuasive argument against the given plan – something that leads us to believe the plan should not be implemented. Here, test takers often become confused between options B and D. Let’s break down each answer choice in detail to determine which one is correct:

(B) Other universities are also looking for ways to provide higher salaries to prominent members of the faculty.

This option supports the given plan. It is a reason to actually implement the plan since if more disparity gets created, more prominent professors will leave. Remember, we are looking for an option that is against the plan, so B cannot be our answer.

(D) The single most important factor in ranking a university is its racial and socioeconomic diversity.

This is an argument against the plan. It states that the single most important factor in ranking is “racial and socioeconomic diversity,” so trying to retain prominent professors is not likely to retain ranking. Hence, the correct answer would be D.

Now let’s look at our final example:

Example 3: Which of the following is an assumption of the plan?

The general availability of high-quality electronic scanners and color printers for computers has made the counterfeiting of checks much easier. In order to deter such counterfeiting, several banks plan to issue to their corporate customers checks that contain dots too small to be accurately duplicated by any electronic scanner currently available; when such checks are scanned and printed, the dots seem to blend together in such a way that the word “VOID” appears on the check.

A questionable assumption of the plan is that

(A) in the territory served by the banks the proportion of counterfeit checks that are made using electronic scanners has remained approximately constant over the past few years.
(B) most counterfeiters who use electronic scanners counterfeit checks only for relatively large amounts of money.
(C) the smallest dots on the proposed checks cannot be distinguished visually except under strong magnification.
(D) most corporations served by these banks will not have to pay more for the new checks than for traditional checks.
(E) the size of the smallest dots that generally available electronic scanners are able to reproduce accurately will not decrease significantly in the near future.

Plan: To deter counterfeiting, issue checks that contain dots too small to be accurately duplicated (which will form the word VOID) by any electronic scanner currently available.

We need to find an assumption that this given plan makes. Note that the plan is based on the capabilities of the currently available scanners and assumes that their capabilities will not improve in the near future. Hence, E is an assumption.

Some test takers get confused with  answer choice C:

(C) the smallest dots on the proposed checks cannot be distinguished visually except under strong magnification

This option is actually not an assumption. Even if the dots can be distinguished visually, they don’t form the word VOID. Only when current scanners scan the checks and then we print them do the dots merge to form the word. Thus, our answer is E.

We hope you have understood how to handle various “plan” questions on the GMAT. The most important aspect of such questions to remember is to first identify the plan and what one hopes to achieve through it.

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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!