Like a tae kwon do blackbelt or an icy road, the GMAT is perhaps most famous for its ability to use your own momentum against you. Few places is this as evident as on Critical Reasoning questions, in which the most common way to answer incorrectly is to allow your subconscious mind to lead you to a slightly-out-of-scope conclusion that the psychological warriors at GMAC have already anticipated you’d conclude. Accordingly, to perform well on Critical Reasoning questions it is, well, critical that you pay particular attention to the narrow scope of the conclusion. As an example, consider the question:
Poor physical fitness among children has become an epidemic among American children. In Europe, however, where schoolchildren participate in calisthenics and other athletic activities on a daily basis while at school, children are significantly more fit. Tests show that European students have superior strength and agility, and that they are significantly more likely than are American children to maintain a healthy lifestyle throughout their lives. Therefore, we must conclude that American children can become more physically fit only through a daily calisthenics program at school.
Which of the following is an assumption on which the above argument relies?
(A) Student physical fitness is a pressing concern worthy of taxpayer resources
(B) All children can be made equally physically fit
(C) It is possible within the current American school budgets and logistics to implement a nationwide calisthenics program
(D) School calisthenics programs are an indispensable factor in European children’s fitness
(E) American schools have been unable to provide healthier lunch options for overweight children
What is the conclusion of this argument? While most students will be able to note that the last sentence contains the conclusion, many will read their own conclusion that isn’t as narrowly-focused as the given statement. Did you read this passage as an advertisement for a school-based calisthenics initiative? Note that the conclusion does NOT say that “we should implement a school calisthenics program” (which might lead you toward choices A or C). It, instead, states that the ONLY way for American students to improve their fitness is through DAILY, SCHOOL calisthenics. That’s a strikingly different conclusion – the paragraph argues not in favor of implementing such a program, but rather that no other program or initiative could work. Whether such a program is viable, as choices A and C seek to establish, is irrelevant. What we need is an answer choice that indicates that DAILY, SCHOOL calisthenics are a vastly superior program and that nothing else will do; choice D is the answer that does so, and is therefore correct.
The GMAT loves to employ techniques like the above to bait test-takers into assuming a conclusion that is a few degrees off of center. An answer choice that falls outside the scope of the given conclusion will be incorrect every time, but the GMAT is quite deft at creating situations that use your mental inertia to convince you of an off-scope conclusion. Beware of the following tricks that the GMAT employs to draw you slightly off the scope:
• As in the above, use an argument that you assume to be a sales pitch
• Include subject matter about which nearly all pre-MBAs share a common sentiment, and make the actual conclusion slightly off your natural leaning (e.g. nepotism or long work hours)
• Make a fairly bland statement in the conclusion (e.g. “ancestors lived in this region during this era”) knowing that you’ll mentally want to infer a superlative term (e.g. “the earliest ancestors in this region lived at this time”)
• Use a principle as a premise upon which a conclusion depends, knowing that you’ll often read the authoritative presence as a conclusion itself (e.g. “No newspaper can fairly be blamed for adverse repercussions if its reporting was accurate. As officials have validated our translation of the prime minister’s remarks, we bear no responsibility for the outcome of the protests.” Here, the first sentence is simply given as a fact; the last statement “we bear no responsibility” is the conclusion.)
In order to maximize your performance on Critical Reasoning questions, you need to take care to ensure that you understand the true scope of an argument’s conclusion before you delve into the answer choice, as the GMAT will employ tricks like those listed above to shift your view of the argument and bait you toward incorrect answer choices that already anticipate your error. When reading Critical Reasoning passages, not all sentences are created equal; make sure that you devote an extra few seconds to fully process and identify the conclusion and its narrow scope, and you’ll avoid the trap, out-of-scope answer choices that befall most examinees.
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They fail to look at critical reasoning as a scoring opportunity. GMAT Critical Reasoning is not a puzzle. There is no extra point in getting to the answer without using Process of Elimination. You are wasting your time overanalyzing the answer choices or posting your findings in GMAT Forums. The so-called Critical Reasoning experts know the answer. Justifying an answer choice is much easier.
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