This tip for improving your GMAT score was provided by David Newland at Veritas Prep.
The Veritas Prep Critical Reasoning book describes how each argument can be divided into three portions: the conclusion, the evidence, and the context. The amount varies from question to question, but there is no doubt that the context—or background information—is an important part of critical reasoning. But why is it there?
We know that the conclusion is what the argument is designed to support—a particular action to be taken or an opinion to be adopted. The evidence is the reason or reasons given in support of the conclusion. But what about the context? What role does the context play?
Finding the Context
Try separating the following argument into the context, evidence, and conclusion. (This question comes from the Official Guide for the GMAT Review, 13th edition; it is problem 122 on page 537.)
“Outsourcing is the practice of obtaining from an independent supplier a product or service that a company has previously provided for itself. Since a company’s chief objective is to realize the highest possible year-end profits, any product or service that can be obtained from an independent supplier for less than it would cost the company to provide the product or service on its own should be outsourced.”
Conclusion: Always start by identifying the conclusion (for those question types that have a conclusion).
The conclusion here is “any product or service that can be obtained from an independent supplier for less than it would cost the company to provide the product or service on its own should be outsourced.”
Evidence: Pay careful attention to the evidence, as this is the reasoning given in favor of the conclusion.
The evidence in this argument is “a company’s chief objective is to realize the highest possible year-end profits”
Context: The context is neither evidence nor conclusion it is a statement that introduces the argument.
The context here is the first sentence: “Outsourcing is the practice of obtaining from an independent supplier a product or service that a company has previously provided for itself.”
What role does the context play?
Clearly your attention should be focused on the evidence and the conclusion. This is where the path to the correct answer lies. But what role does the context play? Why is the context there if it is not something to focus on?
The context plays two roles:
1) Fairness. The context is there to ensure that the critical reasoning section is not a vocabulary test. It ensures cultural and linguistic fairness so everyone has a chance to answer correctly if they apply the right logic. This is a good thing.
In the example above, “outsourcing” may not be defined clearly enough in the evidence and conclusion. The context makes it absolutely clear what outsourcing refers to.
2) Distraction. The context is also there for a not-so-generous reason: Many of the incorrect answer choices are based on focusing too much on the context. The context can also just generally distract those test takers who do not know exactly what to focus on. Some people may find that they are taking notes on the context or just giving it too much time and attention.
The key, therefore, is to treat the context appropriately. The context is to be absorbed in order to set the tone for the evidence and the conclusion, as well as to ensure that you understand the topic being discussed. Too much focus on the context, however, can lead you to waste time and even select the wrong answer.
Focus on the conclusion and the evidence and allow the context to introduce and clarify the argument—but not to dominate your thinking. You may find you are more successful when you put critical reasoning in “context”!
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