GMAT Tip: Loaded Questions

GMAT Tip: Loaded Questions
Most Critical Reasoning questions contain hidden assumptions, and learning how to recognize them is key (Photograph by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Photograph by Win McNamee/Getty Images

The GMAT Tip of the Week is a weekly column that includes advice on taking the Graduate Management Admission Test, which is required for admission to most business schools. Every week an instructor from a top test-prep company will share suggestions for improving your GMAT score. This week’s tip comes from Andrew Mitchell, director of prebusiness programs and GMAT instructor at Kaplan Test Prep.

As the U.S. presidential election continues, the world around us teems with “arguments.” Arguments conveyed through TV ads, debates, stump speeches, and newspaper editorials attempt to persuade us to subscribe to a particular world view, vote for a certain candidate, even donate money to a specific campaign. That’s what all arguments are: attempts to convince. In real life, arguments make this attempt using a variety of tactics, some more honorable than others. While some arguments are based on solid evidence and reasoning, others rely on appeals to emotion or distorted facts.

Fortunately for GMAT test takers, the arguments found in questions that appear in the test’s Critical Reasoning section follow a specific pattern. Keep these things in mind as you evaluate GMAT arguments:

• All GMAT arguments contain evidence, which is used to support a conclusion.

• On the GMAT, all evidence is accepted as true. No exceptions, no “fact checkers.”

• All GMAT arguments are designed to contain a key point of vulnerability: a gap between the evidence and the conclusion, which must be bridged by an assumption.

• An assumption is defined as “something the author doesn’t state but that must be true in order for the argument to hold.”

Finding the assumption is the key to Critical Reasoning success. Questions can ask you to identify the central assumption, point out a flaw in the argument (by showing why the assumption is unreasonable), or recognize potential facts that would strengthen or weaken the argument (by supporting or undermining the assumption, respectively).

Practice identifying assumptions as you listen to the candidates’ arguments. Consider this one: “My administration would create more jobs, since my policies will cut taxes on corporate profits.”

What’s the assumption? There are many assumptions here, but the central one is that reducing corporate taxes will indeed have a positive effect on job creation. Simple as that. Arguments can get quite subtle on the GMAT, but the assumption will always connect the terms of the evidence (in this case, the tax-cutting policies) with those of the conclusion (the resulting job growth).

Whether you believe this particular assumption on Election Day is between you and the voting booth. Whether you can identify assumptions on the GMAT is essential to achieving a high score.

Mitchell helps manage Kaplan Test Prep’s GMAT business, including marketing, program development, and delivery. Still an active GMAT and GRE instructor, Mitchell is leading Kaplan’s efforts to revamp its curriculum to teach the GMAT’s new Integrated Reasoning section. He is a best-selling author, and his previous experience includes consulting for the Pentagon and product development at Google. Mitchell graduated from Harvard University with a B.S. in physics in 2001 and completed his MBA in 2007 at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.

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