GMAT Tip: One-Word Clues in Critical Reasoning Questions

GMAT Tip: One-Word Clues in Critical Reasoning Questions
Critical reasoning questions often contain a single word that makes all the difference (Photograph by Jason Hindley)
Photograph by Jason Hindley

This tip on improving your GMAT score was provided by Brian Galvin at Veritas Prep.

Consider the following statements:

1. In order to turn a profit this quarter, Leonard Industries must find a way to cut its expenses by 50 percent.

2. In order to turn a profit this quarter, Leonard Industries must find a way to cut its manufacturing expenses by 50 percent.

What’s the difference?  It’s one word—“manufacturing”—but in GMAT Critical Reasoning questions that one word is often the most important of all. If this were the conclusion of a Critical Reasoning argument, there’s a massive difference between “Leonard Industries must cut its expenses” and “Leonard Industries must cut its manufacturing expenses.” The latter conclusion means that cutting distribution, marketing, raw materials, or retiree healthcare costs cannot lead to profit, and that it must be manufacturing expenses, or the company won’t be profitable.

Why is that important? The authors of Critical Reasoning questions know a few things about you and how you take the test. They know that your eyes go quickly to statistics (admit it: You fixated on 50 percent for a second there), and that you’re often in such a rush to get to the answer choices that you don’t pick up on all the details in the question or supporting material. So they frequently add a small word or phrase to the conclusion that they know changes everything and that they suspect you won’t notice. If you can train yourself to fixate on that specificity, you’ll beat them at their own game.

Successful test-takers will notice this immediately. Consider this conclusion in the context of a Critical Reasoning question:

With many lower-cost imports competing for sales, and fewer financing options for consumers to afford the top-of-the-line products, nearly all analysts believe that Leonard’s sluggish sales will only get worse in the coming months. Therefore, in order to turn a profit this quarter, Leonard Industries must find a way to cut its manufacturing expenses by 50 percent.

Which of the following would most strengthen the conclusion drawn above?

(A) The industry in which Leonard Industries competes is known for boom and bust cycles with long periods of low sales volume.

(B) Leonard Industries has no plans to improve the quality of its products for the next model year.

(C) Leonard Industries’ raw materials suppliers report that they cannot further cut prices without going out of business.

Here, if you haven’t noticed the word “manufacturing,” you’ll likely miss the correct answer, C, altogether. But if you fixated on “manufacturing costs” and asked whether it were possible to cut costs somewhere else, choice C is readily waiting for you. Choice C demonstrates that cutting costs elsewhere is unlikely, meaning that the cuts more likely do have to come from manufacturing.

The problem that many test-takers have is that they don’t immediately note that specificity in the conclusion, so they get lost in the answer choices without having a firm command of the argument itself. Those who see that specificity have a huge advantage, as Critical Reasoning is usually “won” at the argument level, not at the answer choice level. So train yourself to see that type of specificity. It often appears:

• Next to a statistic (e.g., “40 percent of those ticketed” as opposed to “of those pulled over” or “of all drivers”)

• As an adjective next to the main noun in the conclusion (e.g., “manufacturing” in “manufacturing costs”)

• After a linking word like “and” (e.g., “this law will increase revenues and profits for local businesses”—that’s much more specific than simply “will increase revenues”)

In Critical Reasoning questions, often one word (or phrase) is the lynchpin of the entire argument. Train yourself to recognize that single word and you’ll increase your accuracy and efficiency.

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? Sign-up for a trial of Veritas Prep GMAT on Demand.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE