GMAT Tip: When Details Really Matter

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

Aspiring MBAs have trained themselves to be speed readers, quickly getting to the gist of what’s written without necessarily processing all the details.  You write in bullet points, you skim e-mails for action items, and even when pleasure-reading, you often skip adjectives and descriptions to get right to the dialogue.

These strategies, while often particularly helpful on sentence-correction and reading-comprehension questions on the GMAT, can be catastrophic on critical reasoning questions. In critical reasoning, details are of the utmost importance. Once you’ve trained yourself to notice the most important details in each question you can become a speed reader and efficiency aficionado once again. Here’s how:

The conclusion is king.

The vast majority of critical reasoning questions prompts include conclusions for you to either strengthen, weaken, or analyze. The most critical details will apply to conclusions. After all, there’s a huge difference between “democracy cannot work” and “democracy cannot work unless the electorate is informed.”

You must be conscious of all details within a conclusion. If a conclusion says that “this plan will decrease manufacturing costs,” you’d better find an answer that deals specifically with manufacturing costs. “Trap” answers may well contain what seems like good information, but it’s about distribution or marketing costs. Keywords in the conclusion are everything.

When the conclusion is vague, look to where it points you.

Sometimes the conclusion sentence itself is short on specifics but generally points you back to something quite specific elsewhere in the prompt. For example, if a conclusion says “therefore these proposed laws will increase traffic problems,” you’ll want to go back to look at the specifics of those laws. Very frequently, you’ll be able to either find a specific or limiting term in the conclusion or in the sentence the conclusion points directly to, and in doing so you’ll unlock a very important portion of the argument.

In order to see how this works, consider the following example from the official “GMAT Prep” software package released by GMAC:

Editorial in Krenlandian Newspaper:

Krenland’s steelmakers are losing domestic sales because of lower-priced imports, in many cases because foreign governments subsidize their steel industries in ways that are banned by international treaties. But whatever the cause, the cost is ultimately going to be jobs in Krenland’s steel industry. Therefore, it would protect not only steelmaking companies but also industrial employment in Krenland if our government took measures to reduce cheap steel imports.

Which of the following, if true, most seriously weakens the editorial’s argument?

Now, before you even get to the answer choices you should notice a very specific conclusion. The conclusion takes care to add two parts: Reducing steel imports will protect not only steelmaking companies but also industrial employment. That’s a very specific conclusion—it’s much harder to make two things true than just one. Your mind should immediately seize on that, particularly because the entire passage is about steelmaking and the conclusion is the first place that industrial employment is even mentioned. “But also industrial employment” is a huge specific in this passage, and one upon which the correct answer will hinge. Since the question wants you to weaken the conclusion, if you’re already thinking skeptically “what if this protects steelmakers but doesn’t help industry?” you’re ready for the correct answer, which is:

For many Krenlandian manufacturers who face severe international competition in both domestic and export markets, steel constitutes a significant part of their raw material costs.

Note how specifically this answer choice targets the details in the conclusion. It doesn’t necessarily weaken a broader conclusion like “protective measures will help the country” or “protective measures are good for the Krenlandian economy,” but because you saw that specific nature of the conclusion—steelmaking and industry—you were ready for an answer choice that attacked that specific conclusion.

The lesson here? Look out for the details in conclusions—words or phrases that narrowly tailor the conclusion (“only”) or that make the conclusion extra broad (“not only steelmaking but also industry”) both require particularly specific answer choices. Recognizing the specifics of the conclusion is quite often the key to having a keen eye for what the correct answer will say.

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.