GMAT: Anatomy of a Weaken Question – Part 3

In Part 1, we learned how to recognize Weaken questions, and the importance of focusing on what is being weakened. In Part 2, we reviewed the importance of identifying the conclusion, evidence, and assumptions before reading the answer choices, and learned how reversing the assumption can be a powerful tool to use as your prediction. Let’s look at two harder Weaken questions that have tripped students up in the past, and examine them closely, applying what we have learned.

Question 1: The OLEX Petroleum Company has recently determined that it could cut its refining costs by closing its Grenville refinery and consolidating all refining at its Tasberg refinery. Closing the Grenville refinery, however, would mean the immediate loss of about 1,200 jobs in the Grenville area. Eventually the lives of more than 10,000 people would be seriously disrupted. Therefore, OLEX’s decision, announced yesterday, to keep Grenville open shows that at OLEX social concerns sometimes outweigh the desire for higher profits.

Which of the following, if true, most seriously undermines the argument given?

Conclusion: OLEX’s decision to keep Grenville = Social concerns valued over more $$$
Evidence: Refining costs cut by closing Grenville; Grenville closing = loss of jobs/live disruption

Evidence + Assumption = Conclusion

How does the fact that Grenville’s closing would mean loss of jobs necessarily mean that OLEX is socially concerned?

Assumption: The disruption would not lead to less profitability long-term (OLEX is not motivated by greed).

Now we’re going to reverse the assumption, and use it for our Prediction.

Prediction: Disruption = less profitability, OLEX is not concerned w/social well-being and is motivated by greed.

The Prediction should match the correct answer choice as closely as possible. That is why it’s important to write one down whenever possible. When you write down a Prediction, it clarifies for you what you should look for in the answer choices.

A. The Grenville refinery, although it operates at a higher cost than the Tasberg refinery, has nevertheless been moderately profitable for many years.

B. Even though OLEX could consolidate all its refining at the Tasberg plant, doing so at the Grenville plant would not be feasible.

C. The Tasberg refinery is more favorably situated than the Grenville refinery with respect to the major supply routes for raw petroleum.

D. If the Grenville refinery were ever closed and operations at the Tasberg refinery expanded, job openings at Tasberg would to the extent possible be filled with people formerly employed at Grenville.

E. Closure of the Grenville refinery would mean compliance, at enormous cost, with demanding local codes regulating the cleanup of abandoned industrial sites.
The answer here is E. Notice the phrase “at enormous cost”; it shows that OLEX’s motivation is financial and not social. Now try one on your own!

Question 2: The New Deal in America began in 1933 and included widespread bank reforms, unprecedented government infrastructure spending, and unparalleled expansion in the size of government. Some political commentators and economic historians contend that President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal singlehandedly propelled the United States out of the Great Depression and into decades of uninterrupted prosperity. To support this claim, these economists note that during the years following 1933, GDP grew, unemployment shrunk, and optimism increased.

Which of the following statements, if true, would most weaken the above argument?

A. The considerable debt burden that the government assumed to fund the New Deal sparked fear in the minds of some economists, investors, and businessmen.
B. The considerable government expenditures and massive labor requirements engendered by America’s entry into World War II in late 1941 helped employ Americans and grow GDP.
C. On average, GDP per capita fell and unemployment rose in many foreign countries during the years after President Roosevelt announced his New Deal.
D. During 1939, the U.S. economy contracted sharply, unemployment jumped 5%, and America’s optimism fell.
E. U.S. GDP during the mid 1930s stood at levels much lower than 30 years later.

Check out the wording of the final sentence before the question. “To support this claim, these economists…” We can translate this as knowing the claim is based on 3 good things that happened after 1933: GDP grew, unemployment shrunk, and optimism increased. What would WEAKEN the argument is that if that evidence, the basis of support for the claim, was taken away.

What would most weaken would be if there were other reasons for (+) outcomes, or if after the New Deal in 1933 things did not continue to get better. Notice how D perfectly matches our prediction. It shows that just 6 years later, things were bad again, contradicting the “decades of uninterrupted prosperity” mentioned in the argument.

Did you choose another answer choice, perhaps B? Let’s examine. Notice how D more directly relates to the specificity of the argument. Since 1939 is earlier than 1941, it would show that the New Deal had even less of an impact. Furthermore, since B produced a positive result, helping Americans and growing GDP, you could argue that so did the New Deal. Who’s to say that it was only America’s entry into WWII that caused the growth? Pre-1941 there could have still been (+) growth, so the argument is not necessarily weakened by choice B.