How to Tackle RC Passages that Feel Both Informational and Persuasive

Remember that there are three types of GRE and GMAT passages: Informational (I), Informational with Opinion (I+), or Persuasive (P).

Informational with Opinion (I+) passages tend to confuse a lot of students. These passages are mostly informational (but not 100%!) The author gives a lot of facts about the topic, but he does give us a little bit of opinion! They are sort of the “middle ground” between passages that are very boring and passages that are all “fired up.”

This can be a challenge to recognize! Maybe an author says a theory is “overlooked,” or describes a group of politicians as “noble-hearted, yet ineffective.” Perhaps the entire passage is informational until the very last sentence, and the author then suggests that something is a “shame,” or “requires more public attention.” We know it’s not quite Persuasive, but it’s not completely bereft of emotion. That’s how you know it is I+!

Let’s look at an example of this type of passage. I highlighted some interesting keywords for us to notice:

Passage

The Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which measures the dollar value of finished goods and services produced by an economy during a given period, serves as the chief indicator of the economic well-being of the United States. The GDP assumes that the economic significance of goods and services lies solely in their price, and that these goods and services add to the national well-being, not because of any intrinsic value they may possess, but simply because they were produced and bought. Additionally, only those goods and services involved in monetary transactions are included in the GDP. Thus, the GDP ignores the economic utility of such things as a clean environment and cohesive families and communities. It is therefore not merely coincidental, since national policies in capitalist and non-capitalist countries alike are dependent on indicators such as the GDP, that both the environment and the social structure have been eroded in recent decades. Not only does the GDP mask this erosion, it can actually portray it as an economic gain: an oil spill off a coastal region “adds” to the GDP because it generates commercial activity. In short, the nation’s central measure of economic well-being works like a calculating machine that adds but cannot subtract.

Analysis

There’s at least three places in which the author gives a clear opinion, although I suppose “mask” is not particularly opinionated. Since this passage has an opinion, but doesn’t contain 3 super-strong sentences of opinion, we would probably want to error on the side of caution and classify it as “Informational +”. That means the Main Idea should be opinionated, but not be TOO extreme. We need a good “middle ground” answer choice. Our Test-Day notes might look like this:

POV: GDP 🙁
P: I+ (to give info + opinion)

Let’s look at the “Main Idea” question. This is a wordy one, so let’s scan through them, and examine the verbs first:

Question

The primary purpose of the passage is to:

(A) identify ways in which the GDP could be modified so that it would serve as a more accurate indicator of the economic well-being of the United States

(B) suggest that the GDP, in spite of certain shortcomings, is still the most reliable indicator of the economic well-being of the United States

(C) examine crucial shortcomings of the GDP as an indicator of the economic well-being of the United States

(D) argue that the growth of the United States economy in recent decades has diminished the effectiveness of the GDP as an indicator of the nation’s economic well-being

(E) discuss how the GDP came to be used as the primary indicator of the economic well-being of the United States

 

Verbs-only:

(A) identify… (B) suggest… (C) examine… (D) argue… (E) discuss…

 

——

We want a “middle-of-the-road” verb — something that isn’t too Persuasive, but isn’t 100% dry and Informational. Notice how in this group of verbs, (D) is by far the strongest. Does it make sense for the strongest verb to be correct, when we know this isn’t a full-blown Persuasive passage? Nope! So we can eliminate (D).

Of the four that are left, (E) is the most casual and Informational. To “discuss” something is pretty innocuous and un-opinionated, so unless the second-half says something such as, “to discuss why the GDP isn’t that great,” we can tell this isn’t going to be the correct answer.

The only verbs in the running for a “middle-of-the-road” answer choice, a choice that has some opinion, but not too much opinion, are (A), (B), and (C). Let’s look at them in full context again. Notice how even the answer choices reveal specific tones and points of view:

(A) identify ways in which the GDP could be modified so that it would serve as a more accurate indicator of the economic well-being of the United States

(B) suggest that the GDP, in spite of certain shortcomings, is still the most reliable indicator of the economic well-being of the United States

(C) examine crucial shortcomings of the GDP as an indicator of the economic well-being of the United States

——

Notice how (B) is very positive towards the GDP, whereas (A) and (C) are more negative. Again, since the correct answer and the “second-best” are often very close together, this is a good indicator that the correct answer lies between (A) and (C). Also, it helps we identified the keywords and know the author has some reservations about the GDP.

Let’s look at our “Final Two”:

(A) identify ways in which the GDP could be modified so that it would serve as a more accurate indicator of the economic well-being of the United States

(C) examine crucial shortcomings of the GDP as an indicator of the economic well-being of the United States

This is purely a choice in regards to Tone. Does the author think we can “fix” the GDP so it is more accurate, or is the GDP inherently problematic?

Let’s look one more time at those opinionated sections above!

They are all negative about the GDP!

The author isn’t implying that the GDP is beneficial, so (A) incorrectly assumes the GDP is at least somewhat accurate, and that the main criticism is that it needs to be MORE accurate. This choice is very tricky, and implies the author gives some praise to the GDP as a measuring tool of economic well-being. No such praise is in the passage. Like many passages, the tone is negative and fairly critical throughout.

The correct answer is (C) because it best fits the tone of the ENTIRE passage. (A) contains a tone of praise that is not present in the passage. This passage is a little tricky, but you can see that if you wanted to pick (A), you would need to identify a sentence in which the author says something good about the GDP. But where is that in the passage? Nowhere!