How to Strengthen an Argument in GMAT CR

There’s several ways to strengthen an argument. We can add new evidence, support the existing evidence, or perhaps even give a tidbit that might show an assumption is likely. Strengthen questions can be trickier than Assumption or Evaluate, because you can’t just hone in on the Conclusion and ignore or devalue everything else. With Strengthen (and Weaken) you have to take into account the ENTIRE picture. There might be 2-3 ways to strengthen, and the correct answer is not the first one that comes to your mind!

Let’s look at an argument:

The government is being urged to prevent organizations devoted to certain views on human nutrition from advocating a diet that includes large portions of uncooked meat, because eating uncooked meat can be very dangerous. However, this purported fact does not justify the government’s silencing the groups, for surely the government would not be justified in silencing a purely political group merely on the grounds that the policies the group advocates could be harmful to some members of society. The same should be true for silencing groups with certain views on human nutrition.

Which one of the following principles most helps to justify the reasoning in the argument?

(A) The government should not silence any group for advocating a position that a significant proportion of society believes to be beneficial.
(B) The government ought to do whatever is in the best interest of society.
(C) One ought to advocate a position only if one believes that it is true or would be beneficial.
(D) The government ought not to silence an opinion merely on the grounds that it could be harmful to disseminate the opinion.
(E) One ought to urge the government to do only those things the government is justified in doing.

Let’s break this down:

Evidence: Gov’t urged to stop anti-meat groups

Conclusion: Gov’t not JUSTIFIED in SILENCING them

Additional Evidence: Gov’t shouldn’t silence just because harmful to “some” — similarly, shouldn’t silence nutrition groups

The author is assuming that these “certain views” on nutrition might also be harmful to “some” members of society, so the gov’t might want to silence them. To strengthen, perhaps we could get additional evidence on the potential dangers of these pro-nutrition groups? Or perhaps brand-new info that shows why the gov’t is not justified in silencing the anti-meat groups?

PREDICTION: Certain nutrition groups also harmful and gov’t doesn’t silence them. Anything that shows the gov’t lacks “justification” to silence anti-meat. Perhaps a good thing about anti-meat? (I admit, I’m reaching a bit.)

We can have our Prediction but ALSO be a little more open to what the answer choices will bring with this one. :)

(A) The government should not silence any group for advocating a position that a significant proportion of society believes to be beneficial. (it’s not really about the proportion of society)
(B) The government ought to do whatever is in the best interest of society. (“best interest” doesn’t really relate to meat or nutrition groups or the idea of justification)
(C) One ought to advocate a position only if one believes that it is true or would be beneficial. (this kind of general “one” talk pops up a lot on LSAT questions, but not really on the GMAT. It’s wrong.)
(D) The government ought not to silence an opinion merely on the grounds that it could be harmful to disseminate the opinion.(more on topic, let’s keep for now)
(E) One ought to urge the government to do only those things the government is justified in doing. (don’t love the “one” talk, but it’s more on topic, so let’s keep for now)

Now that we have identified the Final Two, let’s take a closer look at which one is more focused on the specifics of the argument:

(D) The government ought not to silence an opinion merely on the grounds that it could be harmful to disseminate the opinion.
(E) One ought to urge the government to do only those things the government is justified in doing.

Let’s look at the conclusion again:

This purported fact (uncooked meat = dangerous) does not justify the government’s silencing the groups.

It’s really about the government’s actions, not really what the PEOPLE should be. Like (C), choice (E) has that weird “one ought” language. With CR, we aren’t really here to make moral judgments. We want to strengthen the idea that the GOV’T is not JUSTIFIED.

If we rephrase (D) it says: “gov’t shouldn’t silence opinions that could be alarming.” This re-states and re-energizes the idea that “gov’t shouldn’t silence just because harmful to ‘some'”.

The correct answer is (D).

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The Best Strategy for GMAT Evaluate the Argument Questions

With an Evaluate the Argument question, we have to keep in mind that it’s aaaaalll about that Conclusion! This isn’t like a Weaken or a Strengthen in which some tiny piece of evidence will twist around and be part of the correct answer, unexpectedly.

Evaluate questions are easy if you keep in mind that you are here to evaluate the Conclusion sentence and that’s it! So let’s break one down:

The US government has recently taken an initiative to collect and publish information on the salaries of graduating students from colleges. The salaries of the students in their first year after graduation will be published for all colleges and subject fields the colleges offer. The idea is to help the students make more informed choices about the college and the field that they choose. While the intentions are good, the results might just be the opposite. Students who pick their field based primarily on post-graduation salaries, as opposed to passion for a field, will, in all likelihood, struggle in both school and career.

Which of the following options would help most to evaluate the given argument?

A) What is the number of colleges that will be covered by the government initiative?
B) Currently, what proportion of students who struggle in college also struggle in their careers?
C) Do some students currently pick their subject fields based on their passion?
D) Are there currently any good websites providing average salaries data for the students?
E) How will the government ensure that the data published on the salaries of the students is not biased against certain colleges?

Evidence: US govt gets $$$ info (to help students choose).

Conclusion: Students who choose for $$$ / not :inlove: will :cry: :cry: :cry:

Ridiculous emojis aside, we can see the scope of this conclusion is about what the RESULT will be when students base their CHOICE on $$$$$. Definitely the correct answer needs to match that scope!

Let’s look at the scope of each answer choice:

A) What is the number of colleges that will be covered by the government initiative? (the number affected is not part of the conclusion’s scope)
B) Currently, what proportion of students who struggle in college also struggle in their careers? (better than A, but still not great, but let’s keep it for now)
C) Do some students currently pick their subject fields based on their passion? (decent, related to students, let’s keep it)
D) Are there currently any good websites providing average salaries data for the students? (what the heck?! this has absolutely nothing to do with the students and their choices)
E) How will the government ensure that the data published on the salaries of the students is not biased against certain colleges? (who cares about the data; we’re interested in the students’ choices)

The Final Two here are (B) and (C). Let’s answer these hypotheticals:

B) Currently, what proportion of students who struggle in college also struggle in their careers?

Let’s say 100% who struggle in college struggle in careers. Or let’s say 0% who struggle in college also struggle in their careers. This has no bearing on whether students who pick $$$ over passion will succeed.

C) Do some students currently pick their subject fields based on their passion?

Let’s say yes, some students DO pick their major based on :inlove: ; it doesn’t have a huge impact. BUT, what if NO students choose for passion? Well if none choose for passion, and they ALL choose for $$$$, then the author’s argument is greatly weakened!!! In that case, there wouldn’t even be a dichotomy — no choice at all! They ONLY choose for $$$. So how could choosing for $$$ over :inlove: even be possible?

Because one way to answer (C) has a major impact on the Conclusion, this is the correct answer. Playing “Devil’s advocate” for each “side” of the Evaluate answer choice can help you see which one is most relevant to the Conclusion.

 

“Justify the Argument” = Make the Author Seem Less Crazy

This question is unusual in that the Conclusion comes first, followed by the Evidence. That’s probably because it’s an LSAT question, but occasionally we see this on the GMAT as well. Set a timer for 2.5 min and give it a shot:

Archaeologist: The mosaics that were removed from Zeugma, the ancient city now flooded by the runoff from Turkey’s Birecik Dam, should have been left there. We had all the information about them that we needed to draw archaeological conclusions, and future archaeologists studying the site, who may not have access to our records, might be misled by their absence.

Which one of the following, if assumed, most helps to justify the reasoning in the archaeologist’s argument?

(A) The only considerations that bear upon the question of whether the mosaics should have been removed are archaeological.
(B) Archaeologists studying a site can tell whether or not that site had been flooded at some time.
(C) The materials used in the construction of a mosaic are readily apparent when the mosaic is examined in its original location.
(D) Archaeological sites from which artifacts have been removed rarely mislead archaeologists who later study the site.
(E) The removal of artifacts from archaeological sites rarely has any environmental impact.

Evidence: 
-we have all info on M for archaeology
-future A’s might not have access to our records & be confused is M are gone

Conclusion: 
-M should have been left in situ

Concept Shift: 
-Even though the Conclusion comes first, I still find the evidence doesn’t do a good job justifying WHY they should have been left, given that there’s run-off. It seems like run-off would be a BAD thing for these mosaics!

The author is saying we need to leave the mosaics for the future archaeologists to study in case they don’t have our records, so the author is clearly assuming the mosaics would still be there for the future archaeologists if we put them back/left them there.

I like the word “justify” in the question-stem here. It always makes me think, “which of the following makes the author seem less crazy?” :lol:

If the idea of “now flooded by the runoff from Turkey’s Birecik Dam” is NOT going to be part of the scope of the correct answer, then why is this detail even included? It would seem so odd.

Prediction: Something that explains WHY they should have been left there, even with the run-off/flooding.

On to the answer choices:

(A) The only considerations that bear upon the question of whether the mosaics should have been removed are archaeological. (it’s sort of on topic, so we can keep…for now)
(B) Archaeologists studying a site can tell whether or not that site had been flooded at some time. (we don’t know how this relates to why they should have been left there)
(C) The materials used in the construction of a mosaic are readily apparent when the mosaic is examined in its original location. (how they were constructed is not part of the argument)
(D) Archaeological sites from which artifacts have been removed rarely mislead archaeologists who later study the site. (on track, let’s keep)
(E) The removal of artifacts from archaeological sites rarely has any environmental impact. (environmental impact is totally outside the scope)

Let’s focus on the only two that seem to be on track:

(A) The only considerations that bear upon the question of whether the mosaics should have been removed are archaeological.
(D) Archaeological sites from which artifacts have been removed rarely mislead archaeologists who later study the site.

Let’s negate each one:

(A) Archaeological considerations are NOT the ONLY point of consideration.
(D) Removing mosaics WOULD mislead archaeologists.

The negation of (D) seems to SUPPORT the conclusion, saying yeah, we shouldn’t have removed them! It basically reiterates the evidence.

With (A), it’s like saying, “there’s other things we should consider.” Well, if there are other points to consider other than archaeological ones, then it definitely hurts the conclusion since the entire conclusion’s evidence is based on archaeology. Perhaps those other considerations would have something to do with the flooding??

I’ll be honest, I don’t LOVE (A) as an answer to an Assumption question but the keyword “justify” sort of makes this one a bit like a Strengthen question.

Hopefully, we can see here that (A) is just miles ahead of the other answer choices.

Takeaway: We don’t need a “perfect” answer; we just need one that “beats” the other four! :)

Challenge Yourself with LSAT CR!

Sometimes it can be fun to look at some LSAT Logical Reasoning questions. They are sort of like “super-charged” GMAT Critical Reasoning questions.

Let’s break down an LSAT Assumption question using our GMAT Critical Reasoning strategy!

Ann will either take a leave of absence from Technocomp and return in a year or else she will quit her job there; but she would not do either one unless she were offered a one-year teaching fellowship at a prestigious university. Technocomp will allow her to take a leave of absence if it does not find out that she has been offered the fellowship, but not otherwise. Therefore, Ann will quit her job at Technocomp only if Technocomp finds out she has been offered the fellowship.

Which one of the following, if assumed, allows the conclusion above to be properly drawn?

(A) Technocomp will find out about Ann being offered the fellowship only if someone informs on her.

(B) The reason Ann wants the fellowship is so she can quit her job at Technocomp.

(C) Technocomp does not allow any of its employees to take a leave of absence in order to work for one of its competitors.

(D) Ann will take a leave of absence if Technocomp allows her to take a leave of absence.

(E) Ann would be offered the fellowship only if she quit her job at Technocomp

Since it’s an Assumption question, I recommend separating out the evidence from the conclusion, and looking for the “concept shift” in the conclusion. That is, what the new information is in the conclusion that the correct assumption will have to “account” for.

Evidence: Ann will take a sabbatical OR quit, but not if she gets a fellowship. But T won’t let her take the sabbatical if she gets the fellowship (the jerks!). :)

Conclusion: Ann will quit only if T finds out she has been offered the fellowship.

Concept Shift: To me, this conclusion hinges on this idea of “ONLY” — why will she ONLY quit if T finds out?

It seems like the author is assuming that Ann wants to take the leave of absence. The correct answer has to have something to do with Ann’s desires.

Prediction: Something that explains why will she ONLY quit if T finds out.

(D) is the only one that addresses this specific scope.

How to Make Inferences on GMAT Critical Reasoning

Let’s look at the following CR problem:

Traffic engineers have increased the capacity of the Krakkenbak Bridge to handle rush-hour traffic flow. The resultant increase in rush-hour traffic flow would not have occurred had the city not invested in computer modeling technology last year at the request of the city’s mayor, and the city’s financial predicament would not have been resolved if the traffic flow across the bridge during rush hour had not been increased.

This question is a little bit like a “must be true,” but if we look at the wording of the Q-stem:

Which one of the following can be properly inferred from the information above?

…we can see it is more of a general “could be true” CR Inference question. Breaking down the argument:

-Bridge capacity increased
-More flow possible due to Tech from mayor
-If traffic flow hadn’t increased, then $$$ problems

Before we look at the answer choices, we need to consider what inferences can be made based on these three facts. Since we only have three facts, there really aren’t too many inferences we can make without bringing in outside info, and ideally, we want an inference that will “unite” at least two of these facts.

Prediction: $$$ problems were so bad it justified spending $$ on Tech to fix the traffic

Let’s look at the official wording of the answer choices:

Which one of the following can be properly inferred from the information above?

(A) The city’s financial predicament would not have been resolved had the city chosen a competing computer modeling software package.
(B) The city’s financial predicament would not have been resolved had the city not invested in computer modeling technology.
(C) On an average day, more traffic crosses the Krakkenbak Bridge this year as compared to last year.
(D) Traffic flow across the Krakkenbak Bridge during rush hour would not have increased had the city’s mayor not made investing in computer modeling technology the highest budgetary priority last year.
(E) The city’s mayor was a proponent of investing in computer modeling technology because of the city’s need to increase traffic flow across the Krakkenbak Bridge during rush hour.

Here’s how we can analyze each one:

(A) We don’t know anything about the various different possible Tech, so this cannot be inferred. Eliminate.
(B) It is possible that only by spending $$$ on the Tech that the $$$ problem is solved, since we had to fix the traffic issue to avoid the $$$ problems. Keep.
(C) The actual numbers of traffic on a given day don’t relate at all to the last two sentences of the argument, so we can tell this will not be correct. Eliminate.
(D) If mayor didn’t make Tech #1, flow wouldn’t have increased. This relates better than (A) and (C), so let’s hang on to it for now. Keep.
(E) Mayor wanted Tech b/c of traffic issue. This is a little like (E), but it focuses unusually on the desires on the Mayor as a person, and that’s not really the focus of the argument, which is more about financial problems and the results of investing in Tech. Eliminate.

Let’s examine the Final Two:

(B) The city’s financial predicament would not have been resolved had the city not invested in computer modeling technology.
(D) Traffic flow across the Krakkenbak Bridge during rush hour would not have increased had the city’s mayor not made investing in computer modeling technology the highest budgetary priority last year.

The phrase “highest budgetary priority” in (D) really tilts our hand to (B) here. (B) does a nice job combining the final two statements without making any kind of weird, outside the box claim. It’s the safest inference, and therefore correct.

Takeaway: Differentiate between Inferences that ask you what “MUST” be true versus what “COULD” be true. Understanding the specific wording of the question-stem will help you choose the right answer!

Why Scope Matters in CR Assumption

Let’s look at this CR Assumption question (it’s actually an LSAT question, but let’s give it a whirl):

In considering the fact that many people believe that promotions are often given to undeserving employees because the employees successfully flatter their supervisors, a psychologist argued that although many people who flatter their supervisors are subsequently promoted, flattery generally is not the reason for their success, because almost all flattery is so blatant that it is obvious even to those toward whom it is directed.

Which one of the following, if assumed, enables the psychologist’s conclusion to be properly drawn?

Evidence: 
-Belief that flatterers get undeserving P
-Many who flatter get P

Notice here the 2nd sentence is split between evidence and conclusion. The “real conclusion” doesn’t start until “because almost all…” This happens quite often and can be confusing to students who often wonder which clause is the conclusion.

Conclusion: 
As with all Assumption questions, we have to look for the brand-new, sparkly keywords in the Conclusion — the “concept-shift,” or the new idea that appears in the conclusion that appears to “come out of nowhere.” Here it is this new idea about it being “blatant” or “obvious.”

Concept Shift: “flattery…obvious”

Why does it matter if the flattery is obvious to the supervisors? There is clearly an assumption made here that whether the supervisors KNOW they are being flattered has an impact.

The scope of the correct answer needs to be on the awareness of the supervisors.

Prediction: If supervisors know they are being flattered, they wouldn’t promote undeserving employees b/c of it.

Let’s look at the scope of each answer choice:

(A) People in positions of responsibility expect to be flattered. (scope: Expectations of Supervisors)
(B) Official guidelines for granting promotion tend to focus on merit. (scope: Official guidelines)
(C) Flattery that is not noticed by the person being flattered is ineffective. (scope: Effectiveness of Flattery)
(D) Many people interpret insincere flattery as sincere admiration. (scope: Misinterpretation of Flattery)
(E) Supervisors are almost never influenced by flattery when they notice it. (scope: Supervisors and Flatter)

At this point, because of our prediction, it should be very clear the answer is (E), with (D) as our second-best (but still wrong). Identifying that “concept shift” and getting crystal-clear on what kind of scope you expect the correct answer to focus on will REALLY help your Assumption-spotting abilities.

Just because we’re here, let’s look in more detail at the answer choices:

(A) Whether supervisors EXPECT to be flattered has no bearing on whether promotions occur as a result of it.

(B) What official guidelines DO or DON’T say has zero stated relationship in the passage to the ACTIONS of supervisors.

(C) This is trickier. It basically says that Unnoticed Flatter is Ineffective. Okay…but we cannot assume that Flatter that is noticed IS effective. And even if we could, that would Weaken the argument, not be its Assumption.

(D) Just because MANY people think flatter is sincere, doesn’t mean SUPERVISORS do, and it doesn’t follow therefore that the supervisors would promote flatterers just because they think they are sincere. This choice essentially just says, “Some people are dumb.” Well…okay, but what does that have to do with the idea of supervisors and promotions?

(E) If we negate this choice, we can see even more why it is correct.

Negation of (E): Supervisors ARE influenced by flattery when they notice it.

Well, if they ARE, then the author’s entire conclusion that flattery is not the reason for the success kind of falls apart!

CR Weaken: Why We Need to be Flexible

With Weaken questions, we need some flexibility with the answer choices, since there are several ways to weaken an argument:

-Provide an explanation
-Prove the assumption is wrong
-Undermine a piece of evidence

I find the easiest “default” for a Weaken prediction is to identify the Evidence, Conclusion, and Assumption of the argument, and then simply reverse the assumption.

The hard part is trying to do all of this in your head, so I HIGHLY suggest you do all CR work on your scratch pad. No need to write the entire argument down. You can easily summarize it with abbreviations and symbols. Let’s examine a question:

Microbiologist: A lethal strain of salmonella recently showed up in a European country, causing an outbreak of illness that killed two people and infected twenty-seven others. Investigators blame the severity of the outbreak on the overuse of antibiotics, since the salmonella bacteria tested were shown to be drug-resistant. But this is unlikely because patients in the country where the outbreak occurred cannot obtain antibiotics to treat illness without a prescription, and the country’s doctors prescribe antibiotics less readily than do doctors in any other European country.

Which of the following, if true, would most weaken the microbiologist’s reasoning?

A) Physicians in the country where the outbreak occurred have become hesitant to prescribe antibiotics since they are frequently in short supply.
B) People in the country where the outbreak occurred often consume foods produced from animals that eat antibiotics-laden livestock feed.
C) Use of antibiotics in two countries that neighbor the country where the outbreak occurred has risen over the past decade.
D) Drug-resistant strains of salmonella have not been found in countries in which antibiotics are not generally available.
E) Salmonella has been shown to spread easily along the distribution chains of certain vegetables, such as raw tomatoes.

Here, the evidence tells us a prescription is hard to get, so antibiotics aren’t to blame for the salmonella, even though the salmonella were drug-resistant.

The bad logic here is that the author is assuming there isn’t ANOTHER way that antibiotics could have caused the salmonella, just because doctors don’t give out prescriptions.

So, to weaken, let’s reverse the assumption: what if there was ANOTHER way that the antibiotics contributed to the salmonella that didn’t involve doctors???

Notice that once we’re crystal-clear on the argument, the correct answer is much easier to spot.

B) is saying the salmonella could have come from people eating animals who eat antibiotics. Maybe it transferred?

This is a solid option, and a good reversal of the assumption.

Many students, however, will eliminate (B) right off the bat, because they will think, “huh, I didn’t read anything about “animals that eat antibiotics-laden livestock feed.” But remember, Weaken questions can be exceptionally difficult, and since there is more than one way to weaken, we have to be open to the idea that the correct answer may introduce a detail that at first seems totally irrelevant, but after a few seconds reveals itself as something that destroys the conclusion.

The author said it is “unlikely” that antibiotics could be blamed BECAUSE of the doctors not giving prescriptions.

BUT, if the people are getting antibiotics from a totally different source, then yes, the antibiotics could still be blamed.

Here is how our analysis could have looked for this question on our scratch pad:

weaken1

Remember to make a prediction for a “Weaken” question on your scratch pad, but ALSO be open to the idea that the correct answer might weaken the argument in an unexpected way!