Why Paying for a Course (or a Tutor) Isn’t Going to Automatically Get you a 700+

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Sometimes I notice that I get a little push-back when I speak negatively about signing up for certain GMAT courses, buying books, or doing a million practice questions.

And in a sense, it’s understandable.
We want that magical one-size-fits-all GMAT plan that will tell us exactly what to do that we can get a perfect Quant and a perfect Verbal score.

And, don’t get me wrong, courses can be very good. Some GMAT study books are awesome. I constantly recommend videos and books and articles that I find helpful. It’s amazing what’s out there (often for free!) that can help students on their GMAT journey.

And darn it, sometimes, the only way to cement your knowledge of CR Assumption is just to DO a whole bunch of CR Assumption!

BUT I want to discuss an important (and oft overlooked) aspect of GMAT studying that I really don’t see discussed enough: the art of reviewing your own progress. 👈

I have tutored the GMAT for over a decade (I know, it’s a little scary how time flies!), and one thing I have noticed in that time is that students who improve the fastest are not the ones who do the most questions.

So let’s examine a few important ideas and facts that I think can really help anyone working towards their GMAT score reach their maximum potential:

  • Students who improve the fastest are the ones who have the best system in place for reviewing questions. When an automated course “reviews” your questions — all it does is tell you what questions you got right and what questions you got wrong. It doesn’t tell you WHY. And, it doesn’t even require you to put in the elbow grease to find out WHY. And that “why,” my friends, is EVERYTHING!

  • When you don’t know what to do next, look at your most recent CAT/s. Think of yourself like a doctor and your “student-self” is the patient. What is going on with the patient’s GMAT? Is it a lack of content knowledge, or is it more about poor strategy? Perhaps bad pacing management is playing a part?

  • You need to zoom in before you can zoom out. Let’s say you’ve done a couple practice exams, but haven’t really Error Logged them, but you’re scoring much higher in Quant than you are in Verbal. Don’t think, “Hmmm, well I’m not doin well in Verbal, so I’m going to sign up for e-GMAT’s Verbal course and I’m going to buy the OG Verbal review and do it cover-to-cover.” Those aren’t bad resources, but WHY are you making a major study plan decision like that before you’ve really analyzed what’s up on a micro-level? Maybe you don’t need a full course, because the vast majority of your incorrect Verbal are in a specific area. Perhaps you think you’re super awful at RC, but when you go back through your three most recent CATs, you notice that it’s really just the RC Inference questions that you’re missing. Probably don’t need an entire RC book to get better at that one question-type! And you know what, maybe you DO need that course after all! But make a decision based on all the information, not out of confusion and panic.

  • The most common email I get is, “I’ve done 4,456,343 practice questions, and my score isn’t going up.” I’m serious. Okay, I may be exaggerating the number a tad. 😉 But I think the reason for this stagnation is that students just don’t know their weaknesses well enough. They just keep running on that hampster wheel.

  • The point of regular practice tests is to help you stop and take stock. It doesn’t matter that you scored a 450 on your last practice test. It doesn’t matter that you scored a 750 on your last practice test. The work is the same. A “score” that is churned out for you is not the true value of a CAT. Sure, it FEELS good to see improvement, but you need to go into the practice tests like a cold clinician (I know, easier said than done!).

I suggest that EVERYONE who is serious about improvement creates an Error Log spreadsheet to review every single incorrect Quant and Verbal question from the moment you start studying for the exam to the moment you finish you last practice question the night before your test (side note–please don’t do too much the night before your test!).
Will this be tedious? Yes.

Will this mean you will do fewer practice question? Definitely!

Is that a good thing? Abso-freaking-lutely!

And if you feel like you just can’t do it for every single practice problem, then you should AT LEAST be doing this for every single Official question you get incorrect, whether it’s from one of the Official Guides or from the GMATPrep practice tests.

In fact, I bet if you did this for every single practice question in the official guides, grouping all the similar questions together (doing all the CR Weaken first for example, then all the CR Evaluate, etc.), then carefully reviewing them once, twice, perhaps even three times, that might just be all the studying 80% of GMAT test-takers need.
Finally, remember that a GMAT course or a tutor is a gym membership.
It’s not liposuction.
But even outside the gym, you need to be thinking about HOW to use that gym, and deciding if you’re really making the kind of gains you want from the way you’re using that gym.
What a great opportunity right now during all this quarantine-time to take stock and make sure that the way you’re studying for the GMAT is the smartest, most efficient way of studying.
And if anyone would like an Error Log template for free, you can email me at gmatrockstar[at]gmail.com. No strings attached. You won’t be asked to sign up for tutoring with me, or put on a mailing list (I don’t even have a mailing list 🤣).

Here’s to getting your scores locked down in 2020 as efficiently as possible! 🙌

Tl;dr: Too often, students just throw money at courses and books hoping they will “do the trick” without doing the necessary self-analysis. DO THE SELF-ANALYSIS WITH AN ERROR LOG.

Best Strategies for Tough GMAT RC Passages

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Today I want to look at a fantastically devilish RC question sent to me by one of my students yesterday (shout out, Vito!). It’s from the Official Guide Advanced book published last year.

If you don’t know about it, this book contains 8 really challenging passages that are worth going over in microscopic detail if you’re looking to build your RC skills up. The passages can be found on GMATClub (for free!). Just click the link above and copy/paste the beginning of each passage into Google to find the problem on GMATClub.

I want to look at the passage first. Don’t read it yet. Just skim your eyes over it as you scroll down…

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀Is there a massive black hole at the center of our
⠀⠀⠀ galaxy, the Milky Way? The evidence is inconclusive.
(5)  Just as the Sun’s mass can be determined, given
⠀⠀⠀ knowledge of other variables, by the velocity at
⠀⠀⠀ which its planets orbit, the mass at the center of the
⠀⠀⠀ Milky Way can be revealed by the velocities of stars
⠀⠀⠀ and gas orbiting the galactic center. This dynamical
(10)  evidence, based on recently confirmed assumptions
⠀⠀⠀ about the stars’ velocities, argues for an extremely
⠀⠀⠀ compact object with a mass two to three million
⠀⠀⠀ times the mass of our Sun. Although according to
⠀⠀⠀ current theory this makes the mass at the center
(15)  of the galaxy too dense to be anything but a black
⠀⠀⠀ hole, the relative lack of energy radiating from the
⠀⠀⠀ galactic center presents a serious problem. A black
⠀⠀⠀ hole’s gravity attracts surrounding matter, which
⠀⠀⠀ swirls around the black hole, emitting some energy
(20)  as it is engulfed. Scientists believe that the amount of
⠀⠀⠀ energy that escapes the black hole should be about
⠀⠀⠀ 10 percent of the matter’s rest energy (the energy
⠀⠀⠀ equivalent of its mass according to the equation
⠀⠀⠀ E=mc^2). But when the energy coming from the
(25)  galactic center is compared to widely held predictions
⠀⠀⠀ based on how much matter should be falling into a
⠀⠀⠀ theoretical central black hole, there is a discrepancy
⠀⠀⠀ by a factor of a few thousand.

Why is this passage hard?

  • It’s about Science. Many students will think, “ugh, I don’t know anything about Science!” Remember, you don’t have to know anything about the topic to get all the questions correct!

  • It’s all one long wall of text. It’s not very nice of them not to give us paragraphs, so we will have to subdivide the passage ourselves into manageable chunks as we read it. Look for transition words that seem like natural breaks.

Before we proceed, you might want to look at my Reddit post on Mastering RC Main Idea Questions to understand my theory on the three types of RC passages:

  • Informational

  • Informational + some opinion

  • Persuasive

Our categorization of the passage depends on how many keywords are present that indicate the author’s emotion/opinion.

Now let’s go through the passage.

I’m going to bold and italicize any such keywords:

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀Is there a massive black hole at the center of our
⠀⠀⠀ galaxy, the Milky Way? The evidence is inconclusive.
(5)  Just as the Sun’s mass can be determined, given
⠀⠀⠀ knowledge of other variables, by the velocity at
⠀⠀⠀ which its planets orbit, the mass at the center of the
⠀⠀⠀ Milky Way can be revealed by the velocities of stars
⠀⠀⠀ and gas orbiting the galactic center. This dynamical
(10)  evidence, based on recently confirmed assumptions
⠀⠀⠀ about the stars’ velocities, argues for an extremely
⠀⠀⠀ compact object with a mass two to three million
⠀⠀⠀ times the mass of our Sun. Although according to
⠀⠀⠀ current theory this makes the mass at the center
(15)  of the galaxy too dense to be anything but a black
⠀⠀⠀ hole, the relative lack of energy radiating from the
⠀⠀⠀ galactic center presents a serious problem. A black
⠀⠀⠀ hole’s gravity attracts surrounding matter, which
⠀⠀⠀ swirls around the black hole, emitting some energy
(20)  as it is engulfed. Scientists believe that the amount of
⠀⠀⠀ energy that escapes the black hole should be about
⠀⠀⠀ 10 percent of the matter’s rest energy (the energy
⠀⠀⠀ equivalent of its mass according to the equation
⠀⠀⠀ E=mc^2). But when the energy coming from the
(25)  galactic center is compared to widely held predictions
⠀⠀⠀ based on how much matter should be falling into a
⠀⠀⠀ theoretical central black hole, there is a discrepancy
⠀⠀⠀ by a factor of a few thousand.

There’s not much opinion here! The author only gives us two places where he personally weighs in. I ignored the word “believe” because that is associated with the “Scientists” and not our author.

Our author says that it’s “inconclusive” as to whether there’s a black hole, and he says that there’s a “serious problem” with the theory.

Remember — you don’t have to understand all the details as you read the passage!

Things We Don’t Need to Know Right Now:

  • what a black hole is

  • what a galactic center is

  • what “velocities” means

  • what E = mc^2 means

  • what EXACTLY the theory is

  • etc.

There are SO MANY details in this passage!!

If we carefully pored over each and every sentence and tried to “teach” ourselves exactly what it was saying, it would take us 8-10 minutes to read this passage.

(I’m not going to do the entire Passage Map for this passage, by the way, but if you’re curious what my notes would look like for my RC passages in general, you can check out this blog post on GMAT RC strategy.)

Takeaway #1 — The harder the passage, the LESS you should be focusing/stressing out on the details.

Let’s say you have 4 questions per passage on average (and in fact, that’s the number associated with this passage). One of those questions is very likely to be Main Idea. The other three are probably going to be Detail and Inference (occasionally they throw in a Function question).

That means for this ENTIRE passage, there are only THREE questions for which you will need to go back to the passage and actually locate and understand a detail.

Why should we spend our time understanding every single sentence up front, when we’ll have to go back and re-read anyway later on, and there might only be 3 sentences we need to comprehend, anyway?

Now, since we know there’s three types of passages, we can see that with only TWO pieces of opinion, this is not going to be classified as a Persuasive passage.

And since there is some opinion, it can’t be purely Informational.

So we will classify this as an “Informational + some opinion” passage.

Now let’s take a look at the challenging question. Set a timer for 2 minutes and give it a shot!

The “serious problem” referred to in line 17 could be solved if which of the following were true?

A. Current assumptions about how much matter a black hole would engulf proved to be several thousand times too high.
B. Current assumptions about how much matter a black hole would engulf proved to be a few thousand times too low.
C. The object at the center of the Milky Way turned out to be far more dense than it is currently estimated to be.
D. The object at the center of the Milky Way turned out to be far more massive than it is currently estimated to be.
E. Matter being engulfed by a black hole radiated far more energy than is currently assumed.

Now let’s break it down:

Takeaway #2 — Always rephrase the question in simpler terms!

REPHRASE: What would solve the “problem”?

We have two tasks here:

  • figure out what the heck the “serious problem” is

  • figure out how to solve it

Most people will probably not try to brainstorm how to solve whatever this “serious problem” is, and I think that’s the key here. We need to answer the question posed on our own first before looking at the answer choices!

What makes this question easier is the fact that we already noticed the phrase “serious problem” as we read the passage, because it was one of the few places the author had an opinion!

Takeaway #3 — There will almost always be an Inference question asking about the Author’s Opinion.

They were nice enough to give us the line number for this question, but we didn’t need it!

“Although according to current theory this makes the mass at the center of the galaxy too dense to be anything but a black hole, the relative lack of energy radiating from the galactic center presents a serious problem*. A black hole’s gravity attracts surrounding matter…”*

Another place where a mistake could be made, strategically, is in stopping here and not continuing to scan down for anything else that describes the “problem.” There’s a bit more towards the end of the passage that elaborates:

“But when the energy coming from the galactic center is compared to widely held predictions based on how much matter should be falling into a theoretical central black hole, there is a discrepancy by a factor of a few thousand.”

To synthesize: “Serious problem” is the lack of energy in the galactic center (and there’s a discrepancy with predictions)

So, what would solve this problem?

Either the “widely held predictions” are wrong and it’s a black hole even though it falls short by a few thousand, or perhaps the measurement itself is inaccurate and there’s more energy than they thought?

PREDICTION: Measurement of Milky Way wrong or No Discrepancy.

Takeaway #4 — Always WRITE DOWN an answer in your own words before reading the answer choices!!!

Back to the answer choices:

A — this matches the 2nd part of our prediction  (shows no discrepancy, the low energy isn’t really “low” after all!)
B — this is opposite of A so it’s wrong
C — Density has nothing to do with our prediction
D — Mass has nothing to do with out prediction
E — Similar to A

A and E are clearly the final two, and this is where most people will give up under the weight of the science mumbo-jumbo.

The difference is that (A) is really doing the job we need here — the job of FIXING this “problem” — it’s more specific to the situation at hand.

Just because (E) is true, it doesn’t indicate that this would be a black hole necessarily. It’s just giving a trusim about “matter.” Just because when MATTER is engulfed it radiates more energy in general doesn’t help fix our discrepancy, because what if it’s just not a black hole in this case? Then (E) wouldn’t even apply at all. Whereas (A) is saying we’re getting something wrong about black holes! Not just matter.

Takeaway #5 — Prove to yourself why the 2nd best answer is 2nd best!

Notice we didn’t just pick (A) because it came first. We took our time, recognized that this was going to be a deathmatch between (A) and (E) and then we kept at it until we understood the difference between the Correct Answer and the 2nd Best Choice.

But, Vivian, won’t this take me more than 2 minutes???

A few thoughts on RC and timing:

  • Get “good” before you get “fast.” — I don’t care if it takes you 30 minutes per passage in the beginning. Work hard on your strategy. Spend time breaking down passages. Spend time rephrasing question-stems. Spend time breaking down answer choices.

  • Go through all the RC Official Guide passages at least twice. Make sure you understand all the pitfalls associated with the passage, question-stems, and answer choices. Don’t just “do them” and check a box. Absorb them! For help on how to do this, check out my post on How to Review Official Guide RC Questions a Second (or Third!) Time

  • When your RC accuracy is 90% untimed, you can start to time yourself. Otherwise, you haven’t earned it, and your strategy still isn’t good enough. Consider booking a few sessions with a tutor if you need to walk through RC with someone who knows what they’re doing.

  • You can skip a hard RC question on the Exam. It’s not a big deal! 🙂 If you see a question like the one above and you know it might take you 3+ minutes, you can 100% “opt out” of the question, and in most cases it will probably be the smartest decision you could make! There is no rule that says you have to answer all the questions just because you read the passage. I promise no one will know if you only attempt 3/4, and you’ll feel good that you skipped one you knew you wouldn’t get right. So, as you do those RC OG passages, imagine you’re seeing them on Test Day. What questions just wouldn’t be worth your time? 🙂

Finally, I just want to say, DON’T GIVE UP. You are not stupid.

Passages are hard. Questions are hard. The GMAT is hard!

Keep at it. This is a teachable skill and a learnable skill! 🙂

How to Review Official Guide RC Questions a Second (or Third!) Time

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If RC is an area of the GMAT with which you struggle, I would suggest going through the official guide and seeing what else can be gleaned from these questions, even if you have “done” them before.

This allows us to identify what the GMAC is teaching us to look for on the actual GMAT, and can really help you raise the bar on your abilities.

So, for example, let’s take the “terrestrial snakes” passage from the OG: https://gmatclub.com/forum/in-terrestrial-environments-gravity-places-special-demands-137034.html

And we’ll specifically look at this challenging Main Idea question:

In the passage,the author is primarily concerned with doing which of the following?

(A) Explaining adaptations that enable the terrestrial snake to cope with the effects of gravitational pressure on its circulatory system

(B) Comparing the circulatory system of the sea snake with that of the terrestrial snake

(C) Explaining why the circulatory system of the terrestrial snake is different from that of the sea snake

(D) Pointing out features of the terrestrial snake’s cardiovascular system that make it superior to that of the sea snake

(E) Explaining how the sea snake is able to neutralize the effects of gravitational pressure on its circulatory system

Our breakdown might look something like:

Screen Shot 2020-03-25 at 8.23.58 PM

Takeaways:

  • If you’re torn between 1 topic (terrestrial) versus 2 topics (terrestrial & sea snake), you can simply count the sentences and paragraphs in which each Topic appears (for example terrestrial appears in 3 paragraphs, while sea snake appears in 1). Also there are 3 sentences that say “terrestrial snake” (5 if we include “arboreal”!), and only 2 sentences that mention the phrase “sea snake”.

  • For informational passages, notice if one of the answer choice includes a keyword that is slightly more extreme than the other choices. The word “superior” should automatically knock out (D).

  • Don’t be afraid to look for a thesis. Sometimes the last sentence of the first paragraph will spell it all out: “That many terrestrial snakes in similar spatial orientations do not experience this kind of circulatory failure suggests that certain adaptations enable them to regulate blood pressure more effectively in those orientations.”

How to Deal with Difficult Short RC Passages on the GMAT

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Just because a passage is short, doesn’t mean it’s easy! Some of the hardest passages on the GRE and the GMAT are short, so let’s not underestimate them on Test Day!

Let’s look at a tough short passage:

Tocqueville, apparently, was wrong. Jacksonian America was not a fluid, egalitarian society where individual wealth and poverty were ephemeral conditions. At least so argues E. Pessen in his iconoclastic study of the very rich in the United States between 1825 and 1850. Pessen does present a quantity of examples, together with some refreshingly intelligible statistics, to establish the existence of an inordinately wealthy class. Though active in commerce or the professions, most of the wealthy were not self-made but had inherited family fortunes. In no sense mercurial, these great fortunes survived the financial panics that destroyed lesser ones. Indeed, in several cities, the wealthiest one percent constantly increased its share until by 1850 it owned half of the community’s wealth. Although these observations are true, Pessen overestimates their importance by concluding from them that the undoubted progress toward inequality in the late eighteenth century continued in the Jacksonian period and that the United States was a class-ridden. plutocratic society even before industrialization.


To start, let’s take some notes on this passage, identifying the Topic, Scope, Author’s POV, and overall Purpose.

The first sentence of any passage will almost always lay out the topic:

Tocqueville, apparently, was wrong.

So, it seems like our topic is going to be “Tocqueville,” but then the 2nd sentence elaborates on what the author is really going to focus on:

Jacksonian America was not a fluid, egalitarian society where individual wealth and poverty were ephemeral conditions.

Oh, okay, so it’s not just “Tocqueville,” and in fact we would not want to choose that as our topic.

Pro-Tip: The topic of the passage is NOT something that is only mentioned once! Look for nouns that repeat throughout the passage!

Topic: Jacksonian America

The 3rd sentence of the passage lays out the scope. Scope = what the author chooses to focus on regarding the topic. We understand he wants to discuss “Jacksonian America,” but in what context?

At least so argues E. Pessen in his iconoclastic study of the very rich in the United States between 1825 and 1850.

Scope: Pessen’s argument

From just the first three sentences we understand that this passage is about a specific time in American history, and it is about one specific scholar’s argument about that time period. This is not an uncommon topic/scope relationship.

It reminds me of this passage: https://gmatclub.com/forum/jon-clark-s- … 88689.html
And this passage: https://gmatclub.com/forum/in-its-1903- … 91506.html

Next, we want to ignore the petty details and look for keywords that reveal the author’s point of view. Not Pessen’s POV, but our author’s!

Notice the language: “refreshingly”, “overestimates”

Though the author does praise Pessen a little bit at the beginning, he ends with a big criticism.

Author’s POV: mostly (-) about Pessen

Finally, consider whether this is an informational or persuasive passage. What is the author’s purpose? To simply provide facts, or to express emotion? Since we can tell he isn’t totally buying Pessen’s argument, this is more of a persuasive passage with a negative tone.

Purpose: to persuade (-)

Putting our notes together, we have:

Topic: Jacksonian America
Scope: Pessen’s argument
Author’s POV: mostly (-) about Pessen
Purpose: to persuade (-)

Doing most of the hard work up front makes the questions a LOT easier. For example, the look how this question is easy since we noticed the word “refreshingly” being associated with the statistics:

The author’s attitude toward Pessen’s presentation of statistics can be best described as

(A) disapproving
(B) shocked
(C) suspicious
(D) amused
(E) laudatory

Even though the author was overall negative about Pessen, when it came to the statistics, that was the one aspect that our author praised, so “laudatory” is the best word. The answer here is (E).

Let’s look at another problem:

Which of the following best states the author’s main point?

(A) Pessen’s study has overturned the previously established view of the social and economic structure of early nineteenth-century America.

(B) Tocqueville’s analysis of the United States in the Jacksonian era remains the definitive account of this period.

(C) Pessen’s study is valuable primarily because it shows the continuity of the social system in the United States throughout the nineteenth century.

(D) The social patterns and political power of the extremely wealthy in the United States between 1825 and 1850 are well documented.

(E) Pessen challenges a view of the social and economic system in the United States from 1825 to 1850, but he draws conclusions that are incorrect.


For this Main Idea question, we can quickly eliminate (B) and (D). (B) focuses entirely on Tocqueville, which for reasons already discussed, is not the topic of the ENTIRE passage. (D) doesn’t offer a point of view, or mention Pessen.

Between (A), (C), and (E), (A) and (C) are openly praising Pessen, which doesn’t fit with the final sentences that made it clear our author was not on board with Pessen’s conclusion. Therefore, the correct answer is (E).

Remember, that for most RC questions, you don’t need to understand every sentence in the passage, but you will have to have a strong graps of what the author is focusing on and how he feels about what is being discussed!

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!

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).

Possessives on GMAT Sentence Correction

In the latter years of the Great Depression, colleagues of Franklin Roosevelt’s argued that his proposed Social Security Act has a good chance of succeeding due to its strong bipartisan support, sound fiscal plan, and widespread electoral approval.

A. Roosevelt’s argued that his proposed Social Security Act has
B. Roosevelt’s argued that his proposed Social Security Act had
C. Roosevelt’s have argued that his proposed Social Security Act had
D. Roosevelt argued that his proposed Social Security Act had
E. Roosevelt had argued that his proposed Social Security Act has

In the first phrase, we get a great clue about what time period these colleagues lived: the “latter years of the Great Depression.” This is obviously in the PAST, so we need the action that the colleagues did to be a past tense verb. Answer choice (C) is present perfect tense (used to describe something that started in the past and CONTINUE to the present. But these colleagues are dead now, so how can they still be arguing?)

In (E) we have Past Perfect, which is a kind of past tense, BUT we only use this tense to describe an event that occurred before a Simple Past Tense event. In (E), “has” is not past tense, and even if it were, the meaning wouldn’t make sense. The colleagues didn’t argue BEFORE the Social Security Act had a chance of success.

So, now we know it has to be (A), (B), or (D). Since (A) also uses the word “has” and we discussed this in (E), we can eliminate this, too.

Let’s focus on the differences of the Final Two:

(B) In the latter years of the Great Depression, colleagues of Roosevelt’s argued that his proposed Social Security Act had a good chance of succeeding due to its strong bipartisan support, sound fiscal plan, and widespread electoral approval.

(D) In the latter years of the Great Depression, colleagues of Roosevelt argued that his proposed Social Security Act had a good chance of succeeding due to its strong bipartisan support, sound fiscal plan, and widespread electoral approval.

Wow! Only one difference. :) So what do we know about the use of possessives? When a noun turns into a possessive, it becomes a modifier.

EX: Jill won the soccer game.
Meaning: Jill is the one who won.

EX: Jill’s team won the soccer game.
Meaning: The TEAM won, and “Jill’s” just describes the team.

So in (B), if “Roosevelt’s” is now a modifier, the question becomes, what is it modifying? The only logical option is “colleagues.” So the meaning of (B) is “colleagues of Roosevelt’s colleagues.” Um…what? That’s redundant.

The correct answer is (D).