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!

The Importance of Organization for Word Problems

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Let’s start with this challenging question:

Molly worked at an amusement park over the summer.Every two weeks she was paid according to the following schedule:at the end of the first two weeks she received $160.At the end of each subsequent two week period she received $1, plus an additional amount equal to the sum of all the payments she had received in the previous weeks.How much money was Molly paid during full 10 weeks of summer?

A. 644
B. 1288
C. 1770
D. 2575
E. 3229

To start, let’s create a table just to lay out the general information first:

After 2 weeks —> $160

After 4 weeks —-> $1 + (all previous)

After 6 weeks —-> $1 + (all previous)

After 8 weeks —-> $1 + (all previous)

After 10 weeks —-> $1 + (all previous)

Then fill in what the “all previous” would mean:

After 2 weeks —> $160

After 4 weeks —-> $1 + $160 = $161

After 6 weeks —-> $1 + ($160 + $161) = $161 + $161

After 8 weeks —-> $1 + ($160 + $161 + $161 + $161) = $161 + $161 + $161 + $161

After 10 weeks —> $1 + (all previous) = eight $161’s

At this point we can see that “all previous” is going to equal the initial $160 + seven $161 and then we’re adding $1 to it, so it’s really just $161 x 8 = $1288

We have an interesting sequence:

After 2 weeks —> $160

After 4 weeks —-> one $161

After 6 weeks —-> two $161

After 8 weeks —-> four $161

After 10 weeks —-> eight $161

Basically the “number” of $161’s just doubled from 4 weeks to 10 weeks.

Now to add them all up, again, we’re just going to count up all of the number of $161’s.

We have our initial $160 + 15*($161) = $2575. The correct answer is (D).

You will see over and over again that it’s not the Math calculations in Word Problems that will trip you up, but the inability to be super organized on your scratch paper. 🙂

How to Attack Tough GRE Text Completions

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Let’s look at a harder Text Completions problem!

The simplicity of the theory—its main attraction is also its (i) _____, for only by (ii) _____the assumptions of the theory is it possible to explain the most recent observations made by researchers.

A liability.. accepting

B virtue.. qualifying

C downfall.. considering

D glory.. rejecting

E undoing.. supplementing

For Text Completions, remember that strategically we want to break down the original sentence and fill in the blanks with our own words/phrases prior to looking at the answer choices. The reason to do this isn’t ONLY in the hopes that the correct answer will perfectly match our prediction (although that’s always nice when it happens!), but we want to spend more time noticing the specific keywords in the sentence.

This is because usually the difference between the correct answer in TC and the 2nd best choice, is that the correct answer’s words fit the context of the original sentence/s just a little bit better.

The reason most people pick the “2nd best” choice, is because they didn’t spend enough time looking at that context. Now of course we don’t want to spend 5 min staring at this sentence, but you will know that your Text Completion strategy is weak if you don’t write anything down when you read the sentence/s and just try to do it all in your head.

So, for this one, let’s look at what we’re given. I’m going to bold some of the words that really stand out to me:

The simplicity of the theory—its main attraction is also its (i) _____, for only by (ii) _____the assumptions of the theory is it possible to explain the most recent observations made by researchers.

The author says this theory has “simplicity.” What does that mean? Well, it’s not complex. There’s some sort of simple explanation for it. He goes on to say that the “attraction” of the theory is also something else. “Attraction” is a positive word, so the 1st blank could be something positive as well, or something negative. Let’s look at how those meanings might sound:

The theory’s main attraction is also its SUPER POSITIVE THING.

or

The theory’s main attraction is also its SUPER NEGATIVE THING.

The 2nd meaning is more likely, because perhaps by “simplicity” the author means “irony.” That the main attractive quality of the theory is also it’s Achilles’ heel?

So, for the first blank, I am going to predict words like that:

(i) Achilles’ heel, downfall, thing that repels people

At this point, if you were struggling to predict for the 2nd blank, you would still be able to eliminate answer choices (B) and (D), since “virtue” and “glory” are positive things.

But let’s push ourselves to predict for the 2nd blank as much as can!

The simplicity of the theory—its main attraction is also its NEGATIVE THING, for only by (ii) _____the assumptions of the theory is it possible to explain the most recent observations made by researchers.

The phrase “for only” implies that the 2nd part will explain how its main attractive is also negative. “Assumptions” are a negative thing. We don’t like to make assumptions about people!

Let’s try out a positive word, a neutral word, and a negative word here:

  1. for only by BELIEVING (+) the assumptions of the theory is it possible to explain the most recent observations

  2. for only by PROVIDING (neutral) the assumptions of the theory is it possible to explain the most recent observations

  3. for only by IGNORING (-) the assumptions of the theory is it possible to explain the most recent observations

Since “possible to explain” is a positive thing, it makes the most sense that we would want something overall negative here. Words like “believing” don’t really make sense in context.

So, let’s go back to (A), (C), and (E) are look for something that shows we need to show those assumptions are negative.

(A) accept the assumptions

(C) considering the assumptions (this is pretty neutral) …we’re missing that sense of irony

(E) supplementing the assumptions

Therefore, (E) has to be the correct answer.

Reading it back, the meaning is:

People like the theory because it is SIMPLE, but that is also its UNDOING, because we have to ADD TO IT (SUPPLEMENT) to make it work!

Argument Essay sample + feedback

Looking for a sample Argument Essay with some expert feedback? Here’s a real essay from a fellow GMAT-student!

PROMPT:

The following paragraph recently appeared in an editorial printed in the opinion section of a local newspaper:

The recent surge in violence in the southern part of the city is a result of a shortage of police officers and an absence of leadership on the part of the city council. In order to rectify the burgeoning growth of crime that threatens the community, the city council must address this issue seriously. Instead of spending time on peripheral issues such as education quality, community vitality, and job opportunity, the city council must realize that the crime issue is serious and double the police force, even if this action requires budget cuts from other city programs.

With the allotted time remaining, discuss how well reasoned you find this argument.

ESSAY:

The argument claims that the recent surge in violence in the southern part of the city is a result of a shortage of police officers and an absence of leadership on the part of the city council and hence the city council must react seriously to the situation by doubling the police force even if doing so requires budget cuts from other city programs. The conclusion of the argument relies on assumptions for which there is no clear evidence. Hence the argument is weak or unconvincing and has several flaws.

First and most importantly, the argument readily assumes that the recent surge in violence in the southern part of the city is a result of a shortage of police officers. This statement is a stretch in a sense that it fails to establish that the shortage of police officers is the only reason for the recent surge in violence. Other factors such as poor economy, a lack of job opportunity and a declined in education quality can also result in a surge in violence. Take the US for example, its rate of violence crimes increases with that of the unemployment which is currently at 9.8%. Without establishing the root cause of the situation carefully, the argument may lead to corrective actions which will not produce the desired outcome.

Second the argument claims that the city council does not realize the seriousness of the recent surge in violence and therefore is not addressing the surge in violence seriously. This is again very weak and fails to prove that the city council is not addressing the surge in violence seriously enough. It could be a case whereby the city council is still working on the issue but there have been no concrete actions yet.

Finally, the argument claims that the city council should double the police force at the expenses of other issues such as education quality, community vitality and job opportunity to curb the recent surge in violence. This again is a far-fetch conclusion in that it did not explain how doubling the police force can help in curbing the recent surge in violence even if it true that indeed a shortage of police force is the cause of the surge in violence.

In summary, the argument is flawed and therefore unconvincing. It could be considerably strengthen if the author clearing mentioned all the relevant facts. In order to ascertain the root cause and subsequently the solution to a situation, it is essential to have full knowledge of all contributing factors and weigh them appropriately before arriving at the conclusion.

FEEDBACK:

This essay is absolutely on the right track. It has clear, forceful writing & a good grasp of the task at hand! Here’s the bullet-points where it could be fine-tuned:

– Style-wise, “hence” is used twice in the opening paragraph; it’s hard to come up with good transition words, but varying up your diction can be impressive to the reader

– For this thesis, the reader is going to look straight at the last sentence of the opening paragraph: “Hence the argument is weak or unconvincing and has several flaws.”

Look for a way to combine this with the previous sentence to make it strong and more stand-alone. The word “or” weakens this thesis – why not use “and”? Always aim for the strongest language possible when criticizing the argument.

-1st paragraph – the phrases “in a sense” and “may lead” are a bit wishy-washy; excellent logic is displayed here and the link between crime and unemployment is strong. It could be improved by a more specific example, such as a case where someone unemployed committed a crime.

-2nd paragraph – There’s not enough of a reason why the city council doesn’t realize. As in the first body paragraph, can it be related  to the real world? How do city councils function? How could they be unaware?

– 3rd paragraph – “far-fetched” should be written instead of “far-fetch”  – What would be even more powerful here would be to discuss how lack of quality education, community vitality and job opportunity can lead to an increase in violence that would overwhelm even a doubled police force

– Conclusion – It’s excellent, with a nice adding in of how it could be strengthened!

Make sure to leave 1-2 min. at the end to proofread your Argument essay – A couple grammatical errors are not massively important, but they do detract from the overall reader impression, so practice writing several essays until you can effectively manage your time!

Grammar Guide: the usage of “those”

Confused about how “those” works on the SAT, ACT, GRE, or GMAT? Let’s take a look at a question from Manhattan GMAT that uses this word!

Salt deposits and moisture threaten to destroy the Mohenjo-Daro excavation in Pakistan, the site of an ancient civilization that flourished at the same time as the civilizations in the Nile delta and the river valleys of Tigris and Euphrates.

A) that flourished at the same time as the civilizations
B) that had flourished at the same time as had the civilizations
C) that flourished at the same time those had
D) flourishing at the same time as those did
E) flourishing at the same time as those were

In general, “those” is the plural of “that.” It’s in a group called “determiners” along with “this”, “that”, “these”, “those,” “here” and there that are technically pronouns but often function more like adjectives.

For C, D, and E, “those” is meant to mean something like “the ones” and could be used as a pronoun to replace a plural antecedent if there was one in the sentence, and if the construction was parallel.

The correct answer is (A).

6 Most-Tested GRE Problem Solving Concepts

Noticing that your scores on your GRE practice test isn’t quite as high as you’d like? One quick way to get better GRE Quantitative scores is to increase your content-knowledge in the most-tested Problem Solving areas. Here are the top seven most-tested GRE Quant concepts to review; get these down and you’ll ace the GRE section!

1. Functions and Symbols. A function is a different way of writing an equation. Instead of y = mx + b, we’d have f(x) = mx + b. It’s helpful to think of a function as simply replacing the “y” with a symbol called “f(x).” The GRE may also present made-up symbol functions; pay attention to any definitions you are given, and expand accordingly.

2. Number Properties. The properties of integers, primes, odds and evens, integers, fractions, positives, and negatives will all appear in various questions on your GRE test. The more comfortable you are with them, the more quickly you will arrive at the correct answer. This concept will bleed over into Quantitative Comparisons as well.

3. Plane and Coordinate Geometry. Not only will you need to know the standard equations for a line, parabola, and circle, but also you will need to memorize the distance formula, the midpoint formula, the slope formula, the relationship between slopes and the different quadrants, properties of parallel, perpendicular, vertical, and horizontal lines, as well as the quadratic formula/discriminant. For Plane Geometry, triangles are tested the most often on the GRE. You should know the Pythagorean Theorem, Triangle Inequality Theorem, the special right triangles: 45-45-90 and 30-60-90, as well as the properties of isosceles and equilateral triangles. Other plane geometry concepts to review include angles, circles, and polygons. Make sure you know how to find the perimeter and area of all shapes, and be comfortable dividing irregular shapes into manageable pieces.

4. Linear & Quadratic Equations. y = mx + b is the standard equation for a straight line, or a linear equation, where m is the slope and b is the y-intercept. You’ll need to know how to graph them and how to find the slope given two points. Quadratic equations look like y = ax2 + bx + c, and make a parabola, or curved line. Quadratics have two factors, and two solutions (also called “roots”). You will need to know how to factor quadratic equations to find the roots, how to find the quadratic if given the roots, and how to graph a quadratic on a grid given the equation.

5. Ratios and Proportions. A ratio is a relationship between two things. Given a ratio and one “real world” number, you can always set up a proportion to solve for the other missing “real world” number. Sometimes you will need to do this for similar triangles in Geometry, and sometimes in algebraic word problems.

6. Data Analysis. Data Analysis questions are like an open-book test. Make sure you read every tiny piece of writing on or near the data, including titles, the labels for the x and y-axes, column names, and even footnotes if there are any. Pay attention to the units of measurement, and notice any trends in the data BEFORE reading the questions.

Spotting Consistent Ideas in GRE Sentence Equivalence

Sentence Equivalence is one of the newer GRE Verbal question types (replacing the older Sentence Completions). Like Sentence Completions, Sentence Equivalence consists of one sentence with one blank. Unlike Sentence Completions, there are two correct answers and not one, and you must get both to get the question correct.

To solve Sentence Equivalence, you’ll need to know 1) the relationship of the blank to the rest of the sentence, and 2) the meaning of the entire sentence. There are approximately 8 total Sentence Equivalence questions on the GRE, 4 on each Verbal section. These questions should take approximately 1 minute each.

Consistent Ideas is one of the four types of Sentence Equivalence questions. In Consistent Ideas questions, the blank will mirror or extent the logic of the rest of the sentence. Like it sounds, the blank will continue the ideas of the rest of the sentence. You’ll be able to recognize this type because of certain constructions.

Here are common “Consistent Ideas” key words and phrases to look out for: for this reason, again, to reiterate, along with, in addition, for example, to illustrate, thus, likewise, similarly, since, also, and, next, as well as, as a result, to sum up, concluding, additionally, etc.

Let’s look at an example Sentence Equivalence question:

1. As a teacher of creative writing, Mercedes demanded her students’ best work; likewise, her own fiction was often subjected to ———– analysis by those same students.

A. scrupulous
B. equitable
C. reverent
D. spiteful
E. malicious
F. rigorous

We know this is a Sentence Equivalence Consistent Ideas question because of the keyword “likewise.” The semicolon tells us the second half of the sentence will mirror the logic of the first half. The key phrase is “demanded” which explains the relationship. We can predict something like “demanding” for the blank. We need a word that is neither positive nor negative, but shows a strong, exacting demand.