Tackling a GMAT Prep Critical Reasoning Strengthen Problem

Stacey Koprince —  June 8, 2012 — 3 Comments

GMAT Critical Reasoning StrengthenThis week, we’re going to discuss one of the most common critical reasoning problem types: Strengthen the Conclusion. Strengthen questions belong to the Assumption Family of questions; we’ll talk more about that later.

If you haven’t yet, read this article before we try our GMATPrep problem. Then set your timer for 2 minutes and go!

In many corporations, employees are being replaced by automated equipment in order to save money. However, many workers who lose their jobs to automation will need government assistance to survive, and the same corporations that are laying people off will eventually pay for that assistance through increased taxes and unemployment insurance payments.

Which of the following, if true, most strengthens the author’s argument?

(A) Many workers who have already lost their jobs to automation have been unable to find new jobs.

(B) Many corporations that have failed to automate have seen their profits decline.

(C) Taxes and unemployment insurance are paid also by corporations that are not automating.

(D) Most of the new jobs created by automation pay less than the jobs eliminated by automation did.

(E) The initial investment in machinery for automation is often greater than the short-term savings in labor costs.

Okay, now that you’ve got an answer, let’s use our 4-step CR process.

Step 1: Identify the Question

First, we read the question stem:

Which of the following, if true, most strengthens the author’s argument?

The key identifying language is typical in this example. The language most strengthens coupled with if true indicates that we have a Strengthen the Conclusion question. The question stem itself does not provide any information about what that conclusion is; we’ll have to find it in the argument. In addition, our task will be to find an answer that makes that conclusion at least a little bit more likely to be true or valid. Finally, this is an Assumption Family question, so we may be able to brainstorm some assumptions while we read the argument.

Step 2: Deconstruct the Argument

I thought this argument was challenging “ it wasn’t easy to spot the conclusion. They didn’t give us the usual language clues (such as thus or therefore).

The first sentence indicates something that’s going on right now: companies replace employees with automated equipment because they can save money (or think they can save money). The corporations, then, are essentially concluding that doing this (replacing workers with equipment) will save money.

The second sentence starts with the word however, a contrast word. Recall that the question specifically asks us to strengthen the author’s argument. What point of view does the author hold? Not, apparently, the same point of view as the corporations “ because the author is now objecting to what the corporations assume to be true. The second sentence tells us that the corporations will end up having to pay more in taxes and unemployment insurance payments, implying that they may not be saving money after all, or at least not as much as they think. The author bases this claim (what the corporations will have to do) on another claim: the laid-off employees will end up needing government assistance.

Your notes might look something like this (though there are lots of ways to write notes!):

Corp: replace ppl w/machines → save $

Auth: ppl will need govt help → corp pay > tax, unemp

[so corp may not save $, or at least not as much]

Note that I used abbreviations; you can use any you want as long as they make sense to you. Also note that I added an extra note of my own in the parentheses; the argument didn’t say this directly, but it was implied.

Is the argument implying or assuming anything else? It’s assuming that there’s at least a possibility that the taxes and other money could end up costing more than the money saved on employees “ otherwise, the author wouldn’t have used the word however to introduce his point of view.

Step 3: State the Goal

Our goal is to find a new piece of information that makes the conclusion at least a little more likely to be true or valid. The answer does not need to make the conclusion perfect or definitely true.

The most common trap on this type of question is the Reverse Logic trap (the answer weakens the conclusion instead of strengthening it). In addition, because the corporations had their own conclusion (the action will save money) but the author goes against that (with the word however), I have to make sure that I’m strengthening the right thing: the author’s argument, not the corporate argument.

Step 4: Work from Wrong to Right

(A) Many workers who have already lost their jobs to automation have been unable to find new jobs.

If this is true, then what will happen to those workers? They won’t have any money, so they’ll likely need government assistance. This is exactly what the author says will happen. Oh, I see “ there’s an assumption here that I didn’t spot before. The author was assuming that many of these people will not be able to find new jobs; if they did, then they wouldn’t need government assistance, and so the company wouldn’t have to pay a bunch of money. This one looks good; keep it in.

(B) Many corporations that have failed to automate have seen their profits decline.

If this is true, then it might provide evidence that these corporations should automate. But the issue at hand is not whether they should do so. The conclusion we’re addressing has to do with these companies paying a bunch of money because their former employees will need government assistance. This answer is out of scope and, if anything, actually supports the corporations’ plan “ but we’re not trying to support the corporations’ plan. This is a trap. Eliminate B.

(C) Taxes and unemployment insurance are paid also by corporations that are not automating.

Let’s see. You have to pay this stuff regardless of whether you’re automating. But we’re only concerned with the corporations that are automating, and this choice is about the ones that aren’t. Further, the argument explicitly says that these corporations will have to pay more in these two categories “ that’s what is actually the problem (according to the author). This one doesn’t work. Eliminate C.

(D) Most of the new jobs created by automation pay less than the jobs eliminated by automation did.

If this is true, then the companies will pay less in salaries once they automate. That supports the idea that the companies will save money by following this plan “ but we don’t want to strengthen the company plans. We want to strengthen the author’s conclusion. This one’s another trap! Eliminate D.

(E) The initial investment in machinery for automation is often greater than the short-term savings in labor costs.

This seems reasonable “ you have to buy a bunch of machines up front, and that costs money. But there are two problems with this answer. First, it says only that the initial investment is greater than the short-term savings. Longer-term, the savings could be worth it. Second, the author’s conclusion specifically addresses additional costs that will be incurred when laying people off who then need government assistance. This answer choice doesn’t address any of that. Eliminate E.

The correct answer is A.

Key Takeaways for Solving Strengthen CR Problems:

(1) Know how to recognize this type. The question stem will typically use some variation of the word support or strengthen. It will also use the language if true or a synonym. Be careful about one thing: Inference questions can also include the words strongly supports (or similar). If the question contains this language, check to see whether the question stem contains the words if true “ if so, it’s a Strengthen question. Further, Strengthen questions will also refer to the conclusion in the argument. (Inference questions will not contain a conclusion in the argument; the possible conclusions will be in the answer choices.)

(2) Know what to do with Strengthen questions. The argument will contain premises and a conclusion, and may also contain counter-premises. Such arguments always have assumptions, and we should note any that we might brainstorm. Our goal is to find an answer that makes the conclusion at least a little more likely to be true or valid.

(3) Watch out for traps! The answer choices usually contain Reverse Logic traps (that weaken rather than strengthening). These traps become especially tempting if the argument contains counter-premises or even a counter-conclusion. Make sure you’re addressing the right conclusion!

* GMATPrep questions courtesy of the Graduate Management Admissions Council. Usage of this question does not imply endorsement by GMAC.

Stacey Koprince

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Stacey Koprince is an Instructor and Trainer as well as the Director of Online Community for Manhattan Prep. She also co-manages the company's GMAT curriculum and product line. She has been teaching various standardized tests for more than fifteen years and her entire teaching philosophy can be summed up in five words: teaching students how to think.

3 responses to Tackling a GMAT Prep Critical Reasoning Strengthen Problem

  1. Hi Stacey,

    Couple of questions :
    - What would you say is the conclusion in this argument ?
    - Will option C be a good candidate for weakening the author’s argument since he is saying that the corporates will not be saving much BECAUSE of the taxes which they will have to pay ? (C) Taxes and unemployment insurance are paid also by corporations that are not automating.

    Thanks in advance !
    Karthik

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