Comparative vs. Absolute Conclusions in Critical Reasoning

Andrea Pawliczek —  November 4, 2013 — Leave a comment

Is that a comparison?

One way to classify conclusions on GMAT Critical Reasoning conclusions is comparative versus absolute.  Why should you care about this classification?  Because this distinction can be very helpful in eliminating wrong answers and finding right answer.

A comparative conclusion will make a comparison between two or more groups.

Car A is better family car than Car B.

An absolute conclusion will just express an opinion about one specific topic or situation.

Therefore, A monorail should not be installed in Town C’s central district.

As a start, let’s get used to classifying conclusions as absolute or comparative.  If the conclusion is comparative, identify the two groups being compared.

1) Therefore, children in the United States who spend at least two hours a day outdoors are less likely to be obese than other children.

2) Thus, Springfield’s recycling program is likely to achieve its aim.

3) For these reasons, isolationism should not be considered a viable trade strategy.

4) The service sector will become more important to Caloda’s economy in the future.

5) Brand D is the best brand of vacuum cleaner available.

(See bottom of this post for answers)

Now that you are comfortable identifying different types of conclusions, we will consider how this classification will help you find the right answer. In many critical reason question types, your job in finding the answer is to influence the conclusion (strengthen the conclusion, weaken the conclusion, find the assumption).  Let’s consider answer choices that are most likely to influence these different types of conclusions.

Comparative Conclusions

The most direct way to strengthen or weaken a comparative conclusion is to provide comparative information about the two groups in the comparison.  To go back to our simple example about Car A and Car B, the most direct way to influence the conclusion would be to say “Car A has a superior record for accident safety than Car B.”  This statement clearly could aid in making the comparison the conclusion aims to make (we would also need to know that accident safety is an important feature to families).

What about information only about one of the elements of the comparison?  For example, if an answer said “Car A averages 28 miles per gallon.”  On its own, this statement does not really help us compare Car A to Car B.  The only time this statement would be relevant is if we were previously provided with information about Car B’s fuel efficiency in the original argument.

Finally, the statements that are least likely to be relevant are ones that compare one of the comparators to a group not in the original comparison.  For example, “Car A offers more cargo space than Car C.”  Since we are trying to compare Car A to Car B, bringing up Car C will generally not be helpful.

Absolute Conclusions

With an absolute conclusion, we usually want to stay focused on the issue in the conclusion, and not bring up other comparators.  Again considering the example from the beginning, if I wanted to strengthen the conclusion I would be looking for a statement that spoke directly about a monorail in Town C.  For example, “The geography in Town C would make construction of a monorail prohibitively expensive.”

The only time I should consider a comparator in an answer choice for an absolute conclusion is if that comparator already plays in integral role in the argument as a premise that supports the conclusion.  Below is the complete monorail argument.

The selectmen in Town C are considering a proposal to install a monorail in the town.  Last year, City X installed a monorail in its central district, and that monorail has operated at a substantial financial loss due to lower than expected ridership.  Therefore, a monorail should not be installed in Town C’s central district.

In this case, although City X plays no role in the conclusion, it provides the key supporting information to allow us to draw the conclusion.  In order for information about City X to be relevant to a conclusion about Town C what needs to be true?

The situation in City X has to be similar to the situation in Town C. As such, any answer choice that showed why or how Town C’s situation was in some way analogous to City X’s could be influence the conclusion.  The statement “Town C has a similar population with similar demographics to City X” could strengthen this argument because it demonstrates why the previously provided premise is relevant to the conclusion.

Aside from the situation discussed above, we generally want to avoid answers that make comparisons to groups not previously mentioned in the argument when dealing with an absolute conclusion.  Both the statements below have no bearing on the monorail conclusion.

A) A monorail’s top speed is similar to that of a standard railroad.

B) A greater proportion of residents in Town C regularly ride city buses than do residents in Town D.

Many people find themselves getting overwhelmed on critical reasoning questions because of the amount of information they are asked to process in a very limited amount of time.  As such, any technique that allows us to eliminate answers relatively quickly – and then focus in on a smaller pool of information – is quite valuable.  I find conclusion classification to be such a technique.  After reading the argument, a task that must be completed, it takes only a few extra seconds to classify the conclusion into comparative versus absolute.  With this classification in place, I am better able to digest and eliminate answer choices.  Give it a try for yourself.

Answers for conclusion types

1) Comparative – children in the US who spend more than two hours outside to those who do not

2) Absolute

3) Absolute

4) Comparative – Coloda’s economy now to Coloda’s economy in the future

5) Comparative – Brand D to all other available brands of vacuum cleaners

Andrea Pawliczek

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Andrea Pawliczek was born and raised in Lexington, Massachusetts before moving to Atlanta to attend Emory University, where she earned a BA in Economics and Chemistry summa cum laude. She used her score of 800 on the GMAT to gain entry into Duke’s Fuqua School of Business. After graduating as a Fuqua Scholar in 2008, Andrea moved to Boulder, Colorado where she is pursuing entrepreneurial endeavors including co-founding RockyRadar, a technology blog. While Andrea enjoys the active outdoor lifestyle in Boulder, her loyalty to sports teams remains firmly rooted on the east coast with the Boston Red Sox, New England Patriots and Duke Blue Devils’ Basketball. When she is not watching sports, Andrea will most likely be found out on a run or bike ride or at a poker table.

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