Last time, we talked about Fill in the Blank CR questions: what are they and how do we tackle them efficiently? If you haven’t already read that article, go ahead and do so.
Then, come back here and test your new-found skills on this GMATPrep© problem (it’s from the two free exams). Give yourself about 2 minutes (though it’s okay to stretch to 2.5 minutes on a CR as long as you are making progress.)
“Which of the following best completes the argument?
“A new machine for harvesting corn will allow rows to be planted only fifteen inches apart, instead of the usual thirty inches. Corn planted this closely will produce lower yields per plant. Nevertheless, the new machine will allow corn growers to double their profits per acre because ________________
“(A) with the closer spacing of the rows, the growing corn plants will quickly form a dense canopy of leaves, which will, by shading the ground, minimize the need for costly weed control and irrigation
“(B) with the closer spacing of the rows, corn plants will be forced to grow taller because of increased competition for sunlight from neighboring corn plants
“(C) with the larger number of plants growing per acre, more fertilizer will be required
“(D) with the spacing between rows cut by half, the number of plants grown per acre will almost double
“(E) with the closer spacing of the rows, the acreage on which corn is planted will be utilized much more intensively than it was before, requiring more frequent fallow years in which corn fields are left unplanted”
Step 1: Identify the Question
The blank line tell us that we have an argument in the “complete the passage” format.
As we discussed in the first part of this series, the word because just before the underline is a strong clue that this is a Strengthen the Conclusion question. Confirm this by reading the argument.
Step 2: Deconstruct the Argument
This is likely a strengthen question, so it should contain a conclusion.
Here’s what I thought and wrote while I did the problem. Your own thought process won’t be exactly the same as mine and, of course, your notes will probably look quite different, since we all have our own ways of abbreviating things. (Note: S = strengthen; at first I put a question mark next to it because I wasn’t 100% sure until I finished the argument.)
Hmm, so the answer has to be a piece of evidence that supports the idea that the machine is going to double profits even though the you won’t actually have twice as many plants. This is, indeed, a Strengthen question.
Step 3: State the Goal
The goal on Strengthen questions is to find a new piece of information that makes the conclusion at least a little more likely to be valid. I’m trying to validate the idea that corn growers will double their profits per acre. (Note: in Complete the Passage format, sometimes the correct answer won’t really be new; it will mostly just restate something that the argument already said. This is acceptable as long as it strengthens!)
From the info given so far, farmers will be able to plant twice as many plants, but they won’t actually double the amount of corn produced (their yield). So there must be some other benefit that will help to either raise revenues or reduce costs (the two factors that determine profit).
Work from Wrong to Right
The correct answer is (A).
What did you think was the most tempting wrong answer? Tell me in the comments below (and tell me why!). I thought (B) was the most tempting because it’s so easy to assume that taller means better. I also thought (D) was pretty tempting because it seems to be confirming the idea that they’ll be able to plant double the number of plants. It’s easy to gloss over the word almost.
Finally, I just want to mention that some people might wonder why I didn’t chose a different Complete the Passage question type—something other than Strengthen. I looked through all of my problems from my two most recent GMATPrep tests, and every Complete the Passage I was given was a Strengthen question! I decided that it was most important to practice what we’re most likely to see on the test itself.
Looking for more help on Critical Reasoning? Check out the Master Resource List for Critical Reasoning.
Take-aways for Complete the Passage formats:
(1) These are not a separate question type. A “complete the passage” question falls into one of the same categories as all other questions; you have to figure out which it is.
(2) Most often, these questions are Strengthen (as in the above case) or Find the Assumption. If you see the word because or since right before the underline, you probably have a Strengthen question. If you see something else, then you may have an Assumption question instead.
(3) As with any CR question, the key is to identify the type of question and follow the standard process from there!
* GMATPrep® questions courtesy of the Graduate Management Admissions Council. Usage of this question does not imply endorsement by GMAC.