I was talking to a student today about Complete the Passage CR arguments (people also call these the Fill in the Blank questions). The student was struggling with these and talking about them as though they were their own category. The problem: they’re not actually a separate category at all!
Try this GMATPrep© problem out (it’s from the free set that comes with the software) and then we’ll talk about it. 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 passage below?
“People buy prestige when they buy a premium product. They want to be associated with something special. Mass-marketing techniques and price reduction strategies should not be used because ________________
“(A) affluent purchasers currently represent a shrinking portion of the population of all purchasers
“(B) continued sales depend directly on the maintenance of an aura of exclusivity
“(C) purchasers of premium products are concerned with the quality as well as with the price of the products
“(D) expansion of the market niche to include a broader spectrum of consumers will increase profits
“(E) manufacturing a premium brand is not necessarily more costly than manufacturing a standard brand of the same product”
Step 1: Identify the Question
The blank line immediately leaps to eye of course: as soon as you see that, you know you have an argument in the “complete the passage” format.
What kind of question type is it? Actually these fall into one of the regular types that you already know: Strengthen, Weaken, Find the Assumption, Inference, and so on. The trick is that it’s a bit harder to tell which type.
The majority of Complete the Passage questions are Strengthen. The second most common category is Find the Assumption. Typically, if you see the word because or since right before the underline (as in this problem), then you probably have a Strengthen question. The word because (or since) indicates that the correct answer will add a piece of evidence to support some statement. You’ll need to read the argument to be sure, but you can have a pretty strong hunch.
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.)
If the conclusion is NOT to use mass-marketing techniques and price reduction strategies because of some reason, then that reason must support that conclusion. 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 you should NOT use certain strategies. (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!)
Why not? The first two sentences said that premium products are all about prestige and “something special.” If you’re trying to sell premium products, then, mass-market techniques probably aren’t going to make people feel “special.” Likewise, a reduction in price doesn’t scream “premium product!” We expect premium products to cost more and we don’t expect everyone in the world to have them.
I’m going to keep that in mind while I examine the answers!
Work from Wrong to Right
The correct answer is (B).
Note that answers (A) and (D) both seem to go along with the idea that we might want to use mass-marketing techniques or price-reduction strategies. Both are trap answers designed to catch someone who didn’t notice or forgot that the conclusion says these strategies should NOT be used.
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.