Archives For verbal

GMAT-sentence-correctionLast time, we tried a problem that tested meaning; we also discussed how to compare entire chunks of the answer choices. Today, we’re going to combine those two things into a new skill.

Try this GMATPrep® problem from the free exams and then we’ll talk about it.

* “The striking differences between the semantic organization of Native American languages and that of European languages, in both grammar and vocabulary, have led scholars to think about the degree to which differences in language may be correlated with nonlinguistic differences.

“(A) that of European languages, in both grammar and vocabulary, have

“(B) that of European languages, including grammar and vocabulary, has

“(C) those of European languages, which include grammar and vocabulary, have

“(D) those of European languages, in grammar as well as vocabulary, has

“(E) those of European languages, both in grammar and vocabulary, has”

At first glance, the underline isn’t super long on this one, Glance down the first word of each answer. What does a split between that and those signify?

Both are pronouns, so they’re referring to something else in the sentence. In addition, one is singular and one is plural, so it will be important to find the antecedent (the word to which the pronoun refers).

Next, read the original sentence. What do you think? It isn’t super long but it still manages to pack in some complexity. Learn how to strip it down and you’ll be prepared for even more complex sentence structures.

My first thought was: okay, now I see why they offered that vs. those. Should the pronoun refer to the plural differences or to the singular organization?

It could be easy to get turned around here, so strip down the sentence structure:

Continue Reading…

gmat-quant-strategyAs dedicated readers of this blog may have guessed, this is a follow up to my earlier post When is it Time to Guess on Quant? Timing troubles are not, however, exclusive to the Quant section, so in this piece I’ll talk about some common scenarios that bedevil students on the Verbal section.

As with Quant, not all guesses are created equal. The earlier you decide to guess, the more likely that you will make a random guess. If, on the other hand, you’re far enough into the question that you’ve eliminated 2-3 answer choices, then you’ll be making an educated guess.

One immediate difference between guessing on Quant and Verbal is that guessing strategy is essentially identical for both Problem Solving and Data Sufficiency questions. Each of the Verbal question types, on the other hand, has less in common. That being said, there are a lot of parallels in guessing strategy among the three types.

No matter the question, there are really three distinct stages at which it becomes a better idea to guess than to keep going. I’ll briefly describe each stage, then show how it connects to each of the Verbal question types.

Stage 1: No Clear Starting Point

As a general rule, if you haven’t really made progress on a question after 30 seconds or so, it’s usually a good idea to just make a random guess and save your energy for a question you’re more comfortable with.

Reading Comprehension Stage 1: I don’t know where in the passage to look.

The great thing about Reading Comprehension (or at least its saving grace) is that the correct answer has to have support in the passage. With the vast majority of RC questions, as long as you can find and reread the relevant portion of the passage, you can find an answer choice that will match what you read. In fact, you should be able to answer to come up with your own answer to most RC questions before you even look at the answer choices.

Many questions provide good clues as to where in the passage to look for the answer (seriously – a surprising amount of questions are very helpful in that regard). Things get much tougher when they don’t. So here’s your first big clue that it may be time to guess. If you’ve read the question, and you’ve skimmed through the passage looking for an answer, and you still don’t feel like you found what the question was asking about, it’s time to guess.

At this point, you could guess randomly, but I would recommend taking one quick pass through the answer choices. If any choice contradicts your understanding of the passage, eliminate it. After you’ve each answer once, pick from the remaining.

Sentence Correction Stage 1: I don’t understand the sentence and the underline is long.

On the Verbal section, you have to answer 41 questions in 75 minutes, which is less than 2 minutes per question. Critical Reasoning and Reading Comprehension are naturally time-consuming, so that time is going to have be saved largely on Sentence Correction. Remember that you only have an average of 1 minute and 20 seconds to answer these things.

If you’re struggling to even understand what the sentence is saying, then it will almost certainly take too long to properly analyze the answer choices, especially if the underline is long. No need to fight through the pain. Just take a quick scan through the answer choices and pick one that doesn’t sound immediately wrong.

Critical Reasoning Stage 1: I don’t understand what the argument is saying.

To my mind, good process on Critical Reasoning questions means being in control the whole way through the process. The worst situation to be in is one in which you’re hoping that the answer choices will help you make sense of the argument. Four out of the five answer choices are actively trying to trick you, and the GMAT has gotten pretty good at tricking people over the years. By the time you get to the answer choices, you need to understand the argument well enough to effectively evaluate each choice.

Consequently, if you’ve read the argument two or three times, and still can’t articulate to yourself the link between the premises and the conclusion, you shouldn’t waste time with the answer choices.

  Continue Reading…

critical-reasoningWe’ve been on a CR kick lately! In the first two parts of this series, we talked about how to tackle Fill in the Blank and Complete the Passage questions. This time, I’ve got something different for you: a question that looks very familiar at first glance but turns a bit… well, weird.

Let’s try it before I say anything more. This GMATPrep© problem is from the two free exams that come with the GMATPrep software. 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.)

“On of the limiting factors in human physical performance is the amount of oxygen that is absorbed by muscles from the bloodstream. Accordingly, entrepreneurs have begun selling at gymnasiums and health clubs bottles of drinking water, labeled “SuperOXY,” that has extra oxygen dissolved in the water. Such water would be useless in improving physical performance, however, since the amount of oxygen in the blood of someone who is exercising is already more than the muscle cells can absorb.

Which of the following, if true, would serve the same function in the argument as the statement in boldface?

“(A) world-class athletes turn in record performances without such water
“(B) frequent physical exercise increases the body’s ability to take in and use oxygen
“(C) the only way to get oxygen into the bloodstream so that it can be absorbed by the muscles is through the lungs
“(D) lack of oxygen is not the only factor limiting human physical performance
“(E) the water lost in exercising can be replaced with ordinary tap water”

Step 1: Identify the Question

The boldface font is immediately obvious, of course. Boldface denotes a Describe the Role question.

The question stem does have one little idiosyncrasy, though: it asks what answer would serve the same function. Normally, Role questions ask what function the boldface statement plays in the argument. The question stem also contains “if true” wording, which we normally see on Strengthen, Weaken, or Discrepancy (paradox) questions.

Glance at the answers. Notice anything? This is not what Role answers typically look like! Usually they say something such as “The statement provides evidence supporting the author’s claim” or similar.

What’s going on here? Read the argument.

Step 2: Deconstruct the Argument

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: R = role; note that I put a question mark next to it because I wasn’t 100% sure what was actually going on).

Screen Shot 2013-11-25 at 5.03.55 PM

So back to that weird question stem. If this were just a straight Role question, then what would the answer be? The boldface statement is support for the conclusion; it’s a premise.

But what’s the goal for this question?

Step 3: State the Goal

The answers don’t describe the existing boldface statement. Rather, they contain new facts that we’re supposed to accept as true. Further, the question asked us to find an answer that “would serve the same function” as the original statement.

What function did the original statement serve? Aha! The original statement served as a premise to support the conclusion. So we need to find another statement that serves that same purpose.

Will it support the conclusion in exactly the same way? I’m really not sure. (Seriously! When I first saw this question, I didn’t know!) So I’m going to keep an open mind and look for anything that could support the conclusion in general.

Work from Wrong to Right

Screen Shot 2013-11-25 at 5.10.38 PM

The correct answer is (C).

Interesting. We just learned something new. Most Describe the Role (or Boldface) questions ask us to describe the role of the given statement. We might be asked, though, to demonstrate our knowledge of the role by finding a different, completely new statement that serves the same role as the original statement in the argument.

What do we have to do? We have to “decode” the original statement (in the above case, we had a premise supporting the conclusion) and then we have to find another statement that could also serve as a premise.

That new premise might be really different from the original premise. In this problem, the original premise focused on the oxygen already in our blood. The new premise, answer (C), provided a different piece of the puzzle: we have to take oxygen in through our lungs in order to get that oxygen into the bloodstream. Either piece of information serves to support the idea that OXY is useless, but each does so in different ways.

Take-aways for “Same Function As” Role Questions:

(1) The standard task on role questions is to describe the role of the statement given in the argument.

(2) You might see a variation on this standard task: you may be asked to find a new statement that plays the same role as the original.

(3) This new statement may discuss a different aspect of the argument. That’s perfectly all right as long as the statement overall plays the same role as the original boldface statement.

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

critical-reasoningLast 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.
Continue Reading…

critical-reasoningI 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.)

Screen Shot 2013-11-25 at 2.19.52 PM

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

Screen Shot 2013-11-25 at 2.57.16 PM

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.

Most students who struggle with Reading Comprehension share a common issue: they focus equally on all words in the passage. Some words, however, are not as important as others, and in order to improve our comprehension we must first learn to identify which words we should focus our energy on. You may have noticed that the title of this blog post is difficult to follow; words such as unlike and not are important structural words, since they describe a 180 degree change in meaning. If we speed through the title we are likely to miss something important, and our comprehension level will drop! Instead, let’s come to a complete stop and hold off on the rest of the post until we have milked those structural words for all they’re worth.

GMAT wordsThe title first makes a comparison (actually an anti-comparison) between words and people, and then separately says that words are not all born equal (for a moment we can ignore the modifier trapped between the commas).

If words are not all born equal, and words are unlike people, one could infer that all people are born equal. Did you get that from the title when you first read it? If you didn’t, you read it too quickly

Continue Reading…

As a GMAT instructor, I’m always in the right frame of mind to notice grammatical errors in the world around us.

(One might also say that, as a GMAT instructor, I’m also the sort of nerd who takes iPhone pictures of these grammatical errors.)

gmat grammarWhat’s wrong with this sign?

If you don’t see the problem, take a step back and imagine that you are a Martian with little knowledge of human culture. Might you misunderstand this sign?

The problem is related to the modifier “that endangers workers.” (We cover Modifiers extensively in session 6 of our nine-week course.)

What noun is “that endangers workers” supposed to be modifying? Unsafe conditions. What noun is it actually modifying? Work site.

Continue Reading…

This week, we’re going to discuss Evaluate critical reasoning problems. Evaluate what? We’re trying to evaluate an assumption the author uses to draw a conclusion, so these Evaluate questions are a subset of the Assumption Family of questions.

Let’s say we’re given this argument:

In order to increase its profits, MillCo plans to reduce costs by laying off any non-essential employees.

Does that sound like a good plan? Profits equal revenues minus costs. What’s MillCo assuming in claiming that laying off non-essential employees will result in increased profits? For one thing, MillCo is assuming that revenues won’t drop as much as or more than the expected cost savings; if that occurred, MillCo’s profits wouldn’t increase.

An Evaluate question might say something like what would be most useful to know in order to evaluate MillCo’s plan? A correct answer might read:

Whether revenues will be affected adversely enough to threaten MillCo’s profit structure.

Let’s say that answer is no: MillCo’s revenues won’t be affected adversely enough. In that case, MillCo’s argument is strengthened. If, on the other hand, the answer is yes, MillCo’s revenues will be affected adversely enough, then MillCo’s argument is weakened. This answer, then, is designed to test the assumption; it helps to determine whether the assumption is valid. It does not tell us, however, that the assumption definitely is, or is not, valid.

Continue Reading…