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Identifying Scope On GMAT Critical Reasoning Questions
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Earlier this week, I wrote about the importance of recognizing and staying within the scope of a GMAT Critical Reasoning question. Of course, if you're going to do that, you have to know how to recognize the scope. That's what I'd like to focus on today.
The most important part of a Critical Reasoning passage is the conclusion. (There are a few types of CR questions, notably one asking for inferences, that don't have conclusions. Most, however, do.) More than any other sentence in the passage, the conclusion determines the scope, which in turn determines which answer choices are and are not relevant. Consider the following example, question 32 from page 476 in The Official Guide:
The technological conservatism of bicycle manufacturers is a reflection of the kinds of demand they are trying to meet. The only cyclists seriously interested in innovation and willing to pay for it are bicycle racers. Therefore, innovation in bicycle technology is limited by what authorities will accept as standard for purposes of competition in bicycle races.
The conclusion, of course, is the final sentence, the one starting with "Therefore." The scope, then, is limited to the reason why innovation in bicycle technology is limited. There are plenty of hints in the passage of things that are outside of the scope: the nature of manufacturers' conservatism and how much racers are willing to pay, for instance.
Sure enough, some of the wrong answers are outside the scope in predictable ways. Choice (A), "The market for cheap, traditional bicycles cannot expand unless the market for high-perforamnce competition bicycles expands," is related to the second sentence, but is not directly related to the conclusion, so it can't be the assumption. Choice (D), "The technological conservatism of bicycle manufacturers results primarily from their desire to manufacture a product that can be sold without being altered to suit different national markets," is related to the first sentence, but again, that's outside of the scope of the conclusion.
In many questions asking you to strengthen an argument, weaken an argument, or identify an assumption, there will be a shift in scope from the evidence (in this case, the first two sentences) to the conclusion (the third). When there is such a scope shift, the answer choice will rest right in the space between them, linking the evidence and conclusion. More precisely, it will link the scope of the evidence to the scope of the conclusion.
Often, when you can't identify a single scope for a CR passage, it isn't because you don't know how, it's because there isn't a single scope. Going back to our example, we can start with the evidence:
The only cyclists seriously interested in innovation and willing to pay for it are bicycle racers.
And the conclusion:
Therefore, innovation in bicycle technology is limited by what authorities will accept as standard for purposes of competition in bicycle races.
The scope of the evidence is limited to where the money will come from to support innovation. In the conclusion, as we've seen, the focus is on the limits of innovation. The assumption, then, must rest in between: we need something that links the importance of bicycle racers' pocketbooks to the authorities who apparently limit innovation in technology. In textbook style, choice (C) does just that:
Bicycle racers do not generate a strong demand for innovations that fall outside what is officially recognized as standard for purposes of competition.
Your Takeaway Soundbite
Scope, then, is limited to the conclusion, unless there is a shift in scope from the evidence to the conclusion. Err on the side of specificity: if an answer choice seems to be focusing on the wrong part of the question, even if you can make sense out it, it's probably wrong.
Practice identifying the scope of the conclusion (just that one sentence) and seeing which answer choices directly relate to it. At first, you may find yourself getting too specific, eliminating answer choices that are correct because of tiny scope differences, but with a little practice, you'll find the happy medium between selecting out-of-scope choices and eliminating just-barely-within-scope answers.
It's difficult to overstate the importance of scope in Critical Reasoning questions. In the Total GMAT Verbal, I've classified several common types of questions as "scope-based." Those question types make up more than three-quarters of the CR items you'll see on test day.
About the author: Jeff Sackmann has written many GMAT preparation books, including the popular Total GMAT Math, Total GMAT Verbal, and GMAT 111. He has also created explanations for problems in The Official Guide, as well as 1,800 practice GMAT math questions.
|Total GMAT Verbal
The comprehensive guide to the GMAT Verbal section. Recognize, dissect, and master every question type
you'll face on the test. Everything you need, all in one place, including 100+ realistic practice questions.