Love At First Sight: Don’t Fall In Love… With Answer Choices

by on February 13th, 2013

With Valentine’s Day this week, love is in the air. Which is a good thing in most respects, but can be a dangerous on the GMAT. You might well say that one of the most common mistakes that test-takers make on verbal questions is “love at first sight”.

How does Cupid’s arrow attack your GMAT score?

Often on GMAT verbal problems, one of the first 2-3 answer choices starts to look pretty good to you – it repeats some words from the passage, or includes a grammatical structure that you like, and it gives you that warm, fuzzy feeling that a confidently correct answer can provide.

And once you’ve fallen in love with that answer, you only have eyes for it – you don’t hold it up to higher scrutiny that might reveal a flaw, and you do not  keep an open mind for future answers.

Consider this sample Critical Reasoning question:

Hallmark Executive: In order to stay lean and efficient given the decreasing margins on our greeting card business, we should reduce our number of employees by 10 to 20% in each of our regional facilities. This way, each facility will be forced to work more efficiently and each remaining employee will have a greater incentive to work additional hours to keep her job. With a reduction in staffing we can not only restore our profits to what they were in previous years, we can take them higher.

Which of the following would most weaken the Hallmark executive’s strategy?

(A) Because of natural fatigue, the additional hours worked by each employee could not be as productive as their base hours.

(B) Greeting card sales tend to peak between November and February, and then remain comparatively low for the rest of the year other than a Mother’s Day spike in May.

(C) The predicted boom in e-cards has not made nearly the feared dent in sales of paper cards, at least not for Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day.

(D) According to a report created by management consultants, even a marginal reduction in headcount would cripple most Hallmark facilities’ ability to function.

(E) Hallmark could also increase profits by making up a new romantic holiday; August seems open.

On this question, many people tend to fall in love early with A. A suggests a lack of productivity and some diminishing returns of the plan, so especially when compared with B, a throwaway answer, A is easy to fall in love with. But if you fall in love too early, you will  miss D, which hits the nail exactly on the head. D shows pretty emphatically that “you can’t reduce headcount at all without disastrous consequences”, so D quite clearly weakens the plan. And if you were to then return to A, having kept and open mind and realized that D is at worst “another right answer” (which won’t happen on the GMAT – there is 1 right and 4 wrong), you would then compare the two and realize that A doesn’t really weaken it. A shows that the *extra* hours won’t be as productive as the previous hours, but even getting 40 great hours and 15 lackluster hours out of an employee is better than getting just 40 great hours. So A looks good at first glance, but if you hold it up to higher levels of scrutiny it fails that test.

The key? Be more DiCaprio or Clooney than Taylor Swift – when it comes to GMAT answer choice love keep your options open and don’t fall in love too soon.

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1 comment

  • Nice explanation. "Additional working hours" is the key here.

    BTW, it was a fairly easy question... :-)

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