Executive Assessment: Verbal Strategies – Part 1

by on December 7th, 2017

verbalThe Verbal section of the Executive Assessment (EA) shares all of the same question types with the GMAT exam—and we can use the same strategies to tackle these questions.

Give yourself ~2 minutes to try the below Critical Reasoning (CR) problem and then we’ll talk. All problems in this series are from the free problem sets that appear on the official Executive Assessment website; this one is labeled #1 in the CR set as of November 2017.

“A factory was trying out a new process for producing one of its products, with the goal of reducing production costs. A trial production run using the new process showed a fifteen percent reduction in costs compared with past performance using the standard process. The production managers therefore concluded that the new process did produce a cost savings.

“Which of the following, if true, casts [the] most doubt on the production managers’ conclusion?

“(A) In the cost reduction project that eventually led to the trial of the new process, production managers had initially been seeking cost reductions of fifty percent.

“(B) Analysis of the trial of the new process showed that the cost reduction during the trial was entirely attributable to a reduction in the number of finished products rejected by quality control.

“(C) While the trial was being conducted, production costs at the factory for a similar product, produced without benefit of the new process, also showed a fifteen percent reduction.

“(D) Although some of the factory’s managers have been arguing that the product is outdated and ought to be redesigned, the use of the new production process does not involve any changes in the finished product.

“(E) Since the new process differs from the standard process only in the way in which the stages of production are organized and ordered, the cost of the materials used in the product is the same in both processes.”

Have you decided? Even if you’re not sure, guess—that’s what you want to do on the real test, too, so practice that now (even if your practice consists of saying “I have no idea, so I’m randomly picking B!”).

Ready? Let’s do this!

On CR, always start with the question stem, not the argument. There are multiple CR sub-types—you’re going to identify which type based on clues given in the question stem.

In this case, the clues are if true and casts … doubt. This language signals a Weaken the Argument question type. Jot down a W on your scrap paper. As soon as you identify this, you know two important things:

  • (1) The argument up above will be a full argument (premises and conclusion) and there will be gaps in that argument. Those gaps will be filled by unstated assumptions—things the author assumes to be true but does not actually say are true.
  • (2) Your goal is to find an answer that makes the argument at least a little less likely to be valid, if that answer choice is indeed true. (And the question stem told you to assume that it is true. :) )

Time for our next step.

Here’s the argument:

“A factory was trying out a new process for producing one of its products, with the goal of reducing production costs. A trial production run using the new process showed a fifteen percent reduction in costs compared with past performance using the standard process. The production managers therefore concluded that the new process did produce a cost savings.”

We need to understand the premises and the conclusion—and how the premises lead to the conclusion (including any missing assumptions we can brainstorm).

There are many ways to do this but all of them involve a careful reading of the argument. I also recommend jotting down a little Map to help you understand the basic story the text is telling.

I’d jot down something like this (including the initial W to signal that this is a Weaken question):

W

F: new proc →  ↓ prod cost (?)

trial: 15% ↓

© new proc = cost sav

Let’s talk a little bit about what I did. First, notice how much I abbreviated—most of the time, I didn’t write full words, and I used symbols wherever I could. This is my own personal “shorthand” for making a Map for either CR or Reading Comprehension (RC).

For instance, the F: means the following text is something that F has said or that F is doing. That question mark in parentheses at the end is my own commentary: at this stage, the argument said only that the goal is to reduce production costs. It didn’t establish that this action really would reduce costs—so I noted it with a question mark. (And I put parentheses around anything that’s really my own commentary or analysis vs. something the argument says directly.) Finally, that © symbol is how I mark the conclusion.

You’ll want to develop your own shorthand as you study for the test. You don’t have to use the same symbols that I do—but you do want to have a consistent way to note down the kinds of things that you’re likely to see in EA arguments.

Okay, as you’re making your little Map, you’re telling yourself the story in words. What’s the story? F wants to reduce production costs. They try out a new process and that trial shows that there is a reduction in cost! So they conclude that this new process will result in a reduction in costs.

But they want us to Weaken that conclusion. Can you think of anything in general that would weaken that conclusion?

Maybe:

  • There are some hidden costs they haven’t uncovered yet?
  • The trial process wasn’t quite the same as what the real new process would need to be, and that full new process would have more costs?

I’m not going to spend a lot of time brainstorming at this stage; I’m just going to note anything that jumps out at me while I …

On Weaken questions, my goal is to find the answer that makes the argument a little less likely to be valid. This answer will convey a new piece of information and I am to accept that information as true.

That’s it! Step 3 is short and sweet … and really important. Don’t skip it.

 

All right, let’s go find a choice that fits our desired parameters.

“(A) In the cost reduction project that eventually led to the trial of the new process, production managers had initially been seeking cost reductions of fifty percent.”

Did the conclusion say anything about needing a certain level of cost reduction? Glance back at the argument to make sure. Nope, the conclusion just says that there is a cost reduction—and there was during the trial run. Whether that reduction is 15% or 50% doesn’t matter to the argument.

Note: This choice is a tempting trap for someone using real-world logic. It’s better to have a 50% cost reduction! A 15% cost reduction isn’t as good! That may be true—but confine your analysis to the argument. The argument doesn’t require a certain level of cost reduction, so this is irrelevant. Eliminate (A).

“(B) Analysis of the trial of the new process showed that the cost reduction during the trial was entirely attributable to a reduction in the number of finished products rejected by quality control.”

This one’s a little hard to understand. Finished products can get rejected by quality control—presumably you then have to scrap the rejected products. In the new trial, there were fewer rejected products. In other words, more usable products were produced, and that’s what resulted in the cost reduction (cost per product was lower, I guess?).

So that explains why the cost reduction existed in the trial run. Does it weaken the idea that rolling out this new process will allow similar cost reductions?

Nope. This choice provides no information to think that anything will be different if they start using this new process all the time. If there were a cost reduction before, there should be a cost reduction later, too. If anything, this strengthens the argument. Eliminate (B).

“(C) While the trial was being conducted, production costs at the factory for a similar product, produced without benefit of the new process, also showed a fifteen percent reduction.”

If this similar product was produced without benefit of the new process, then this similar product was produced under the old process. And this product produced under the old process also came in 15% under the usual costs.

This introduces the idea that something other than the new process was responsible for the cost reduction. Maybe the raw material costs went down or electricity was cheaper during this period or…who knows? But the costs were lower for some reason during this period regardless of whether the old or new process was used.

If this possibility exists, then it’s at least a little less likely that the cause of the cost savings was the new process itself. That weakens the company’s conclusion. This answer choice is promising; keep it in.

“(D) Although some of the factory’s managers have been arguing that the product is outdated and ought to be redesigned, the use of the new production process does not involve any changes in the finished product.”

Whether the product is still a good product does not impact the cost to produce that product. It may be the case that they could build a better product—but that is outside of the scope of this argument. Eliminate (D).

“(E) Since the new process differs from the standard process only in the way in which the stages of production are organized and ordered, the cost of the materials used in the product is the same in both processes.”

If you had to change the raw materials for some reason, that might have provided an alternative reason for the cost reduction. But the fact that the raw materials are the same, if anything, makes it a little more likely that the new process is in fact responsible for the cost reduction. This is the opposite of what we were asked—it strengthens the argument. Eliminate (E).

The correct answer is (C).

Key Takeaways for EA Critical Reasoning:

(1) First identify the question sub-type. The language if true (or similar) and anything about weakening or casting doubt signals a Weaken the Argument question.

(2) Make a little Map of the argument to make sure you understand the premises and the conclusion—and any little weaknesses in the argument that you might uncover as you go. Remind yourself of your goal for this type: a choice that makes the argument at least a little less likely to be valid.

(3) Turn that knowledge into Know the Code flash cards:

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

Ask a Question or Leave a Reply

The author Stacey Koprince gets email notifications for all questions or replies to this post.

Some HTML allowed. Keep your comments above the belt or risk having them deleted. Signup for a Gravatar to have your pictures show up by your comment.