Executive Assessment: Verbal Strategies – Part 3

by on December 23rd, 2017

verbalWelcome to the third installment of Verbal Strategies for the EA! If you’re just joining us now, you might want to go back to the first part and work your way back here.

Today, we’re going to look at another Critical Reasoning (CR) question—but of a different type than our first two. This one is labeled #3 in the free CR set on the official EA website, as of December 2017. Try it out!

“The program to control the entry of illegal drugs into the country was a failure in 1987. If the program had been successful, the wholesale price of most illegal drugs would not have dropped substantially in 1987.

“The argument in the passage depends on which of the following assumptions?

“(A) The supply of illegal drugs dropped substantially in 1987.

“(B) The price paid for most illegal drugs by the average consumer did not drop substantially in 1987.

“(C) Domestic production of illegal drugs increased at a higher rate than did the entry of such drugs into the country.

“(D) The wholesale price of a few illegal drugs increased substantially in 1987.

“(E) A drop in demand for most illegal drugs in 1987 was not the sole cause of the drop in their wholesale price.”

This one’s a tough one. Take your time as you work your way through the solution. Let’s do this!

This question stem doesn’t have the if true language that our first two had—and, indeed, this is neither a Strengthen nor a Weaken.

The word assumptions is the giveaway: This is a Find the Assumption question. As soon as you see that you have an FA, think this:

  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 is an assumption. Assumptions are necessary to the success of the argument; if it turned out that an author’s assumption weren’t true, then the argument would be seriously harmed or even fall apart completely.

Time for our next step.

Here’s the argument:

“The program to control the entry of illegal drugs into the country was a failure in 1987. If the program had been successful, the wholesale price of most illegal drugs would not have dropped substantially in 1987.”

Here’s my personal Map of the argument (FA = Find the Assumption):

FA

1987 prog control drug entry: failed

IF successful, THEN whlsl price drugs would NOT have ↓↓ a lot

[Impl: whlsl price DID ↓↓ a lot]

That last line is not stated in the argument—it’s something that I thought to myself in order to understand the last sentence of the argument. I use brackets or parentheses to note something I’m thinking vs. something I read directly in the argument.

Hmm. This one is kind of a weird one. So there was this drug program—that’s a fact. And wholesale prices of these drugs went down a lot—that’s another fact. And then this author is assuming that, because the wholesale prices went down a lot, the program must have been a failure. He’s assuming that, if they had been able to block a lot of drugs from coming into the country, then the price would have at least stayed the same and maybe even gone up—law of supply and demand. Is he right? Presumably there are other factors in the world that could cause the wholesale prices to fall…

Don’t brainstorm what those other factors might be. Just know that, when someone claims “X happened therefore Y happened,” the argument is making a little leap—after all, X can usually lead to multiple different things. Little leaps are assumptions: The author is assuming that X must lead to Y.

 

On Assumption questions, my goal is to find the answer that is necessary for the author to assume in order to make his or her argument.

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

“(A) The supply of illegal drugs dropped substantially in 1987.”

If the supply of illegal drugs dropped substantially…then, if anything, wouldn’t that mean that the program was more likely to have been a success? There are various reasons why the supply might drop—and one of them would be that fewer illegal drugs entered the country in the first place. Eliminate (A), since this author concluded that the program was a failure.

“(B) The price paid for most illegal drugs by the average consumer did not drop substantially in 1987.”

Ooh, this one is tempting. Did the price drop substantially or not?

Oh, wait a minute. Compare your notes or the argument to this choice. The argument focuses solely on the wholesale price. This choice is talking about the retail price (what the consumer paid). The argument doesn’t assume anything at all about the retail price. Tricky! Eliminate (B).

“(C) Domestic production of illegal drugs increased at a higher rate than did the entry of such drugs into the country.”

Hmm. This one is comparing how much was produced domestically with how much was brought into the country. The program mentioned in the argument was strictly to control the entry of illegal drugs into the country—so domestic production doesn’t matter. Eliminate (C).

(Note: You might be thinking, wait, if domestic production did increase a lot, then couldn’t that explain the price drop? Yes, it could—but this is not a Strengthen or Weaken question. An assumption is necessary to the argument, but the author does not have to believe this choice is true in order to make his argument.)

“(D) The wholesale price of a few illegal drugs increased substantially in 1987.”

This one sounds better. It’s about wholesale price—that’s the right type of price. So let’s analyze this one a little more deeply.

Is it possible that the wholesale price of a few of these drugs increased substantially, even as the wholesale price of most of these drugs dropped substantially? Sure—since only most dropped substantially.

Next, is it necessary for the author to believe that a few did increase substantially? Nope. The author’s focus is on the fact that most dropped substantially; what the few outliers did is not relevant.

“(E) A drop in demand for most illegal drugs in 1987 was not the sole cause of the drop in their wholesale price.”

We’re down to the last one. Hopefully, it’s the right one!

This one is tough to understand. So the wholesale price of most did drop; the argument established that. This choice is saying that a drop in demand for those same drugs was not the only reason why the price dropped.

Still finding that hard to follow? I am. Try this: The Negation Test. You can use this on any choice in a Find the Assumption problem, but it works best on negatively-worded choices like this one.

Take the choice and flip it around; if it’s negative, turn it positive. Then ask yourself what happens to the argument. Here’s how:

Original: “A drop in demand for most illegal drugs in 1987 was not the sole cause of the drop in their wholesale price.”

Negated: “A drop in demand for most illegal drugs in 1987 was not the sole cause of the drop in their wholesale price.”

The argument is assuming that a ton of illegal drugs were brought into the country (the program failed), so the price dropped as a result—when you have a lot of something on the market, that’s what happens, right? But if, instead, a drop in demand caused that price drop, then you can’t assume that lots of illegal drugs were brought in. In fact, the program might have been a success—a lot fewer drugs made it into the country—but the price dropped anyway because demand dropped a lot. In other words, the author’s argument falls apart when we negate answer (E).

Remember when I said that an assumption is necessary to the argument? If you negate the correct answer, as we just did, the argument should fall apart, since any assumption is in fact necessary to make that argument valid. (Note: This Negation Test works only on Find the Assumption; don’t try it on other CR question types.)

The correct answer is (E).

Key Takeaways for EA Critical Reasoning:

(1) First identify the question sub-type. Any form of the word assumption signals a Find the Assumption question type.

(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: something that is necessary for the author to assume in making the argument.

(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.

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