GMAT Critical Reasoning is repetitive. The arguments in GMAT Critical Reasoning problems might be dressed up differently—one is about local politics, another is about business—but, under the surface, the arguments use the same tricks over and over again. If you learn to spot these tricks, you’ll also learn to spot the right answer. (You’ll also start poking holes in every argument you hear, which is a great way to make new friends.)
We’ve already looked at two types of GMAT Critical Reasoning arguments: arguments that explain why something happened, and arguments that discuss costs and benefits. Here’s a third type: arguments that predict the future. If you’re reading a GMAT Critical Reasoning problem and the conclusion says that something will or should happen, this is the type of argument you’re dealing with. Here’s an example:
The computer company iTech is known to aggressively recruit engineers from other local technology companies. But even though a number of senior engineers at Microcomp have left their positions for iTech jobs in the six months since the local iTech office opened, it is unlikely that those positions will remain open for long. In the last five years, none of Microcomp’s job listings have gone unfilled for more than a few weeks.
The author is pretty sure that the vacant senior engineer positions will be filled quickly. You, as the reader of this argument, should be rolling your eyes. Nobody can predict the future, and the author is no exception.
There are two major ways that a prediction can go wrong. One, every time a GMAT Critical Reasoning argument predicts the future, the author is assuming that nothing surprising will happen. For instance:
- What if Microcomp’s hiring budget is dramatically reduced this year?
- What if iTech starts offering senior engineers triple the pay that Microcomp does, ensuring that nobody would choose a Microcomp job over an iTech one?
- What if Microcomp just changed its policies to require much more job experience for senior engineer positions?
- What if next week, Microcomp is featured in a magazine article as “The Worst Place to Work in 2018”?
If any of these things happened, it would get much harder to fill the senior engineer positions, and the prediction would no longer make sense. If you’re working with a GMAT Critical Reasoning argument that predicts the future, remember that anything could change—think about the changes that might make the prediction fail to come true.
Also, every time the author of an argument predicts the future, they’re basing that prediction on something. For instance, the Microcomp prediction is based on what’s happened in the past. Positions got filled quickly in the past, so they’re likely to be filled quickly in the future. But what if that reasoning doesn’t actually make sense?
- What if the level of unemployment was exceptionally high during the last five years, but it recently decreased?
- What if none of the listings over the last five years were for senior engineers?
In either of these scenarios, the prediction is now based on faulty reasoning. If it’s easy to fill non-engineering positions, you can’t necessarily assume it’ll be easy to fill engineering positions. If it’s easy to hire new employees in a tough job market, it might be harder in a better market.
Check out another predict-the-future argument. Try to spot the flawed reasoning behind the prediction:
A certain country has historically relied primarily on imported food to feed its populace, since the poor soil quality and low rainfall across almost all regions of the country have made it difficult or impossible to grow food crops. However, due to new irrigation and fertilization technologies, more food crops are being grown domestically each year, and a number of beef cattle farming operations have been successfully established in areas that were not otherwise being used to produce food. Therefore, the country should require less imported food over the coming decade.
The prediction: the country won’t need to import as much food in the future. The rationale: we’re growing more food, and we’re feeding the population in other ways, too. It makes sense—but, since it’s a GMAT Critical Reasoning argument, there’s definitely a problem.
So, where’s the flaw? The author makes a prediction about how much food the country will need, based on how much food the country is producing. But he’s left something out: how much food the country is using. If the population increases, or if the need for food increases for some other reason, the prediction no longer makes sense. So, his prediction is based on incomplete reasoning.
Whenever you see an argument that predicts the future, ask yourself two questions. First, what happens if things change in the future? Second, exactly what is that prediction based on—and does that reasoning actually make sense? Predicting the future is hard, so arguments that try to do so will inevitably have some serious issues—spot these issues, and use them to find the right answer to your GMAT Critical Reasoning problem. 📝
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Chelsey Cooley is a Manhattan Prep instructor based in Seattle, Washington. Chelsey always followed her heart when it came to her education. Luckily, her heart led her straight to the perfect background for GMAT and GRE teaching: she has undergraduate degrees in mathematics and history, a master’s degree in linguistics, a 790 on the GMAT, and a perfect 170/170 on the GRE. Check out Chelsey’s upcoming GMAT prep offerings here.