Counter-Intuition on the GMAT, Part 1: Draw a Conclusion

Published: Feb 25, 2011

 Education       Grad School       

Today, we introduce part one of a three-part series on counter-intuition on the GMAT. In this article, we will examine how an unreliable type of test-taker's intuition can disrupt your ability to answer a Draw a Conclusion Critical Reasoning question.


Intuition is a skill that any seasoned businessperson would no doubt rank in his/her top-five list of "success makers." Why, then, do we speak of counter-intuition on the GMAT? First, to clarify, let's recognize that there are different kinds of intuition: There is the intuition that tells the experienced do-er, This situation is similar to one that I've seen in the past, and therefore this is what is going to happen; there is another type of intuition, like a mother's inexplicable knowledge of what is right for her child, which is more akin to a sixth sense. The type of intuition we will be discussing for the next three weeks is the kind that delivers the test taker into the hands of the GMAT test writers. We refer to it as test-taker's intuition. Test-taker's intuition is not the intuition of having done 1000 questions of a certain type and recognizing past patterns (a very favorable thing). It is, rather, the intuition that guides you to an answer choice because it feels or sounds right or because it looks like a good answer. This form of intuition, unfortunately, can get you into a lot of trouble on the GMAT.

We will look at how this false test-taker's intuition manifests itself in one type of Critical Reasoning question that appears on the GMAT - Draw a Conclusion. Here is an example of a GMAT-like Draw a Conclusion Critical Reasoning question:

Company A, the second largest supplier of triple blade razors, decreased its sales of triple blade razors from 150,000 units in 1983 to 100,000 units in 1986. From 1980 to 1986, Company A steadily decreased the percentage of its marketing budget that it dedicated to promoting those razors from 50% to 30%. During this same six year period, Company B, the leading manufacturer of triple blade razors, consistently spent 60% of its marketing budget on promoting its triple blade razor, while Company C, an up and coming competitor in the triple blade razor market, increased the percentage of its marketing budget allocated to promoting its razors to 25%.

Which of the following conclusions is best supported by the information above?

(A) There is a direct relationship between the amount of money that a company spends on marketing its triple blade razors and that company's sales of its razors.
(B) Company B is the leading manufacturer of triple blade razors because it spends the largest amount of money on the promotion of its razors.
(C) Company C will soon surpass Company A as the second largest supplier of triple blade razors.
(D) Companies A and B supply more than 2/3 of the triple blade razors.
(E) Between 1980 and 1986, Company A consistently dedicated a larger percentage of its marketing budget to the promotion of its triple blade razors than Company C.

What characterizes this type of Critical Reasoning argument on the GMAT is the fact that the argument contains no conclusion. It is merely a list of premises, stated pieces of information that can be used to form some kind of conclusion. The task of the test-taker is to find that conclusion.

Notice that when we read the premises in the above argument, the information naturally leads us to start thinking about possible conclusions. From the first two sentences, we begin to see a possible correlation between a reduction in sales of triple blade razors and a reduction in the amount of money spent on marketing the razors. The third sentence further bolsters this idea by stating that the leading manufacturer of razors used a higher percentage of its marketing budget to promote its razdrawors than Company A did, finally adding that the smallest competitor, Company C, used the smallest percentage. The thrust of the passage seems to be pushing us to draw some kind of conclusion about the amount of money spent on marketing the razors and sales.

When we look at the answer choices, indeed answer choice A seems to capture the very essence of this correlation. However, it is the wrong answer! When crafting a correct answer choice to a Draw a Conclusion question, the GMAT authors have the onus of coming up with a conclusion that is indisputable - they don't want to have angry test-takers coming back and arguing with them! It is worth noting that this differs from the conclusions seen in other types of Critical reasoning arguments; these conclusions are riddled with assumptions and often quite disputable. When the tides are turned and the test-taker is responsible for coming up with the conclusion, the GMAT must make the correct answer a statement that is readily apparent, i.e. obvious from the given premises. This often times equates to a conclusion which is merely a restatement of one or two of the premises in the argument! This is our first example of counter-intuition on the GMAT because an educated test-taker's intuition would lead her to think about a conclusion that actually attempts to draw a correlation and conclude something, not one that merely restates the obvious!

Let's look at some of the other reasons why answer choices A through D are wrong. Answer choice A, while capturing the essence of the implied correlation as described above, makes a huge leap in claiming that a direct relationship exists. Furthermore, answer choice A references "the amount of money that a company spends." The passage doesn't address specifically the amount of money that any of the companies spent; it speaks about the percentage of marketing budget that is used to promote a product. Answer choice B makes this same mistake.

Answer choice C belongs to a common type of answer choice on the GMAT, one in which a trend or pattern is hypothetically extrapolated into the future, into an unknown set of circumstances. The future is hard to predict in the real world, but on the GMAT it's impossible. Answer choice D makes a huge assumption that is not verified anywhere in the passage, namely that the two largest manufacturers of triple blade razors hold more than 2/3 of the market share.

Answer choice E is the correct answer here because it makes no attempt at lofty conclusions. It simply restates a couple of facts that were stated quite plainly in the passage. If Company C increased the percentage of its marketing budget that it dedicated to its razors to 25% during the six year period from 1980 to 1986, then the percentage of its marketing budget that it allocated to its razors was consistently less than that of Company A during that period.

Intuitively, most people would pick A on this question. Go against your gut and pick the obvious on a Drawing the Conclusion question!

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