Sample GMAT Question: Hard Assumption Question
What makes a GMAT Critical Reasoning question hard to handle? The most basic source of problems may be the length of the argument. There are additional challenges of complicated vocabulary, multiple points of view that obscure the argument's conclusion, absence of real-life plausibility, and confusing answer choices. In this entry, we will look at a question that combines most of these features and therefore seems especially difficult for many test takers.
Take a moment to consider the following problem:
Those dissatisfied with the recent decision of the School Boards Association to reallocate state funding claim that the new plan has failed to meet its goal of directing growth funds to schools with the most disadvantaged students. Their criticism is primarily based on the fact that most schools that now receive additional funding are located in wealthy suburban areas. What the critics disregard, though, is the fact that all the schools whose aid was increased had been identified by the assessment committee as having high percentage of students in need. So regardless of the schools' locations, the Association has not failed to distribute funds fairly.
Which of the following is an assumption on which the argument depends?
A. Rather than being determined by location, the amount of funding a school needs depends on whether it is public or private.
B. The number of schools that have received an increase in funding represents a significant proportion of all the schools in the district.
C. The committee's assessment of schools' financial needs has been deemed biased by the local media.
D. The assessment committee did not identify many schools with a high percentage of disadvantaged students in areas other than wealthy suburban ones.
E. Schools in downtown areas usually have a larger proportion of disadvantaged students than do those in less impoverished suburban areas.
As with any other Assumption question, your first step should be to separate the facts from the conclusion and see whether there is a gap or a weak spot in the argument that needs to be covered. The argument above describes the decision of the School Boards Association to give more money to certain schools. It also presents two opposite opinions on this decision: some people think it is not fair, whereas the author supports the Association's plan. It is important to remember that, no matter how reasonable the opponents of the new funding plan might sound, we are not allowed to side with them since their opinion is not the main conclusion of the argument. It means our job is to disregard the critics, assume that the author is right in supporting the Association's decision, and determine under what conditions the new funding plan is actually fair. Look at the facts:
Premise 1: School Boards Association decided to give some schools more money.
Premise 2: Most schools that now get more money are in suburban areas.
Premise 3: The assessment committee believes all these schools are in need of money.
Conclusion: It is fair to give these particular schools more money.
To say that the new funding plan is fair means that the schools most in need of money are getting the extra financial support. However, under the given premises, it is possible that the Association looked at all the schools in the district, identified some schools in need of additional funding in the suburbs and some in other areas, and then increased funding only for those located in the suburbs. For the conclusion to remain valid, you need to eliminate this possibility. If there were not many other schools identified by the committee as needing more money, then the new funding plan is fair. Let's look for the answer that can prove this:
Choice A actually contains two claims: (1) school's location does NOT matter and (2) it matters whether a school is public or private. To see whether these claims are necessary for the conclusion to be valid, negate both statements: (1) school's location DOES matter and (2) it does NOT matter whether a school is public or private. Given this, can you still claim that it is fair to give more money to suburban schools because they have been identified as needy by a special committee? Yes, you can. Thus, Choice A's assumptions are both irrelevant and it cannot be the correct answer.
If you deny the statement offered in Choice B, you get The number of schools that have received an increase in funding does NOT represent a significant proportion of all the schools in the district. Simply put, only a few schools in the district now receive more funding. It is, however, still possible that the schools that did receive an increase in funding were the ones that needed more financial support; the remaining schools could have been well off already. So regardless of how many schools received a funding increase, the decision could still be fair and the conclusion valid. Therefore, the information in Choice B is irrelevant.
Choice C might not need negation to rule it out if you just remember which point of view you are asked to support: the allocation of money based on the committee's assessment was fair. Claiming that the media think this assessment might have been biased certainly presents an attempt to weaken the conclusion, and the authors of the test might throw in an answer of this kind hoping that you will have failed to identify correctly the conclusion of the argument. Just keep in mind that the media are irrelevant to the conclusion.
Negating Choice D proves that it is the right answer: The assessment committee DID identify many schools with a high percentage of disadvantaged students in areas other than the wealthy suburban ones. If this were found to be true, it would become apparent that many schools in need may have been ignored, and the new allocation of funds could no longer be considered fair.
Similar to Choice C, Choice E actually aims at weakening the conclusion: if there are usually more students in need in downtown areas, than giving more money to suburban schools could have been unfair.
Choice D is correct.
When faced with a challenging Assumption question, follow this four-step process. (1) Start by separating the premises from the conclusion, putting the argument's elements in the simplest form. (2) Next, try to see whether the argument has any obvious holes that demand explanation. (3) Then move on to the answer choices and eliminate those that obviously weaken or are unrelated to the conclusion. (4) Finally, apply the denial test to the remaining contenders, and you will be left with the relevant assumption.
- Critical Reasoning Assumptions: The Denial Test
- Sample Critical Reasoning Questions
- How to Approach GMAT Critical Reasoning Questions