With critical reasoning, the most important thing is to read the question, and understand what your job is.
Some questions are simple, “what is the assumption,” whereas others are extremely convoluted. They say something like, “which of the following does not support the finding that the conclusion is wrong.” All the double negatives can make it very tough to figure out what’s what.
Strip it down from the abstract to a very concrete statement, something like, “why is X a bad idea?” And then pose this question to each answer choice. Hello, A, are you telling me why X is a bad idea? You need to set up specific criteria for the answer choice. If it doesn’t say why X is a bad idea, cross it off and move on.
If you don’t specify what you want out of the answer choice, it’s like walking into the grocery store without a shopping list. You will be lured to pick things that you don’t need and forget about why you went there in the first place.
I want to give you a quick formula to answer almost any essay question. It’s a very common approach to answering interview questions, you might have heard of it, it’s called STAR – Situation – Task – Action – Result. Today I’m going to apply this to a goals question, which is definitely going to be somewhere on your application. First, situation. What are you doing now, and what gives rise to your interest in business school? Do you want to manage a staff? Switch careers? Move up the ladder? Enhance your credibility? Or maybe just obtain the skills you need to start a business. Task. What do you need to get done? Here are some examples. • If you want to manage a staff, maybe you need more leadership skills, and a deeper understanding of change management, motivation, negotiation. • If you want to switch careers, you might need general business skills to enhance the value you will bring to a new employer who might be taking a chance on you. • Enhance your credibility. I see this more and more when it comes to executive MBA candidates. Look like a good investment from the standpoint of a VC firm or an Angel fun? Perceived and being a well-run company. • Obtaining business skills. Some self-taught businesspeople feel they have maximized the skills they have and want to shorten the learning curve before taking their business to the next level, entering new markets, etc. Action. How is business school the answer for you? Or how is THIS business school the answer? Meaning, how will this specific school be the ideal forum for you to achieve your goals (carry out your tasks.) Describe everything you will do in business school to obtain these skills. This would include classes, but so much more. You want to make reference to the specific opportunities of the program where you are applying. I recommend Clear Admit guides, attending admissions events online and in-person, and spending time with alumni to pull together a convincing argument that this school has what you need. Result. How will an MBA catapult you on to a new career trajectory? How will you be adding more value at your current company, or where you want to work after graduating? Is there some unmet need that you will fulfill? If there is some socially beneficial aspect to the work you plan to do, mention that. So there it is, situation, task, action result. This is a great formula for almost every essay question, because it gives the reader all the information to visualize your story unfold. And when the adcom can visualize the story unfold, it will significantly enhance the impact, and the success, of your application.
Correct Inference Answers
Boring. So vague, it can’t be wrong.
You know, the answer that is so watered down and wishy-washy, it’s basically saying nothing at all? THAT’S YOUR ANSWER!!!
The GMAC wants to stay out of legal trouble. For this reason, any answer that is put forth as “true” must be totally indisputable. This means, incidentally, that it needs to be indisputably VAGUE as well. Vague statements are generally more likely to be “true” than specific statements.
This strategy is especially helpful when you are looking at two similar answer choices. One of them is clear, detailed and specific, while the other, stating the obvious, dialed-back, to which you might respond, “duh!”
Example. If I said you had black hair, there’s a good chance it’s true. But if I said you had black hair, blue eyes and freckles, the chances of that statement being true plummet dramatically. Additional details make the statement less likely to be true. They impose more conditions – and GMAT answers work very similarly. If you are drawn to smart-sounding, specific answers, listen up, you.
The analogy I like to use is the Pyramid of Truth. Draw a pyramid on your paper. On the top of the pyramid, write words such as, “only,” “never,” “always,” “most, “cannot,” …you get the idea. NARROW. Restrictive. Avoid choosing answers that contain these words. Why? Only, never and always are highly disputable. They are unlikely to be true. For example, If I said I always get GMAT answers correct, that’s unlikely (even for me.)
On the bottom of the pyramid, write down words such as, “may, could, might, some, one.” BROAD. May or may not. Could or could not. Might or might not. Lean towards answers that contain these words. They claim very little, in fact, they claim nothing at all really, and must be true. The GMAC is off the hook. If I said I may get some particular GMAT question correct, that is indisputable. I may or may not. Either way, I’m telling the truth.
Again, choose answers that are so vague, and claim so little, they can’t be wrong. Bottom of the pyramid. When you are faced with two different answers and one says, “most,” and the other says, “some,” choose the the latter. Just this one tip will clear up major problems with inference questions in Critical Reasoning and Reading Comprehension.
One exception, by the way – if the questions states, “which of the following MUST be false.” In such cases, extreme-sounding answers are a good contender.
If it’s one thing that drives me nuts, it’s someone who says they are “going to business school to figure out what they want to do.” THAT IS DUMB. And incidentally, also very EXPENSIVE, because it’s a waste of your precious TIME. Get clear on your career goal first, so you can pick a program that will help you achieve it. Then leverage your time in business school to achieve said goal. Believe me, when applicants try to conceal their lack of direction, and BS their way through, it comes through loud and clear in their essays. It’s impossible to hide. And the essays are painful to read. Business schools want to bring in students who will be successful, make them look good, have a positive impact on endowments. It’s difficult for students achieve greatness if they have no direction. This is why business schools ask you – hey, applicant, how do you plan to spend your time at our school ? I heartily recommend that you do the introspection work….with a coach if necessary… to construct your career plans before attempting to draft your applications. Do the inner work first. The application essays should be a manifestation of this process, not be the beginning of it. I often hear, “I just want to get into a school and then I’ll figure out the rest when I’m there.” OK. Let’s say you get into a school. Without clear intentions, you will be caught in a tidal wave of courses, clubs, classes and recruiters. Not to mention speakers, internships, externships…you get the picture. Instead of tapping into your heart’s desire, it’s more likely that you’ll be thrown about the sea, shipwrecked, 20 months having slipped through your hands and all you have to show for it is a huge bill. I will end with these words of advice from one McCombs MBA student to an applicant:
“I didn’t realize how busy I would be! I knew that business school was going to be challenging but the first few months really tested my time management skills. Looking back I was amazed at how much we all accomplished in the fall term. Advice I would have for that is to think about what you want to get out of business school before you get here. Do you want to focus on recruiting, social, academics? And are you okay with priorities shifting as you progress in the year?”