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GMAT Tip: 3 Steps to Make Strengthen / Weaken Questions More Manageable

For many folks, critical reasoning is an opportunity to channel that inner lawyer, to anticipate an argument and provide or select data that might strengthen or weaken a specific perspective. Unlike most attorneys though, as a test taker, you don’t have the luxury of billable hours and extra time. So let’s take a look at some tips to make the strengthen / weaken question a bit more manageable:

For example:

Citizen: Each year since 1970, a new record has been set for the number of murders committed in this city. This fact points to the decreasing ability of our law enforcement system to prevent violent crime.

City Official: You overlook the fact that the city’s population has risen steadily since 1970. In fact, the number of murder victims per 100 people has actually fallen slightly in the city since 1970.

Which one of the following, if true, would most strongly counter the city official’s response?

(A) The incidence of fraud has greatly increased in the city since 1970.

(B) The rate of murders in the city since 1970 decreased according to the age group of the victim, decreasing more for younger victims.

(C) Murders and other violent crimes are more likely to be reported now than they were in 1970.

(D) The number of law enforcement officials in the city has increased at a rate judged by city law enforcement experts to be sufficient to serve the city’s increased population.

(E) If the healthcare received by assault victims last year had been of the same quality as it was in 1970, the murder rate in the city last year would have turned out to be several times what it actually was.

Before we do anything else, it’s important to recognize what the question is asking you to do:

Which . .. would most strongly counter the city official’s response?

First, let’s understand the two perspectives. The citizen is arguing that violent crime is up. But in looking at the question, we need to identify the argument or conclusion from the city official’s perspective. Violent crimes are down.

Pay attention to language.

It’s tempting to just look for answer choices that refer to crime. Choices A, B and C all appear to be potential answers. (A) refers to fraud, though it’s irrelevant because it doesn’t refer to violent crimes. (B) refers to murders, though upon reading the entire statement, you discover it actually is focusing on age groups (which again isn’t relevant). (C) leads you to think differently since it suggests that crimes happened, but weren’t reported which might strengthen the citizen’s argument. However, this response doesn’t address law enforcement or its ability to prevent crime; it focuses solely on public reporting. (E) mentions healthcare which on the surface appears to be irrelevant as it doesn’t seem directly related to violent crime.

It’s important to recognize that two very similar words – in this case “murder” and “violent crime” are being used. However, there’s a pretty significant gap in logic. Since the conclusion focuses on preventing violent crime, and murder rate is only one type of violent crime, that creates a gap in logic. E shows that leveraging that gap will ultimately help you to succeed. Even though healthcare doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the argument, if you read the entire statement and understand that that data point could challenge the city official’s argument, the answer’s clear.

Review!

Before wrapping it up and selecting your final answer, don’t forget to re-read the question and make sure that you’re answering the right question. Strengthen/weaken questions can often have you playing so many scenarios in your head that it’s easy to forget what you’re actually trying to prove (or disprove!)

The above GMAT Tip comes from Veritas Prep. Since its founding in 2002, Veritas Prep has helped more than 100,000 students prepare for the GMAT and offers the most highly rated GMAT Prep course in the industry.

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