How to Get CR Weaken Right Every Time
Each Critical Reasoning question type requires a certain type of reasoning to answer; if we master each one, then it’s going to be a lot tougher for them to trick us. There are also patterns to the argument structures, wrong answers, everything – this is a standardized test, after all.
So let’s take a look one particular (and particularly challenging) GMATPrep Critical Reasoning question and use it as a template for what to do with all CRs of the same type.
First, set your timer for 2 minutes and try the problem!
“Twelve years ago and again five years ago, there were extended periods when the Darfir Republic’s currency, the pundra, was weak: its value was unusually low relative to the world’s most stable currencies. Both times a weak pundra made Darfir’s manufactured products a bargain on world markets, and Darfir’s exports were up substantially. Now some politicians are saying that, in order to cause another similarly sized increase in exports, the government should allow the pundra to become weak again.
Which of the following, if true, provides the government with the strongest grounds to doubt that the politicians’ recommendation, if followed, will achieve its aim?"
A) Several of the politicians now recommending that the pundra be allowed to become weak made that same recommendation before each of the last two periods of currency weakness.
B) After several decades of operating well below peak capacity, Darfir’s manufacturing sector is now operating at near-peak levels.
C) The economy of a country experiencing a rise in exports will become healthier only if the country’s currency is strong or the rise in exports is significant.
D) Those countries whose manufactured products compete with Darfir’s on the world market all currently have stable currencies.
E) A sharp improvement in the efficiency of Darfir’s manufacturing plants would make Darfir’s products a bargain on world markets even without any weakening of the pundra relative to other currencies.”
Okay, now that you’ve got an answer, let’s use our 4-step CR process.
Step 1: Identify the Question
First, we read the question stem:
“Which of the following, if true, provides the government with the strongest grounds to doubt that the politicians’ recommendation, if followed, will achieve its aim?”
The words “if true” and “strongest grounds to doubt that the recommendation will (work)” indicate that this is a Weaken the Conclusion question.
The question stem also tells us more. Apparently, some politicians make a recommendation in the argument, so we need to keep an eye out for that. Further, we’re asked specifically to weaken whatever this recommendation is – essentially, we can think of the recommendation as the conclusion.
Step 2: Deconstruct the Argument
The argument begins by telling us some facts: 12 years ago and 5 years ago, the pundra was weak and had a very low value relative to other countries’ currencies. This caused D’s products to be a big bargain for other countries, so exports rose a lot.
In the last sentence, the politicians say that if the government lets the pundra get weak again, then exports will be boosted to a similar level.
Your notes might look something like this (though there are lots of ways to write notes!):
12ya and 5ya, pun weak; v. val prods brgn so exps
Ps: let pun get weak exp like b4
The last part is the conclusion – it tells us what the politicians recommend and what they predict will happen as a result. We need to weaken that conclusion. The first thing we should think is: well, just because something happened a certain way before doesn’t mean it’ll happen that way again. The politicians are assuming everything will be exactly the same as before.
What would need to happen in order for the plan to work the way the politicians say? First, the government has to be able to let the pundra get weak on purpose – and the pundra would have to get weak enough to trigger an “unusually low” value relative to other currencies. If the situation were to trigger much larger demand for the products, then the companies would also have to be able to make more of the products in order to satisfy that increased demand.
There may also be some other thing we haven’t thought of yet that could have been one way 12 years and 5 years ago but different today. Whatever the specifics, though, the correct answer should highlight some difference between the two previous periods and today and that difference should weaken the plan.
Step 3: State the Goal
On Weaken questions, the correct answer only has to make it somewhat less likely that the conclusion is valid. The correct answer does not have to completely invalidate the conclusion.
The most common trap answers will do the opposite of what we want: strengthening rather than weakening.
Step 4: Work from Wrong to Right
(A) "Several of the politicians now recommending that the pundra be allowed to become weak made that same recommendation before each of the last two periods of currency weakness.”
Wow. Maybe their ability to make these predictions helped to get them elected! If anything, I’d have to say this somewhat strengthens the politicians’ recommendation – if they were right the last two times, then maybe they’re right this time too. Eliminate A.
(B) "After several decades of operating well below peak capacity, Darfir’s manufacturing sector is now operating at near-peak levels.”
So that means that they’re already making almost as much as they can today. In addition, 12 years and 5 years ago, they were not making anywhere near as much as they could. That’s a change from the last two times when exports went up a lot. Does that change actually matter? If they can only make a little more product, will they be able to fill the demand if it goes up a lot? This one’s looking like it could weaken the situation. Leave B in.
(C) "The economy of a country experiencing a rise in exports will become healthier only if the country’s currency is strong or the rise in exports is significant.
The economy… will become healthier…” That certainly sounds like a good goal. Is that what the argument says, though? No, the plan is more specific: to increase exports. This choice does mention something about a rise in exports, though, and the wording’s a little confusing, so I’m not going to think about it right now. I’m going to leave it in for now and go look at D and E.
(D) "Those countries whose manufactured products compete with Darfir’s on the world market all currently have stable currencies.”
Hmm. Is the issue whether other countries have stable currencies? Do we know about those other countries during the previous 2 periods (12 years ago and 5 years ago)? No – not from the argument and not from this choice. This doesn’t do anything to the conclusion at all – neither weakens nor strengthens. Eliminate D.
(E) "A sharp improvement in the efficiency of Darfir’s manufacturing plants would make Darfir’s products a bargain on world markets even without any weakening of the pundra relative to other currencies.”
This might be true; perhaps this is a better plan overall... but they didn't ask me to find a better plan. They asked me to weaken the given conclusion. Does it address the stated conclusion, which is to increase exports specifically by weakening the currency? No. Eliminate E.
Okay, I’ve narrowed it down to B and C. If you thought B was a weaken and you weren’t sure about C, then you can just pick B – if it does weaken, then it fulfills the requirements of the question. If you want to examine C further, though, try diagramming it.
The answer choice is in the form: X will occur ONLY IF Y is true OR Z is true. Economy will become healthier only if either currency is strong or there’s a large rise in exports.
Let’s see. In normal language that means (1) if the currency is strong, then the economy will be healthy OR (2) if there’s a big rise in exports, then the economy will be healthy.
The first half certainly doesn’t apply here; we want to make the currency weak. The second says that IF exports go up a lot, THEN the economy will be healthy. Does this have any bearing on whether making the currency weak will cause the exports to rise? No; this situation would occur only after the exports have already risen. Eliminate C.
The correct answer is B.
Key Takeaways for Solving Weaken CR Problems:
(1) Know how to recognize this type. Weaken questions will typically ask us to find something that “weakens,” “undermines,” or “casts doubt” on something. The question type will also include “if true” language (or a synonym).
(2) Know what to do with Weaken questions! We should take note of any assumptions we can brainstorm while deconstructing the argument. Also, we’re looking for an answer that makes the conclusion at least a little less valid or a little less likely to be true – but the answer does not have to completely destroy the conclusion.
(3) Watch out for traps! The most common wrong answer trap on a Weaken question is an answer that strengthens instead. Another common trap is confusing argument wording that causes us to pick out the wrong conclusion or to reverse the conclusion. For instance, in this problem, the conclusion is not that the plan will not work. The conclusion is the politicians’ recommendation (and they clearly think their plan will work).
* GMATPrep* question courtesy of the Graduate Management Admissions Council. Usage of this question does not imply endorsement by GMAC.
Mark Sullivan | Manhattan GMAT Instructor | Seattle, WA
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