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# How to Answer "Complete the Argument" Questions

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Magoosh GMAT Instructor
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29 Aug 2012, 17:28
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Some help on one of the most common CR question types from Magoosh's Mike McGarry!

Practice question

Before reading this post, try this question:

1) Which of the following most logically completes the passage?

Recidivism is the return to criminal behavior, and consequently a return to prison, of a former prisoner who has already served in incarceration for a criminal conviction. In the United States, most burglars and common thieves have a recidivist rate above 70%. Studies have shown that, when available, those incarcerated burglars and thieves who pursue post-secondary education while in prison have substantially lower recidivism rates. Therefore, the government should fund programs that assist incarcerated burglars and thieves in pursuing higher education, especially since ___________________________.

A. right now, only a small percentage of all incarcerated burglars and thieves are pursuing any educational opportunities.

B. a wider education would allow those currently incarcerated to understand and appreciate the high incidence of recidivism

C. the cost of providing a complete post-secondary education would almost double the yearly costs associated with keeping that person incarcerated

D. higher educational level provides wider job opportunities, and according to studies, poverty is one of the chief causes of recidivism

E. convicts with certain mental illnesses tend to lapse into recidivism regardless of the opportunities and support they encounter upon their release

The question type

One question the GMAT CR seems to love is the complete-the-argument type. The prompt in such a question is something along the lines of, “Which of the following most logical completes the passage?” This is followed by an argument, the core of which is already relatively complete. This argument ends with a blank, and your job is to figure out what best would fill in that concluding blank.

By far the most frequent cases are those in which the blank is preceded by the word “since” or “because” — that’s what we have in question #1 above. In this case, you are asked to find corroborating evidence, some additional facts that would strengthen the argument. You often can’t predict such an answer. You need to understand the connection the argument is trying to establish, and you look for something that would strengthen that connection.

In a few questions of this type, the blank may be preceded by words such as “it may be expected that” (looking for a prediction) or “assuming that” (looking for an assumption). If you are asked to provide an assumption, you may be able to formulate some tentative guesses before proceeding to the answer.

Contextual critical thinking

As always on GMAT CR, this question demands critical thinking and careful attention to contextual details. Sometimes prompts bring up emotionally charged issues: for example, if some you know well has served time in prison, recidivism could be a deeply moving issue for you. As always, it’s important to put any strong emotions aside and tune into exactly what the argument does, and does not, say.

In the cases with “because” or “since” before the blank, in which you are asked to find additional strengthening evidence, be very clear in distinguishing those facts that could strengthen the argument vs. those fact that must strengthen the argument. Obvious, the correct answer must be of the latter kind, but this means that some incorrect answers could be of the former kind. Don’t be tempted by an answer because you could imagine, if X and Y and Z were also true, that this answer could be a strengthener.

Having read this, you may want to give the practice question another look before reading the analysis below.

Analysis of the practice question

The prompt gives us

a. a definition of recidivism

b. a brief explanation of why it’s a problem

c. evidence: post-secondary education lower recidivism rates

d. conclusion: government should spend  to educate prisoners — that will reduce recidivism

Now, we want an answer that will strengthen the conclusion, that could tip the balance in convincing someone that, yes, the government should spend money on educating incarcerated criminals. Let’s look at the answers.

A. right now, only a small percentage of all incarcerated burglars and thieves are pursuing any educational opportunities.

Hmmm. Does this mean that, by and large, these convicts are simply not interested in education? That would weaken the argument (why spend money educating folks who don’t want to be educated?) Or, would more of them be interested, but currently are not pursuing higher education because they can’t afford it? That would be a very strong strengthener for the argument (they want the education that will help them, but they need the money.)

Because we can interpret this ambiguous fact both as a weakener and a strengthener, it’s not a particularly strong answer to the question.

B. a wider education would allow those currently incarcerated to understand and appreciate the high incidence of recidivism

There’s a big difference between (a) understanding that something is a problem, and (b) knowing how to solve the problem. Many people know that smoking is a problem but continue to smoke. Some homeless people understand how vast and complicated a problem homelessness is, but that knowledge doesn’t help them escape the problem. In this vein, educating folks so that they could understand how extensive and serious a problem recidivism is would not, in and of itself, do much to solve the problem. Therefore, this is not a strong answer.

C. the cost of providing a complete post-secondary education would almost double the yearly costs associated with keeping that person incarcerated

Finding out purely that this would cost a great deal is certainly not an inducement to throw more money at it. If anything, this weakens the argument — not what we want. This is not correct.

D. higher educational level provides wider job opportunities, and according to studies, poverty is one of the chief causes of recidivism

Poverty is a cause of recidivism, and higher education leads to jobs — jobs reduce poverty, and that in turn reduces recidivism. This provides support and explanation for the evidence that higher educated reduces recidivism, making it all the more plausible that spending more money on educating convict would reduce recidivism. This strengthens the argument, which is exactly what we want, so this is a very strong answer.

E. convicts with certain mental illnesses tend to lapse into recidivism regardless of the opportunities and support they encounter upon their release

Educational opportunities are not helpful to some mental ill convicts, so spending more on education will do nothing for these folks — it’s not what they need. This is actually an argument against spending more money on educational opportunities —- some people will not be helped at all by such spending. This is a weakener: not what we want. This is not correct.

Of these answers, (C) & (E) are weakeners, so they are not correct. (B), by itself, is not strong enough and (A) is ambiguous, so those are not particularly attractive answers. By contrast, (D) is a clear, direct, unambiguous strengthener, so it is by far the best answer.
[Reveal] Spoiler: OA

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Magoosh GMAT Instructor
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29 Aug 2012, 17:44
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You deserve, albeit I see it on Magoosh Blog

Haha we're glad you've been checking out the blog! We thought we'd post it on here for some other GMAT Club students to see as well !
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29 Aug 2012, 17:41
+1

You deserve, albeit I see it on Magoosh Blog
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31 Aug 2012, 00:52
Option "D" looked like an assumption , therefore I found "B" as more lucrative as compared to "D" !
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27 Dec 2013, 05:59
Hello from the GMAT Club VerbalBot!

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15 Sep 2014, 01:24
1) Which of the following most logically completes the passage?

Recidivism is the return to criminal behavior, and consequently a return to prison, of a former prisoner who has already served in incarceration for a criminal conviction. In the United States, most burglars and common thieves have a recidivist rate above 70%. Studies have shown that, when available, those incarcerated burglars and thieves who pursue post-secondary education while in prison have substantially lower recidivism rates. Therefore, the government should fund programs that assist incarcerated burglars and thieves in pursuing higher education, especially since ___________________________.
A. right now, only a small percentage of all incarcerated burglars and thieves are pursuing any educational opportunities.
B. a wider education would allow those currently incarcerated to understand and appreciate the high incidence of recidivism
C. the cost of providing a complete post-secondary education would almost double the yearly costs associated with keeping that person incarcerated
D. higher educational level provides wider job opportunities, and according to studies, poverty is one of the chief causes of recidivism
E. convicts with certain mental illnesses tend to lapse into recidivism regardless of the opportunities and support they encounter upon their release.

Argument trying to conclude by what is the use by providing funding to prisoners?? So there is should an advantage.
ABCE..Irrelevant, Out of scope.as we are not bothered about the cost , mental illness , and B is completes fails the argument.
So D..Might after educating prisons once they get release they get a job.
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04 Feb 2015, 05:26
Hey,

Great post. But I do have a couple of comments/questions.

I was between A and D. There were 2 conflicting points that created sort of a confusion as to which of the 2 I should choose.

1) I preferred D. It looked good especially after using the negation test, to turn it into "higher educational level does not provide wider job opportunities". However, it does state that "poverty is one of the chief causes of recidivism". So, then I though, ok if poverty is only one of the causes of recidivism, then perhaps higher education, which is supposed to provide more job opportunities, which in turn reduce poverty, is not necessary to work in dealing with recidivism.
2) Answer choice A failed my negation test because I thougt than even if none of the prisoners have been pursuing higher education the fact would remainn that higher education can lead to lower recidivism rates. Also, I don't agree that the fact that low numbers of prisoners take such lessons means that they are not interested. Perhaps it is the prisons that make it hard on them or they don't know that such a possibility exists.

In other words, A and D sort of seemed equally good or bad to me..
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16 Feb 2017, 10:55
Hello from the GMAT Club VerbalBot!

Thanks to another GMAT Club member, I have just discovered this valuable topic, yet it had no discussion for over a year. I am now bumping it up - doing my job. I think you may find it valuable (esp those replies with Kudos).

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19 May 2017, 22:19
well, I also want to say that to this question, ones should also find the reasoning that matches the conclusion from the question. For this reason, ones can see that many options contain out-of-scope ideas.
Only D is the answer we are looking for.
Re: How to Answer "Complete the Argument" Questions   [#permalink] 19 May 2017, 22:19
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