Reading Skills
Critical Reasoning
Reading Comprehension
Sentence Correction
SC – Structure and Meaning
23 Topics | 3 Drills
Quantitative Reasoning
Office Hours

Analogies in Critical Reasoning

How to handle analogies in Critical Reasoning answer choices

It’s perhaps one of the most hotly debated issues related to GMAT prep over the years. Through this article, I try to put at least some of those confusions to rest.

Answer choices in various CR questions that deal with analogies have perhaps been one of the most hotly debated issues related to GMAT prep over the years. I hear two common complaints test takers have related to analogies in CR answer choices:

1. Students do not understand why the correct answer is correct. (What’s the guarantee?)

“Even if it worked for city Y, what is the guarantee that it will work for city X as well?”

2. Students feel there is inconsistency across questions.

“In this question, the answer choice that had an analogy was correct. I have seen multiple questions in the past in which such answers were wrong. How do we decide?”

Some reactions to CR answer choices with analogies on GMAT Club

Whenever students claim that they have had similar answers incorrect in the past, I ask them to share the questions? Unfortunately, and for no fault of theirs, the answer is always “I don’t exactly remember.” And then further discussion remains simply hypothetical, and thus essentially futile.

So, I decided to do something about it. I sifted through scores of CR questions to find some that had analogies in their answer choices. I found questions in which analogical answers were correct, and ones in which such answers were wrong.

My objective was simple:

  1. Figure out if there is truly some inconsistency in CR questions across the years?
  2. If not, why do so many students independently get a feeling of inconsistency?

Webinar on analogies in CR answer choices with Anish Passi

This article is an outcome of that research. I will answer both the aspects here – guarantee and inconsistency. To get the most out of this article, try to answer the included questions on your own before you look at my explanations. 

Let’s dive in.

What are analogies?

According to Merriam-Webster, an analogy is a comparison of two things based on their being alike in some way. An example from the movie Shrek comes to mind:

“Ogres are like onions. Onions have layers. Ogres have layers.”

In the context of GMAT, you will probably not find an analogy dealing with mythical creatures and day-to-day vegetables. What will be more common will be answer choices that talk about similar cities, countries, events, etc.

Why don’t you try the following two questions. These questions will give you an idea about what kind of answer choices I have been referring to.

Now, please note: I have included only one answer choice for each question. So, you will not know whether the answer choice does the most of what is asked. Your mission, should you choose to accept, is to figure out whether the answer choice is correct or not – in isolation. So, for example, not whether it supports the most, but whether it supports at all.

All set? Here goes …

The heavy traffic in Masana is a growing drain on the city’s economy—the clogging of the streets of the central business district alone cost the economy more than $1.2 billion over the past year. In order to address this problem, officials plan to introduce congestion pricing, by which drivers would pay to enter the city’s most heavily trafficked areas during the busiest times of the day.

Which of the following, if true, would [most] strongly indicate that the plan will be a success?

(C) In other urban areas, congestion pricing has strongly encouraged carpooling (sharing of rides by private commuters).

Done?

Great!

Here’s the second one:

A moderately large city is redesigning its central downtown area and is considering a plan that would reduce the number of lanes for automobiles and trucks and increase those for bicycles and pedestrians. The intent is to attract more workers and shoppers to downtown businesses by making downtown easier to reach and more pleasant to move around in.

Which of the following would, if true, [most] strongly support the prediction that the plan would achieve its goal?

(C) In other moderately sized cities where measures were taken to make downtowns more accessible for walkers and cyclists, downtown businesses began to thrive.

Alright then. Now that you have answered the two questions, did you mark at least one of the answer choices wrong? If so, what were your reasons?

Anything along the lines of the following?

  • Just ‘cause it worked out for the other city/ areas, what’s the guarantee things will work out the city/ area in question too
  • The other city/ areas may not be similar
  • Such answers are usually wrong

It so happens that both these answers are correct. If you marked either incorrect, no worries. I’ll address the above reasons one by one.

I. What’s the guarantee?

The concept of ‘impact’

In a webinar I conducted on this topic, 61% of the participants chose this reason for rejecting at least one answer.

And I agree with them. There is indeed no guarantee. Just because something has worked for other areas or cities, we can’t be sure that it will work for Masana or the moderately large city.

I have a follow-up question, though: Why do we care for a guarantee?

Let’s look at the question stems of the two questions again:

  • Which of the following, if true, would most strongly indicate that the plan will be a success?
  • Which of the following would, if true, most strongly support the prediction that the plan would achieve its goal?

The questions are not:

  • Which of the following, if true, would prove that the plan will be a success?
  • Which of the following would, if true, confirm the prediction that the plan would achieve its goal?

We are looking for answers that would strongly indicate and strongly support respectively. That is it. We are not looking for answers that would confirm or prove anything for us. Just indicate and support.

To understand this better, let’s take a step back for a bit.

 

 

Let’s say someone moves into the house next to yours. She drives a very expensive car. Does the car indicate anything about her financial situation? I am not asking whether we can ascertain her financial well-being based on the car she drives, just whether the expensive car gives any indication of her financial situation.

Is it possible that she inherited the car from her parents? Is it possible that she used to have money, but has gone bankrupt now? Is it possible that she stole the car?

No doubt. A thousand different things are possible. However, doesn’t the car even indicate that she is probably rich? I think it does.

It is that kind of indication that we care about when it comes to strengthen and weaken questions.

Let’s take an example closer home.

Tell me, over the course of your GMAT prep, did you consider buying any books, joining any course or enrolling with a tutor?

If so, did you look at testimonials and reviews for them? Did you ask your friends for suggestions?

You did, you say? Why?

How does a testimonial help you? Just because someone else benefited from a course, what’s the guarantee you will too? I think you’d agree: we read reviews not to get certainty but to get more confidence. Positive reviews increase our confidence, negative ones decrease it. 

Either way, just ‘cause an individual or individuals had a certain experience, there is no certainty that you’d have the same experience. But, if people talk highly about a course, that does indicate that the course will work for you. Put another way, positive reviews support your decision to join a course, don’t they?

‘Support’, ‘strengthen’, ‘weaken’ – all deal with indications, not confirmations.

Now, let’s look at the first question. Here it is again:

The heavy traffic in Masana is a growing drain on the city’s economy—the clogging of the streets of the central business district alone cost the economy more than $1.2 billion over the past year. In order to address this problem, officials plan to introduce congestion pricing, by which drivers would pay to enter the city’s most heavily trafficked areas during the busiest times of the day.

Which of the following, if true, would (most) strongly indicate that the plan will be a success?

(C) In other urban areas, congestion pricing has strongly encouraged carpooling (sharing of rides by private commuters).

The last statement of the passage starts with: “In order to address this problem”.

What problem? The negative impact the heavy traffic has on the city’s economy. 

What do the officials plan to do to address this problem? They plan to introduce congestion pricing.

The question asks us to check whether the answer choice ‘strongly indicates’ that congestion pricing (the plan) would solve the traffic problem (will be a success).

Note the word again: indicate. Not prove. Simply, indicate.

The answer choice tells us that in other urban areas, such pricing has encouraged carpooling (something that would help with reducing traffic congestion).

So, if in other urban areas, congestion pricing has strongly encouraged carpooling, I believe more than before I had this info that in Masana also congestion pricing would encourage carpooling, and thereby would solve the traffic problem.

Once again, if you’re wondering:

  1. Just ‘cause other urban areas saw congestion pricing encourage carpooling, what’s the guarantee the pricing will encourage carpooling in Masana?
  2. Or, even if carpooling does happen in Masana, what’s the guarantee that the heavy traffic problem will be solved in Masana?

My answer would be the same: why do we care for a guarantee?

Ask yourself: Once I learn that in other urban areas, congestion pricing has led to something that could reduce traffic, do I believe as much as / more than / less than before that the plan will be a success? I believe more after I get the information in this answer choice than I did before I had that info. Answer choice C is correct.

Here’s the second question again:

A moderately large city is redesigning its central downtown area and is considering a plan that would reduce the number of lanes for automobiles and trucks and increase those for bicycles and pedestrians. The intent is to attract more workers and shoppers to downtown businesses by making downtown easier to reach and more pleasant to move around in.

Which of the following would, if true, [most] strongly support the prediction that the plan would achieve its goal?

(C) In other moderately sized cities where measures were taken to make downtowns more accessible for walkers and cyclists, downtown businesses began to thrive.

In this question, we need to check whether the answer choice supports the prediction.

In other moderately sized cities where measures with a similar intent were taken, downtown businesses thrived.

Ask yourself: Once I learn this new piece of information, do I believe as much as / more than / less than before in the prediction that reducing the lanes for automobiles (the plan) would attract more workers and shoppers to downtown businesses (would achieve its goal)?

In my opinion, and according to GMAC, the belief goes up. Here also, we are not looking for any form of guarantee. Just support. The answer choice is correct.

II. The other city/ areas may not be similar

In the webinar, 53% of the participants chose this reason for rejecting at least one answer choice. In case you’re wondering, they could choose multiple reasons :).

More specifically,

  1. The answer choice talks about ‘urban areas’. The passage never mentioned whether Masana is an urban area. What if Masana isn’t even an urban area?
  2. The city in question is ‘moderately large’. The answer choice talks about ‘moderately sized cities’. Aren’t they / couldn’t they be different?

To understand why these concerns do not hold weight, notice the word ‘other’ in both the answer choices.

  1. In other urban areas
  2. In other moderately sized cities

If they were talking about unrelated areas/ cities would they use that word? i.e.,

  1. If Masana weren’t an urban area, would they use the phrase ‘other urban areas’?
  2. If the size of the cities in the answer choice were different, would they use the word ‘other’?

They would not. The word ‘other’ tells us in both these cases that the answer choices are talking about related cities and areas.

The key is to read the answer choices precisely.

The third reason now.

III. Such answers are usually wrong

I have seen such answers to be incorrect in past GMAT CR questions, that's why it is wrong here as well.

If you believe this reason, I have a few follow-ups:

  1. Why are such answers usually wrong?
  2. Is it that test-takers need to know patterns and remember past answers to know whether an answer is correct? I.e., can a beginner not get such questions correct?
  3. Even if such answers have been wrong in the past, why was the first one wrong? Can we not directly apply that reasoning now instead of answering based on historical data?

In the rest of the article, I’ll share a few more questions with similar answer choices and I’ll try to highlight the precise reasons behind why certain answers are correct and others aren’t.

Why don’t you try this question now. Remember, there will be only one answer choice in isolation.

A major network news organization experienced a drop in viewership in the week following the airing of a controversial report on the economy. The network also received a very large number of complaints regarding the report. The network, however, maintains that negative reactions to the report had nothing to do with its loss of viewers.

Which of the following, if true, [most] strongly supports the network’s position?

(D) This was not the first time that this network news organization has aired a controversial report on the economy that has inspired viewers to complain to the network.

So, what do you think? Does the above answer choice:

  • Support
  • Weaken
  • Or, have no impact on

the network’s position?

Let’s take a look.

What is the network’s position? That the negative reactions did not cause the loss of viewers.

What does the answer choice say? That the news organization has aired controversial reports in the past as well, and such reports have led viewers to complain earlier too. I.e., there have been controversial reports and negative reactions to such reports in the past as well.

So, do you now believe more than / less than / or as much as before in the network’s position?

My level of confidence doesn’t change.

This answer choice doesn’t even claim that the news organization lost viewers with such occurrences in the past. Just that the viewers have complained earlier too. This statement does not change my belief in the position that negative reactions did not cause the loss of viewers. The statement has no impact and is thus wrong.

Now, in case you’re wondering, what if the answer choice said:

(D’) The network news organization has aired controversial reports on the economy that have inspired viewers to complain to the network in the past as well and the network has experienced viewership losses right after. 

Would this answer choice be correct?

Note now, the modified answer choice doesn’t claim that the complaints led to the loss of viewers. Just that similar things have occurred in the past.

Even if we take it to be an indication of some causal relation between complaints and viewership loss, our job is to support the position that the complaints were not the reason for the loss of viewers. In other words, the correct answer should lead me to believe even more than before that the loss of viewers was not because of the complaints. This modified answer choice, at best, leads me to think that perhaps the complaints did lead to the loss of viewers. In other words, at best, this answer choice anyway mildly weakens the position, and so is still incorrect.

I talk more about the impact of such an answer choice with another example below.

Next up, same passage, different answer choice:

A major network news organization experienced a drop in viewership in the week following the airing of a controversial report on the economy. The network also received a very large number of complaints regarding the report. The network, however, maintains that negative reactions to the report had nothing to do with its loss of viewers.

Which of the following, if true, [most] strongly supports the network’s position?

(A) The other major network news organizations reported similar reductions in viewership during the same week.

Once I learn that other organizations reported similar reductions, do I continue to believe as much as before that negative reactions to the network’s controversial report were at fault?

Not really. I’m now thinking that perhaps it was something bigger – an external factor – that caused the viewership loss. So, this one does support the network’s position.

Once again, is it possible that other organizations aired the same report? Yeah, it is possible. But, is it probable? It was not a major world event. It was a ‘controversial report’. I don’t think it is probable. So, this answer choice does indicate that an external factor was at play. And so, I believe more than I did earlier in the position that the complaints had nothing to do with the loss of viewers.

This answer choice is correct

You’ll find a detailed solution to this question here.

Here is a simplistic example to explain this further:

Argument
I played soccer yesterday. I had a sore stomach last night. Therefore, my stomach is sore because I played soccer.

Statement
Everyone in my home had a sore stomach last night.

In your opinion, what impact does the above statement have on the given argument? In other words, do you now believe more/ less / as much as before in the main point that ‘my stomach is sore because I played soccer?

The way I see it, if everyone in my home had a sore stomach, perhaps it was something home-related – maybe dinner – that would have caused the sore stomach. So, my belief in the argument goes down.

Now, is it not possible that everyone in my home played soccer with me yesterday? It is, yes. However, is it likely? Is that where your thinking goes when you learn the above statement? Mine didn’t.

On to the next one!

Last year a global disturbance of weather patterns disrupted harvests in many of the world’s important agricultural areas. Worldwide production of soybeans, an important source of protein for people and livestock alike, was not adversely affected, however. Indeed, last year’s soybean crop was actually slightly larger than average. Nevertheless, the weather phenomenon is probably responsible for a recent increase in the world price of soybeans.

Which of the following, if true, provides [the strongest] justification for the attribution of the increase in soybean prices to the weather phenomenon?

(C) The world price of soybeans also rose several years ago, immediately after an earlier occurrence of similar global weather disturbance.

The question stem consists of quite a few heavy words. Essentially, the question is asking us to find an answer choice which strengthens the point that it was the weather phenomenon which was responsible for the rise in the price of soyabeans.

Let’s look at the answer choice. The price of soyabeans increased worldwide right after a similar incident in the past also.

Firstly, note that the option does not state that the weather disturbance led to the price increase several years ago. Just that there was a price increase immediately after.

The two events have happened in the same sequence in the past as well – does this idea increase your confidence in the point that the first caused the second?

Consider this example:

Argument: Yesterday I wore my favourite faded black t-shirt, and India won the test match. So, India won because I was wearing my favourite t-shirt.

What impact does the following statement have on the above argument?

Statement: India also won a test match several years ago, and I was wearing my faded black t-shirt that day too.

Do I now believe more in the argument that India won because of my wearing the particular t-shirt?

I mean … eh. Maybe ever so slightly, but not really, right? It looks like a coincidence. Sure, if it happens 50 times, I’ll be more inclined to investigate the correlation between my wearing a t-shirt and India’s winning matches. 

This statement, at best, has a very mild positive impact on the argument. 

Back to the question

Same idea here too. At best, this answer choice is a very mild strengthener.

Here’s a variation of the answer choice:

(C’) The world price of soyabeans also rose several years ago, immediately after and because of an earlier occurrence of similar global weather disturbance.

So, not only has a price increase followed a global disturbance in the past, the price increase happened because of the disturbance. This one does more comfortably support the attribution.

Which of the following most logically completes the passage?

The figures in portraits by the Spanish painter El Greco (1541–1614) are systematically elongated. In El Greco’s time, the intentional distortion of human figures was unprecedented in European painting. Consequently, some critics have suggested that El Greco had an astigmatism, a type of visual impairment, that resulted in people appearing to him in the distorted way that is characteristic of his paintings. However, this suggestion cannot be the explanation, because______________.

(E) there were non-European artists, even in El Greco’s time, who included in their works human figures that were intentionally distorted

The story:

  • El Greco painted elongated figures in his portraits.
  • At the time, no other painter in Europe intentionally did this.
  • Thus, some critics suggest that El Greco had a visual impairment. And because of the condition, people appeared distorted to him, and that’s why he painted distorted figures.

Note: It is not a fact that El Greco had the astigmatism. This is something some critics suggest based on the evidence (the first two bullets above).

We need to fill in the blank here. Despite the evidence, the author states that this suggestion made by some critics cannot be the explanation for why El Greco’s paintings had elongated figures. The sentence ends halfway with the word ‘because’. We have to find a reason why astigmatism cannot be the reason for the elongated figures in El Greco’s paintings.

Put another way, after the correct answer, if we ask: Could Astigmatism still be the reason for the elongated figures in El Greco’s paintings? The answer should be: No, it cannot.

We’re looking for an answer that shows

  • Why there is NO WAY for astigmatism to be the reason
  • Or, why it is IMPOSSIBLE for the suggestion to be an explanation

Consider the following example:

Passage: It rained yesterday. My car got stalled on the road. Some passers-by suggest that my car stalled because of the rain. However, that suggestion cannot be the explanation, because ________.

Statement: There were other cars also that were stalled on the road, but none of them stalled because of the rain.
Would this statement fill in the blank correctly?

In other words, after this answer choice is added, do you now believe that there is no way that rain could be the reason why my car stalled?

Even if none of the other cars stalled because of rain, couldn’t mine still have stopped working because of rain? Isn’t that still possible?

It is. So, This answer choice in this context would be incorrect.

Now, let us return to our example. Our objective was to find a reason for why astigmatism cannot be the reason behind elongated figures in Grecko’s paintings. So, there were some artists who did intentionally distort figures in paintings during El Greco’s time. So, I do believe more than before that perhaps El Greco did it intentionally too. In other words, perhaps astigmatism wasn’t the reason. However, after I learn what the option states, can I say with certainty that astigmatism CANNOT be the reason? In other words, can we now say that there is no way for astigmatism to be the reason for the distorted figures in El Greco’s paintings?

We cannot. And, since the answer choice does not fill in the blank properly, this answer choice is wrong.

To summarize ...

We looked at multiple analogies in answer choices in this article. In some cases, the answer choice was correct, in others it wasn’t. There were logical reasons behind the different answers. There is no inconsistency. 

The sense of inconsistency probably arises from a lack of precise understanding of the question stem. Whether an answer is correct depends solely on what exactly the question is asking for, and what exactly the passage and the answer choices state.

Remember:

  1. Your objective is to answer the question stem, and not answer based on certain concepts and rules
  2. Don’t categorize a CR question before you are certain.
    • Be clear about what the category represents. E.g. ‘weaken the argument’ does not mean ‘destroy the argument’.
    • If you find it difficult to categorize, don’t. Answer the exact question you see.
  3. Reading every portion of the question precisely will help develop better understanding and clarity
  4. (Imprecise reading is often the reason for a gap in understanding and clarity.)
  5. Be clear about what direction you need to go in. e.g. If we need to support the position that the report did not cause the viewership loss, the correct answer would make me believe even more than before in the point that the report did not cause the viewership loss.

Additional practice

Links to complete questions discussed in this article

>