GMAT Critical Reasoning: Boldface Structure Questions

First, a few practice questions of this genre.

1. State politicians are optimistic that the state’s economic downturn will not be as severe as had been predicted.  Their hopes are bolstered by the data released last week: the jobless rate declined two full percentage points in the last six months.  But, many economists have pointed out the flight of unemployed residents to the bordering states where jobs are plentiful.  Furthermore, many out of work residents have been rehired at minimum wage: virtually all new jobs in the state in the past year have been minimum wage jobs.   Economists cast grave doubts on the economic well-being of the state.

In the argument given, the two portions in boldface play which of the following roles?

(A) The first is evidence in support of the conclusion; the second is that conclusion.

(B) The first is evidence opposed to the conclusion; the second is an interpretation of the conclusion.

(C) The first is an interpretation that calls the conclusion into question; the second is that conclusion.

(D) The first is a conclusion the argument calls into question; the second is the evidence that calls it into question.

(E) The first is evidence taken to support a conclusion; the second is a position that opposes that conclusion.

2. The Interstate Bridge over the Apache River, built in the 1950s, shows a substantial amount of rust: as much as 45% of its surface is coated in rust.  Community activists have argued that the bridge presents a hazard: it is likely to collapse in places where it has rusted through.  Professors of mechanical engineering at the local university did an extensive analysis of the bridge.  These professors and their graduate students determined that 98% of the rust on the bridge exists on the surface only, and actually seals the underlying steel from the corrosive influence of the elements.   The results of this academic study suggest that the bridge is safe for continued use.

In the argument given, the two portions in boldface play which of the following roles?

(A) The first is evidence in support of the conclusion; the second is that conclusion.

(B) The first is the main conclusion of the argument; the second provides evidence that calls this conclusion into question.

(C) The first is evidence taken to support one conclusion; the second provides evidence that calls this conclusion into question.

(D) The first is a position that the argument opposes; the second is the conclusion of the argument.

(E) The first is an interpretation of evidence; the second calls that evidence into question.

3. Aid workers have worried that residents of the Eastern Gobi Refugee Camp might be at risk for beriberi, a severe deficiency of Thiamine, a B vitamin.  Thiamine is found in high concentrations in cereal grains, and many of the residents have grain free diets because of allergies.  Doctors and nutritionists assigned to investigate the situation have disagreed, noting that the residents grow sustenance amounts of potatoes, kale, and cauliflower on the surrounding farm lands, and these foods provide substantial sources of Thiamine as well.  Because the residents of this refugee camp do not have any allergies to any of these latter foods, and crops have been good because of favorable weather conditions, their risk of beriberi is much lower than originally thought.

In the argument given, the two portions in boldface play which of the following roles?

(A) The first is evidence in support of the conclusion of the argument; the second is that conclusion.

(B) The first is evidence that seems to contradict the conclusion of the argument; the second is that conclusion.

(C) The first is the conclusion of the argument; the second calls the conclusion of the argument into question.

(D) The first is the conclusion of the argument; the second is an alternate interpretation of this conclusion.

(E) The first is evidence in support of the conclusion of the argument; the second is evidence that contradicts the conclusion of the argument.

Solutions will appear at the end of the article.

Critical Reasoning structure questions

The GMAT Critical Reasoning questions can be roughly grouped into eight categories, of which Weaken, Strength, and Assumption are by far the most frequent.  One of the less frequent question types is the Structure question.  CR Structure questions are not concerned so much with the details of the subject matter of the argument — rather, they are focused on the formal structure of the argument, how the argument is put together.

By far, the most common type of Critical Reasoning Structure question is the “boldface” question.  Most of the CR Structure questions in the OG are boldface questions, with just a handful of other Structure questions of the “A responds to B by” variety (Cf. OG13, CR #34, #85).

Boldface structure question

Of course the boldface structure questions are the easiest to spot from a mile away, because they are the only question type on the entire GMAT that has bold text as part of the prompt!  Most of the questions of this type actually have two difference sections in bold, as do the three arguments above.   Of course, you should begin all GMAT Critical Reasoning questions by reading the question first, so you identify the question-type before you read the argument.  Furthermore, notice that the answer choices are always generic — always referring to arguments in the abstract, and never to the specific content of the prompt.   What these questions ask is a level of abstraction removed from the specifics of that content.

As you read any argument, whether on the GMAT Critical Reasoning or elsewhere, pay attention to the role of each sentence.  This is always good practice for dissecting any argument.   If you can label the role of each sentence in any argument, you understand that argument well.  Practicing this will prepare you well for Boldface Structure questions.

Keep in mind the huge difference between evidence and a conclusion or position.  Evidence is always fact, stone cold fact — “Unemployment numbers rose“, “This company bought that company“, “this medicine has such-and-such side effects.”  Sometimes evidence is given as something one of the voices in the argument “says” or “points out.”  Evidence is always about what actually happened in the objective world: in most arguments, the evidence itself is beyond dispute, and what the argument is about is how to interpret the evidence.

A conclusion is an interpretation, a deduction, based on the evidence.  Someone else who accepts the evidence may or may not accept a given conclusion based on the evidence.   Look for signal words, such as since, because, therefore, “we can conclude that“, etc.

Most of these questions have two bold sections, and not surprising, most of these arguments have two voice, opposing points of view (politicians vs. economists, aid workers vs. doctors, etc.)  For example, this is true of all three questions above.  Pay attention to what those different voices are doing — in particular, for each bolded sentence, ask yourself: this statement supports which side?  If there are two opposing views, then most sentences will support one and contradict or call into question the other, although there may be some fundamental evidence that both sides accept.   Sometimes, A will come to one conclusion based on certain evidence, then B will present new evidence, evidence that calls A’s conclusion into question, and on the strength of this new evidence, B will come to a new conclusion.  This is a very typical layout for a Boldface Structure question.

Finally, even more so than most other Critical Reasoning question types, on a Boldface Structure question it’s very important to pre-formulate an answer in your own words before you even begin to engage with the answer choices.

Summary

If reading this article gave you a few “aha’s”, then perhaps you should revisit those questions at the top before reading the solutions below.  Also, here’s another practice question from inside the Magoosh product:

If you would like to express anything about this topic, or ask a question, please let us know in the comment section below.

Practice Problem Solutions

1) In this argument, view #1 is that of the optimistic politicians, who look to the first piece of evidence #1, the jobless rate decline, for proof.  That first piece of evidence is the first bold statement.  Then view #2 is that of the economists.  They cite more evidence, evidence that calls into question the politician’s optimism in view #1.  Finally, we get the economist’s conclusion, view #2, the second boldface statement.

How to express that?  The second is definitely the main conclusion of the argument, but the first, evidence #1, is not necessarily something the economists would reject, not something that opposes the economists or calls their view into question.  The economists are well aware that the jobless rate has declined: they simply cite additional facts that cast this first fact in a different light.  One way to say it is  — the first boldface statement, evidence #1, was used to support one conclusion, view #1, and the second boldface statement is a second conclusion, view #2, that calls the first into question.

This is what (E) says.  (E) is the credited response.

2) The first statement is a fact: everyone agrees with that.  The second sentence is a conclusion (signal words: “argue that“) — the first boldface section is conclusion #1, the conclusion of the community activities.  Then more facts — the results of scientific investigations are always facts!  The final sentence is another conclusion (signal words: “suggest that“), conclusion #2, the conclusion of the professors.   Both boldface statements are conclusions, and the argument ultimately disagrees with the first and accepts the second — the second is the conclusion of the argument as a whole.

This is what (D) says.  The first is a conclusion, a position, that the argument opposes, and the second is the conclusion of the argument.   (D) is the credited response.

3) The first sentence is at least a tentative conclusion — any prediction cannot be evidence: it has to be a conclusion.   The second sentence is the evidence for this first position — this first boldface part is the evidence #1.  Then we get the doctor’s view.  These doctors don’t dispute evidence #1, but they also point out evidence #2 — thiamine from foods like potato & kale & cauliflower, which these refugee folks do eat.  Finally, we get conclusion #2, the doctors conclusion, the second boldface part.

How do we say this?  Evidence #1, the first boldface part, seemed to support conclusion #1, but as new evidence shows, conclusion #2, which says the opposite, is correct.  The second is the conclusion of the argument.

(B) is the credited response.  The second is definitely the conclusion of the argument. The first is evidence, and by itself, that evidence would seem to support conclusion #1 (the opposite of conclusion #2), so in that sense, it would seem to oppose conclusion #2.

Author

• Mike served as a GMAT Expert at Magoosh, helping create hundreds of lesson videos and practice questions to help guide GMAT students to success. He was also featured as “member of the month” for over two years at GMAT Club. Mike holds an A.B. in Physics (graduating magna cum laude) and an M.T.S. in Religions of the World, both from Harvard. Beyond standardized testing, Mike has over 20 years of both private and public high school teaching experience specializing in math and physics. In his free time, Mike likes smashing foosballs into orbit, and despite having no obvious cranial deficiency, he insists on rooting for the NY Mets. Learn more about the GMAT through Mike’s Youtube video explanations and resources like What is a Good GMAT Score? and the GMAT Diagnostic Test.