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GMAT Tip: Cracking the 'Bolded Statement' Code


This tip on improving your GMAT score was provided by Vivian Kerr at Veritas Prep.

Lucky for students, the GMAT makes Bolded Statement questions challenging in predictable ways—usually by making it difficult to separate the evidence from the conclusion in the passage or by presenting especially wordy and convoluted answer choices. Even if you’re excellent at pulling apart arguments and understanding the premise, you’ll still need to decipher the given options. The best way to do this is to categorize each part of the passage and each answer choice with a predetermined, specific set of symbols, and you don’t even have to be Robert Langdon from The Da Vinci Code to apply this technique. Here’s one way of doing it:

MC = Main Conclusion (the author’s argument or position)

OC = Opposing Conclusion (an argument in opposition to the main conclusion)

F = Fact (basic given information, backstory, premise, etc.)

A = Stated Assumption (think of this as part of the passage that “links” given facts/evidence to stated conclusions)

E (+) MC = Evidence Supporting Main Conclusion (this is what the author cites to support his conclusion)

E (+) OC = Evidence Supporting Opposing Conclusion (this is evidence that is cited in support of the opposing conclusion; it undermines the author’s conclusion and can also be expressed as E (-) MC).

Remember, not all of these will be present in every passage or in each answer choice. A passage may not even state its MC directly. It may simply be lingering unstated in the background. Ditto for the OC.  Sometimes evidence will be given in support of an opposing viewpoint that is implied but never explicitly described. Let’s take a sample bolded statement passage and see how we can apply our symbols.

1. One of the limiting factors in human physical performance is the amount of oxygen that is absorbed by the muscles from the bloodstream. Accordingly, entrepreneurs have begun selling at gymnasiums and health clubs bottles of drinking water, labeled “SuperOXY,” that has extra oxygen dissolved in the water. Such water would be useless in improving physical performance, however, since the only way to get oxygen into the bloodstream so that it can be absorbed by the muscles is through the lungs.

The first sentence is a piece of factual information: oxygen-muscle limits. It doesn’t appear to be in support of an argument, so we can write down “F” on our scratch pad. The next sentence is evidence in support of an implied conclusion that this water would help performance, so we can write down “E (+) OC.” The first clause of the last sentence is the author’s conclusion, so we’ll write down “MC,” and finally the bolded statement is clearly “E (+) MC” because of the transition word “since.” Together our notes might look something like this:

F       E(+)OC       MC      E(+)MC

These types of questions typically include two bolded statements, along with answer choices that require test-takers to determine the relationship between the two. For example, one statement might represent a conclusion, while the second weakens that argument. Knowing which role each statement plays makes it easier to determine how they’re related and to identify the correct answer.

Unlike the symbols in The Da Vinci Code, these might not lead you to the Holy Grail, but you’ll definitely stand a better chance of a 700+ score!

Vivian Kerr has been teaching and tutoring in the Los Angeles area since 2005. She graduated from the University of Southern California, studied abroad in London, and has worked for several test-prep giants tutoring, writing content, and blogging about all things SAT, ACT, GRE, and GMAT.

For more GMAT advice from Veritas Prep, read “The Most Common Mistake on GMAT Sentence Correction Problems”


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