How to ace the GMAT in 28 days: Day 11 (result: 690)

Another 690! That shows what rushing your review of wrong answers gets you. In other words, it’s time to knuckle down and study some algebra instead of winging it. (OK, I haven’t really hit the books yet, trying to ‘learn’ by going over questions instead.) Here are the essays; analysis of wrong ‘uns tomorrow.

Analysis of an issue

Directions: In this section, you will need to analyze the issue presented below and explain your views on it. The question has no “correct” answer. Instead, you should consider various perspectives as you develop your own position on the issue. Read the statement and the instructions that follow it, and then make any notes in your test booklet that will help you plan your response. Begin writing your response on the separate answer document. Make sure that you use the answer document that goes with this writing task.

“Everywhere, it seems, there are clear and positive signs that people are becoming more respectful of one another’s differences.” In your opinion, how accurate is the view expressed above? Use reasons and/or examples from your own experience, observations, or reading to develop your position.

Race relations legislation. Religious hatred laws. Company diversity policies. It’s certainly true that people are more aware than ever of race, faith, and gender differences. But does this increased awareness really equal increased respect? I’d like to think so – but I fear the opposite’s the case.

Take the thicket of race relations bills that occupies so much legislative energy. In Britain, fewer than two hundred ‘racially motivated attacks’ are reported to police each year – most of them relating to minor jostling or namecalling. Does such a thankfully small problem really warrant the thousands of hours spent each year on ‘diversity issues’ by politicians, public servants, and business people? Even small companies spend thousands of pounds on ‘diversity training’. In my opinion, this does not signify increased respect for differences – rather, it signifies the fear of being perceived as politically incorrect. Such legislative overkill may reduce respect between people of different races in the long run.

In a similar vein, religious hatred laws often seem to close down debate and limit freedom of speech, rather than make life safer for religious people. If someone’s religious faith is secure, doesn’t that mean it’s capable of taking the odd bit of criticism? Many people who don’t follow a faith are regularly made to feel intimidated by those demanding ‘respect’ for whatever private beliefs they hold – people emboldened by well-meant but misguided laws. Again, the ‘clear and positive signs’ seem to signal awareness of differences, not respect for them.

Finally, this raised awareness can all too often be interpreted as favouritism, rather than equality. The vast ‘diversity industry’ that styles itself as the arbiter of all that’s correct tends to be quick to take offence, to see insult in everything in order to justify its own existence (and frequently public funding.) Again, this drives resentment among non-prejudiced people who are constantly being told their actions ‘might be seen as discriminatory’ by some undefined person, somewhere.

In summary, I believe that diversity isn’t best served by constantly drawing attention to our differences. Respect could better be built by fostering an awareness of what we have in common, not what keeps us apart. I’m interested in you as an individual, and don’t particularly care about your race/colour/religion. Stop trying to MAKE me care!

UPDATE 29 May 2007: This essay prompt, by a 1-in-15 or so chance (there are a total of 285 essay prompts in the GMAT pool, and I’ve done about 10 in practice) actually appeared as one of my essays in the real GMAT! Where it showed, incidentally, that there’s no point in learning the list of essay subjects; for me, having tackled this prompt before actually proved a handicap, since I was trying to remember what I’d written in practice rather than apply my reasoning in real time. At least I still aced it.

FAULTS: Hmmm, am I on a soapbox here? I think I tackle the point okay, but trying to recontextualise the point as about awareness rather than respect may be going a bit far. I’ll score myself a 5.

Analysis of an argument

Directions: In this section, you will be asked to write a critique of the argument presented below. You are NOT being asked to present your own views on the subject. Read the argument and the instructions that follow it, and then make any notes in your test booklet that will help you plan your response. Begin writing your response on the separate answer document. Make sure that you use the answer document that goes with this writing task.

The following is from a campaign by Big Boards, Inc., to convince companies in River City that their sales will increase if they use Big Boards billboards for advertising their locally manufactured products. “The potential of Big Boards to increase sales of your products can be seen from an experiment we conducted last year. We increased public awareness of the name of the current national women’s marathon champion by publishing her picture and her name on billboards in River City for a period of three months. Before this time, although the champion had just won her title and was receiving extensive national publicity, only five percent of the 15,000 randomly surveyed residents of River City could correctly name the champion when shown her picture; after the three-month advertising experiment, 35 percent of respondents from a second survey could supply her name.”

Discuss how well reasoned you find this argument. In your discussion be sure to analyze the line of reasoning and the use of evidence in the argument. For example, you may need to consider what questionable assumptions underlie the thinking and what alternative explanations or counterexamples might weaken the conclusion. You can also discuss what sort of evidence would strengthen or refute the argument, what changes in the argument would make it more sound and persuasive, and what, if anything, would help you better evaluate its conclusion.

Does the choice of an outdoor advertising medium increase public awareness of the product being advertised? Big Boards’ case is reasonable, but far from watertight. The example given – a mediagenic marathon runner, rather than a non-glamorous manufactured product – suggests any local manufacturer interested in advertising should scrutinise Big Boards’ figures further.

Firstly, the runner was in the news anyway. If the ‘extensive national publicity’ surrounding her remained strong during the campaign’s three-month lifetime, it may have boosted public awareness of her name; the 35% of River City residents who recalled it may have been prompted by newspapers or TV reports, not a face plastered across the town’s billboards. Celebrities have higher name recognition than many manufactured products!

Secondly, the quote doesn’t confirm whether the respondents for both surveys were in the same demographic group. Gender, average age, even the time of day a survey was conducted can influence results. A first survey of bored grandparents and a second survey of sports-mad teenagers might have produced the same impressive-looking percentage hike – but would have been completely invalid.

Finally, different media choices work for different classes of product. (And classes of people!) $15m spent on billboards in Australia by a phone company famously got a major advertising agency the sack a few years ago. Further research would be useful on whether any locally manufactured products have ever been advertised on billboards… and what the results were.

However, despite these factors, Big Boards makes a fair claim about billboard advertising being a worthwhile media choice. Correlation is not causation, but nor is advertising an exact science; and for many advertisers, such a strong correlation between a campaign and subsequent awareness of its content would be enough.

FAULTS: Despite the dream subject (my home turf, advertising) I was struggling to find things to say here; is it a bit repetitive? I’ve nailed the main point against the argument, but it was an easy one which won’t excite any examiner. No typos, though, so the computer will probably give it a 6 for variety; I’m guessing the human marker would give me a 5.