How to ace the GMAT in 28 days: Day 19 (result: 740)

A 740. Not bad. If I can maintain this orbitting around the 750 level I’ll be happy. 108 questions, 56V and 52Q, and 11 wrong leading to corrected scores of 51V/42Q. Here are today’s practice essays.

Time—30 minutes
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.

“Companies should not try to improve employees’ performance by giving incentives—for example, awards or gifts. Incentives encourage negative kinds of behavior instead of encouraging a genuine interest in doing the work well.”
Discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the opinion stated above. Support your views with reasons and/or examples from your own experience, observations, or reading.

In the author’s imagination, every employee is capable of taking such deep delight in his job that he needs nothing further, sitting in a cubicle under harsh fluorescent striplights for the sheer joy of it. That rose-tinted world doesn’t exist, which is why I strongly disagree with this statement. Incentives – everything from sales commission to an employee-of-the-month certificate – can add meaning and purpose to a worker’s life, and are a legitimate means of fostering workforce enthusiasm.

The statement assumes that the desire to do a good job and the desire to be rewarded with an incentive are mutually exclusive. They’re not. If a sales executive has spent a month of evenings sweating over a complex proposal, giving up his own time and family life to contribute to the success of his employer, what’s wrong with that employer rewarding him for it? A week at a Hawaii Beach Resort in return for landing a £1m customer isn’t a carrot dangled cynically over the salesman’s head; it’s a reason for him to work hard. And, thus rewarded, the employee will feel closer to his employer. The right incentives make an employee more enthusiastic about his job, not less.

In addition, incentives aren’t given in isolation; they’re a means of keeping score. A fast-food restaurant handing over an occasional £10 voucher to its Employee-of-the-Month creates a desire among its other staff to try harder, to make that voucher theirs next time around. And how will they try harder? By going the extra mile, serving customers with a smile, making their employer’s business more successful. Particularly in low-income professions – for example, cleaning toilets or flipping burgers – a small incentive can make an unpleasant job just a little more bearable.

From burger chefs to bankers, the principle of employee incentives applies across all business sectors. It was Napoleon who said on creating a new medal, ‘By such baubles are men led’. His outlook might have been cynical, but its effects – millions of men prepared to die for him – were positive. (At least from Napoleon’s viewpoint.) Few workers take so much delight in their work that they never need praise, acknowledgement, or a reason to keep doing it.

In summary: the author of this statement needs to live in the real world. Incentives do not, as he supposes, have a negative effect on the ‘genuine interest in doing the work well’; they complement this genuine interest. A worker may enjoy his work and provide an excellent service, but incentives can provide the frisson of happiness that makes his career meaningful. Which, of course, provides the most basic justification to hand out incentives in any case: happier workers deliver better work.

FAULTS: An okay essay, but I felt I repeated myself a bit. I’ll score myself a 5.

Time—30 minutes
Directions: In this section you will he 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.

The following appeared as part of a recommendation from the business manager of a department store.
“Local clothing stores reported that their profits decreased, on average, for the three-month period between August 1 and October 31. Stores that sell products for the home reported that, on average, their profits increased during this same period. Clearly, customers are choosing to buy products for their homes instead of clothing. To take advantage of this trend, we should reduce the size of our clothing departments and enlarge our home furnishings and household products departments.”

Discuss how well reasoned you find this argument. In you 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 logically sound, and what, if anything, would help you better evaluate its conclusion.

The store manager appears to be ignoring a factor of vital importance to any retail business: the effect of seasonal variations on buying patterns. In addition, it is unclear whether he plans to refit his store as a permanent fixture, or for temporary advantage. His argument is weak, and unless he can supply further information, will remain so.

The first information we need relates to historical sales patterns. Does he have the sales data of local clothing and home products stores for previous years… and year-round, not limited to one Autumn quarter? A boost in furniture sales and a blip in clothing may be seasonal trends that happen every year. In which case, clothing sales may be about to surge as Winter approaches, and his argument for refitting his store is invalid.

Information about the current profile of his own store would also help. Is his store famous for clothing, or for furnishings, or for something else entirely? Many businesses have ‘star performers’: departments which produce 80% of the store’s total profits. If clothing is his store’s strength, the manager’s move into home products may again be unsupportable.

Furthermore, the manager must define what he means by ‘products for the home’. Fitted kitchens, carpets, expensive white goods and cheap wallpaper all appear in this category, and many such products are sold in a variety of stores, from hardware shops to furniture showrooms. The argument does not even specify whether these stores sell home products exclusively; plenty of 7-11 stores sell wine glasses and tablemats.

Finally, there’s a question mark over audience and timing. It’s perfectly possible that the manager is speaking to an audience of retail experts – who perhaps know that a store manager, in this context, would only ever be referring to a seasonal refit. This context simply isn’t clear. Nor do we know the date he’s putting this argument forward – perhaps his recommendation is dated June or July, and the store refit is planned for the upcoming August-October quarter, in which case his argument may be perfectly reasonable.

The store manager may be making an excellent case – but too much information is missing for us to judge. Until this further information is available, we must treat the argument as unsupportable. The manager, after all, should know that ‘retail is detail’.

FAULTS: Not a bad essay – but it’s easy in these types of essay to treat the one obvious point, about seasonal variations, as the only point worth making. The main hole in the argument is the context in which the manager’s speaking, not necessarily his apparent ignorance of the seasons. Finished the last sentence a scant second before timeout, so no time for proofing, but I can’t see any typos. A 6 I think.