How to ace the GMAT in 28 days: Day 21 (1st CAT test 590)

First time trying a practice GMAT onscreen, rather than on paper. As expected, a throwaway result: 33V/39Q giving 590. The problem: rushing. Doing it on a PC creates less tension when you’re choosing an answer, so I finished the Verbal section with over 30mins left, making 11 errors of the 41. On quant, I finished with 15mins plus left, and got 14 out of 37 wrong. Lesson learned: pace better.

Today’s essay practice:

Analysis of an Issue

“Graduate business courses with a technical component, such as accounting, marketing, or economics, should teach factual information and skills and should leave ethics to designated business ethics courses.”

Discuss whether you agree or disagree with the opinion above. Provide supporting evidence for your views and use reasons and/or examples from your own experiences, observations, or reading.

Ethics is an important subject, and should be part of every professional manager’s set of skills. But business ethics come into play during the application of knowledge, not the acquisition of it. That’s why I agree with this opinion. The learning of facts and methods is neither ethical nor unethical, since the manager has yet to apply them them to real situations … making ethics irrelevant.

Take accounting. A student working on a cost-benefit problem may face a situation where the figures support only one conclusion: that a factory must be closed for the business to remain profitable. In real life, many factors would contribute to a closure decision: public relations, market conditions, and simple human decency in wanting to help 400 workers keep their livelihoods. But in the trammelled world of the test paper, all the student needs is a Pass, and the correct answer is to close the factory doors. Applying ethics to this artificial situation clouds the issue.

In addition, including ethics in every course with a technical component – teaching the same values, repeatedly across courses – is a waste of resources. Accounting 101 should be about the hard facts of credits and debits, not a cocktail mixing numbers with the soft guidelines of business ethics. There are no ethics in addition and subtraction, and teaching time is too scarce a commodity to wander into other subject areas during a class on Macroeconomic Trends.

Furthermore, by teaching business ethics in a course of its own, it won’t be treated as an adjunct. Ethics 101 demonstrates that business ethic is a subject worthy of study in itself. And by making that course mandatory (as many colleges do) that course can give managers a broad base of ethical knowledge, applicable across all areas of their lives, not in a narrow context of a single subject.

In summary, I believe ethics should not be mixed into other courses … but not because the subject lacks importance; quite the opposite. Business Ethics deserves a course of its own, and stirring it into the curriculum as footnotes to other courses reduces its value. There is a time for acquiring knowledge, and a time for applying it, and ethics only become important at the application stage. Teach students the raw technical principles of each subject they study in detail, and they’ll be better equipped to apply business ethics at all times in their future careers, when the subjects they deal with are not on test papers, but are real people with real problems.

FAULTS: Typo in paragraph 4, but overall I think this is a pretty good essay. It makes an insightful point (application versus acquisition) and is well structured, with a nice balance between beginning and end. I’ll give myself a 6.

Analysis of an Argument

The following appeared as part of a letter to the editor in a local newspaper:

“The growth of radio, television, movies, and other forms of mass media has led to the loss of intellectual creativity and curiosity among average Americans. A few writers now tell stories to tens of millions of Americans through songs played on the radio, television shows, and popular movies. Where one hundred years ago average Americans used to actively tell their own stories to countless small audiences, most Americans are now passive members of a much greater audience, all mesmerized by the same mass media offerings and reduced to commenting on the quality of various movies, sporting events, pop songs, and reality TV shows.”

Examine this argument and present your judgement on how well reasoned it is. In your discussion, analyse the author’s position and how well the author uses evidence to support the argument. For example, you may need to question the author’s underlying assumptions or consider alternative explanations that may weaken the conclusion. You can also provide additional support for or arguments against the author’s position, describe how stating the argument differently may make it more reasonable, and discuss what provisions may equip you to evaluate its thesis.

The author raises a valid concern: that modern mass media has led to a decline in participation and creative interaction among Americans, substituting the shared experiences of a top-rated TV show for the private experiences of a few good friends. But his argument appears driven by emotion, not logic, and for this reason has several weaknesses.

For example, he argues that ‘average Americans used to actively tell their own stories’ – where is his evidence? It’s possible that the images we have of storytelling Americans – cowboys singing ballads around a campfire, travelling preachers, settlers of the Old West – seem ubiquitous because they are the most memorable, not the most common. A majority of Americans a century ago may well have demonstrated no deeper intellectual curiosity than most Americans today; working for a living, falling asleep at home, then repeating the cycle. The author’s romantic images of a bygone age may have involved far fewer people than he assumes, which weakens his main argument.

In addition, the author says nothing about new forms of media that have taken storytelling and personal experience to a new level: blogging on the Web, texting on mobile phones, telephone chatlines. Normal people are still telling their stories, and they have many more options for doing so; however, the author makes no comparisons and gives no evidence. It’s possible that intellectual curiosity – the desire to know how the world works -is, on average, even greater today than it was one hundred years ago.

Finally, the author assumes that the explosion of ‘pop culture’ – TV shows, pop music, movies – reduces the opportunity for the sharing of personal experience. This is questionable, on two counts. First, large-scale ‘media events’ may provide a platform for shared experience in a fragmented world – a platform that enables the telling of fresh stories, as people connect over the Web to discuss their experiences of last night’s stadium concert. Second, being a ‘passive member’ of one audience doesn’t preclude anyone from being an active member of another. Tom Trailer-Park may spend eight hours on Sunday watching SuperBowl reruns, but on Saturdays he may be the star of a barbecue cookout, swapping stories with dozens of friends. The author implies one activity makes the other less likely to happen, which is not a conclusion that can be easily drawn from available evidence.

Despite these weaknesses, the argument remains a valid concern, since if everyone spent eight hours a night watching TV from the sofa, today’s society would indeed be the poor relation of yesteryear the author envisages. But without hard data – from both today’s society and that of a century ago – his argument lacks solidity. In fact, the onslaught of mass media and shared experience may well make the average American’s life broader and more creative than ever before. Being part of one big audience doesn’t stop you also being part of many smaller ones, and when it’s unclear how many Americans ever participated in the constant intellectual exchanges the author imagines, his argument does not hold water.

FAULTS: A bit wordy – I think this is my longest practice essay! But again it makes some good points, and I think it’s worth a 6. One caveat: running away with evidence against the argument makes for long paragraphs that repeat things, and also less time for proofing at the end, although I can’t see any typos. But overall I’d be happy if I submitted this essay during the GMAT.