## Tuesday, July 19, 2011

### try this on for size

Here's the "hard" GRE reading comprehension problem that frustrated the hell out of me. See how well you handle it. Leave an answer in the comments section.

Select one answer choice unless otherwise instructed.

2. A ten-year comparison between the United States and the Soviet Union in terms of crop yields per acre revealed that when only planted acreage is compared, Soviet yields were equal to 68 percent of United States yields. When total agricultural acreage (planted acreage plus fallow acreage) is compared, however, Soviet yield was 114 percent of United States yield.

From the information above, which of the following can be most reliably inferred about United States and Soviet agriculture during the ten-year period?

A. A higher percentage of total agricultural acreage was fallow in the United States than in the Soviet Union.

B. The United States had more fallow acreage than planted acreage.

C. Fewer total acres of available agricultural land were fallow in the Soviet Union than in the United States.

D. The Soviet Union had more planted acreage than fallow acreage.

E. The Soviet Union produced a greater volume of crops than the United States produced.

(excerpted from ETS/The Official Guide to the GRE Revised General Test [New York: McGraw Hill, 2010], p. 71)

Good luck!

_

Charles said...

My first instinct (i.e., knee-jerk conclusion without too much thinking) is A, since the remaining choices deal with absolutes. At the same time, because all the remaining choices deal with absolutes, standardized test logic says that the one answer that sticks out is probably not the correct answer.

So let's go through the other answers one by one and see if any are viable.

B. The United States had more fallow acreage than planted acreage.

Regardless of the problem itself, my first instinct is that this sounds unlikely. But I don't know if there is any way that we can arrive at this from the information provided.

D. The Soviet Union had more planted acreage than fallow acreage.

I'm going out of order here because B and D are two sides of the same coin--if we can figure out one, then we can figure out the other. Since we can only choose one answer, I have to assume that logically we can determine neither.

C. Fewer total acres of available agricultural land were fallow in the Soviet Union than in the United States.

This one seems to be reasonable for the same reason that A is reasonable: the jump in percentages. But again, this is an absolute, whereas the figures are relative (per acre). The ratio could still be the same if the US had one million total acres and the Soviet Union had ten billion total acres--which would probably then make this statement false. We have no way of knowing how much total acreage each country has, so we cannot arrive at this conclusion.

E. The Soviet Union produced a greater volume of crops than the United States produced.

For the same reason as C, we cannot conclude this. The Soviet Union, for all its size, could in fact have fewer total acres of agricultural land--which, again, would make this statement false.

So I'm going to stick with my knee-jerk reaction, and my reason is the same that I mentioned at the beginning: the text deals in ratios only, but B, C, D, and E require we know absolute figures. A, on the other hand, deals with relative figures and fits the information we have in the text.

I'm guessing I got this wrong, because it seems too easy for a "hard" question. What did I miss?

Kevin Kim said...

Charles,

I'll let a couple other people comment before I say anything further.

K

John from Daejeon said...

E is the only one that makes any sense to me, especially coming from a farming family.

"When 'total' agricultural acreage (planted acreage plus fallow acreage) is compared" -- Soviet yield is higher than U.S. yield which is exactly what E states. Over those ten years, the Soviets produced more than the U.S. -- 14% more.

Elisson said...

Gotta be E, see?

Anonymous said...

I skipped past the other comments before posting this.

The key is the phrase "most reliably". Since crop yields are a ratio, any answers not based on a ratio are not reliable, since every ratio can have an infinite number of value-pairs to produce it.

The only answer based on a ratio is A. Therefore that is the most reliable answer. The remaining answers are consistent with the data if the values that correspond to them are correct, but you have no idea of the actual values.

Charles said...

Also: I think we should retire the "reading comprehension" label. Reading comprehension is simply understanding what you read, but this goes beyond that. I propose the term "information analysis" instead.

(Today's word verification is "bampick." I can't think of a clever definition for this (exploding toothpick?), but it sounds like an awesome name for a band.)

JSA said...

Answer "A" seems right to me. I assume it's a "reading comprehension" question because they try to trick you with things like "per acre".

Kevin Kim said...