Which of the following, if true, most seriously weakens the support

As an example of the devastation wrought on music publishers by the photocopier, one executive noted that for a recent choral festival with 1,200 singers, the festival’s organizing committee purchased only 12 copies of the music published by her company that was performed as part of the festival.

Which of the following, if true, most seriously weakens the support the example lends to the executive’s contention that music publishers have been devastated by the photocopier?

    1. Only a third of the 1,200 singers were involved in performing the music published by the executive’s company.
    2. Half of the singers at the festival had already heard the music they were to perform before
      they began to practice for the festival.
    3. Because of shortages in funding, the organizing committee of the choral festival required singers to purchase their own copies of the music performed at the festival.
    4. Each copy of music that was performed at the festival was shared by two singers.
    5. As a result of publicity generated by its performance at the festival, the type of music performed at the festival became more widely known.

 

An important thing to keep in mind about the Reading Comprehension section of the GRE as we use PowerPrep online to study is that it is just that—reading comprehension. In other words, as difficult as it may seem, and it can be pretty tricky, the test makers will always give us all the information we need in the passage to answer the question. Questions that ask us to strengthen or weaken an argument, like question 12 of the second Verbal section on practice test 1, may have answer choices not found in the passage, but we should keep in mind that the information we need is still there.

Ok, so we are asked about an “contention” here, which is just a fancy way to ask a question about an “argument.” When a GRE question asks about an argument there are a few key structural ideas that we should keep in mind: the premises, conclusion, and any assumptions. The premises are the facts or pieces of evidence an argument is based on. The conclusion is the position that the argument is meant to support, and assumptions are any details that were not part of the premises but that would have to be true in order for the conclusion to be true.

Specifically, this question wants us to find an example that “weakens the support” of the argument, so we’ll want to search for an answer that identifies an assumption inherent in the argument and, more importantly, shows how that assumption was not true. Any given argument on the GRE is likely to rely on a few assumptions, but these are rarely (if ever) spelled out for us, and it can therefore be difficult to predict exactly what assumption(s) might play a role in our answer choices. The best strategy we can take here is to read the argument carefully in order to identify the premise(s) and conclusion so that we will be better equipped to recognize any assumptions that are presented to us.

In this case, our argument is presented as an “example” itself, but, based on our question, we know it is an argument. However, this changes the structure a little: usually for a conclusion we’d want to look out for words like “thus” or “therefore” at the end of the paragraph. Here, the conclusion is actually presented to us as the overall idea that this short paragraph provides an “example” of: that music publishers have been devastated by the photocopier (yup, exactly what they told us the argument was in the question itself.

So, how did the executive arrive at this conclusion? Well, she pointed out that a committee meant to organize a music festival only bought 12 copies of the music her company published even though the festival would have 1,200 singers. Well, if the company COULD HAVE sold 1,200 copies but only sold 12, that is quite devastating, but this argument could be flawed. For one thing, perhaps that particular piece published by her company really was only going to be sung by 12 singers and not all 1,2000. The executive is assuming that all 12,000 singers needed the sheet music. Let’s see if any of our answers give examples as to why this or another assumption inherent in the argument isn’t necessarily true.

  • Only a third of the 1,200 singers were involved in performing the music published by the executive’s company.

Hmm. This answer DOES capitalize on the same assumption we pointed out, but if ⅓ of the singers needed the music, the company still only sold 12 copies when 400 were needed. The question asks which answer “most seriously” weakens the executives contention, and this doesn’t really do too much to weaken it. We’ll have to leave A in since it technically does make the executive’s argument slightly less robust, but it seems an unlikely answer.

  • Half of the singers at the festival had already heard the music they were to perform before they began to practice for the festival.

Again, this doesn’t really weaken the argument that the company could have sold a lot more copies of their music. In fact, just because the singers had heard the music doesn’t mean they wouldn’t need a copy, so we don’t know if this weakens the argument at all. Eliminate B.

  • Because of shortages in funding, the organizing committee of the choral festival required singers to purchase their own copies of the music performed at the festival.

Aha! We hadn’t thought of this, but the executive’s argument does assume that ALL of the music needed for the festival was purchased by the committee, but if each singer needed to procure his or her own copy, then the publishing company still should have made about 1,200 individual sales. This would weaken the argument since it suggests that the committee didn’t only buy copies to be photocopied but rather copies for their own uses.

  • Each copy of music that was performed at the festival was shared by two singers.

This answer suggests that the committee just didn’t make as many copies, which doesn’t really weaken the argument at all—the publishing company is still missing out on nearly 600 sales. We can eliminate D.

  • As a result of publicity generated by its performance at the festival, the type of music performed at the festival became more widely known.

This answer may sound good, but it actually relies on a lot of its own assumptions, like the assumption that the music becoming more widely known might prompt more people to purchase it from the publishing company. Also, this doesn’t change the fact that the publishing company still, it would seem, lost nearly 1,200 sales. We can eliminate E.

C is the only answer that really proves that an assumption made in the argument is inherently flawed. The argument implicitly assumes that the twelve copies purchased by the committee were meant to be photocopied for the 1,200 singers, and answer C shows how that was not the case and that the publishing company would still make as many sales as it would if the committee had purchased all of the copies themselves. C is correct.

 

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