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All Things Being Equal

This rather amorphous category is the source of many test questions. Usually, two situations are given that appear similar in all important aspects. From these two apparently similar situations, a conclusion will be drawn that may be surprising or contradictory. Your task in these problems is to show or speculate that there is a critical dissimilarity between the two situations (i.e., Not All Things Are Equal). The following example is a classic all-things-being-equal question.
The Blane County District Attorney claims that her senior assistant, Tom Feather, is the best criminal prosecutor in Blane County. Inexplicably, a much lower percentage of the criminal defendants Mr. Feather prosecutes are convicted of serious crimes than criminal defendants tried by other prosecutors.
Which one of the following selections goes farthest in crediting both the district attorney’s confidence in Mr. Feather and Mr. Feather’s low conviction rate?
  1. Since the Blane County District Attorney appointed Mr. Feather as her senior assistant, her judgment would be questioned if she didn’t claim that Mr. Feather is the best.
  2. The district attorney followed established procedure in promoting Mr. Feather to senior assistant from among the ranks of assistant district attorneys.
  3. Several years ago, Mr. Feather was involved in training attorneys new to the district attorney’s office, and he trained a number of the assistant district attorneys currently on the staff.
  4. In the district attorney’s office, the weakest, most difficult cases are usually assigned to Mr. Feather.
  5. Mr. Feather’s conviction record is much better than the conviction record of the previous senior assistant district attorney.
In finding the best answer to this question, we are asked to pick an explanation for why not all things are equal. For only if things are not equal can both seemingly contradictory statements in the passage be supported. If cases are randomly assigned in the district attorney’s office, then Mr. Feather’s low conviction rate discredits the district attorney’s claim. However, if Mr. Feather is assigned the cases that are the most difficult to prove, then it is reasonable that his conviction rate will be lower than the conviction rates of other prosecutors in the office. Perhaps a less skillful prosecutor would have an even lower conviction rate if given the weakest cases to take to trial. Selection (D) is the correct answer.

Selection (A) is the second best answer because it provides an explanation for the district attorney’s claim. Obviously, the district attorney will want her staff and the public to think that she has chosen the best person for the job of first assistant district attorney. She might exaggerate Mr. Feather’s capabilities to bolster her own image. But the answer doesn’t explain why even if Mr. Feather is quite talented, he has such a low conviction record.

Selection (B) doesn’t really explain either of the positions in the passage. Explaining that Mr. Feather was promoted from within the ranks doesn’t support the district attorney’s claim about Mr. Feather’s prosecuting abilities or explain why Mr. Feather has such a low conviction record.
Neither does selection (C) explain why the district attorney touts Mr. Feather as the best.

Selection (C) also does not explain Mr. Feather’s poor conviction record.

Selection (E) just compares Mr. Feather’s record with that of his predecessor. It doesn’t support the claims contained in the passage.

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