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Description Questions

Description questions, as with main idea questions, refer to a point made by the author. However, description questions refer to a minor point or to incidental information, not to the author’s main point.

Again, these questions take various forms:
  • According to the passage . . .
  • In the line public investigator has the duty to investigate not, the author mentions . . . for the purpose of . . .
  • The passage suggests that which one of the following would . . .
The answer to a description question must refer directly to a statement in the passage, not to something implied by it. However, the correct answer will paraphrase a statement in the passage, not give an exact quote. In fact, exact quotes (“Same language” traps) are often used to bait wrong answers.

Caution: When answering a description question, you must find the point in the passage from which the question is drawn. Don’t rely on memory—too many obfuscating tactics are used with these questions.

Not only must the correct answer refer directly to a statement in the passage, it must refer to the relevant statement. The correct answer will be surrounded by wrong choices which refer directly to the passage but don’t address the question. These choices can be tempting because they tend to be quite close to the actual answer.

Once you spot the sentence to which the question refers, you still must read a few sentences before and after it, to put the question in context. If a question refers to line 20, the information needed to answer it can occur anywhere from line 15 to 25. Even if you have spotted the answer in line 20, you should still read a couple more lines to make certain you have the proper perspective.

According to the passage, the inquisitorial system differs from the adversarial system in that

  1. it does not make the defendant solely responsible for gathering evidence for his case
  2. it does not require the police department to work on behalf of the prosecution
  3. it does not allow the victim the satisfaction of private vengeance
  4. it requires the prosecution to drop a weak case
  5. a defendant who is innocent would prefer to be tried under the inquisitorial system

This is a description question, so the information needed to answer it must be stated in the passage—though not in the same language as in the answer. The needed information is contained at the end of second paragraph, which states that the public prosecutor has to investigate on behalf of both society and the defendant. Thus, the defendant is not solely responsible for investigating his case. Furthermore, the paragraph’s opening implies that this feature is not found in the adversarial system. This illustrates why you must determine the context of the situation before you can safely answer the question. The answer is (A).


The other choices can be easily dismissed. (B) is the second best answer. The passage states that in the adversarial system the police assume the work of the prosecution, and the passage states that the inquisitorial system begins where the adversarial system stopped; this implies that in both systems the police work for the prosecution. (C) uses a false claim ploy. The passage states that both systems are removed from the system of private vengeance. (D) is probably true, but it is neither stated nor directly implied by the passage.


Finally, (E) uses a reference to the passage to make a true but irrelevant statement. People’s attitude or preference toward a system is not a part of that system.

Application: (Short passage)

If dynamic visual graphics, sound effects, and automatic scorekeeping are the features that account for the popularity of video games, why are parents so worried? All of these features seem quite innocent. But another source of concern is that the games available in arcades have, almost without exception, themes of physical aggression.... There has long been the belief that violent content may teach violent behavior. And yet again our society finds a new medium in which to present that content, and yet again the demand is nearly insatiable. And there is evidence that violent video games breed violent behavior, just as violent television shows do....
The effects of video violence are less simple, however, than they at first appeared. The same group of researchers who found negative effects [from certain video games] have more recently found that two-player aggressive video games, whether cooperative or competitive, reduce the level of aggression in children’s play....
It may be that the most harmful aspect of the violent video games is that they are solitary in nature. A two-person aggressive game (video boxing, in this study) seems to provide a cathar­tic or releasing effect for aggression, while a solitary aggressive game (such as Space Invaders) may stimulate further aggression. Perhaps the effects of television in stimulating aggression will also be found to stem partly from the fact that TV viewing typically involves little social interaction.
From Patricia Marks Greenfield, Mind and Media: The Effects of Television, Video Games, and Computers. © 1984 by Harvard University Press.



According to the passage, which of the following would be likely to stimulate violent behavior in a child playing a video game?
I.   Watching the computer stage a battle between two opponents
II.  Controlling a character in battle against a computer
III. Challenging another player to a battle in a non-cooperative two-person game

  1. II only
  2. III only
  3. I and II only
  4. II and III only

Item I, True: Stimulation would occur. This choice is qualitatively the same as passively watching violence on television.


Item II, True: Stimulation would also occur. This is another example of solitary aggression (implied by the second sentence of the last paragraph).


Item III, False: No stimulation would occur. Two-player aggressive games are “cathartic” (again the needed reference is the second sentence of the last paragraph). The answer is (C).


Often you will be asked to define a word or phrase based on its context. For this type of question, again you must look at a few lines before and after the word. Don’t assume that because the word is familiar you know the definition requested. Words often have more than one meaning. And the GMAT often asks for a peculiar or technical meaning of a common word.
For example, as a noun champion means “the winner,” but as a verb champion means “to be an advocate for someone.” You must consider the word’s context to get its correct meaning.

On the GMAT the definition of a word will not use as simple a structure as was used above to define champion. One common way the GMAT introduces a defining word or phrase is to place it in apposition to the word being defined.

Don’t confuse “apposition” with “opposition”: they have antithetical [exactly opposite] meanings. Words or phrases in apposition are placed next to each other, and the second word or phrase defines, clarifies, or gives evidence for the first word or phrase. The second word or phrase will be set off from the first by a comma, semicolon, hyphen, or parentheses.


Note: If a comma is not followed by a linking word—such as and, for, yet—then the following phrase is probably appositional.



The discussions were acrimonious, frequently degenerating into name-calling contests.

After the comma in this sentence, there is no linking word (such as and, but, because, although, etc.). Hence the phrase following the comma is in apposition to acrimonious—it defines or further clarifies the word. Now acrimonious means bitter, mean-spirited talk, which would aptly describe a name-calling contest.

Application: (Short Passage)

The technical phenomenon, embracing all the separate techniques, forms a whole.... It is useless to look for differentiations. They do exist, but only secondarily. The common features of the technical phenomenon are so sharply drawn that it is easy to discern that which is the technical phenomenon and that which is not.

... To analyze these common features is tricky, but it is simple to grasp them. Just as there are principles common to things as different as a wireless set and an internal-combustion engine, so the organization of an office and the construction of an aircraft have certain identical features. This identity is the primary mark of that thoroughgoing unity which makes the technical phenomenon a single essence despite the extreme diversity of its appearances.

As a corollary, it is impossible to analyze this or that element out of it—a truth which is today particularly misunderstood. The great tendency of all persons who study techniques is to make distinctions. They distinguish between the different elements of technique, maintaining some and discarding others. They distinguish between technique and the use to which it is put. These distinctions are completely invalid and show only that he who makes them has understood nothing of the technical phenomenon. Its parts are ontologically tied together; in it, use is inseparable from being.
From Jacques Ellul, The Technological Society, ©1964 by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
The “technical phenomenon” referred to in the opening line can best be defined as
  1. all of the machinery in use today
  2. the abstract idea of the machine
  3. a way of thinking in modern society
  4. what all machines have in common
(A): No, it is clear from the passage that the technical phenomenon is more abstract than that, since it is described in the opening paragraph as uniting all the separate “techniques” (not machines) and as comprising the “features” that such things as an office and an aircraft have in common.
(B): No, the passage states that the technical phenomenon is something that includes both techniques and their use (See closing lines of the passage); it is thus broader that just the idea of machinery.
(C): Yes, this seems to be the best answer; it is broad enough to include both techniques and their uses and abstract enough to go beyond talking only about machines.
(D): No, the passage suggests that it is something that techniques have in common and techniques can include airplanes or offices.

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