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[GMAT OG solution] Scientists typically do their most creative work…

In this article, we’ll look at the solution to the 700-level GMAT Official guide critical reasoning question. We have analyzed the 5 answer choices and arrived at the correct choice through 4 steps:

  1. Understanding the Argument
  2. Vizualization of Argument
  3. Prethinking
  4. Answer Choice Analysis

General Information on the Official Guide CR question

  • Difficulty Level: Hard (95% Hard)
  • Accuracy: 50% (GC)
  • Most Common Incorrect option choice: C (18%) D (24%)
  • Question Type: Boldface
  • Source: GMAT Official Guide 2022, 2021, 2020, 2015 – 2019

Question: Scientists typically do their most creative work…

Scientists typically do their most creative work before the age of forty. It is commonly thought that this happens because aging by itself brings about a loss of creative capacity. However, studies show that of scientists who produce highly creative work beyond the age of forty, a disproportionately large number entered their field at an older age than is usual. Since by the age of forty the large majority of scientists have been working in their field for at least fifteen years, the studies’ finding strongly suggests that the real reason why scientists over forty rarely produce highly creative work is not that they have aged but rather that scientists over forty have generally spent too long in their field.

In the argument given, the two portions in boldface play which of the following roles?

[Refer to the GMAT Official Guide for options]

Solution: Scientists typically do their most creative work…

This is an excellent boldface question with a lot of learnings. Let us dive into it!

Understanding the argument

Scientists typically do their most creative work before the age of forty.

  • This statement is a factual statement.
  • This statement is also a general observation.
  • Factual Observation: Generally, scientists do their most creative work before they reach the age of forty.

It is commonly thought that this happens because aging by itself brings about a loss of creative capacity.

  • The sentence overall is a fact. It is a fact that there exists this common thought/common belief about why the phenomenon (given in the first sentence) occurs.
  • Observe that although the overall statement is a fact, it does contain a belief (a thought is not a fact, it is simply someone’s view/opinion/belief – something they consider in their mind).
    • Aging by itself brings about a loss of creative capacity.” This statement by itself is a fact. This is provided as an explanation for the factual observation given in the first line.
  • Common Thought/Common Belief:
    (Aging bringing about a loss of creative capacity) -> (scientists typically doing their most creative work before they turn forty).
  • In other words, the common belief is that aging bringing about a loss of creative capacity is the reason/explanation for scientists typically doing their most creative work before they turn forty. The implication is that by the time one turns forty, creative capacity reduces to such an extent that scientists are rarely able to do creative work.

However, studies show that of scientists who produce highly creative work beyond the age of forty, a disproportionately large number entered their field at an older age than is usual.

  • However” – indicates a contrast. So, whatever follows will challenge the belief stated above.
  • studies show” – indicates that we are about to look at the observed results of some studies. This is a clue that what will follow will be a fact (observation) rather than a claim.
  • Fact: Among the scientists who produce highly creative work beyond the age of forty, a disproportionately large number entered the field at an older age than is usual.
  • Visualize this:
    • Say, there are 100 scientists who produce highly creative work beyond the age of forty.
    • 90 out of these 100 scientists entered their field at the age of 38 (90/100 – disproportionate number), whereas the usual age at which scientists enter their field is 24 (say).
  • Role played by this statement:
    • Remember – this statement is intended as a challenge to the belief that aging resulting in loss of creative capacity is the reason why scientists do their most creative work before they turn forty (as we interpreted based on the use of “However”).
    • So, how is this statement a challenge/contrast to the belief? It introduces another factor (age at which the scientist entered the field/how long one has spent in a field) that could have an impact on creative work done by scientists.
    • In other words, this statement introduces another factor that could explain why scientists do their most creative work before they turn forty.
  • So, Boldface 1 is a fact, it is an observation, and it is intended to challenge/oppose the commonly held belief regarding the reason/explanation for why scientists do their most creative work before they turn forty.

Since by the age of forty the large majority of scientists have been working in their field for at least fifteen years,

  • Since” – indicates a causality.
  • This statement is a fact.
  • Fact: By the age of forty, the large majority of scientists have been working in their field for at least fifteen years.
  • Visualize this:
    • 90% of scientists have been working in their field for at least fifteen years by the time they are forty years old.
    • In other words, 90% of the scientists started in their field when they were twenty-five or younger.
  • “Since” indicates that the above fact is being used as reasoning to justify something (which is to follow).

The studies’ finding strongly suggests that the real reason why scientists over forty rarely produce highly creative work is not that they have aged but rather that scientists over forty have generally spent too long in their field.

  • This statement is what is being concluded based on the previous statement (Based on “since”). The last statement was the reason, and this statement is what is being said based on the reason.
  • The author is making a conclusion based on what the studies’ finding suggests. This statement is the main conclusion of the argument.
  • The author’s conclusion is that the real reason why scientists over forty rarely produce highly creative work is not the age factor (aging -> loss of creative capacity) but the fact that most of them have spent too long in their field (at least fifteen years), i.e., the other factor (how long one has spent in the field).
  • The conclusion here is a direct challenge to the earlier belief/common thought.
  • Boldface 2:
    • It is a factual statement.
    • It is the real explanation for the lack of creative work from scientists over forty, as per the author.
    • It is a counter-explanation for the observation that scientists do their most creative work before the age of forty.

Visualization of Argument

Let us understand the overall logical structure/flow and logic of the argument.

  1. Fact: Scientists typically do their most creative work before the age of forty.
  2. Commonly believed explanation: It happens because of the age of the scientists. Aging leads to loss of creative capacity. So, by the age of forty, scientists are rarely able to do creative work.
  3. Fact (BF1): A disproportionate number of scientists over forty who produce highly creative work entered the field later than usual.
    • Implication: There may be another factor impacting the creative output of scientists – the age when they entered the field (rather than actual age), or rather, how long they have actually spent in the field.
  4. Fact: The majority of scientists have worked for at least fifteen years by the time they reach the age of forty, i.e., they have been working in the field since they were 25 or younger.
    • Implication: This suggests that most of the scientists have spent many years in the field by the time they turn forty.
  5. Conclusion based on the above fact: Then the real reason for why scientists above the age of forty rarely produce creative work is not the age factor, but the fact that they have spent too many years (at least 15 years) in the field.
  6. Observe the logic here: Most of the scientists enter their field when they are around twenty-five years of age. However, many scientists who have produced highly creative work after the age of forty entered the field late. This indicates that most of the scientists are not able to do creative work beyond the age of forty because of having spent too much time in their fields of study.

Prethinking

Now let us prethink the roles and relationships of each BF – with each other and with the main conclusion.

AspectTypeRelationship with main conclusionRelationship with the other BF
BF1Fact/ObservationSupports the Main Conclusion.Supports BF2
BF2Fact/ObservationPart of the main conclusionBF2 is the explanation favored by the author/argument. Supported by BF1.

Answer Choice Analysis

Choice A: The first is a claim, the accuracy of which is at issue in the argument; the second is a conclusion drawn on the basis of that claim.

Incorrect:

BF1 -> BF1 is a fact, not a claim. Also, the argument does not challenge the accuracy of the statement (it is a fact, in fact!). BF1 actually supports the main conclusion. So, BF1 is incorrect.

BF2 -> BF2 is a factual part of the main conclusion, but it is not a conclusion by itself. It is also not drawn based on BF1; it is a separate and distinct fact. So, BF2 is also incorrect.

Choice B: The first is an objection that has been raised against a position defended in the argument; the second is that position.

Incorrect:

BF1 -> BF1 is used to support the main conclusion. Hence, we cannot say that it is an objection raised against a position defended in the argument. The only position defended in the argument is the main position (main conclusion), and BF1 is used to support this position. So, BF1 is incorrect.

BF2 -> BF2 is a factual part of the main conclusion, but it is not a conclusion by itself. Hence, we cannot call it a position (it is a fact, not a claim/position.). So, BF2 is also incorrect.

Choice C: The first is evidence that has been used to support an explanation that the argument challenges; the second is that explanation.

Incorrect:

BF1 -> BF1 is evidence that is used to support the explanation favored by the argument; it is not supporting the explanation challenged by the argument (the commonly believed explanation). So, BF1 is incorrect.

BF2 -> BF2 refers to “that” explanation, i.e., the explanation challenged by the argument. The only explanation challenged by the argument is the commonly thought/believed explanation. But BF2 is, in fact, the other explanation in the argument, which the argument supports. So, BF2 is also incorrect.

Choice D: The first is evidence that has been used to support an explanation that the argument challenges; the second is a competing explanation that the argument favors.

Incorrect:

BF1 -> BF1 is evidence that is used to support the explanation favored by the argument; it is not supporting the explanation challenged by the argument (the commonly believed explanation). So, BF1 is incorrect.

BF2 -> BF2 is indeed an explanation that is competing against the explanation challenged by the argument (the commonly believed explanation). Also, it is the explanation that is favored by the argument (it is part of the main conclusion). So, BF2 is correct.

Choice E: The first provides evidence to support an explanation that the argument favors; the second is that explanation

Correct:

BF1 -> As we have seen in prethinking, BF1 is indeed evidence that is used to support the explanation favored by the argument (BF2). So, BF1 is correct.

BF2 -> BF2 is indeed that explanation – the explanation favored by the argument. It is, in fact, a part of the main conclusion. Hence, BF2 is also correct.

Core Learnings from this question:

  1. The structure of the conclusion is interesting here. BF2 is a factual part of the main conclusion. The main conclusion is a claim, but it contains a factual portion (BF2). So, a conclusion/claim, though overall a claim, can have factual elements.
  2. Pay attention to keywords – However, since, etc. They can help us make sense of the argument more accurately and also faster.

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