In the previous two posts on GMAT Reading Comprehension we discussed the way you should read a GMAT RC passage and the way you should approach GMAT RC questions in order to increase your accuracy on the same.
In this post we will take up a tough GMAT RC and execute the strategies covered in the previous posts.
How to read a GMAT Reading Comprehension passage
Jon Clark’s study of the effect of the modernization of a telephone exchange on exchange maintenance work and workers is a solid contribution to a debate that encompasses two lively issues in the history and sociology of technology: technological determinism and social constructivism.
Step 1: Identify the topic and the main argument being explored
What is the topic of the passage?
- John Clark’s study OR
- The debate between technological determinism (TD) and social constructivism (SC)
What does the first sentence say?
- John Clark’s study is a great contribution to the debate between TD and SC.
Suppose I say this book is a great work to understand the debate between economic growth and income disparity. What will I then talk about?
- The book and the perspective it brings to the debate
Similarly in this passage the topic is John Clark’s study.
What is the argument?
- Jon Clark’s study……. is a solid contribution to a debate that encompasses two lively issues….
The rest of the passage will be elaborating
- WHY it is a solid contribution to the debate
- HOW it encompasses both issues
If you are able to correctly identify the topic and argument of the passage, almost half of the RC battle is won.
Clark makes the point that the characteristics of a technology have a decisive in influence on job skills and work organization. Put more strongly, technology can be a primary determinant of social and managerial organization. Clark believes this possibility has been obscured by the recent sociological fashion, exemplified by Braverman’s analysis,that emphasizes the way machinery reflectssocial choices. For Braverman,the shape of a technological system is subordinate to the manager’s desire to wrest control of the labor process from the workers. Technological change is construed as the outcome of negotiations among interested parties who seek to incorporate their own interests into the design and configuration of the machinery. This position represents the new mainstream called social constructivism.
Step 2: How is the main argument extended or elaborated in the succeeding paragraph?
- John Clark argues that TECHNOLOGY determines SOCIAL & MANAGERIAL ORGANIZATION.
- He believes that this perspective has been obscured by Braverman’s analysis that SOCIAL CHOICES determine TECHNOLOGICAL CHANGE.
- So John Clark sides with TD and believes Braverman’s analysis, which is the SC view, has now become mainstream or accepted by many.
This paragraph introduces one of the main ideas of John Clark — he believes SC has obscured TD and become more accepted than TD.
The constructivists gain acceptance by misrepresenting technological determinism:technological determinists are supposed to believe,for example, that machinery imposes appropriate forms of order on society. The alternative to constructivism, in other words, is toview technology as existing outside society, capable of directly influencing skills and work organization.
Step 3: Tracking the relationship between paragraphs to identify a passage map
How is this related to the previous paragraph?
- It explains John Clark’s view on how SC managed to gain acceptance over TD?
- By misrepresenting TD
- How does SC misrepresent TD?
- SC incorrectly says that TD believes that TECHNOLOGY imposes ORDER on SOCIETY directly, while existing outside society
Clark refutes the extremes of the constructivists by both theoretical and empirical arguments. Theoretically he defines “technology” in terms of relationships between social and technical variables. Attempts to reduce the meaning of technology to cold, hard metal are bound to fail, for machinery is just scrap unless it is organized functionally and supported by appropriate systems of operationand maintenance. At the empirical level Clark shows how achange at the telephone exchange from maintenance-intensive electromechanical switches to semi-electronic switching systems altered work tasks, skills, training opportunities,administration,and organization of workers. Some changes Clark attributes to the particular way management and labor unions negotiated the introduc-tion of the technology, whereas others are seen as arising from the capabilities and nature of the technology itself. Thus Clark helps answer thequestion: “When is social choice decisive and when are the concretecharacteristics of technology more important?”
Step 4: Tracking the relationship between paragraphs to identify a passage map
How is this related to the previous paragraph?
- It explains how John Clark refutes TD’s representation of SC
- He defines technology as a relationship between SOCIETY and TECHNOLOGY
- He shows how a change in technology results in changes in work tasks, skills, training opportunities, administration, and organization of workers
- It concludes by saying how John Clark’s study helps determine how SOCIETY and TECHNOLOGY take precedence in the relationship between the two.
Differentiating between the opinion of the author and the information mentioned in the passage
The author’s own opinion is limited to a few statements revolving around one argument – John Clark’s study is crucial in better understanding the debate between TD and SC.
All the arguments are made by John Clark, Braverman or Social Constructivists.
Knowing where to go to look for specific things
- Braverman, Social Constructivists second paragraph
- Social Constructivists view of TD, third paragraph
- Telephone Exchange, last paragraph
Question 1, Level: MEDIUM
The primary purpose of the passage is to
(A) advocate a more positive attitude toward technological change
(B) discuss the implications for employees of the modernization of a telephone exchange
(C) consider a successful challenge to the constructivist view of technological change
(D) challenge the position of advocates of technological determinism
(E) suggest that the social causes of technological change should be studied in real situations
What is the author concerned with?
- explaining how and why John Clark’s book is a solid contribution to the debate between TD and SC.
Options A, B, D and E all say that it is the author who is advocating, discussing, challenging or suggesting.
But is the author putting forth any of the arguments about the debate between TD and SC? NO.
So the only answer option possible is C.
- consider a successful challenge (John Clark’s study) to the constructivist view(TD) of technological change
Even if you did not understand the arguments put forth by John Clark, if you had paused after the first paragraph and identified the topic and the argument, you could have answered this question correctly.
Question 2, Level: EASY
Which of the following statements about the modernization of the telephone exchange is supported by information in the passage?
(A) The new technology reduced the role of managers in labor negotiations.
(B) The modernization was implemented without the consent of the employees directly affected by it.
(C) The modernization had an impact that went significantly beyond maintenance routines.
(D) Some of the maintenance workers felt victimized by the new technology.
(E) The modernization gave credence to the view of advocates of social constructivism.
Information about the telephone exchange is present in the last paragraph — a change at the telephone exchange from maintenance-intensive electromechanical switches to semi-electronic switching systems altered work tasks, skills, training opportunities, administration, and organization of workers.
Only option C is supported by the information in the passage.
Remember that the correct answer option will not repeat the same sentences/arguments in the passage— it will rephrase it or summarise it
Question 3, Level: EASY
Which of the following most accurately describes Clark’s opinion of Braverman’s position?
(A) He respects its wide-ranging popularity.
(B) He disapproves of its misplaced emphasis on the influence of managers.
(C) He admires the consideration it gives to the attitudes of the workers affected.
(D) He is concerned about its potential to impede the implementation of new technologies.
(E) He is sympathetic to its concern about the impact of modern technology on workers.
Clark is AGAINST Braverman’s analysis (second paragraph), refuting it in later paragraphs. Options A, C, D and E are thus straightaway ruled out, leaving us with the right option — B.
Question 4, Level: DIFFICULT
The information in the passage suggests that which of the followin-g statements from hypothetical sociological studies of change in industry most clearly exemplifies the social constructivists’ version of technological determinism?
(A) It is the available technology that determines workers’ skills, rather than workers’ skills influencing the application of technology.
(B) All progress in industrial technology grows out of a continuing negotiation between technological possibility and human need.
(C) Some organizational change is caused by people;some is caused by computer chips.
(D) Most major technological advances in industry have been generated through research and development.
(E) Some industrial technology eliminates jobs, but educated workers can create whole new skills areas by the adaptation of the technology.
If it is a long question, you have to understand what the question is asking before you jump to the options; half of your job will be done if you define what you need to look for. Otherwise you will just be going back and forth between options.
Which of the HYPOTHETICAL (EXAMPLES OR PARALLEL SITUATIONS) sociological studies of change in industry EXEMPLIFIES (IS AN EXAMPLE OF or ILLUSTRATES) SC’s view of TD?
If you do not do this exercise there is no point trying to even answer this question.
Firstly, what is SC’s view of TD? Where is it given? We have to go to the third paragraph
- The constructivists gain acceptance by misrepresenting technological determinism: technological determinists are supposed to believe, for example, that machinery imposes appropriate forms of order on society
So you need to choose and option that ILLUSTRATES that machinery imposes appropriate forms of order on society. The only option that does this is option A.
Question 5, Level: DIFFICULT
The information in the passage suggests that Clark believes that which of the following would be true if social constructivism had not gained widespread acceptance?
(A) Businesses would be more likely to modernize without consider -ing the social consequences of their actions.
(B) There would be greater understanding of the role played by technology in producing social change.
(C) Businesses would be less likely to understand the attitudes of employees affected by modernization.
(D) Modernization would have occurred at a slower rate.
(E) Technology would have played a greater part in determining the role of business in society.
Again you have to deconstruct the question first
- If SC’s argument, which Clark believes is incorrect, had not gained acceptance what would people instead accept
So what is SC’s argument? SOCIETY influences TECHNOLOGICAL CHANGE?
If this had not gained acceptance, the alternative view — TD: TECHNOLOGY influences SOCIETY— would have gained acceptance.
The only options that can be considered are B and E but E is incorrect as it says that TECHNOLOGY would influence ROLE OF BUSINESS IN SOCIETY. Hence, B.
Question 6, Level: MEDIUM
According to the passage, constructivists employed which of the following to promote their argument?
(A) Empirical studies of business situations involving technologi -cal change
(B) Citation of managers supportive of their position
(C) Construction of hypothetical situations that support their view
(D) Contrasts of their view with a misstatement of an opposing view
(E) Descriptions of the breadth of impact of technological change
This is given in paragraph 3 — The constructivists gain acceptance by misrepresenting technological determinism. Only option D states this.
Question 7, Level: MEDIUM
The author of the passage uses the expression “are supposed to” in line 27 primarily in order to
(A) suggest that a contention made by constructivists regarding determinists is inaccurate
(B) define the generally accepted position of determinists regard -ing the implementation of technology
(C) engage in speculation about the motivation of determinists
(D) lend support to a comment critical of the position of determinists
(E) contrast the historical position of determinists with their position regarding the exchange modernization
Whenever a question refers to a particular phrase you need to read the whole sentence of which it is a part, may be even the sentence preceding it.
- The constructivists gain acceptance by misrepresenting technological determinism: technological determinists are supposed to believe, for example, that machinery imposes appropriate forms of order on society.
The phrase are supposed to is used to highlight the fact that it is a misrepresentation. Only option A states this.
Question 8, Level: MEDIUM
Which of the following statements about Clark’s study of the telephone exchange can be inferred from information in the passage?
(A) Clark’s reason for undertaking the study was to undermine Braverman’s analysis of the function of technology.
(B) Clark’s study suggests that the implementation of technology should be discussed in the context of conflict between labor and management.
(C) Clark examined the impact of changes in the technology of switching at the exchange in terms of overall operations and organization.
(D) Clark concluded that the implementation of new switching technology was equally beneficial to management and labor.
(E) Clark’s analysis of the change in switching systems applies only narrowly to the situation at the particular exchange that he studied.
Information about the telephone exchange is present in the last paragraph — At the empirical level Clark shows how a change at the telephone exchange from maintenance-intensive electromechanical switches to semi-electronic switching systems altered change at the telephone exchange from maintenance-intensive electromechanical switches to semi-electronic switching systems altered work tasks, skills, training opportunities, administration, and organization of workers.
Only option C is supported by the information in the passage.
I hope this guided practice set was useful in improving your understading of the process to crack GMAT Reading Comprehension. The key lies in reading by pausing between paragraphs to generate a passage map, differentiating between the author’s opinion and those of others, reading the longer questions properly before reading the options and treating the options like CR options.
Please let me know, via the comments, if there are passages from the GMAT Official Guide that you would like me to take up for more of such guided practice exercises.
Your explanations were extremely helpful! Very straight forward and to the point, which have been hard to find on other sites.
For a difficult passage like this, how would you go about organizing your thoughts/notes? Could you provide an example? I find it hard to keep track of what the main points of this passage are if I’m not taking notes but that means I’m sacrificing a lot more time. How much time should I use to get through a passage like this?
While taking notes can be useful, it ends up taking a lot of time. So over a period of practice you should move to pausing after every para and mentally making a note of the main idea of the para and how it is linked to the preceding one. Glad you found the post useful. Would similar exercises using more passages help?
Yes other similar exercises would be really help! Especially for the longer/harder passages. Thanks so much!
The constructivists gain acceptance by misrepresenting technological determinism:technological determinists are supposed to believe,for example, that machinery imposes appropriate forms of order on society. The alternative to constructivism, in other words, is to view technology as existing outside society, capable of directly influencing skills and work organization.
So what is SC’s argument? SOCIETY influences TECHNOLOGICAL CHANGE
Which line in the paragraph implies this statement.?