GMAT Critical Reasoning Overview

The Critical Reasoning section tests your ability to make arguments, evaluate arguments, draw conclusions, and formulate or assess chains of reasoning. Luckily for you, this part is very similar in content to the Analytical Writing Assessment. In the majority of cases, the same fallacies you already know from the AWA are also hidden in this part.

Each question consists of a statement, a question about the statement, and five answer choices.

The typical length of the statement in each question is less than 100 words, shorter than Reading Comprehension passages. Occasionally there are two questions and answer choices following a single statement.

In this section we recommend that you read both the statement and the questions carefully and identify the assumption implicit in the statement with a heightened awareness of any weakness in the argument.

Fundamental Structure of an Argument

Premises/Evidence

- Clearly stated; supporting facts or information or an observation or a conclusion based on a relevant situation

- Can be inferred from assumptions and conclusions

Assumptions

- Implicit; unstated

- Foundation of a conclusion

- Sometimes there are no assumptions between evidence and conclusion

- Can be inferred from evidence and conclusion

Conclusion (based on associated conditions)

- Final Decision deduced from assumptions and evidence

- Different conditions to a conclusion can lead to different conclusions

- Conclusion can be an entire sentence or part of a sentence

Example:

A student who scores high on the GRE usually scores high on the GMAT too. If Alice's GRE score is in the 99th percentile, she will score above 700 on the GMAT as well.

Type of Questions

There are four major types of questions. Among them, Assumption questions are the most common type. In particular, the Assumption - Weakening questions often times account for 40% of the total Critical Reasoning problems.

a. Assumption Questions

· Assumption

· Weakening

· Strengthening

· Flaw

b. Inference/Conclusion Questions

c. Paradox/Explain Questions

d. Method of Reasoning Questions

GMAT Sample Critical Reasoning Questions

1. Weather records indicate that the temperature in Linden, a major metropolis, is always 2 to 3 degrees higher than the temperature in Ipswich, a smaller city close by Linden. Experts say that this situation is caused by heavier smog and pollution in larger cities. However, during the last five years, there were 25 days when the temperature was the same in both cities.

Which of the following conclusions can be properly drawn from the statement above?

(A) The temperature can change very quickly in the course of one hour.

(B) Experts neglected the smog and pollution in smaller cities.

(C) These 25 days of symmetric temperatures were due to different atmospheric fronts.

(D) These 25 days are not representative of normal temperature measurements.

(E) Higher temperatures in larger cities are caused by factors other than smog and pollution.

Solution: 25 days out of 1825 days, or 5 years, is a small percentage. Therefore, it is choice D: "these 25 days are not representative of normal temperature measurements" that is the proper conclusion to draw.

2. Two different cages of rabbits were given injections of mild toxins. In addition, the first cage was also exposed to cold temperature; three-fourths of the rabbits in this cage became sick. Only one-fifth of the rabbits in the normal temperature cage became sick. The lab technicians concluded that cold temperature increases the likelihood of illness in rabbits.

The technicians' conclusion logically depends on which of the following assumptions?

(A) The exposure to cold temperature acted as a catalyst for the toxins which made more rabbits in the first cage sick.

(B) The toxins given to the rabbits in the two cages were of varying strength.

(C) Injecting the rabbits with toxins made them sick.

(D) Even without the exposure to cold temperature, the rabbits in the first cage would have probably gotten sick.

(E) Even exposing rabbits to slight variances in temperature is likely to induce illness.

Solution: If more rabbits became sick in the cage where they were exposed to colder temperature, as opposed to the warmer cage where fewer rabbits became sick, after being injected with the same toxins, it can be assumed that the combination of cold temperature and the toxin makes more rabbits sick. Choice A is the best answer. All other choices can be true on a stand-alone basis. However, they do not support the technicians' conclusion.

Watch for traps. Select the right answer for GMAT Critical Reasoning Questions.

Read through the answer choices provided and use the answer grid to cross out obviously wrong choices. Typically three out of the five choices would support the opposite from what is being asked for or provide no relevant information at all. You should identify these answers first and cross them off. Of the remaining two, both will probably support what they are asked to support, but one will be much stronger than the other. Be very careful before making your final choice.

a. Assumption Questions

Trap One: Be aware of distracting answer choices designed not for the type of the question you are facing, instead for a completely different type of question.

Just as with Inference questions, the test-makers will try to tempt you to go for the "wrong kind" of answer-by presenting you with a "conclusion" of the argument presented in the statement in the answer choices, which might be right if the question was an Inference one, but which doesn't answer the question of an Assumption question. This is one of the reasons identifying the question type can be so helpful - if you know you are looking for a 'strengthener' or a 'weakener' you shouldn't be tempted by a 'conclusion'.

Trap Two: Be aware of opposite answer choices which you should not get confused with and should stay away from.

The two most common question types are 'weakeners' and 'strengtheners' (up to 50% of the Critical Reasoning questions overall can be Assumption-Weaken.) The answer choices of a Weaken question will almost always include a strengthener and vice versa. Under test conditions it is amazing how often test-takers become confused and go for the opposite answer of the desired one-since so much of the time the way to dismiss a wrong answer is to observe that it is completely irrelevant (see "out of scope" below), the diametrically opposite wrong answer at least has the fact that it is definitely relevant to the original statement going for it-and (as in Inference questions trap 3) the correct answer can be 'disguised' by a bit of slightly obscure wording which encourages you to skip it.

This is one of the best reasons to start by reading the question, not the statement - if you stay very clear in your mind as to whether you are seeking to weaken or strengthen the argument you will be likely to get it right.

Trap Three: Do not rely on generic facts. As a rule of thumb, a good attack on an underlying assumption is more than just one real-life counterexample.

b. Inference/Conclusion Questions

Trap One: Be aware of distracting answer choices designed not for the type of the question you are facing, instead for a completely different type of question.

Since the Assumption questions are the most common type of question, 'trap' answer choices for the less-common Inference questions can look like typical answers you expect to see in an assumption question-for example something that contradicts the argument and would be the answer for a `weaken' question. Bear in mind that the answer in an inference question has to be a conclusion.

Trap Two: Be aware that your final choice should only be based on the very arguments presented in the tested question, not some generic facts.

Inference questions ask you to draw a conclusion-but it MUST be a conclusion that is fully supported by the evidence in the question. You will often see conclusions which look convincing but which rely on your 'outside knowledge' rather than only on the facts given in the statement.

Trap Three: Stay away from answer choices that contain opinions. Do not choose any "nearly correct" answers.

Always avoid answer choices that contain opinions - you're looking for something that must be true based on the given evidence.

Similarly, watch for words that slightly distort conclusions. For example, if a statement gives evidence that would support the answer choice 'some people don't base their purchasing decisions on price alone', a common trap answer will be 'most people don't base their purchasing decisions on price alone'. Watching for the words 'most', 'often', 'usually', 'few', 'none' or 'no', and 'all', along with any other qualifiers or intensifiers, and considering whether their use is REALLY supported by the evidence, can be a helpful technique.

It's common for the test-makers to combine a slightly distorted but 'nearly correct' answer like this with another answer choice that is hard to decipher, but once understood is obviously true-the hope is that you'll scan the answer choices quickly and settle for the 'close' answer because nothing 'jumps out' at you.

c. Paradox/Explain Questions

Main Trap: Be aware that you need to compare both conclusions, not just one of them.

Since the question asks you to explain an apparent contradiction, the common trap answers distract you from the contradiction and focus you on just one of the two trends. Remember that the correct answer deals with BOTH of the trends or facts in the statement, and that an answer which simply explains what may seem the 'more puzzling' trend in isolation is not fully satisfying the requirement in a Paradox question.

d. Method of Reasoning Questions

Main Trap: Do not choose any "nearly correct" answers.

Much like Trap 3 under Inference questions, the trap wrong answers in MOR questions give you a slight distortion of the correct answer. Again, watch for qualifiers and intensifiers and consider whether their use is correct.

 
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