GMAT Critical Reasoning: Tips and Strategies

The GMAT Critical Reasoning questions comprise approximately 1/3 of the 36 questions (thus about 11 or 12) that make up the overall verbal section of the test. Each one consists of a short paragraph (called the stem or stimulus) that presents some sort of argument, followed by a question that requires you to make a judgement about the stem.

Beyond simply measuring your reading skills, critical reasoning questions are designed to test your command of formal logic. Almost all critical reasoning questions provide a conclusion supported by evidence for that conclusion, both stated (the premises) and unstated (the assumptions). Your ultimate goal – whatever the specific question type – is to understand the conclusion and the reasoning that drives it.

Here are some crucial tips on how to tackle the Critical Reasoning Question:

Critical Reasoning – Tip 1:

Read the Question First

Though there are differing schools of thought about this, I firmly believe that is almost always beneficial to know what you’re looking for before you look for it. Reading the question first helps you to anticipate the proper way to approach the stimulus and perhaps what types of reasoning (or flaws in the reasoning) you might be looking for. It will help you to identify the 6 critical reasoning question types and what method of approach to employ based on that question type.

  • Critical Reasoning Question Types
    1. Strengthen/Weaken the Conclusion
    2. Find the Assumption
    3. Provide the Inference or Conclusion
    4. Identify the Structure of the Argument (Role of Boldface Type)
    5. Resolve the Paradox
    6. Evaluate the Conclusion (Usually by Finding Flaws)

Knowing the question type will help you to properly frame the reading of the stimulus.

GMAT Critical Reasoning – Tip 2:

Read the Stimulus and Immediately Identify the Conclusion

Having read the stimulus, take a moment to make sure you understand the reasoning that led to that conclusion. Paraphrase the stimulus, identifying the premises and any necessary assumptions. Based on the question type, decide what attributes the correct answer may have and see if you can anticipate any traps that this particular question type invites.

GMAT Critical Reasoning – Tip 3:

Look for Holes in the Argument

Though every critical reasoning prompt does not contain flawed reasoning, most of them do. Review the three basic lines of reasoning and recognize the common potential flaws of each.

  • 3 Common Lines of Reasoning Used in Critical Reasoning Questions
    1. Causal Reasoning
      • Attributing a causal connection to two events that exist together.
      • X accompanies Y, therefore X must have caused Y.
        • Blairville’s economy has been burgeoning while Mayor Sistrom has been in office. Therefore, Sistrom should be cited as a masterful economic leader.
        • Common Flaw: Correlation vs. Causation – maybe the renovation of the business district is responsible for the economic upswing.
  1. Analogous Reasoning
    • Citing that one situation is so similar to another situation that a similar outcome must follow.
    • X is so much like Y – therefore, the same outcome can be expected.
      • Business is booming at Bold Burger, a restaurant that opened last year in the seaport district of Spring City. Clearly, when Gourmet Delight opens in the district next month, it too will be quite a success.
      • Common flaw: How similar are the two situations? Will Gourmet Delight have similar cuisine, pricing, and customer base such that it will be a success?
  1. Statistical Reasoning
    • Arriving at conclusions based on surveys or other statistical information.
      • Four out of five dentists use Oral B toothbrushes. Clearly, Oral B is the toothbrush for you!
      • Common flaw: How random and how large is the survey? Who are the dentists who were surveyed – are they on the payroll of the Oral B company? Or, how many dentists were surveyed – was it literally 5 dentists, or was it 50,000 dentists of whom 40,000 responded as users of Oral B?

GMAT Critical Reasoning Tip 4:

Be Wary of Extremes in the Answer Choices!

Once you’ve adhered to the first 3 tips above, you’re ready to review the answer choices. As a general rule, you should eliminate choices that use extreme wording, rendering them too all encompassing. An alarm should go off when you see such words as always, never, best, worst, all, or none.

Critical reasoning usually involves some complex critical thinking, so sweeping generalizations are more often incorrect representations of what is being conveyed in the stimulus. Words like most or many would be preferred over all. Often is more likely the logical choice rather than always. Rarely is better than never and so on.

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