How to Approach Critical Reasoning Questions

There are numerous ways to approach critical reasoning questions. For some test-takers, detailed diagramming unlocks the answer. However, for others, this technique proves cumbersome and confusing. Consequently, we cannot emphasize enough the importance of practicing and developing a method for attacking critical reasoning problems that works for you. Below, you will find one possible approach:

  1. Write down A B C D E in your erasable notebook in vertical order (i.e., after A, drop down a line and write B, drop down another line and write C, etc.). As you go through answer choices, you will cross out wrong choices. This saves mental energy and prevents careless mistakes (e.g., you store the answer in your mind, only to recall the wrong answer when you input it into the computer). It is important to write the answer grid down before you read the stimulus or the question stem because writing the letters A, B, C, D, and E weakens your memory of the question stem and stimulus you just read.
  2. At this point, there are two different options. You should experiment with both and discover what works best for you.
    1. Begin by Reading the Question Stem.
      1. Since your mental framework for reading the stimulus should be different depending upon the type of the question you are being asked (e.g., a strengthen/weaken versus inference versus identify the conclusion), it is important to read the question stem before reading the stimulus. This allows you to read the argument (i.e., stimulus) with the best mental framework.
      2. With the appropriate framework for reading the stimulus in mind, read the stimulus. Identify the conclusion (presuming there is one, which is the case most of the time).
      3. Quickly re-read the question stem.
    1. Begin by Reading the Stimulus
      1. In order to save precious time, begin by reading the stimulus. Reading the question stem first takes additional time since you will likely need to re-read the question stem after reading the stimulus.
      2. Read the question stem.
  3. Attempt to anticipate the correct answer. This helps prevent your mind from reading the answer choices blind and being persuaded (or duped) by crafty answers designed to trap you.
  4. Read the answer choices.
  5. Select the correct answer choice.