Critical Reasoning - Platinum Techniques

Many students initially find critical reasoning questions difficult. However, after a reasonable amount of practice and an understanding of the following techniques, most students are able to answer a considerable number of difficult critical reasoning questions.

Identify the Question Type

The GMAT critical reasoning section features a handful of common question types (e.g., strengthen the argument, find an assumption). It is imperative that you quickly identify the type of question you are being asked since your mindset and strategy should change based upon the type of logical reasoning analysis you are being asked to perform. See the list of critical reasoning question types for more information.

Identify the Conclusion

Most critical reasoning arguments contain a conclusion. This conclusion logically rests upon the premises (at least it should in a properly constructed and logically valid argument). It is essential that you identify the conclusion of the argument as the conclusion is the argument's point and many question types depend on your ability to determine the main point of the argument.

Identify Boundary Words

Some critical reasoning questions depend upon the differentiation between words such as "all", "most", or "none". When reading the argument, you must carefully read for boundary words that mark off crucial differences.

Determine the Crux of the Argument

Since so many wrong answers contain information that seems logically correct but is not relevant or based upon the argument, it is imperative that you quickly determine what the crux or essence of the argument is. Most arguments can be summarized in a sentence or two--indeed, this is how The Official Guide for GMAT Review, 11th Edition explains critical reasoning answers. By determining the crux of the argument, you can often quickly eliminate one-to-three answer choices that are not relevant to the argument or based upon the information it provides.

Learn the Common Trap Answers

Out of Scope

The trap answer provides logical information or a logical conclusion, but it is out of scope. In other words, the answer does not address the main issue(s) raised in the question stem. Answers that require major assumptions or additional information not provided are usually wrong.

Ill-founded

The trap answer provides logical information or a logical conclusion, but it is not based upon information provided in the question stem. For most question types, you should only take a small step from the stimulus to the correct answer, which should be founded upon the premises and conclusion in the stimulus.

Extreme Diction or Value Judgments

The trap answer uses words such as "always," "never," "must". Answer choices with these words should be viewed with suspicion. (Exceptions include strengthen questions where the GAMT states that information in the answer choices is true and an answer choice uses extreme diction to strengthen the argument). Likewise, answers that make value judgments about groups or professions should rarely be chosen.

Necessary vs. Sufficient Conditions

The trap answer confuses what is necessary with what is sufficient. If an event requires a necessary condition, the necessary condition must happen in order for the event to occur. However, the occurrence of the necessary condition does not guarantee the occurrence of the event. For example, it is necessary for the temperature to be cold in order for snow to fall. However, the occurrence of a necessary condition (i.e., the presence of cold weather) does not guarantee the occurrence of an event (i.e., snow falling). On the contrary, a sufficient condition is one that guarantees that an event will occur or another condition will be true.

Correlation vs. Causation

The trap answer confuses correlation with causation, relative change with absolute change, rate of change with absolute change, etc. For example, consider a question with a stimulus that states: "Based upon the observation that workers at a local factory experienced more health problems than the average national worker, researchers concluded that factory conditions caused the health problems and are unsafe." The researchers took a correlation (working at the factory and having health problems) and drew a causal relationship (the factory caused the health problems). However, this is not supported as other factors outside the factory that apply to all the workers could be the cause of the health problems.

Off-Topic

The trap answer provides the answer to a major logical problem in the stimulus. However, the question stem did not ask about this logical problem. The conclusion (which you must find--remembering that some question types do not have conclusions), dictates the major topic of the question. Answers that address an issue that is not at the heart of the stimulus' conclusion should be viewed with caution.