You will be given a passage containing an argument and then asked to analyze or complete that argument. The first step to answering a critical reasoning question on the GMAT is reading the question. Read the question before reading the passage, so that you know which components of the argument to identify. The GMAT will ask a variety of different questions, based on the passages they provide. The most common are:
- Main point: Identify the author’s main point.
- Assumption: Which of the following is an assumption on which the argument depends?
- Evaluation: Which would be most helpful to know when evaluating the argument?
- Flaw: Which of the following identifies a flaw in the argument?
- Strengthen: Which of the following provides the most support for the argument?
- Weaken: Which of the following most weakens the argument?
- Inference: Which of the following could be true, based on the passage above?
- Discrepancy Explanation: Which of the following could best explain the discrepancy above?
- Role: What role do the boldface sections play in the argument?
- Description: Sally counters James’s point by…
- Complete the argument: Which sentence most logically completes the argument?
Only after reading and understanding what the question is asking is it then appropriate to read the argument. The argument itself can consist of several components:
- Background information is sometimes included in the passage and provides context for the argument. It will help you better understand the argument, but is not the most essential information for answering the questions.
- Occasionally an argument includes a counterpoint which is something that goes against the authors main point. It is important to not confuse this with the author’s actual point.
- Every argument passage includes at least one premise, which is information that is provided to support the author’s main point. When analyzing an argument, don’t think about whether or not the premises are good within themselves, just assume they are true. The important part is analyzing if the conclusion follows logically from those premises.
- Most arguments contain a main conclusion. If they don’t, it is usually because they are asking you to choose the most logical conclusion based on the premises. The conclusion is usually the most important part of the argument to identify. Sometimes the argument includes a preliminary or intermediate conclusion, which is a conclusion that follows from the premises and is used to prove the main conclusion. It is important to distinguish this from the main point the author is trying to make. Signal words that help you identify the conclusion include: therefore, thus and in conclusion.
- An unstated component that either helps the conclusion or is necessary for the conclusion of the argument is called an assumption. For example, if the author says, “Jake is wearing a red T shirt, therefore it is Friday”. The assumption would be something that enables the conclusion (it is Friday) to follow from the premise (Jake is wearing a red T shirt), for example: Jake ONLY wears a red T shirt if its Friday. Part of identifying the assumption, is identifying the holes in the argument, for example, realizing that the conclusion “it is friday” doesn’t logically follow from “Jake is wearing a red T-shirt” unless there is something else there. On the GMAT, these holes will be more subtle and difficult to detect. They are nonetheless extremely important since some questions only need you to identify the holes and not find the exact assumption.
After reading the question and the argument, its time to read the answer choices. As you read through the answer choices, use process of elimination to cross out the ones you know are wrong right off the bat. You can keep track of this using that chart shown below. Then examine the ones that are left more closely to find the best answer. Often times there isn’t a perfect answer, just a best answer. That is why it is important to use process of elimination, because if you can find why four answers are wrong, you can find your answer.
So, how do you study for critical reasoning?
Like Reading Comprehension, Critical Reasoning does not require outside knowledge. You just need to know strategies for approaching the questions. So, get a basic idea of those strategies from a course or book and practice, practice practice. If you are aiming for a 700+ score LSAT logical reasoning questions are a good source for difficult practice questions as well.