the following is from an article called A Must-Use Critical Reasoning Strategy
wrote by Stacey Koprince from Manhattan GMAT
How can someone read the argument too soon?
It may seem kind of strange to say that someone reads the argument too soon. After all, isn’t that the first thing we do on a CR question? Actually, reading the argument is not the first thing we should do. The first thing we should do is read the question stem.
Then, we’re ready to read the argument, right?
Not so fast. The question stem can tell us several things that will make it easier to do the rest of the problem. First, the question stem tells us what kind of question we’re about to do. Is this a Find the Assumption question? A Weaken the Conclusion question? Maybe it’s one of the Minor question types?
Second, some question stems provide additional information beyond the basic question. We can divide question stems into three basic categories: (A) Basic, (B) Clue, and (C) Conclusion!
(A) Basic Question Stems
A Basic question might say something like, “The conclusion drawn above is based on the assumption that __________.” This is a Find the Assumption question.
(B) Clue Question Stems
A question stem may also provide additional information in the form of a clue that will help us to find the conclusion. A Clue question might say something like, “Which of the following, if true, provides the best grounds to doubt that the president’s plan will succeed?” Now, we know several things. “Best grounds to doubt” tells us that this is a Weaken the Conclusion question. The additional information tells us that the argument talks about a president and a plan that the president has – and, more importantly, that president’s plan has something to do with the conclusion of the argument. Most likely, the president’s plan, whatever it is, is the conclusion. Now I know I should pay extra attention when the argument starts talking about the president’s plan.
(C) Conclusion! Question Stems
A question stem can also contain the argument’s conclusion. Sometimes, the conclusion will be repeated in the argument text and sometimes the conclusion will be contained only in the question stem. An example of this type might read, “Which of the following, if true, best supports the president’s plan to reduce costs by switching to a cheaper raw material?” Bingo! Now, not only do I know this is a Strengthen the Conclusion question, but I also know the conclusion, so I can start analyzing the argument the moment I start reading it.
Okay, I’ve read the question stem. I’ve identified the question type. Maybe I’ve even found something out about the conclusion. Now it’s time to read the argument, right?
Maybe. We still have one more thing we should know how to do.
Know what you’re about to do
You’re about to answer a certain kind of question. You should know what it is that you have to do in order to answer a question of that type. While studying, make sure you can answer these four questions about every CR question type:
(1) What kind of information do I need to find for this CR question type?
(2) What kind of analysis will I need to do on that information?
(3) What characteristics should I expect of the right answer?
(4) What characteristics should I expect of the wrong answers?
For example, if this is a “Find the Assumption” question, I know that an assumption is something that the author of the argument must believe to be true in order to draw that conclusion. (Note: I might disagree; I might think that assumption doesn’t have to be true.) The assumption is something the argument’s author must believe and the argument’s author must believe that piece of info specifically in order to get from one of the argument’s premises to the argument’s conclusion. So, now I know that I need something the author must believe to be true specifically in order to tie together one of the premises with the conclusion; that answers questions 1 and 2, above.
Right answers on Find the Assumption questions will often be closely tied to the conclusion. They will not make the conclusion definitely true, but they may make the conclusion seem more valid or, at the least, it may be easier to understand why the author believes the conclusion is more valid. Right answers must bridge some gap between one of the given premises and the conclusion; it isn’t enough just to address the conclusion. Finally, if the right answer is negated (if we say that assumption is not true or doesn’t have to be true), then the author’s conclusion should make a lot less sense.
The trickiest wrong answers will often address just a premise or just the conclusion, without bridging a gap between a premise and the conclusion. Wrong answers also may “follow on” from the conclusion, or talk about what would happen after the conclusion is accepted as valid. And, as always, some wrong answers may simply be out of scope, addressing something that isn’t the point of the argument. If the wrong answer is negated (if we say the assumption is not true or doesn’t have to be true), the author’s conclusion shouldn’t be affected much.
On all Critical Reasoning questions:
(1) Read the question stem first. Identify the question type. If additional information is present, use it to help you find / know the conclusion as quickly and easily as possible.
(2) Once you’ve identified the question type, quickly remind yourself of what you need to do on questions of this type. (If you’ve done the necessary studying, this should only take a few seconds.)
(3) Anticipate. If there are certain traps you tend to fall into on questions of this type, know why you tend to make those mistakes and set up a process to help you avoid them.
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