Critical Reasoning questions compose a little less than one third of all the questions on the verbal section of the GMAT. Each CR question requires test-takers to analyze and/or identify certain parts of a specific argument – a vital skill not only for a high GMAT score, but also for success in business school (and business!)
If you're getting ready to dive into your CR studies, here are 5 concrete tips to get you started:
1. Know your terminology.
Know the definition for terms like assumption, inference, evidence, conclusion, logical flaw, paradox, etc., like the back of your hand. As you go through practice tests, write down any words in the argument, question stem, or answer choice that confuse you – and then look them up!
When you have the essential definitions down, you can jump into arguments much more quickly -- and you won't waste any time second-guessing what a question is asking you to find.
2. Take the time to identify the different parts of each CR passage.
If you’re having a hard time sorting out the meaning of a passage, take a moment to identify its conclusion and the evidence (statements of fact) and assumptions (unstated ideas) it uses to make that conclusion (the conclusion will often be signaled by words like “as a result” or “therefore”).
Once you break down an argument into its component parts, it's easier to see what purpose each component serves. This structural approach is key when you're asked to strengthen, weaken, or paraphrase specific claims.
3. Don’t confuse correlation with causation.
This is a common logical flaw, and it occurs when an argument concludes that one event caused another, based only on the evidence that the two occurred at the same time or one after another. Don’t be fooled!
The GMAT will throw the same flawed logic at you again and again to test your knowledge of sound reasoning. If you know the go-to flaws ahead of time, you can jump to the right answer more quickly (and avoid the traps more easily!).
4. Look out for opposite answer choices.
If a question asks you for a statement that best weakens an argument, beware of answer choices that do the exact opposite (i.e. strengthen the argument). Opposite answers are actually incredibly tempting because they mirror correct answers in force.
The test-makers bank on the fact that your attention will slip just for a second and you'll pick the opposite of the right choice. If you're on the lookout for this trick, you'll be less likely to fall for it.
5. Brush up on the most frequently used methods of reasoning.
Arguments cite many types of evidence, but certain methods of reasoning are more effective than others and thus more commonly used on the GMAT. An author might advance her points by citing an authority (like a study or scholar) or providing an analogy (appealing to a similar situation). Common methods of countering an argument include noting ulterior motives or demonstrating a logical inconsistency.
This is another example where identifying the structure of an argument can save you time. If you understand an author's method of reasoning, it's easier to identify where the argument is flawed -- and how you could strengthen or weaken it if a question asked you to do so.