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Critical Reasoning and shopping for pants!

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Joined: 19 Mar 2012
Posts: 4559
Location: United States (WA)
Concentration: Leadership, General Management
Schools: Ross '20 (M)
GMAT 1: 760 Q50 V42
GMAT 2: 740 Q49 V42 (Online)
GPA: 3.8
WE: Marketing (Non-Profit and Government)
Critical Reasoning and shopping for pants!  [#permalink]

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New post 14 Sep 2018, 22:06
GMAT Tip of the Week: Critical Reasoning is like shopping for pants

This topic is a part of the GMAT Club Tip of the Week Series

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Yes, you read that correctly :) answering Critical Reasoning questions on the GMAT is just like shopping for pants. Sounds strange, right? What exactly do we mean by this and why is it a necessary strategy to use on test day?

Not all Critical Reasoning questions should be solved via process of elimination, but more often than not, test-takers try to use this strategy on every CR question they see. The problem with pure process of elimination is that when you look at how Critical Reasoning is structured, you generally have four or five sentences in a paragraph and then five answer choices, and those answer choices can get dense - by the time you've completed process of elimination, you've often read more in wrong answer choices (stuff that doesn't matter) than you have in actual passage. And that often means that you start to forget what was really important in the prompt itself - you've wasted time getting lost in the answer choices, and you're worn down from all of that reading.

The types of problems that really should NOT be solved via the process of elimination are any problems that can be categorized as Strengthen, Weaken, or Assumption questions. What generally happens with these questions is that test-takers will spend about one-third of their time reading the prompt, and two-thirds of their time on pure process of elimination. They'll then get lost in the answer choices or talk themselves into picking the wrong answer choice because they've spent so much time on the problem.

If you understand the blueprint for Strengthen, Weaken, and Assumption Critical Reasoning problems - where you get a flawed argument with a gap in logic - then you can go into it just like you are shopping for pants. Like shopping for pants, or any clothing for that matter, you just need to find the GAP (not the clothing store, here, but rather, the gap in logic) and go with a list (know exactly what you need so you don't leave the store, or the GMAT problem, with something you don't want).

Still confused? Take a look at the two syllogisms below:

Statement I.
All men are mortal.
Socrates is a man.
Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

Statement II.
All men are mortal.
Socrates is a dog.
Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

These two statements are trying to use formal logic to show that particular conclusion is valid.

In the first Statement, Socrates is part of the group "men" and we know that all "men" are mortal. Therefore, Socrates is mortal - this is a valid conclusion because the two given premises (facts) guarantee that conclusion.

Now, here's the Blueprint for so many Strengthen, Weaken, and Assumption questions you'll see on this exam: just like how Syllogism II changes one thing about Syllogism I to create a gap in logic, the GMAT Testmakers will change one thing about an answer choice in Critical Reasoning problems to also create a gap in logic. With Syllogism II, there is a gap between "men" and "dog". These two words are different, so you can no longer conclude that Socrates is mortal - that conclusion is now invalid. On the GMAT, it may not be quite so simple as this example, but they are essentially testing you the same way. Instead of "man" and "dog" - an obviously wide gap - they might use "the unemployment rate" and "the number of people unemployed" (a rate vs. an exact number) or "the number of arrests" and "the number of crimes committed" (two things that often - but not always - occur together).

Once you've found whatever the gap is, you know your job. If you're faced with a Weaken question, you're trying to prove that two things are not the same (widening the gap), and if you're faced with a Strengthen question, you're trying to prove that two things are the same (shrinking the gap).

And here's where "shopping for pants" comes in: once you've found "the GAP" you should have your "shopping list" (what do you want that answer to do?). Then when you get to the answer choices, you only want to "try on" - meaning really carefully read and think about - answer choices that match what's on your list. In this way you waste much less time and you're less susceptible to the testmaker/salesperson selling you something you don't want.

Let's take a look how this strategy can be used in action on a GMAT sample problem:

Environmental groups are aggressively protesting the proposed use of a new technique for mining oil from the fringes of underground aquifers. These groups complain that such mining will lead to instances of contaminated groundwater and to sinkholes and other disasters in areas near the proposed mining. But, as the mining companies are quick to retort, the countries already using this technique have not reported any groundwater contamination or other environmental problems. Therefore, it is safe to proceed with the new techniques.

Which of the following, if true, most undermines the conclusion above?

    A) Some of the countries currently using the new techniques have only been doing so for two years or less.
    B) Other widely-used techniques used to procure oil have led to even worse contamination issues than what environmentalists predict could happen with the new technique.
    C) The countries currently using the technique are so dependent on oil revenue that they are unlikely to report any problems that might require them to stop.
    D) In the years that the new technique had been in use, several safeguards have been added to prevent the contamination of nearby water.
    E) All of the aquifers near which the proposed technique would be employed are used or will soon be used to provide drinking water for their surrounding communities.

What you want to do on these types of problems is find the gap in logic and then have a "shopping list" to take with you as you examine the answer choices. This particular question asks us to "undermine" the conclusion - therefore, we know it is a weaken question. Now our job is to find the gap in logic.

The major premise that leads to the conclusion of this argument is that the companies have not reported any contamination. Remember, the GMAT Testmakers are very careful in choosing their words. "Reported" is not the same thing as "actually having" contamination ¬- that is our gap in logic.

In looking through the answer choices, we now have our "shopping list". We're looking for an answer that showcases the difference between companies "reporting" contamination and "actually having" contamination. C is the only answer choice that does this, so it is our answer. It is not even worth examining the other answer options - they do not discuss the companies "reporting" anything. Spending time examining these other answer choices would be just like trying on a shirt when you are actually shopping for pants. It is a waste of time! And on the GMAT, not only is the time you spend trying on that shirt valuable - actually buying that shirt comes at a huge cost (you'll lose points, and there is no return policy! Once you've moved on to another question you can't go back to change your answer even if you realize you "bought" the wrong thing.)

So, let's go over this one more time. Here is the strategy you should be using to master Strengthen and Weaken Critical Reasoning questions:

    1) Find the gap in logic. Look for comparisons between words in the conclusion the argument is presenting and find out how those words could be different.
    2) Go get exactly what's on your list. Only spend time on answer choices that perfectly fit what you know you need to look for based on the gap in logic.
    3) Get out of there before they can sell you something you don't want! If you don't know what you're looking for, you can get talked into choosing the wrong answer choice. The GMAT Testmaker "salesman" can sell you what you don't want.

Follow these steps, and just like finding the perfect pair of pants, you'll be able to find the perfect answer to the toughest Critical Reasoning problems with ease.

This article was written by Brian Galvin, Chief Academic Officer at Veritas Prep and frequent, efficient pants-shopper at the GAP clothing store. Do you have questions about how Veritas Prep can help you improve your Critical Reasoning skills and achieve your highest possible GMAT score? Learn more about their various services and free resources here.
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Critical Reasoning and shopping for pants!   [#permalink] 14 Sep 2018, 22:06

Critical Reasoning and shopping for pants!

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