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Experts' Topic of the Week, 6/19/17: Ultimate CR Guide for Beginners

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Verbal Experts’ Topic of the Week, June 19-23, 2017


Ultimate CR Guide for Beginners



In our weekly Wednesday chats (join us!), one of the most common questions has been “How can I improve on critical reasoning?” (The next-most-common question has been “How can I improve on reading comprehension?” Click here for a long-winded answer to that one.)

As always, I wish that there was a quick, easy way to fix everybody’s problems on GMAT CR, but as is usually the case on this exam, there are no magic bullets. Instead, here’s an honest, long(!), gimmick-free guide to improving at GMAT critical reasoning.


The real reason why you’re missing CR questions


In nearly every CR test-prep guide, a disproportionate chunk of the text focuses on specific question types. Test-prep companies spend much of their energy teaching you the logic behind, say, strengthen or “resolve the discrepancy” or assumption questions.

For many test-takers, studying specific question types can be helpful. But after working with hundreds of students on CR, I’ve learned an unglamorous truth: logic isn’t usually the main problem. For example, you probably know exactly what it means to strengthen or weaken an argument, right? Sure, the logic itself could cause some trouble on some question types, but it’s rarely the key issue.

So what’s the real problem? Reading precision. If you misread or misinterpret the passage itself, you’re toast – no matter how good you are at understanding logic.

And I know: that doesn’t sound exciting. If you’re unhappy with your CR results, it’s possible that memorizing logical structures or “approaches” to specific questions could help (and we'll address some of those in upcoming Topics of the Week), but it probably isn’t going to solve all of your CR problems. Improving your reading precision might be the biggest thing that will make a difference.


Improving your CR reading precision


So what the heck do we mean when we talk about “reading precision” on GMAT CR? Consider the following passage (based loosely on a recent CR Question of the Day):

    City planner: Our city center will not be adequately revitalized simply by building high-priced condominiums. We need to build a vibrant neighborhood filled with local businesses, not just condominiums. The best solution is to offer financial incentives to draw local businesses to the city center.

    Which of the following, if true, would most weaken the argument?

Let’s start by taking a look at that conclusion: “The best solution is to offer financial incentives to draw local businesses to the city center.”

Now, imagine that you (very slightly) misread the conclusion. Here are a few plausible ways you might have warped the conclusion:

    1) The only solution is to offer financial incentives to draw local businesses to the city center.
    2) A good solution is to offer financial incentives to draw local businesses to the city center.
    3) The easiest solution is to offer financial incentives to draw local businesses to the city center.

And we could go on and on. The important thing: if you change just one or two words, you might completely change the logic of the passage. The question asks you to weaken the argument, but weakening the actual conclusion (“the best solution…”) would be completely different than weakening that first “misread” conclusion (“the only solution…”) or the second (“a good solution…”) or the third (“the easiest solution…”)

Those tiny turns of phrase – any little modifier that tweaks the scope, strength, number or magnitude in some way – are at the heart of CR. And if you’re struggling on CR, I’ll bet that you’re missing those little modifiers more often than you’d like.


It’s all about the modifiers


So what, exactly, do we mean by “modifiers”?

You’re probably very aware of certain modifiers that indicate “extreme” language: all, nothing, never, only, or always, for example. You might also be pretty good at noticing other, similar modifiers that indicate “less-extreme” language: some, usually, a lot, a few, or sometimes. Those are all pretty obvious, right?

Hopefully, you’re also noticing any language that would indicate a comparison: for example, if something is described as “the best” or “the easiest” or “a better” solution to a problem, that should catch your eye.

But English is a gloriously rich language, offering a limitless variety of potential modifiers: any little adjective or adverb (“unforeseen” or “insurmountable” or “correspondingly” or “economical”) might tweak the meaning of the passage just enough to make a huge difference.

But again, there are no magic bullets here: in the long run, your goal is to develop habits of mind that make you better at noticing the author’s EXACT language in each passage. So before you move on to the answer choices on a CR question, just keep asking yourself: am I paying attention to the author’s EXACT word choice, or am I putting words in the passage’s mouth?


How structural thinking can help


If you’re 100% disciplined about paying attention to the logical structure of the passage, that might help you catch the key details of the author’s language. For example, if there’s a conclusion, you’ll want to be 100% clear about the author’s EXACT language. If you miss a modifier or two in the conclusion, odds are really good that you’ll miss the question.

So we recommend asking yourself the following questions whenever you do CR exercises:

    1) What’s the heart of the passage? If there’s a conclusion, what is it?
    2) What’s the author’s logic? If there’s a conclusion, how exactly does the author reach that conclusion?
    3) Am I really thinking about the argument – and especially the conclusion -- EXACTLY in the author’s EXACT words, or am I putting words in the author’s mouth? Is there anything I should notice about the author’s word choice? Are there any modifiers that should jump off the page at me?

I know: this isn’t anywhere near as satisfying as a nice mathematical formula. But if you stay 100% engaged in this process over the long haul, you’ll ultimately get much better at understanding the author’s precise logic and word choice.


What about note-taking?


We’ve offered similar advice for RC, but there is no single, correct way to take notes on GMAT CR, either. Everybody is different. Some people read more precisely when they take tons of notes, because the physical act of writing something down helps them engage in the material (“kinesthetic learners”, if you like jargon). Other people disengage when they start taking notes, and they actually get worse at reading.

So there’s no one-size-fits-all answer here. Different strokes for different folks.

The thing that matters: if you’re going to take notes, make sure that they’re rooted in the structure of the CR passage. If you’re blindly rewriting the passage without actually engaging in the logic and EXACT phrasing of the argument, that’s probably not going to be helpful.

For some people, it can be useful to write down the conclusion exactly as it's stated in each CR passage. Hopefully, the act of writing down the conclusion will help you to be 100% clear about the structure of the argument, and it will help you to catch any little modifiers that might tweak the conclusion.

And if an argument doesn’t have a conclusion, try to root yourself in the heart of the passage. The question asks you to resolve a paradox? Then maybe writing down the EXACT paradox will help. If the question is asking you to evaluate a researcher’s hypothesis, then maybe it’ll be useful to write the EXACT language of that hypothesis. Again, this might help you catch those little details of language that can make all the difference.

If that doesn’t seem to help, then you might be one of those individuals who doesn’t actually benefit from note-taking. Or you can try one of the many other note-taking formats out there, to see if it helps.

For what it’s worth, the act of taking notes – as long as you’re not blindly writing down tons of useless stuff – doesn’t necessarily eat all that much time. So if it improves your accuracy, then it’s worth spending those extra few seconds on each passage.

But again: the key is that everybody is different. For more on note-taking on CR, check out this long rant. Most of the advice in our Ultimate RC Guide for Beginners would apply to CR, too.


Don’t fall in love


You’ve heard this before, too, but it’s worth repeating: whenever you do anything on the GMAT verbal section, you should always look for four wrong answers – not one right answer. If you try to take shortcuts with this process, I can promise that you’ll make mistakes, especially on relatively difficult questions.

The easiest mistake to make on GMAT CR is this: you read the question, and an answer pops into your head, perhaps because you’ve done some “pre-thinking.” You immediately notice that, say, answer choice (B) sounds like whatever you were thinking. So you choose (B), and you don’t really read (C), (D), or (E).

Meanwhile, there’s some little tiny modifier in (B) that makes it wrong. One word can completely change the meaning of an answer choice, right? But if you fall in love with (B) immediately – and fail to be disciplined with the process of elimination – you can easily make a careless error. And careless errors on easy questions can quickly ruin your day on an adaptive test.

So we’ll say it again: don’t fall in love. Instead, always make sure that you’ve found four wrong answers, not one right answer. And yes, you’ll have to read every answer choice if you want to eliminate four of them. But on an adaptive test, that’s an investment that you absolutely need to make, on every single verbal question.


Yes, this is about reading skill, too


If you’ve read our Ultimate RC Guide for Beginners, you already know that strong reading skills are a prerequisite for an elite RC score. The same is true for CR. If you struggle to understand EXACTLY what CR passages are saying, then all of the test-prep strategies in the world won’t help much.

So if your underlying reading skills need improvement, be honest with yourself about it! And if you need to work on your reading skills, check out the end of this post for guidance and links to some wonderful GMAT Club resources.


Stick to the official stuff


You’ve probably heard this before, too: the GMAT spends between $1500 and $3000 developing every official question, and even the very best test-prep companies – including whoever writes those GMAT Club Questions of the Day – simply can’t compete.

So when you’re doing questions here on GMAT Club, please keep an eye on the tags that indicate the question source. And if you’re worried about running out of official GMAT CR questions, you might consider using LSAT tests as a supplement to your GMAT studies.


Extra hope for non-native speakers… again!


We’ve said similar things in our Ultimate RC Guide for Beginners and No-BS Guide to GMAT Idioms, but if you’re a non-native speaker, you might have extra room for improvement, particularly when it comes to your reading abilities in English. And that’s a good thing! The most jaw-dropping GMAT verbal improvements overwhelmingly belong to non-native speakers.

So keep at it! And as always, GMAT Club has your back if you need more resources for CR, RC, or anything else:


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Experts' Topic of the Week, 6/19/17: Ultimate CR Guide for Beginners [#permalink]

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New post 28 Jun 2017, 07:52
hello, we did have a talk before. I have a question.
Why I just keep getting distracted by the gmat argument???
For example, the first step is to identify the question type (normally in the middle of the question), search for negative words (but, except, not- those words can be anywhere in the question) and check the question stem (optional because not all shift of meaning is present and the stem just repeats the conclusion)

It takes me more than 20s before I begin to read the argument.
I have practiced severely, but I still struggle to overcome the distraction by GMAT (probably at the beginning, I get confused by question type, negative words and question stem) , and missing out key words.

Please help me, I cannot sleep without knowing what the ultimate weakness of GMAT is.

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Re: Experts' Topic of the Week, 6/19/17: Ultimate CR Guide for Beginners [#permalink]

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GMATNinja Excellent advice!

Frankly, I say more or less the same things to my students. However, you've put all of this in an organized manner here. In my very first session on CR, one of the earliest slides has one word in a very large font: "Precision". I tell the students that this is what GMAT CR (and even GMAT RC and SC) is all about. If you can read things precisely, as they are given, you are more or less done. I think my job in CR not to teach any concepts but to calibrate the thinking of the students. It's about reading 'sharply'.

I'll be referring my students to this post. I believe the fact that the same ideas are coming from an 800-scorer would strengthen my argument! :)
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Re: Experts' Topic of the Week, 6/19/17: Ultimate CR Guide for Beginners [#permalink]

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Thank you GMATNinja

This is single most important "Bookmark" for CR consolidating not only great piece of advise but also most important links for CR.

Was wondering do you have similar post for SC as well?

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Re: Experts' Topic of the Week, 6/19/17: Ultimate CR Guide for Beginners [#permalink]

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New post 29 Jun 2017, 10:41
Thank you for the kind words, ChiranjeevSingh and ydmuley!

ydmuley wrote:
Was wondering do you have similar post for SC as well?

Yes, I'm working on a similar post for SC! It's turning out to be one heck of a task to write a concise beginner's guide to SC -- the darned thing keeps wanting to become an entire textbook. Will hopefully have it ready sometime in July... :)
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Re: Experts' Topic of the Week, 6/19/17: Ultimate CR Guide for Beginners [#permalink]

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New post 29 Jun 2017, 11:05
GMATNinja wrote:
Thank you for the kind words, ChiranjeevSingh and ydmuley!

ydmuley wrote:
Was wondering do you have similar post for SC as well?

Yes, I'm working on a similar post for SC! It's turning out to be one heck of a task to write a concise beginner's guide to SC -- the darned thing keeps wanting to become an entire textbook. Will hopefully have it ready sometime in July... :)


Thank you GMATNinja, I will be eagerly waiting for the post. I hope it comes out in first week of July so that I have enough time to make the most of it.
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Re: Experts' Topic of the Week, 6/19/17: Ultimate CR Guide for Beginners [#permalink]

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New post 30 Jun 2017, 22:10
Hi GMATNinja,

On a lighter note, I am sure following two quotes will definitely be there in SC guide:
a. Never trust your ears. The sentence that does sound right might well be a recipe for disaster
and a correct option may sound as crappy as it might get.
b. Look for incorrect options and crossing the out rather than finding correct choice.
LOl!! :lol:

WR,
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Re: Experts' Topic of the Week, 6/19/17: Ultimate CR Guide for Beginners [#permalink]

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As usual, amazing article GMATNinja. I have a question. On some of the 95% level official questions (really tough ones) - noticed that there is an option (correct one) wherein we have to think from A--> B --> C.

B and C is in the argument. I don't have an example to point out at this time but something such as market is down --> sales worsened --> company closed down. Probably much more dense than the above frivolous example.

How do we tackle those? When we have to stay within the argument, how can we assume some things for a given option to join that missing link. I faced this problem wherein how far should I assume while staying within the argument and not bringing in a real world experience.

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Re: Experts' Topic of the Week, 6/19/17: Ultimate CR Guide for Beginners [#permalink]

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New post 07 Jul 2017, 10:46
warriorguy wrote:
As usual, amazing article GMATNinja. I have a question. On some of the 95% level official questions (really tough ones) - noticed that there is an option (correct one) wherein we have to think from A--> B --> C.

B and C is in the argument. I don't have an example to point out at this time but something such as market is down --> sales worsened --> company closed down. Probably much more dense than the above frivolous example.

How do we tackle those? When we have to stay within the argument, how can we assume some things for a given option to join that missing link. I faced this problem wherein how far should I assume while staying within the argument and not bringing in a real world experience.


Thank you for the kind words, warriorguy!

Unfortunately, I'm not sure that there's a good answer to your question unless we have a couple of official examples in front of us. I can say some generic things that are perfectly true: don't let the "real world" get in the way of your GMAT, and don't make up assumptions. But of course, the trickiest GMAT questions will try to tempt you into making assumptions, or thinking about stuff you know from the "real world."

So there's no single, easy answer to your question. If you have a particular (official!) example in mind, let me know, and we can take a look.
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Beginners' guides to GMAT verbal
Reading Comprehension | Critical Reasoning | Sentence Correction

SC & CR Questions of the Day (QOTDs), featuring expert explanations
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Need an expert reply?
Hit the request verbal experts' reply button -- and please be specific about your question. Feel free to tag @GMATNinja and @GMATNinjaTwo in your post.

Sentence Correction articles & resources
How to go from great (760) to incredible (780) on GMAT SC | That "-ing" Word Probably Isn't a Verb | That "-ed" Word Might Not Be a Verb, Either | No-BS Guide to GMAT Idioms | "Being" is not the enemy | WTF is "that" doing in my sentence?

Reading Comprehension, Critical Reasoning, and other articles & resources
All GMAT Ninja articles on GMAT Club | Using LSAT for GMAT CR & RC |7 reasons why your actual GMAT scores don't match your practice test scores | How to get 4 additional "fake" GMAT Prep tests for $29.99... in any section order

YouTube verbal webinars:
"Next-level" GMAT pronouns | Uses of "that" on the GMAT | Parallelism and meaning | Simplifying GMAT verb tenses | Comparisons, part I |
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Re: Experts' Topic of the Week, 6/19/17: Ultimate CR Guide for Beginners [#permalink]

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New post 26 Oct 2017, 01:56
@GMATNinja Hi, I like your article about reading precision. As a non-native speaker, I did find that I made many mistakes due to wrong reading understanding in CR; insufficient comprehension in SC etc. Sometimes know every word but can't get the meaning is also one of the major barrier as a non-native speaker, or need to read repeatedly to figure out the meaning while it is luxury in GMAT. Anything can be done to improve reading precision thus to avoid careless error and panic during the test ?. Any coach on this area ? Thanks.

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Re: Experts' Topic of the Week, 6/19/17: Ultimate CR Guide for Beginners [#permalink]

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New post 02 Nov 2017, 23:42
I understand that you need to get the actual message from the argument in a critical way. Nevertheless, since there are too many details, we need a system or a method to attack the argument.

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Re: Experts' Topic of the Week, 6/19/17: Ultimate CR Guide for Beginners   [#permalink] 02 Nov 2017, 23:42
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