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Road to V42: Critical Reasoning - A Definitive Guide

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New post 05 Feb 2016, 05:38

Road to V42: Critical Reasoning - A Definitive Guide

This is a part of the Road to V42 series for March - April GMAT Test takers. Follow this thread for weekly updates and practice questions. Leave a comment if you want me to include one of the questions you like.

The CR Process

First, there’s one overall process we’re going to use for any CR question:

  • Step 1: Identify the question.
  • Step 2: Deconstruct the argument.
  • Step 3: State the Goal.
  • Step 4: Work from wrong to right.

Those steps might sound obvious to some people and very vague to others. I’ll explain each in more detail below, but I want to say first: each step is there for a very important reason, and each step has been split off from the others for a very important reason.

Identify the Question

Most arguments are followed by a question (there is actually one exception, but we’re not going to discuss that here). There are several different types of CR questions, and the wording of the question stem (the part below the argument itself) allows us to identify which type of CR question we’re about to have to answer. It’s critically important to identify that question type right away because we need to employ different kinds of reasoning depending upon the type of question we have.

We want to know, right from the beginning, how best to work through the current problem, and we can accomplish that by identifying the question Family and the specific question type (see below for more).

Deconstruct the Argument

Arguments are made up of building blocks, such as premises, counterpremises, assumptions, and conclusions. When reading the argument, we want to take very brief notes that allow us to deconstruct the argument into its building blocks. What kinds of information do we have and which pieces lead to which other pieces?

Knowing all of this allows us to do what we call reading with a purpose. We know what we need to find, so we can actively look for these things, and we know what kind of reasoning we need to do in order to answer the question, so we can begin to think things through a bit while we’re reading. (This assumes that we know what we’re doing for each question type; more below.)

State the Goal

This is a short but often overlooked step: what exactly am I trying to do when I answer this question? What’s my goal? I know what kind of question I have, I understand the argument and how it fits together now, I know my conclusion (if there is one) now what?

At this stage, we need to remind ourselves what it is we’re actually trying to do when we start attacking the answers, and this goal depends upon the type of question that we have. Let’s say that we have an Inference question. Our goal is to find an answer that must be true given at least some (but not necessarily all) of the information in the argument. As we continue to study, we’ll also learn that trap answers on Inference questions often do too much; that is, they offer something that could be true or maybe is even somewhat likely to be true given the premises in the argument but the answer doesn’t have to be true.

By the time we get to test day, we want our goals for each type to be so ingrained in our brains that we can just say to ourselves, Okay, Inference. Go!

Work from Wrong to Right

On verbal in general, we’re asked to find the best answer. We’re going to use a two-step process in order to accomplish this. First, we look through all five answers and eliminate as many definitely wrong answers as we can. On this first pass through the answers, we’re not actually trying to decide which is the right one, only which ones are definitely wrong.

If we only have one answer left, great; we’re done. If we have two or more answers left, then we do a second pass to compare those remaining answers. Because we’ve also reminded ourselves of our goal before looking at the answers, we’re better able to distinguish between the tempting but wrong answers and the right ones.

The 3 Major Question Families

We can group the vast majority of question types into 3 major Families that share common structures, reasoning requirements, and trap answers. There are some minor types that don’t fit neatly into the three major families; our new strategy guide will address those types but we’re not going to discuss them today.

The first major family is the Structure Family. We introduce this one first not because it’s the most common (it’s not) but because these questions are all based upon a solid understanding of the structure of the argument, and structure is the first major thing we learn about CR. Indeed, we can’t learn to deconstruct arguments until we understand how they’re structured in the first place. The two common question types in this Family are Describe the Role (more commonly called boldface arguments) and Describe the Argument. Both require us to identify the components of the argument and both employ abstract answers. For example, a Role answer choice might read:

The first is a judgment that counters the primary assertion expressed in the argument; the second is a circumstance on which that judgment is based.

Yuck. See what I mean about “abstract” language? It takes some work to learn how to handle these efficiently and effectively.

The second major family is the Assumption Family; this is the most frequently tested of the three families. Assumption Family questions rely on at least one assumption made by the author of the argument, and all contain conclusions. Assumptions, by definition, are not stated in an argument; they represent something the author believes must be true, but has not stated, in order to draw his or her conclusion. There are five different ways in which we might be asked an Assumption-based question, but all five have one thing in common: we have to identify an assumption in order to answer the question correctly.

We may be asked, for example, simply to identify an assumption (called the Assumption question type) or a Flaw (the author is assuming XYZ but we don’t know whether that’s true). We may be asked to identify something that Strengthens a conclusion. This would involve making an assumption explicit “ actually stating (in the answer) that some assumption is in fact true. Alternatively, we could be asked to Weaken a conclusion, in which case an answer will tear down or call into question an assumption made by the author. Finally, we might be asked to Evaluate a conclusion: what hasn’t the author established that would be useful to know in order to decide whether the conclusion is a good one? Our goal here is to find a statement that would test an assumption made by the author in order to determine whether that assumption is valid.
The third major family is the Evidence Family. These questions all lack conclusions “ they consist entirely of premises! On these, we’re essentially asked to find a new premise that must be true according to the information given (Inference questions), or a new premise that resolves a problem or contradiction (Explain the Paradox questions). (Note: if you are using our current materials, the 4th edition guide, the Draw a Conclusion questions are the same as the newly-named Inference category.)


Before you dive into individual question types, it’s critical to know the overall CR process. A few key notes:

  • There 4 major and 5 minor question sub-types* and each one has its own particular technique details.
  • Your job is to learn the overall process / strategy for CR as well as the techniques specific to each question sub-type.

* Every now and then, a question pops up that doesn’t quite fit one of the 9 main categories. There are exceptions to every rule in the universe.

In order to master CR, you should be able to answer the following questions about each question type:

  • How do I recognize this question type?
  • What kind of information should I expect to find in the argument, based on this question type? What kind of information is going to be the most important?
  • What is the goal for this question type? What characteristics must the correct answer have?
  • What kinds of traps will be set for me? What are the common wrong answer types for this question type?

The Assumption Family

Assumption Family questions always contain a conclusion. This group consists of five sub-types:

Find the Assumption: what does the other assume is true when drawing the conclusion? Want to try another?

Flaw: the flip of Find the Assumption. The author assumes something, but that thing might not be true. What is the flaw in the author’s reasoning?

Evaluate the Argument: what information would help to determine whether the conclusion is more or less likely to be valid?

Strengthen the Conclusion: what new information would help to make the conclusion a little more likely to be true?

Weaken the Conclusion: what new information would help to make the conclusion a little less likely to be true?

The Evidence Family

Evidence Family questions really don’t have conclusions (never big conclusions, like the Assumption arguments, and usually no conclusions at all). This group consists of two sub-types:

Inference: given the information in the argument, which answer choice must be true?

Explain a Discrepancy: the argument contains some surprising information or outcome. Which answer choice provides some new information that clears up this surprising situation?

The Structure Family

Like Assumption questions, Structure questions do contain conclusions. The answer choices are usually in more abstract form, discussing characteristics of pieces of the argument.

Describe the Role: aka boldface. The boldface portion(s) plays what kind of role in the overall argument?

Describe the Argument: these are a variant of the boldface question and they’re so rare that I don’t have an article for you. If you’re really worried about these, you can take a look at our CR Strategy guide, but my best advice for you is not to worry about these.

What do I really need to study?

The four major CR types are Find the Assumption, Strengthen, Weaken, and Inference. The majority of your CR questions will be in one of those four categories. If you’re going for up to about 75th percentile on verbal, concentrate just on those.

Of the minor types, the most common are Discrepancy, Describe the Role, and Evaluate. If you want to break the 75th percentile on verbal, then also take a look at those three minor types, but spend more time on the major types. If CR is your weakest verbal area, you can also skip whichever of those three minor types is hardest for you”some people really hate boldface questions and others think Evaluate questions are the worst.

If you’re looking to break the 90th percentile on verbal, then you have to study everything. You can still pick one minor type as your I’ll guess / bail quickly if I have to question type, but you have to try it first.

Questions for Practice for Critical Reasoning

Structure Family: Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Q5 Q6 Q7

Assumption Family: Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Q5

Strengthen and Weaken Family: Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Q5 Q6 Q7 Q8 Q9 Q10

Evaluate and Flaw Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Q5

Evidence Family (Inference/Discrepancy/Except): Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Q5 Q6 Q7 Q8
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Re: Road to V42: Critical Reasoning - A Definitive Guide  [#permalink]

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New post 14 Feb 2016, 12:25
Good synopsis, souvik101990

I never thought Flaw as being the opposite of assumption questions. Questions about Flaw in reasoning have always been my strong suit, and yet questions about assumptions were still the thorn in my side. Perhaps this will help me crack the code with the assumption questions. If you have any other suggestions about assumption questions, please let us know. Otherwise, keep up the great work!

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New post 20 Oct 2018, 10:17
Hi souvik,
I have just started preparing for the GMAT. 3 weeks have passed and many weeks to go for the Exam (End of December'18). Did CR today of 17Q's from OG-2017. The correct answer was 11 and timed it within 36 minutes. Can you please, suggest me how to improve my score? Is OG-2017 would be enough to build my skills in CR?

My approach till now is to take notes while reading the CR, it consumes time but I can recall a few points.

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Road to V42: Critical Reasoning - A Definitive Guide   [#permalink] 20 Oct 2018, 10:17
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