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Strategy for Critical Reasoning

Provided by : piyusht
Aim
Logic, not Grammar
Critical Reasoning problems are among the
trickiest question types you’ll come across in the
GMAT.
That’s because CR problems are logic-based.
While an understanding of English grammar
rules is essential, your major challenge will be
simply to learn how ETS expects you to
approach the information within the sentences.

For many, this is the most feared part of the


test!

Why do they fear it so?

Because the world as we know it is not logical.


For Critical Reasoning questions, you must be purely and consistently
logical.

With each CR question, you’ll be presented with


an argument. Don’t try to break down the
argument into its essential parts.
Instead, reorder the information.
Reorder the information; identifying the
premises and conclusion inherent within each
argument.

By deconstructing a Critical Reasoning argument, you can more


clearly see what it is that’s missing.
Deconstructing an argument helps you notice illogical
connections. The tendency to make sense of what we read is
natural and, for the GMAT, fatal.
Fight your normal reading habits as you go through the questions
in this lesson.
We pose arguments all the time.
Often there is no logical connection between the information we
present (our premises) and our conclusions.

Don’t For example…


assume
information
unless you You: Let’s go see a movie.
see it in the
Me: I have only two dollars.
argument!

What is your conclusion? We can’t go to a movie.

But why? Because a movie costs more than two dollars.

But how do we know this? We don’t!

Make sure you’re not brining outside information into your


reading of a Critical Reasoning problem.
Here’s another example…

Me: I can’t believe I saw Joe drinking a Coke.


You: Why?
Me: Because Joe works for Pepsi.

What’s your conclusion?

Joe prefers Coca Cola.


Joe hates his job.
Joe is a spy for Pepsi.

Be careful! What kinds of assumptions are you making to reach


these conclusions?
What do you make of this one?

On Thursday I wore a blue shirt.


On Friday I had a headache.
Therefore, my blue shirt gives me a headache.

This is a dumbed-down version of a Critical Reasoning problem.


It’s easy to argue with my logic when I present my argument so
simply.

Be always suspicious of CR arguments. Fight with them. What


could you say that would undermine my argument?

Perhaps I was out all night last Thursday.


Maybe I live next door to an airport.

Any of these statements could severely undermine, or weaken,


my argument. And what could you add that would completely
destroy it?
There’s no connection between the headache and the
shirt

This piece of information would completely destroy my argument.


And the reverse, that there is a direct connection between the
headache and the shirt, would completely fix it.
Now take a look at my revised argument…

On Thursday I wore a blue shirt.


On Friday I had a headache.
My health is affected by the clothes I wear.
Therefore, my blue shirt gives me a headache.

You’ll never find an argument like this in a Critical Reasoning


problem. It’s too logical!
Critical Reasoning questions ask you to do several things, but central
to them all is having an understanding of the basic structure of an
argument.
Your task as you approach CR questions will be
to break down an illogical argument into its
stated premises and conclusion.
If you can do this, you’ll be able to spot any trick
that ETS test-makers throw at you.

There are several different types of Critical Reasoning questions.


Differentiating between them is difficult, and you’ll have to know
the approach for each of them when you sit down to take the test.
Key Terms
Argument
Central to every CR question is the argument. An argument is an
ordered line of reasoning composed of premises, assumptions, and
a conclusion. Understanding the elements of an argument is
essential to performing well in this section.

Premise
Each CR argument contains at least one premise. Premises are
pieces of information that provide evidence used to support the
conclusion of the argument. For the purposes of Critical Reasoning
arguments, premises are facts not subject to dispute.

Conclusion
The conclusion is the endpoint of the line of reasoning of an
argument. Think of it as the result of the argument. The line of
reasoning leading to a conclusion is often where errors in logic are
made.
Key Terms
Assumption
Assumptions are unstated facts and logical connections in an
argument. In order for the conclusion of an argument to be true, the
assumptions upon which that argument is based must also be true.
The Approach
The Approach
Critical Reasoning questions test your ability to
use basic logic to analyze and critique
arguments made up of premises and
conclusions. ETS test-makers write arguments
that assume information which doesn’t exist!
A logical and consistent approach is the best
way to avoid formulaic traps.
Follow these steps each time you attack Critical
Reasoning questions.

Step 1: Read the question first.


Step 2: Read the argument.
Step 3: Paraphrase the argument using your own words.
Step 4: Predict the answer.
Step 5: Use the process of Error Identification to eliminate
the wrong answers.
Step 1: Read the question
first.
It’s natural to read the question after the argument because that’s how
they’re presented on the page. This is done for a reason.

Reading the argument first is


confusing.
Read the question and determine what to look for within the answer
choices.
In general, you’ll be looking for the answer choices that either
strengthen or weaken the argument.
Think of answer choices as additional premises. Adding any one
answer choice to the argument will do one of three things:
1. It will weaken the argument.
2. It will strengthen the argument.
2. It will not affect the argument at all (neutral).
3. It has nothing to do with the argument (out of scope).
Determine which of the eight kinds of Critical Reasoning questions
you’re facing before turning to the argument itself.
Step 2: Read the argument.

1. Identify each premise (each piece of information) that is


being presented within the argument.
2. Identify the argument’s conclusion.
3. Determine what assumptions are being made.

Step 3: Paraphrase the argument using your own


words.
Critical Reasoning arguments are intentionally heavy, wordy and
complex. Paraphrasing is a good way of understanding the sense an
argument presented.
Take the time, if necessary, and restate an argument, using words and
situations that you can relate to.
Note: This is the only step you’re permitted to skip. While it’s
necessary to understand the meaning of each argument (and
paraphrasing is a good tool to help you do this), restating or
paraphrasing an argument brings you unavoidably further away from
the actual text.
Step 4: Predict the answer.

So, you’ve read the argument. You understand it. You can identify it’s
premises and it’s conclusion. Now imagine additional premises
(additional pieces of information) and what affect each would have on
the argument overall.
Brainstorm for a moment. Imagine which additional premise would
best strengthen the argument. What one thing could you add that
would completely fix it? Now imagine the opposite. How could you
weaken the argument? How could you completely destroy it?
This is perhaps the most important step in the process. Answer
choices are intentionally misleading, and you can use your predictions
as a measuring stick with which to compare the choices given to you
by ETS.
Step 5: Use the Process of Error Identification to eliminate
the wrong answers.

Think of answer choices as additional premises. As you read each


choice, ask yourself, “How would this additional premise affect the
strength or weakness of the argument’s conclusion?”
Categorize answer choices as one of the following:
1. Strengthen
2. Weaken
2. Neutral
3. Out of scope
Use the Process of Error Identification to get rid of any choices that do
not affect the conclusion (neutral) or have nothing to do with the
argument whatsoever (out of scope).
Whether you eliminate strengthen or weaken answer choices depends
on the question related with that argument.
Try the following Critical Reasoning example, using five steps…
In years past, professional baseball players lifted weights less but
were also injured less often during games. Obviously, the more
an athlete lifts weights, the higher the likelihood of injury.
The conclusion above presupposes which of the following?
(A) The increase in baseball injuries is due to a factor other than
weightlifting.
(B) The activities of baseball players represent those of athletes
as a group.
(C) Most baseball injuries today result from too much weight-
lifting.
(D) There is no proven correlation between how much athletes
lift
weights and how likely they are to be affected by injury.
(E) Weightlifting has always been common practice for
professional athletes.
The correct answer is (B). Let’s see how it’s done…

First, read the question.

The conclusion above presupposes which of the


following?
This is what’s called an assumption question. What specific piece of
information is presupposed (assumed) in the preceding argument?
Break it down to understand what the writer is really saying.
Can you identify the premises and the conclusion?

Premise #1: In years past, professional baseball players


lifted weights less.
Premise #2: But they were also injured less often during
games.
Conclusion: Obviously, the more an athlete lifts weights, the
higher the likelihood of injury.

Restate or paraphrase the argument, if necessary. Stick as close to


the actual text as possible.
If necessary, paraphrase the argument. Put the events in a context
you can understand, but stick as close to the actual text as possible.
Try changing the subjects without changing what they did.
Keep trying until the GMAT argument makes sense to you. Then
return to the actual argument!
Now, think about some of the big assumptions that are being made.
Ask yourself what you could add to fix the argument.
What could you add to the argument to completely destroy it!
If it helps, imagine someone you can’t stand. Think up a real or
fictional know-it-all. Now come up with the one thing you could say to
this person that would shut him up.

What if I offered evidence that proved baseball injuries are


definitely not a result of weightlifting? That might destroy the
argument. And the contrary, that baseball injuries definitely
are a result of weightlifting, might fix it.

What other assumptions can you come up with?


When you’re ready, turn your attention to the answer choices.
Use the Process of Error Identification to eliminate any answer choices
that are neutral or out of scope. For this particular question, also
eliminate any answer choices that weaken the argument.

(A) The increase in baseball injuries is due to a factor


other than weightlifting.
(B) The activities of baseball players represent those of
athletes as a group.
(C) Most baseball injuries today result from too much
weightlifting.
(D) There is no proven correlation between how much
athletes lift weights and how likely they are to be
affected by injury.
(E) Weightlifting has always been common practice for
professional athletes.
Only answer choices (B) and (C) strengthen the argument.
Of course, there are many different kinds of athletes. All athletes are
not baseball players. The correct answer is (B).
Be aware of vague and undefined categories, such as “athletes.”

Weakens (A) The increase in baseball injuries is due to a factor


other than weightlifting.
(B) The activities of baseball players represent those of
athletes as a group.
(C) Most baseball injuries today result from too much
weightlifting.
Weakens (D) There is no proven correlation between how much
athletes lift weights and how likely they are to be
affected by injury.
Neutral (E) Weightlifting has always been common practice for
professional athletes.

What’s wrong with answer choice (C) ? The trigger word “most” is
undefined. “Most” is a relative term, but we don’t know what it’s
relative to.
Try one more…

In 1991, produce growers began using a new, inexpensive


pesticide, provoking many objections that they would damage
both the environment and the produce they were growing.
However, the fears have proven unfounded as, though 1996,
produce prices had dropped and no ill effects had been reported.
Which of the following, if true, would be the strongest
objection to the argument above?
(A) Consumption of the produce declined from 1991 to 1993, but
rose sharply from 1994 to 1996.
(B) Several areas in which use of the pesticide was forbidden
have also experienced a drop in produce prices.
(C) The amount of produce grown in 1991 was larger than that
of
1996.
(D) The time since the beginning of the use of the pesticide has
been too short to allow some of the predicted effects to
occur.
(E) Since 1992, new pesticides have been developed that
scientists agree are relatively risk-free.
(D) is the only answer choice that weakens the argument.
All the others, in fact, are out of scope!
Make it personal…

Sorry, the
correct
answer is In 1991, I started smoking cigarettes. My
(D). friends said it is unhealthy. In 2000, I am still
Okay: Therefore; cigarettes are not
unhealthy.

There’s a fatal flaw to this logic. Look back and compare this
rephrasing with the actual argument itself.
(D) is the only answer choice that weakens the argument.
All the others, in fact, are out of scope!
Make it personal…

Good job! In 1991, I started smoking cigarettes. My


friends said it is unhealthy. In 2000, I am still
Okay: Therefore; cigarettes are not
unhealthy.

There’s a fatal flaw to this logic. Look back and compare this
rephrasing with the actual argument itself.
Practice, Practice, Practice!
The best way to prepare for Critical Reasoning
questions is to practice Critical Reasoning
questions.
Take your time as you go through the test
questions in the next section.
If have difficulties, don’t worry. Critical
Reasoning is the most dreaded question type in
the exam!

Good luck!
Critical Reasoning Question Types
The GMAT is, if anything, predictable.
There is a limited variety of questions you’ll be
asked relating to a Critical Reasoning argument.
There are, in fact, eight definitive types of Critical
Reasoning questions. Each question type has
its own traps and a specific strategy is required
to ace each one of them.

Click on the Next Screen button to see a brief description of these eight
Critical Reasoning question types.
Critical Reasoning Question Types
1. Draw a conclusion
2. Assumption
3. Strengthen
4. Weaken
5. Inference
6. Explain the (apparent) contradiction
7. Complete the passage
8. “Except” questions
A scientist planted two groups of plants under identical conditions
of light, temperature, humidity, and moisture. Every day he would
play sound effects of thunderstorms to one of the groups of plants
and sounds of city traffic for the other. The group to which he
played thunderstorms all died within a few weeks, but the other
group thrived during the experiment. He therefore concluded that
Weigh each the sound of city traffic is more effective for helping plants grow
choice than is the sound of thunderstorms.
carefully
before Which of the following, if true, would most seriously weaken
eliminating it. the scientist’s conclusion?
(A) The scientist put different varieties of plants in each group.
(B) The light affecting the plants changed according to the time
of
day.
(C) The plants in the group for which he played city traffic
sounds
died several weeks after the experiment.
(D) The plants were all purchased at the same time.
(E) The plants in the group for which he played city traffic
sounds
required more water than the scientist actually gave them.
Click on the oval that corresponds with your choice.
You’ve got it! We know we have two groups of plants. What’s
assumed is that both groups are the same!

Try a harder one…

In response to years of increasing congestion at airport X, the


government decided to redistribute landing slots. Henceforth, all
international flights arriving from continent A would be rerouted to
nearby airport Y, all flights arriving from continent B would continue
to land at airport X. Several airlines opposed this measure on the
grounds that it would result in lost business.
Which of the following, if true, justifies the airline’s conclusion?
(A) The airlines’ customers prefer less congested airports.
(B) It takes five minutes more flying time to reach the second
airport.
(C) There are fewer runways, and thus less capacity, at airport
Y.
(D) Airport Y is located in a region with better transport links to
the
final destinations of many travelers from continent B.
(E) Many customers traveling between continent A and
continent
B choose certain airlines because of the easy flight
connections they offer at airport X.
Sorry, the correct answer is (A). Let’s look at this problem using
the MBA Center’s five steps.

Step 1: Read the question first.


Who said the
plants in Step 2: Read the argument.
both groups Step 3: Paraphrase the argument using your own words.
are the Step 4: Predict the answer.
same? Step 5: Use the process of Error Identification to eliminate
the wrong answers.

Which answer choice will Imagine a piece of new


best weaken the argument’s information that would
conclusion? destroy the argument.

Eliminate any answer


choices that strengthen or
are out of scope.

If necessary, translate it into Identify the premises, the


something that makes conclusion, and the flaw
sense. Make it personal. (the assumption).
Here’s an easier one…

A city’s public transportation board has decided to cut costs by reducing


the frequency of its bus service from an average of eight minutes to an
average of ten minutes between buses. The board announced that it
can do so without seriously reducing the quality of service.
Which of the following statements, if true, would most strengthen
the validity of the board’s announcement?
(A) The less frequent use of the buses will lower maintenance
costs, resulting in savings that can be used for much-needed
repairs of the city’s pedestrian bridges.
(B) At rush hour, congestion in the city slows bus service by thirty
percent.
(C) Because of a robust economy in the city, passenger patronage
has increased substantially in recent years.
(D) The public transportation board has recently gathered data on
the levels of ridership on all bus lines, showing that some lines
are used by many more riders than others.
(E) The contract with the bus drivers union stipulates that the city
not lay off any drivers because of reduced bus service.
Right again!

This one’s harder still…

Kobayashi coffee has more caffeine than Marlowe Select coffee. But
since Chula Vista coffee has more caffeine than Valentino coffee, it
follows that Kobayashi coffee has more caffeine than Valentino coffee.
Any of the following, if introduced into the argument as an
additional premise, makes the argument above logically correct
EXCEPT?
(A) Marlowe Street coffee has more caffeine than Valentino
coffee.
(B) Marlowe Street corree has more caffeine than Chula Vista
coffee.
(C) Marlowe Street and Chula Vista coffees have the same
amount of caffeine.
(D) Kobayashi and Chula Vista coffees have the same amount of
caffeine.
(E) Chula Vista coffee has more caffeine than Kobayashi coffee.
Sorry, the correct answer is (E). Let’s look at this problem using
the MBA Center’s five steps.

Step 1: Read the question first.


Step 2: Read the argument.
Step 3: Paraphrase the argument using your own words.
Step 4: Predict the answer.
Step 5: Use the process of Error Identification to eliminate
the wrong answers.

Which answer choice will Imagine a piece of new


best weaken the argument’s information that would
conclusion? destroy the argument.

Eliminate any answer


choices that strengthen or
are out of scope.

If necessary, translate it into Identify the premises, the


something that makes conclusion, and the flaw
sense. Make it personal. (the assumption).
There you go!

It has often been hypothesized that global oil consumption, which


increases every year, will deplete the supply of oil, with catastrophic
results for the global economy. However, these claims never stand up
to scrutiny, as the volume of oil in reserves around the world has
remained constant.
Which one of the following, if true, best resolves the apparent
paradox?
(A) The actual annual consumption of oil is below that which many
experts estimate.
(B) The cost of operating oil refineries has steadily decreased
over time.
(C) The consumption of oil has greatly increased in the past 50
years.
(D) It is the policy of all major oil producers to locate new reserves
at a rate consistent with that at which old reserves are
depleted.
(E) The number of oil-producing countries has been steadily
declining.
Sorry, the correct answer is (A).

Use the Process of Error Identification to


eliminate answer choices (B), (C) and (E).
Those weaken the argument.
Answer choice (D) is neutral. Some lines are
used by many more riders than others. This tells
us nothing.

Click on the Previous Section button and try these questions


again.
Here’s an easier one…

A popular Internet service provider changed its billing system, charging


customers per each connection to the system rather than per total
hours connected. According to company representatives, under the
new system, customers will spend more time connected to the Internet
while being billed the same or smaller amounts.
Which one of the following statements, if true, would most
strengthen the conclusion of the company representatives?
(A) Customers will connect to the service less frequently and
spend more time connected to the service each time they do.
(B) The change in the billing system will attract new customers
resulting in increased profits for the company.
(C) By spending more time connected to the Internet customers
will be able to take advantage of services that previously would have
been too expensive.
(D) The popularity of other Internet service providers relies on their
having billing systems similar to the one this company is adopting.
(E) The company’s employees, all of whom have free unlimited
Internet access, support the change in billing.
Right again! Wow, you’re a Critical Reasoning wiz. You ought to
go on television. This one’s even more difficult…

The owners of gambling casinos are keen to attract inexperienced


poker players because, on average, these people lose money to the
casino, which increases the casino’s profits. This is because the
average inexperienced player does not have sufficient skill at the game
to win.
Which one of the following can be inferred from the above
argument?
(A) There is always an element of chance when playing poker.
(B) The probability of winning a game of poker increases with
experience.
(C) Casinos make extremely large profits.
(D) Inexperienced players lose more money than they expect to
when playing poker at casinos.
(E) All games played at casinos involve an element of risk.
Way to go! Try one more…

Which of the following best completes the passage?


Critics of Country A’s trade policy with Country Z contend that Country
A’s low tariffs are responsible for its large trade deficit with Country Z.
Government officials, however, argue that there is a trade deficit with
Country Z because low labor costs in Country Z allow its companies to
manufacture goods cheaply. The officials also claim that economic
competition from Country Z is responsible for better prices for Country
A’s consumers. Therefore, they say, the most logical way to lower the
trade deficit without hurting Country A’s consumers is to _________.
(A) raise the tariffs on goods imported from Country Z
(B) encourage businesses in Country A to reduce their labor costs
(C) increase taxes on all goods not manufactured in Country A
(D) improve the products manufactured by Country A’s companies
and market them heavily in Country A
(E) subsidize all of Country A’s companies that manage to
maintain their prices at the level of the goods produced by
Country Z
Critical Reasoning
Got you that time!

You did well, and you only had problems with the
final difficult problem.
Critical Reasoning
Good job! You got the second wrong, but the
other two were right.
Critical Reasoning
Inference is Be careful! This one is an Inference question.
once logical
step away The best answer will paraphrase words and
from the ideas from the text and contain an inference just
conclusion. one step in logic away from the message of the
text.

What’s inferred in the argument… that a player


must have skill to win!

(B) is the best answer.

I got you on that one. Well done, though.


Critical Reasoning
Good job!

You got the first one wrong, but you pulled it


back up with two and three.
Critical Reasoning
Sorry. You got the second problem right, but the
other two were wrong.
Critical Reasoning
What can I say?

You’re a Critical Reasoning genius!


Critical Reasoning
Sorry. You got the first question right, but you
answered the next two wrong.
Critical Reasoning
Got you that time!

Well done, though.

You got four out of five right. Keep it up and


you’ll be on your way to Harvard!
Summary

Remember the five steps when


approaching CR problems.