GMAT Critical Reasoning

Critical reasoning questions compose a little less than one third of all the questions on the verbal section of the GMAT. Every critical reasoning question has three components–an argument, a question stem, and three answer choices. The argument is a short passage (three to four sentences, on average) that explains a specific situation; the question stem defines your task in that particular question; and the answer choices either provide new evidence or list possible inferences, assumptions, conclusions, or flaws.

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Critical reasoning arguments usually present factual evidence and draw a conclusion, which may or may not rely on certain unspoken assumptions. The conclusion of the argument usually posits a relationship between several “entities” discussed in the argument. Entities can be people, groups of people, money, businesses, or just about any noun.

What the GMAT means by “critical” reasoning is that test-takers must take the role of an outside observer and identify and/or judge parts of the argument. This is a vital task in both business school and business itself: to be able to come to a new and unfamiliar situation, quickly determine the relevant information and the causal relationships, and judge whether a particular conclusion is merited, or what additional information may be needed to verify that conclusion.

The answer choices on critical reasoning questions are unique, in that they’re often half as long as the argument itself, and just as convoluted. Deciphering answer choices is a key skill on the CR section, because the answer choices are full of tricks, switches, and misdirection. Knewton helps test-takers quickly and accurately identify the tricks that appear on every GMAT—substitutions, distortions, exaggerations, opposites, and more.

On GMAT CR questions, test-takers may be asked to:

  • Identify an unspoken assumption made by the argument’s author.
  • Identify additional evidence that would strengthen the conclusion of the argument.
  • Identify additional evidence that would weaken the conclusion of the argument.
  • Find a logical flaw in the argument or resolve an apparent paradox in the argument.
  • Draw an inference or conclusion based on the given evidence.

The Knewton GMAT course explains each of these question types in detail, providing methods by which to unravel arguments, establish entity relationships, and eliminate trap answers. We also clarify the specific types of causal relationships that the GMAT uses again and again.

Top 5 Critical Reasoning Tips:

1. If you have a hard time sorting out the meaning of a Critical Reasoning 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 usually be signaled by words like “as a result,” or “therefore.”

2. If a question asks you for a statement which best weakens an argument, be on the lookout for answer choices that do the exact opposite (i.e., strengthen the argument). The test-makers bank on the fact that some test-takers won’t be paying attention, and will pick the exact opposite of the right answer choice.

3. Become familiar with the CR terminology. You should know the definition for the terms assumption, inference, evidence, conclusion, paradox, logical flaw, etc. like the back of your hand. As you go through GMAT practice tests, take note of any words in the argument, question stem, or answer choice that confuse you.

4. Don’t confuse correlation with causation. This common logical flaw occurs when an argument concludes that one event caused another, based only on the evidence that the two events occurred at the same time or one after the other.

5. Become familiar with frequently-used methods of reasoning. Arguments may cite many types of evidence, but certain methods of reasoning are more effective than others and thus are more commonly used on the GMAT. These methods include citing an authority or providing an analogy. Common methods of countering an argument including noting ulterior motives, pointing out an unconsidered consequence, or demonstrating a logical inconsistency. Understanding an argument’s method of reasoning can help you identify logical flaws or determine the statement that would best strengthen/weaken the argument.

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