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How to Approach Strengthening and Weakening Questions on GMAT Critical Reasoning

Posted in Test Prep on March 3, 2011 by

If you’ve done a bit of GMAT verbal practice, you’ve probably figured out the general tendency of GMAT CR questions: they present an argument, and then ask the test-taker to take on the role of an outside observer and identify or judge parts of that argument.

One common kind of CR question is the strengthening and weakening question. These questions present an argument, and then ask test-takers to identify the answer choice that, if true, would best strengthen or weaken that argument.

But before we get too deep into specifics, let’s take a step back and review the basics.

What are arguments comprised of exactly?

The answer choices on a GMAT CR question might strengthen or weaken the argument in a number of ways.

Here are a few basic methods:

Let’s take a look at an example:

Now that we’ve identified the evidence, assumption, and conclusion, there are a variety of ways we can strengthen or weaken the assumptions in this argument. We can add new details, invoke general principles, or directly contradict the argument’s unstated premises.

Compare the following statements to the passage to see how each one works to strengthen or weaken the argument:

In general, watch out for irrelevant or opposite answer choices. These are particularly common for strengthen / weaken questions. In the examples below, the strengthener implies that the museum will not get more visitors from its reduced fares while the weakener is irrelevant to the argument. The GMAT will often include answer choices like these–don’t let them trip you up!

In addition, passages will frequently include red herrings – details that at first may seem important but are really just noise.

Here, “on Wednesday” is just a detail that makes the argument’s conclusion a bit harder to identify.

When you’re tackling strengthening and weakening questions, remember this equation: E + A = C. Evidence + Assumptions = Conclusion. This will help you recognize which details are important and what precisely you need to strengthen or weaken.