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Critical Reasoning in GMAT and how to crack it!

Critical Reasoning (CR) questions are part of the GMAT’s verbal section. In a previous post, we told you all about the GMAT verbal section, its timing, and what all it asks of the test taker.

Critical Reasoning questions can often be the the most challenging part of the verbal section. Lets first give you an overview of a few critical reasoning question types! critical reasoning skills

Types of critical reasoning questions:

The first type of critical reasoning questions of the GMAT verbal section have an argument-statement based structure. You will have one argument given, and you have to analyze the argument. The answer will require making a choice of one among five. The question types can involve choosing that statement which most weakens the argument or most strengthens it.

Other type of critical reasoning questions also center around an argument. But here you will find two highlighted sentences (in the argument) and based on the context of the argument, you will have to decide about the relation between the two highlighted sentences. The questions could center around statement conclusion, or theory and an example of the theory, or statement and example that negates/undermines the statement.

Examples of GMAT Critical Reasoning questions

Type 1 question example:
Political Commentator: During the previous presidential administration, members of congress approved large tax cuts and yet the economy today stands in shambles. During the current economic crisis, those who espouse large tax cuts as an economic stimulus should consider the failure of tax cuts during the past eight years to prevent the current economic recession as conclusive evidence that tax cuts will not help the country escape from its current economic troubles.
Which of the following, if true, most weakens the argument above?

The correct answer is A.

Explanation:  The political commentator’s argument is: “tax cuts will not help the country escape from its current economic troubles.” The commentator’s evidence for this is the failure of the past administration’s tax cuts to prevent the economic recession. Now answer A is the only one that identifies that the argument illogically compares apples and oranges (i.e., it compares entirely different types of tax cuts). It is not reasonable to assume that capital gains tax cuts for the ultra-rich will have the same effect as cuts on salary taxes. None of the other answers match the logical proceedings of the argument. Therefore, the answer is A.

Type 2 Question example: Joanne the researcher: All other things being equal, the intensity of heat increases as the distance from the heat source decreases. Knowing this, most people conclude that the Earth’s seasons are caused by the Earth’s changing distance from the sun. In other words, winter occurs when the Earth is far from the sun, and summer occurs when the earth is close to the sun. However, we know that as North America experiences summer, South America experiences winter, even though the difference in the continents’ distance to the sun is negligible. Therefore, the earth’s changing distance from the sun does not cause the seasons. In the argument, the two portions in boldface play which of the following roles?

A) The first describes a belief to which the scientist subscribes; the second is evidence in support of this belief.
 B) The first describes a common belief that the scientist later deems to be ill conceived; the second is evidence against this belief.
 C) The first is a statement presented in support of the scientist’s final conclusion; the second is the scientist’s conclusion.
 D) The first describes a commonly held belief that is contrary to the scientist’s final conclusion; the second is evidence in support of this belief.
 E) The first describes a common belief that follows logically from the statement before it; the second is factual information that the scientist deems to be irrelevant to her argument.

The correct answer is B.

The researcher shows here a common belief that the Earth’s seasons are caused by its distance from the sun.  Then she presents an example to show that this does not hold true. So here, the first bold sentence highlights the belief held by the people, while the second highlights the example contradicting the belief. With this analysis in mind for critical reasoning, the answer turns out to be B.

These aforementioned questions are the two most common types of questions for the critical reasoning section of the GMAT.

critical reasoning pyramid

Analysis of Critical Reasoning questions on the GMAT

The GMAT’s critical reasoning questions are meant to test your analytical ability of situations, arguments, etc. Out of the 41 questions on the verbal section, roughly 14-20 will be critical reasoning questions. When you start taking the mock tests for your preparation, you will realize that there are few 300-500 level CR questions. The critical reasoning questions generally begin at the 600-level. So if the first question on your mock is a critical reasoning-based question, then your questions would have begun from the 600-level. You need to be careful in answering these questions, primarily because of the computer adaptive nature of the test.

The GMAT verbal section can be aced once you master critical reasoning questions. Some more critical reasoning tips can be found here. The best way to get conversant with critical reasoning questions is by taking a mock test first and then analyzing where you stand.

As I always say, gain a clear understanding of the type of questions asked, and then head for the practice tests to do well! All the best!

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