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GMAT Tips: Identifying the Conclusion in Critical Reasoning

Today’s GMAT tip comes to us from Veritas Prep.  In today’s blog post, they provide helpful tips on how to identify the conclusion in a Critical Reasoning questions.  Read on to see what they have to say!

On the GMAT, Critical Reasoning questions often ask you to strengthen a conclusion, weaken a conclusion, or determine an assumption necessary for the conclusion to hold true. In any of these cases, it is of prime importance that you know exactly what the conclusion is saying; otherwise, it can be easy for your answer choice to miss the mark.

It is important to ensure that you correctly identify the conclusion of the argument, and to make doing so a priority. There are four clues to determine the conclusion of a Critical Reasoning argument, any of which should help you determine which statement is the argument’s conclusion:

1) Conclusion language such as “thus” or “therefore”

2) A call for action, such as “they must…” or “we should…”

3) The effect of a cause-and-effect relationship. For example, “Because it is raining, the game will be canceled.” The game being canceled is a conclusion dependent on the rain.

4) The “Why” test, which dictates that Critical Reasoning arguments are composed of only two things: facts and conclusions. And conclusions need to be based on facts. If you ask “why is that true” of a statement, and realize that the paragraph gives no attempt at a reason for it, that statement must be given as a fact — no reason is necessary. But if a reason is given – if you can point to another sentence after asking “why,” then the statement that depends on another is likely the conclusion.

As an example, consider this question:

In Europe, schoolchildren devote time during each school day to calisthenics. North American schools rarely offer a daily calisthenics program. Tests prove that North American children are weaker, slower, and shorter-winded than European children. We must conclude that North American children can be
made physically fit only if they participate in school calisthenics on a daily basis.

Which of the following is an assumption required by the argument above?

(A) Physical fitness is a compelling national priority worthy of taxpayer resources.
(B) School calisthenics programs are an indispensable factor in European student fitness.
(C) All children can be made equally physically fit.
(D) European schoolchildren enjoy physical activities more than do American children.
(E) American physical education teachers are capable of designing a successful calisthenics program.

This question presents a conclusion with incredibly strong language: We must conclude that they can be made physically fit only if…. Clearly the evidence presented does not support such a strong conclusion. In the Veritas Prep Critical Reasoning lesson, you will learn more about some important logical fallacies: generalization, correlation vs. causation, statistical flaws, etc. This argument suffers from the following flaw: Just because superior fitness is correlated with a daily calisthenics program in Europe and a lack of one in this country that does not mean it is the reason why this is true.

It could be that North American children are weaker, slower, and shorter-winded than European children because of dietary differences or air pollution or any other number of reasons. Also, even if you prove that the reason is the presence of school calisthenics, are you sure that the only way you could fix the problem is with in-school calisthenics? Maybe an at-home fitness program could be instituted that would be just as effective at promoting fitness as the in-school programs. The bottom line is this: The language of the conclusion makes this argument incredibly weak. To strengthen it, you will need to insert a strongly worded premise that corrects one or both of these glaring flaws.

Answer choice B does just that; it helps to show why this program is the only way to gain fitness similar to the Europeans by stating that the school exercise program in Europe is an indispensable factor in their superior fitness. Also in this problem, be careful that you do not “hijack” the conclusion and make it what you think it is or what you want it to be. If you misread the conclusion as “we should implement a daily school calisthenics program,” then you might be tempted with answer choice A. In reality, answer choice A is irrelevant to the given conclusion; what taxpayers think does not change how to make children fit.

Selecting the proper conclusion on a Critical Reasoning question is a crucial step, so it’s certainly appropriate for you to jump to conclusions to have your goal in mind before you dig through the details. Find the proper conclusion and the question will become clearer from there.

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