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GMAT Tip: The Top 5 Strategies for GMAT Critical Reasoning (Part 1)

Today’s GMAT tip comes from Manhattan Review UK, a provider of GMAT Prep courses in London. In this article, Manhattan Review reveals 5 strategies for successfully tackling GMAT Critical Reasoning questions. In fact, the tip has so much detail that we had to split it into two parts.

More than any other part of the GMAT, Critical Reasoning needs to be approached strategically. Each of the four Critical Reasoning question types—Assumption, Inference, Explanation/Paradox and Method of Reasoning—has its own corresponding strategy. Four question types—four strategies.

Let us deal first with Assumption questions, because they account for something like 70% of all of the Critical Reasoning questions. Moreover, something like 60% of the Assumption questions consist of so-called Weaken questions; that is, questions that require you to weaken/undermine/challenge the argument’s conclusion. Here are five tips on how to attack Weaken questions:

1. Recognize the question

Anytime you are doing Critical Reasoning, the first thing you need to figure out is what question type you have on your hands. Therefore, before you read the argument, read the question. Assumption questions are easily recognizable. They come in four varieties:

(a)Which one of the following, if true, would most seriously weaken/challenge/undermine the argument?
(b)Which one of the following, if true, would do the most to strengthen/support/confirm the argument?
(c)Which one of the following is an assumption that would allow the conclusion above to be properly drawn?
(d)Which one of the following would be most useful to know in order to determine whether the plan/proposal is likely to succeed?

2.  Find the conclusion

Once you have determined that you have an Assumption question on your hands, you must find the conclusion. Read the argument therefore with a view to identifying the conclusion. Don’t assume anything. The conclusion could be anywhere: It could be the opening sentence; it could also be the last sentence. Don’t think that just because a sentence starts with words such as “therefore” or “clearly” it must necessarily be the conclusion. The GMAT likes to mix it up.

Take a look at this passage from the Manhattan Review Study Companion:

A study made by a psychologist shows that spending too much time in front of a computer causes insomnia. Two groups of adults took part in this study. During the study the first group spent 3 hours or less per day working on a computer; the second group spent 6 hours or more working on a computer. A greater proportion of the second group had trouble falling asleep during the period of the study than members from the first group.

Where’s the conclusion here? It’s in the opening sentence: Spending too much time in front of the computer causes insomnia.

Or take a look at this passage:

Countries that legalized the drug X twenty years ago, because a significant percentage of the population had been using X on a daily basis without any apparent harm to the community at large, reset the benchmark for what is appropriate and proper behavior among their citizens. Since X’s legalization, there has been an increase in manic depression, suicide and certain kinds of cancer. In order for Andovia, a country that has not yet legalized X, to avoid the development of such undesirable tendencies and prevent the social problems stemming from broad usage of drug X, it should close its borders and not issue visas to any tourists from countries where drug X is legal.

Where’s the conclusion here? It’s in the last sentence: Closing the borders with, and not issuing visas to tourists from, countries in which drug X is legal will protect Andovia from the ravages of the drug.

Whatever type of Assumption question it is, finding the conclusion is the critical first step. In Weaken arguments, you will be looking for the answer choice that does the most to undermine the conclusion. In Strengthen arguments, you will be looking for the answer choice that does the most to support the conclusion.

3.    Find the assumption

Once you’ve identified the conclusion, you must find the unstated assumption that enabled the author to draw that conclusion. The assumption is the missing ingredient in the argument. To tease out this assumption, you have to find the evidence on which the conclusion is based. In the first passage above, the evidence is the study of the sleeping habits of two groups. Members of Group A spent more time in front of the computer than did members of Group B. Members of Group A then had more trouble falling asleep than did members of Group B. Hence the conclusion: Spending too much time in front of the computer causes insomnia.

What’s the assumption here? What allowed the author to reach that conclusion? One assumption clearly is that if one event follows another event then the earlier event must be the cause of the later event. Another assumption is that nothing else need be considered here other than time spent in front of the computer and subsequent ability or inability to fall asleep.

What’s the assumption in the second passage? Clearly, that closing the borders with, and not issuing visas to tourists from, countries in which X is legal will suffice to keep drug X out of Andovia.

Stay tuned for the second part of Manhattan Review’s best 5 strategies for GMAT Critical Reasoning. In the meantime, you can start practicing for the test by taking a free GMAT practice test at the Manhattan Review website.

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Posted in: GMAT - Verbal, GMAT Tips

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