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GMAT Tip: Put the Critical in Critical Reasoning

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As you read GMAT Critical Reasoning problems, you might be struck by how different the questions can be: some are about biology, others about geology, and still others about politics, home repair, corporate strategy, and a whole host of other topics. But, strategically speaking, Critical Reasoning problems are all a lot more similar than meets the eye. There are a handful of blueprints for the structure of these problems, and if you can see those blueprints the subject matter becomes window dressing.

The most popular Critical Reasoning blueprint? It looks like this:

Fact that guarantees that X is true.

Conclusion that states that Y – something very similar to X but not quite the same thing – is therefore true.

Your major battle in Critical Reasoning really comes down to being expertly critical and noting that X and Y, though similar, are substantively different. And then if it’s a strengthen question, you want to find an answer that shows that X and Y are the same, and if it’s a weaken question you want to drive more distance between them. The key is to read critically and pick up on those subtle differences. For example, you might see differences such as:

 Revenues went up  The company was more profitable
 The unemployment rate is down  Fewer people are unemployed
 Consumers prefer Product X to Product Y  More consumers purchase Product X than Product Y
 Fewer adoptions occurred last year  Fewer families adopted children last year
 The translation was accurate  The report was accurate

In each case, the two columns are very closely related, and the truth of X makes Y more likely. But they’re not exactly the same thing, and if you can train yourself to attack that little difference you’ll know exactly what to look for in the answer choices. For the first one, if costs were up even higher than revenues, the profits would be down. For the second, the fact (X) is about a rate (# of people unemployed divided by the number in the labor market) and the conclusion (Y) leaps to an exact number. For the third, consumer preference is not the same thing as actual purchase data (suppose Product Y is just that much cheaper and easier to buy; you might slightly prefer X but resign yourself to buying Y). And for the fourth, the number of adoptions is not the same as the number of families adopting; if the higher number of adoptions was based on a several families (think about Brad and Angelina…) adopting lots of kids, but last year each family that adopted adopted exactly one child, the number of families could be up while the number of adoptions is slightly down.

The key lies in identifying that little gap, and then letting the answer choices fill or exploit it for you. With that in mind, see if you can find an answer choice that exploits that gap from the fifth example:

Paretan newspaper editor: David Salino assails as distorted our quotation of remarks on Paretan values by the Qinkoan prime minister and bemoans what he sees as the likely consequences for Paretan-Qinkoan relations. Those consequences will not be our fault, however, since officials at the Qinkoan embassy and scholars at the Institute of Qinkoan Studies have all confirmed that, as printed, our quotation was an acceptable translation of the prime minister’s remarks. No newspaper can fairly be blamed for the consequences of its reporting when that reporting is accurate.

Which one of the following is an assumption on which the editor’s argument depends?

  1. The confirmation that the translation is acceptable is sufficient to show that the prime minister’s remarks were accurately reported.
  2. Newspapers ought not to consider the consequences of their coverage in deciding what to report.
  3. If the newspaper’s rendering of the prime minister’s remarks was not distorted, then there is no reason to fear adverse consequences from reporting the remarks.
  4. If David Salino was prepared to praise the newspaper for any favorable consequences of quoting the prime minister’s remarks, he could then hold the newspaper to blame for adverse consequences.
  5. Only scholars or people with official standing are in a position to pass judgment on wheter a translation of Qinkoan into Paretan is acceptable.

This dense, involved prompt can be quite challenging to even read (let alone answer), but if you’ve noticed the gap in logic from the grid above – “translation” isn’t the same thing as “reporting” – you can see that choice A (the correct answer) directly addresses it. v

This argument really boils down directly to:

Conclusion: Our newspaper cannot be blamed for any consequences.

Fact 1: Officials have confirmed that our translation was correct.

Fact 2: Newspapers cannot be blamed if their reporting is accurate.

And as you can see, this follows the blueprint to a T: two things that, when hidden in a brick of text, look very similar (reporting and translation) are not quite the same thing.

The lesson? The name of the game in Critical Reasoning is that word “Critical” itself. As you read Critical Reasoning arguments, first make sure that you go in with the mindset that you’re not buying what the argument is selling, and then look for those subtle differences to help you identify that concrete gap in logic. Train your inner skeptic to see those tiny differences in wording and you’ll uncover the blueprint for Critical Reasoning questions regardless of topic.

The above GMAT Tip comes from Veritas Prep. Since its founding in 2002, Veritas Prep has helped more than 100,000 students prepare for the GMAT and offers the most highly rated GMAT Prep course in the industry.