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GMAT Tip: When You Can’t Swim in Critical Reasoning, Eliminate

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With Critical Reasoning questions, many test takers forget the immense importance of figuring out the gap, or disconnect, in the reasoning in the question being provided. Understanding this gap is essential to determining what answer choice fits to resolve the gap.

The next step is moving to evaluate what the question asks you to find – say, whether you need to select an answer choice that strengthens or weakens the prompt provided. Many test takers fail to spend adequate time evaluating the gap, and find themselves stuck between 2 or 3 answer choices. Without fundamentally understanding the gap, figuring out that it is a strength question doesn’t direct the test taker fully to the correct answer choice.

When you find yourself stuck in this kind of conundrum, with the timer ticking away, reevaluating the question is – of course – an option, but you may get further in picking apart answer choice and taking a strongly informed guess.

Take this (often missed) critical reasoning question:

Maas is, at best, able to write magazine articles of average quality. The most compelling pieces of evidence for this are those few of the numerous articles submitted by Maas that are superior, since Maas, who is incapable of writing an article that is better than average, obviously must have plagiarized the superior ones.

The argument is most vulnerable to criticism on which of the following grounds?

(A) It simply ignores the existence of potential counterevidence.

(B) It generalizes from atypical occurrences.

(C) It presupposes what it seeks to establish.

(D) It relies on the judgment of experts in a matter where their expertise is irrelevant.

(E) It infers limits on ability from a few isolated lapses in performance.

Many test takers are either a) completely unable to identify the flaw in the question or b) assume that question makes logical sense – and find themselves completely confounded when it comes to the answer choices.

Returning to the question stem is definitely an option – but consider taking a deep breath and deciding, at the very least, if the answer choices even make sense.

Very quickly, we should be able to eliminate (D) and (E) because these answer choices are completely outside the scope of anything mentioned about Maas. That leaves us with (B), (C), and (A).

Take each answer choice word by word:

For (A) – the word “simply” should raise a red flag. The GMAT never does anything simply! Beyond simply, think about “counterevidence.” What “counterevidence” is presented? “Must have plagiarized” is an assumption, not evidence to the contrary. (A) is out and we have quickly narrowed it down to a 50/50 chance of getting to the right answer.

Next, take a moment to evaluate answer choice (B) – ask yourself, “can something be generalized from atypical occurrences?” Are atypical occurrences not outliers? And in fact, doesn’t this question do the opposite – base the assumption that superior articles are plagiarized because Maas can only manage to write average articles? “Generalized” should be your trigger word here, particularly in contrast to “atypical.”

Granted, (B) is a little more difficult to assess without really understanding the gap in logic, but is also an example of a string of words that sounds fancy and good, but doesn’t mean much of anything when evaluated more closely.

If we have eliminated (B), then the answer choice must be ( C) – which, at the outset, likely sounded like a wrong answer. Answer choice (C) is in fact correct because the prompt seeks to establish that Maas is average but assumes (aka “presupposes”) that Maas must have plagiarized the superior articles because he is average. An example of circular reasoning.

Even if (C) sounds less than ideal to you, using process of elimination should prove it is a bit easier to discount (B) on solid grounds than it is for (C), even if it is an odd-sounding answer choice.

If you feel like you are floundering when it comes to Critical Reasoning questions, and walking away from reading the question and question stem saying “wait, what?” – consider the short, valuable time you have, and try different approaches, including process of elimination.

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.