GMAT Critical Reasoning
The Critical Reasoning section of the GMAT is one of the most unique and challenging sections on the exam. It consists of questions that test your ability to read and analyse arguments. The GMAC describes this section as “the most difficult part of the test”, which is a rather interesting statement given how difficult other sections can be.
This article will take a detailed look at what Critical Reasoning is all about, what it tests, and how best to prepare for it.
What does Critical Reasoning on the GMAT test?
Critical Reasoning is essentially about reading and analysing arguments (both pro and con) and then determining which side makes more sense based on the information presented in the passage.
Critical Reasoning questions usually involve two passages—one passage is the argument, and the other is the answer choices (the stimulus). The passage can be an argument, an explanation or a narrative. The trigger will contain specific information about a particular topic, which you will use to answer questions.
For example, let’s say you have to answer a question about why people buy organic food. The stimulus might read like this: “People sometimes buy organic food because they think it’s healthier than conventional food.” Your job is to choose an answer that best explains why people think organic food is healthier than conventional food.
Types of GMAT Critical Reasoning questions
Critical reasoning questions on the GMAT are designed to test your ability to think logically. Essential questions of reasoning often include a passage and a question. The passage might be an argument, a comparison, or an explanation. The question might ask you to identify the assumption in the argument or explain how two ideas in the argument relate.
Critical reasoning questions can be organised in different ways:
Assumption questions require you to identify which statement must be true if the argument is to be valid. In some cases, you may need to find an assumption that the passage’s author has not explicitly stated. In other cases, it may help you figure out which piece of information is missing from one part of an argument or another.
Inference questions require you to determine which statement must follow logically from statements made in the passage. You must read carefully and look for words like “therefore” and “since” that indicate inferences have been drawn from statements made elsewhere in the passage. This is also known as concluding the evidence provided by the author(s).
Strengthen/Weaken questions ask you to identify which statement would strengthen or weaken an argument made in the passage (strengthen) or weaken an argument made.
Paradox: These questions test your ability to reason through a seemingly contradictory situation. You must assess whether the argument is valid or not, even though it may seem to be internally inconsistent. It’s important to remember that you don’t need to come up with an answer on your own; all you need to do is determine whether or not the conclusion follows from the given statements.
Strategies to answer GMAT Critical Reasoning questions
The most important thing about GMAT Critical Reasoning is that you have to read the question and answer choices. There are no tricks or gimmicks to solve these questions, just careful reading and reasoning.
- Identify the conclusion and premises. The conclusion of a CR question is typically stated as a general statement at the end of the passage or argument. The premises are usually facts or statements that support that conclusion. The answer choices will be statements that are similar in form to the premises, but do not support the conclusion. In other words, they look like they could be plausible premises for an argument, but they aren’t actually true – and therefore can’t be used as such in this argument.
- Read each answer choice carefully and consider whether it is relevant to the argument you’ve been asked about – if it is, then it’s correct; if not then it’s wrong (even if it seems like it could be true). Read through all of the answer choices before deciding which one is best — this way you won’t get confused later on by choosing an answer that doesn’t address what you thought it did. This step is often easier than it sounds because many incorrect answers will seem plausible at first glance while remaining irrelevant to the argument. There are only two types of wrong answers: those that contradict facts stated in the passage, and those that don’t fit with what we know about how people think (what psychologists call cognitive biases).
GMAT Critical Reasoning examples (with solutions)
Example 1: Newtronix, a technology company that sells only one product, recently raised prices on its signature product, the ePod. Analysts had predicted that increased prices would translate into higher profits for Newtronics. However, Newtronix saw its profits decline after the price increase.Each of the following, if true, is convincing as an explanation for the decline in Newtronix’s profit EXCEPT(A) Newtronix’s market share has declined since the price increase.(B) A recent patent dispute led to the ban of sales of ePods in several countries.(C) Materials necessary to the production of a necessary component of the ePod recently went up in price.(D) The average customer purchased fewer ePods as a result of the price increase, while the number of customers purchasing ePods remained the same.(E) The government imposed higher taxes on Newtronix just prior to the price increase.
Solution: Lets look at each of the answer choices by turn.[A]: Does a decline in market share necessarily mean a decline in sales? No! Even if the market share has decreased, the sales and therefore the profits may not necessarily decline. This seems to be our answer.[B]: A ban on the sales of the ePod will definitely hit profits. This is a convincing explanation.[C]: If the costs of producing the ePod went up, it can hit profits in spite of a price increase. This is a convincing explanation.[D]: If the average customer purchased fewer ePods while the overall number of customers remained the same, then overall profits can fall in spite of the price increase.[E]: The government’s imposition of taxes can mean a hit in profitability in spite of a price increase as this is also akin to a cost increase. Judging from this, it should be A. However, this question is not watertight and needs to be further thought through. For example, option E does not completely explain what the magnitude of taxes was. If it was more than additional profits gained from the price increase, then overall profits can decline, but if it was not, overall profits will still rise. Similarly, it needs to be noted in option A that the market itself did not remain static, because if it did then the loss in market share will also mean a drop in sales, which might mean a drop in profits.
Example 2: Electric utilities pay less for low-quality coal per ton delivered than for high-quality coal. Yet more low-quality coal than high-quality coal must be burned to generate the same amount of electricity. Moreover, per ton of coal burned, low-quality coal generates more ash than high-quality coal, and the disposal of ash is becoming more and more expensive. The considerations above, if true, most strongly support which of the following claims? (A) A coal-burning utility might not be assured of benefiting economically by always adhering to the policy of keeping its overall coal purchasing costs as low as possible. (B) In those regions where the cost of disposing of coal ash is negligible, it is more expensive for coal-burning utilities to use high-quality coal than low-quality coal. (C) Transportation costs represent a smaller proportion of the cost per delivered ton for low-quality coal than for high-quality coal.(D) It is no less expensive to dispose of a ton of coal ash that results from the burning of high-quality coal than it is to dispose of a ton of coal ash that results from the burning of low-quality coal. (E) In regions where coal-ash disposal is the least expensive, reserves of low-quality coal are likely to decline at a faster rate than are reserves of high-quality coal.
- A) CORRECT. Although utilities pay less for low-quality coal, they must use more of it and also bear expenditures involved in ash disposal. Therefore a policy of always buying low-quality coal might not always lead to economic benefit if the costs are greater than the savings. B) Incorrect. Even if the cost of disposing of coal ash is negligible, utilities must buy more low-quality coal to generate the same amount of electricity. Therefore the savings from buying low-quality coal (as compared to high-quality coal) may be mitigated through the increased usage of low-quality coal. Therefore we cannot conclude reasonably that buying high-quality coal will be more expensive in this situation. C) Incorrect. We are not given any details on the proportion of costs involved so cannot make this conclusion.D) Incorrect. We are given no information about disposal costs, so we cannot compare. E) Incorrect. The rate of decline of coal reserves is not based on the costs involved in disposing of ash generated through burning the coal. We cannot reasonably draw this conclusion. A) is therefore the correct answer.
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