GMAT Critical Reasoning

GMAT Critical Reasoning

Updated 13 August 2020

GMAT Test Practice

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The GMAT (Graduate Management Aptitude Test) is a standardized exam that is part of the application process for business school, especially if you are looking to study for an MBA.

The GMAT is a multiple-choice, computer-based test broken into sections. The whole test should take about 3.5 hours to complete and features a computer-adaptive set of questions.

In the Verbal section of the test, you will be asked approximately 36 questions within the following three sections:

Around 10 of the questions in the Verbal section will focus on critical reasoning. This article will help you improve your score in that section by making you familiar with the question structure, what to expect, and methods for better performance.

How the Critical Reasoning Section Works

As a business leader, one of the key skills you will need to be successful is to be able to analyze and evaluate information to help you make important decisions.

The GMAT Critical Reasoning section involves questioning and scrutinizing material to make clear, coherent and logical judgments, without subconscious bias or previous knowledge.

You will be given a paragraph of information, often about a business-related scenario, along with any numerical or written data you might need. You will then be asked to identify which of the answer options strengthens or weakens the argument given in the paragraph.

The answers will be multiple-choice and there will be five possible responses, one of which is correct.

The GMAT Critical Reasoning section has approximately 10 questions and each needs to be completed in order – you cannot skip ahead and come back.

Each question will have a clear directive; although it is designed to be confusing, the answer will be provided in the information you are given.

What Question Types to Expect

Identifying the question type that you are facing before you read the passage will help you to quickly predict the correct answer.

There are eight question types used in the GMAT Critical Reasoning section. Most of the questions in the test will involve the first four types:

1. Weaken the Argument

If the question is asking you to select the answer that weakens the argument, look for three types of answer:

  1. Those that undermine the pivotal assumption that connects the premise and the conclusion. If the unstated assumption is false, the conclusion must always be false.

  2. Those that question the evidence given in the paragraph. This might mean the validity of the source or data – is it a person, a study or something else? It might be that the data provided is irrelevant to the premise or the conclusion.

  3. Those that show the assumption leads to further, unreasonable conclusions. By demonstrating that taking the conclusion further leads to an absurd result, you weaken the argument.

2. Strengthen the Argument

These questions will ask you to identify an answer that:

  • Supports
  • Confirms
  • Provides evidence for
  • Weakens objections to

the argument being made in the passage you have been given.

Start by ensuring you understand the paragraph’s main argument and then look for an answer option that bolsters either the premise, assumption or conclusion.

3. Find the Conclusion

In this question type, you will need to find the conclusion that is best supported by the evidence. This conclusion will be undeniable given the information.

4. Find the Assumption

To choose the correct answer in this category, you need to be able to explicitly state the link between the premise and the conclusion (the assumption).

If you take a moment to simplify the argument, you will be able to find out how they have come to the conclusion, based on the premise.

5. Paradox Questions

In this question, the statement or argument will appear to contradict itself. You will be asked to resolve the contradiction with the answer options you have been given.

6. Structure of the Argument

There are two types of question in this section:

  • Boldface questions – These will present the information paragraph with two sections highlighted in bold. You will be asked to identify the role that each of these bold sections plays in making the argument.

  • Dialogue structure questions – You will be given an argument from two different people’s points of view. Usually, these points of view will disagree. You will need to understand the position of both speakers in context – are they providing evidence, an assumption or a conclusion?

Both of these question types are asking not about the specifics of the argument, but rather about the way the argument has been structured and the role that part plays.

7. Complete the Argument

Here you will be given a passage that is incomplete (this will usually be indicated with a blank underline). You need to choose the answer that completes the argument.

To do this, look for corroborative evidence that cannot be weakened and avoid any further assumptions.

8. Evaluate the Conclusion

This question is asking you to choose an answer based on its relevance to the issue being discussed in the passage.

This means avoiding answers that have only tangential relevance to the conclusion being made, even if they have been mentioned earlier in the passage.

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Key Tips for GMAT Critical Reasoning Questions

1. Read the Question

Make sure you read the question first, before looking at the information paragraph. Knowing the question before you read the passage will ensure that you can bear it in mind as you read.

2. Predict the Answer

Knowing which of the eight types of question you are dealing with will allow you to predict the answer as you read. For example, if the question asks you to find the assumption, you will know that you are looking for the missing links between the premise and the conclusion.

3. Simplify

The phrasing used in the information and questions is designed to be complicated. It will help you to simplify the language and the information as you are reading through.

Look at each part of the argument; identify the premise, the assumption and the conclusion, if present, and summarize these in simple language.

4. The Answers are Provided

The GMAT Critical Reasoning test is not about making massive leaps or guesses. All the information you need to answer correctly is provided in the passage you have been given – you need to apply judgment and make clear and logical connections.

5. It’s Not What You Know

Don’t worry if you don’t have specific knowledge of the topic you are reading about. Knowledge of specific business situations may actually hinder you in critical reasoning tests.

It can be difficult to avoid applying your previous knowledge to a problem, but avoiding any bias in your answers will ensure that you are answering correctly.

Example Critical Reasoning Questions

Here are some example questions to help you practice:

Question 1

Family-owned businesses are one of the oldest types of businesses around. Traditionally, the eldest son of a farmer would take on the farm when the father was no longer able. This dynastic system is still prevalent today, with it being much more likely that the son of a TV wrestler becomes a TV wrestler than someone who does not have a father with that career.

Which of the following best disproves the author's argument?

a. The Japanese royal family is the longest-surviving dynasty in the world.
b. Traditionally, a farmer’s son would have no choice but to work on the farm with his family.
c. A TV wrestler will be a big influence on his child’s future career choice.
d. 60% of university students in 2019 stated that their parents had influenced their career choices.
e. You won’t be successful in a job just because your parents are.

This question is looking for you to weaken the argument. While we cannot state that any of these answers are incorrect – we have no bias or previous knowledge – we can see that some of these answers actually strengthen the argument.

Options a, c and d are corroborative evidence and add to the assumption, while option e is not relevant; the argument is not about success in a career, just about the choice of career.

Option b provides clear, inarguable logic that the only reason a farmer’s son would become a farmer is that they had no other choice, disproving the author’s argument.

The correct answer is: b

Question 2

Textbook publishers were worried that search engines like Google might damage their business because people could easily find any information they required for free. However, even though students are increasingly internet savvy, official study guides and textbooks are still in high demand.

If assumed to be true, which of the following statements best explains the paradox in the passage above?

a. Google has the answer to every question you could ever ask.
b. Before the internet was invented, students didn’t like paying for textbooks.
c. Students prefer to get stuff for free than pay for it.
d. Unlike textbooks, information online isn't always high quality, accurate or authored by experts.
e. You can find out anything on Wikipedia.

This question is asking you to explain the paradox in the argument. Options a and c offer support to the assumption that search engines like Google could harm profits for textbook publishers, but they do not explain why textbooks are still in high demand.

Options b and e are not relevant to the contradiction we are trying to explain.

However, option d provides the extra information that explains the link in this paradox, making it a complete argument.

The correct answer is: d

Question 3

Many painters have not become famous until after their death. In fact, many now-celebrated artists were considered amateurs in their day. Therefore, we must wait for many years before we can appreciate a piece of art.

Which of the following statements is an assumption that is required for the conclusion to be properly drawn?

a. Artists that aren’t appreciated produce bad paintings.
b. Artists are known to push cultural boundaries, so time needs to pass before their work is appreciated.
c. Artists that are celebrated by their generation are unmistakably good.
d. Artists often don’t live very long.
e. People often change their minds when looking at art.

Nothing in the argument explains why artists are not appreciated in their time. To draw that conclusion, the argument needs to indicate that time must pass for an artist’s work to be appreciated.

The other answer choices either do not support the conclusion or repeat arguments that are already stated in the passage.

The correct answer is: b

Final Thoughts

The most important thing to remember about the GMAT is that knowing what you are facing in each section will make the whole test less stressful. By taking the time to fully understand exactly what you are required to do in each part, you will be better equipped to make the correct decisions.

When it comes to the Critical Reasoning section of the GMAT, make sure you read the question before you look at the information so that you can predict the answer.

Simplify the complicated language and identify the premise, the assumption, the evidence and the conclusion – remember that all the information you need is in the information you have been given. Subconscious bias may actually harm your score in this section.

Give yourself the best chance by practicing as many questions as you can before the exam. There are many practice questions available and this can help you get used to the way questions are presented. These practice questions also give a full explanation of each possible answer, so you can work through your understanding.

Getting through the GMAT with a great score because you have prepared will ensure that you are best placed for further study and that MBA.

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