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GMAT Exam Overview & Question Types: Critical Reasoning

GMAT Exam Overview & Question Types: Critical Reasoning

Critical reasoning questions are among the three types of questions in the verbal reasoning section, they’re assumed to be the least frequent questions in the verbal reasoning section. This means that you are likely to see more reading comprehension and sentence correction questions than critical reasoning questions. On average there are usually 9-13 critical reasoning questions for each verbal section.

Potentially, there is going to be a content area for two-part analysis questions in integrated reasoning. Therefore, you’ll see a question similar to verbal critical reasoning for two choices to be made in a single slide within integrated reasoning, and those questions will follow a similar process to what we’ll discuss for verbal critical reasoning.

Strategic Implications

In most cases, you’ll spend more time on critical reasoning questions compared to other types of questions in the verbal reasoning section. While we allocate just under a minute and fifty seconds per question on average in the verbal reasoning section, here you need to allocate two minutes for every critical reasoning question in the verbal section. This is because these questions require you to pay attention to detail in the process of answering. That means you have to read both the question and the answer choices carefully, which calls for more time to allow you to evaluate this information. The same applies to the integrated reasoning section. For these questions, you need to spend two and a half minutes or approximately three minutes per two-part analysis question that follows a critical reasoning format.

That said, you’re going to allocate a maximum of three minutes for any individual critical reasoning question, and spend more time at the beginning than later because the initial questions matter more in the scoring scale. Additionally, you’ll have a maximum of four minutes for any integrated reasoning two-part analysis style critical reasoning question. Be sure to limit yourself to a single reread before moving to elimination and guessing to save time. You won’t have time for several retreads so just do it once and evaluate the information efficiently.

These kinds of questions as well as integrated reasoning questions are some of the questions you are going to primarily skip proactively because critical reasoning questions are self-contained, meaning they only affect a single question. So even though they take longer on average, they don’t have a disproportionate impact on how the exam is going to go whether it is the verbal section or the integrated reasoning part. They don’t impact any other question, so it’s okay to be a little bit aggressive in skipping if you are behind pace in the verbal or integrated reasoning sections.

Types of critical reasoning questions

1. Inference of critical reasoning

Samples inference critical reasoning question

Several brown foxes have been seen outside of Haye’s chicken firm. Dogs have been proven by farmers to deter foxes from stealing a chicken. 

Which of the following statements, if true, best supports Haye’s decision.

  1. Every farmer should have a dog.
  2. Dogs hate foxes.
  3. Haye’s chicken could benefit from a dog on site.
  4. All foxes steal a chicken.
  5. Haye would make more money by raising cattle instead of chickens.

You will always begin with stand-alone scenario facts to evaluate in a paragraph prompt. “Several brown foxes have been seen outside of Haye’s chicken firm. Dogs have been proven  by farmers to deter foxes from stealing a chicken.”

Then you will have a single question task that must be based on the explicit statement of facts provided by the prompts. In this case, we have, “Which of the following is best supported by the statement above?” Meaning, what must be true, or what must be supported by those two sentences in the prompt.

Usually, you’re given five choices that are provided to cross-check against the statement of facts as either certain or impossible. In this case, they need to be certain because if you follow the statement of fact, it follows, even though it is not stated that one of these answer choices must be true. Let’s go through the choices.

A. Every farmer should have a dog.

The statement says that “Dogs have been proven  by farmers to deter foxes from stealing a chicken.” It doesn’t say that every farmer should have a dog. It talks about farmers needing to deter foxes from stealing chicken and states that dogs might be helpful. So we can eliminate choice A.

B. Dogs hate foxes.

We can’t say this about every dog and we can’t affirm the idea that dogs hate foxes, we don’t know that. There is nothing in the statement about dog intent. While it may seem reasonable, it is not supported by these statements. We can’t make assumptions.

C. Haye’s chicken could benefit from a dog on site.

This is our correct answer because it is nice and bland and fully supported by the statements of fact. Because, if dogs have been proven by farmers to deter foxes from stealing a chicken, then it is reasonable that having a dog on site could provide a benefit for Haye’s chicken on the chicken farm where several brown foxes have been seen outside. 

We are often looking for what the statements mean literally, but are unstated.

D. All foxes steal a chicken.

Similar to every farmer, we can’t make any sort of assumption about all foxes. We are only talking about several brown foxes, and in fact, we don’t know that these foxes are going to steal a chicken, it’s just that they might. So any statement about all foxes is unsupported.

E. Haye would make more money by raising cattle instead of chickens.

It may seem reasonable that Haye would want to make more money, but there is nothing about revenue or profits or cattle anywhere in the statements. All of this is far beyond the scope of this paragraph so we can eliminate E.

2. Argument Critical Reasoning

Samples Argument critical reasoning question

Several brown foxes have recently been seen outside of Haye’s chicken firm. As a result, Haye has decided to get a dog to protect the chicken.

Which of the following statements, if true, best supports Haye’s decision.

  1. Many farmers like dogs.
  2. Some dogs hate foxes.
  3. All foxes steal a chicken.
  4. Most foxes fear dogs.
  5. Several breeds of dogs are descended from foxes.

An argument critical reasoning presents a stand-alone scenario of facts that then support a subjective conclusion, which must then be evaluated within the prompt. “Several brown foxes have recently been seen outside of Haye’s chicken firm. As a result, Haye has decided to get a dog to protect the chicken.”

Then we’ll have one of many possible question tasks that require an evaluation of the conclusion and its inherent assumptions. “Which of the following statements, if true, best supports Haye’s decision.” In this case, we are being asked to support Haye’s decision to get a dog to protect the chicken.

From there,  we’ll have five choices to consider as true, to determine if they have a definitive impact on the argument required by the question task. In this case, to support Haye’s decision. Again we’ll go through the choices one by one to try to find one that, if true, supports the idea that Haye should get a dog to protect the chicken.

A. Many farmers like dogs.

Many farmers like dogs are great, but it has nothing to do with Haye’s decision to protect the chicken. We don’t know either that many farmers like dogs, at least we cannot arrive at that conclusion from these statements in the prompt. So we can eliminate choice A.

B. Some dogs hate foxes.

Like in the first example we can’t say this about some dogs or any dogs at all, and we can’t affirm the idea that they hate foxes, we don’t know that. There is nothing in the statement about dog intent. While it may seem reasonable, it is not supported by these statements. We can’t make that assumption. We can eliminate B as well.

C. All foxes steal a chicken.

It seems reasonable, but since we are only talking about several brown foxes, it is not going to help us to determine that all foxes steal a chicken. That does not help us to explain how getting a dog will help us protect these chickens from the brown foxes outside of Haye’s farm. C can be eliminated on those grounds.

D. Most foxes fear dogs.

This fills in the gap as to why a dog would be helpful to protect these chickens. Because if most foxes fear dogs, then it is reasonable to infer that these brown foxes are probably some of the foxes that fear dogs, which explains why getting a dog would help protect the chicken. This supports Haye’s decision.

E. Several breeds of dogs are descended from foxes.

This introduces more questions than answers. Do several breeds include the breed that Haye is looking at? “They are descended from foxes”, how does that impact Haye’s decision? We need more information to evaluate, so we can readily eliminate E.

Critical Reasoning Process 

Step 1

Identify the question task and thereby what category the question falls into, whether it is an argument or inference style question. Where we have to evaluate a conclusion and a potential assumption or inference or where we only have to evaluate the statements of fact. (Skip the prompts).

Step 2

Read the prompts and take notes as appropriate. So if it’s an argument task, read the prompts and note down the exact conclusion/s so that you know what you are being asked to evaluate. For inference tasks, read the prompts and shorthand note the statements of fact.

Step 3

This is for the argument tasks only. Broadly predict what the answer should do to address the argument question task. In our prior example, we wanted to support Haye’s decision. You may be required to strengthen, weaken, identify flaws, identify assumptions, evaluate, justify, etc.

Step 4

Process of elimination. There are some common wrong answers/reasons that we can use liberally when evaluating critical reasoning questions.

Argument tasks

Here are some common wrong reasons you can use to eliminate answer choices:

  • Reverse impact– You may be asked to strengthen the argument and then you find an answer choice that weakens the argument.
  • Vague impact – A choice can be pretty vague, in the examples above for example, “Some foxes”, “some farmers”. Some is a very ambiguous quantifier, you can never tell if it is one of a million. So if you interpret the information in multiple ways, especially through qualification or qualification, you can probably eliminate such choices. 
  • Insufficient information– You may have instances when additional information is needed to determine impact. For example, when an answer choice in the example above mentions dogs being descended from foxes, if you are not a dog genealogist then you can’t verify the truth of that statement, you will need additional information if you are evaluating an argument.  
  • No impact– Be careful with these because you have to consider the impact to be either true or false. For example “dogs hate foxes.” If dogs hate foxes then does that make them effective at deterring them? If the dog doesn’t hate the foxes does that make them more effective at deterring them? If your answer is “no” in both cases then you have determined that the answer has no impact on whether it is true or false, and that is how you consider “no impact”. 
Inference task

Here you’ll find similar but slightly different wrong reasons:

  • Reversal of information from the passage- for instance in our example above where dogs are to deter foxes, if you find an answer choice that says foxes will enter wantonly when there is a dog, then that’s a reversal and therefore wrong. 
  • Extreme inferences – Like, “All farmers like dogs.” You can’t make an inference about an entirety of a group or category. Just limit yourself to the specifics of the situation that has been represented. 
  • Look out for choices that are reasonable but not certain, for example, the idea of farmers liking dogs is reasonable but does not necessarily have to be true. These are some of the harder inference question choices to eliminate because it seems reasonable but are just not certain.

Inference Style Critical Reasoning: Samples Question

Matching marbling patterns of the past is an important part of what the staff at the Global publishing office does. Workers are often asked to recreate designs, so that routine publications such as the Jefferson Manual look consistent from year to year. However, there are also publishing jobs that offer opportunities for plenty of creativity.

The information in the passage most strongly supports the following?

  1. Classic marbling pattern replication is the primary responsibility of Global publishing office staff members.
  2. Publication of the Jefferson Manual is an activity lacking opportunity for any creativity.
  3. There is an extensive library of past Global publishing Office publications available to current staff members.
  4. A lack of creative responsibilities is a major impediment to hiring newly qualified staff at Global Publishing Office.
  5. The cost of recreating marbling patterns is less than the cost of drafting entirely new patterns.

We will set up our scratchpad by listing A through E and drawing a line on top. 

what must be?

a × – extreme

b × – extreme

c ✓ 

d ×- possible not certain 

e  ×- possible, not certain

We are going to figure out what the question task is and write it on that line. The prompt is leading to an inference-style question, so our task is “what must be?”

We can now take notes, using shorthand, abbreviations, acronyms, etc. 

F1- mmp (matching marbling patterns) part of gpo (Global publishing Office) staff duty

F2- Gpo staff March mp (marbling patterns)

F3- gpo jobs with creativity 

Cross answer choices against statements of fact and seek common reasons to eliminate. 

A. Classic marbling pattern replication is the primary responsibility of Global publishing office staff members.

While we talk about responsibilities, it was never stated that marbling pattern replication is their primary responsibility. So we can eliminate choice A as something that is extreme based on the given information. 

B. Publication of the Jefferson Manual is an activity lacking opportunity for any creativity.

We do know that the Jefferson Manual is a routine publication, we don’t know that it lacks the opportunity for any creativity. Again we can rule out option B as an extreme answer choice that can be eliminated.

C. There is an extensive library of past Global publishing Office publications available to current staff members.

We may think that this is out of scope, but we know that workers are asked to recreate designs so that routine publications look consistent from year to year. If publications are supposed to be consistent, there must be a way to guarantee that consistency. Then it must be true that there is a library available to the staff members to cross-check to make sure that they can recreate the designs. So choice C would be something that must be true.

D. A lack of creative responsibilities is a major impediment to hiring newly qualified staff at Global Publishing Office.

There may be a lack of creativity which is a major impediment to hiring newly qualified staff. Possible but we can’t know for sure. We can rule this out as well

E. The cost of recreating marbling patterns is less than the cost of drafting entirely new patterns.

The statement talks about recreation but not about cost. So the idea of the cost seems reasonable but we can’t be certain based on the information in the prompt.

Therefore choice C is the correct answer because without that extensive library we wouldn’t be able to recreate those designs.

Argument Style Critical Reasoning: Samples Question

Archaeologist: Artefacts comprised of bone, stone, and shells unearthed during a recent excavation of East Anacapa Island provided important information regarding possible interaction between the Anacapa people and the mainland. In particular, sharpened fishing tools made from white-tailed deer bones suggest that mainlanders may have used the island as a fishing ground since _________. 

Which of the following most logically completes the archaeologist’s argument?

  1. no naturally occurring white-tailed deer remains have been found on East Anacapa Island.
  2. Stone fishing tools have also been found near the excavation site.
  3. Using carbon dating, clamshell mounds on East Anacapa Island have been determined to be greater than 200 years old.
  4. The people of East Anacapa Island and the closest mainland are believed to have shared a common ancestor.
  5. White-tailed deer are primarily herbivorous animals that have never been known to hunt fish.

Solution

1. First we will set up our scratchpad by listing A through E and drawing a line on top for what the question task is. 

It may seem like this is an inference-style question at the start, but anytime we have the word argument in the task, it’s telling us that we are dealing with an argument-style question. Secondly, we’ve got the word “since”, as a transition reading into the blank, let’s call this a “since strengthen” point to an argument style question. 

Since  strengthen 

a ✓ – reason y outcome is likely 

b × – no impact. 

c × – additional information needed 

d × – additional information needed

e  ×- no impact.

Why is “since” a strengthened task?

If you say, “I want to go to the store since/because….”. What follows is the reason why I want to go to the grocery store. So this is asking you to provide the information that would strengthen whatever the conclusion is.

2. We can write down “C” on the scratchpad, which is where we are going to write down our conclusions.

C: mainlanders may have used AI(Anacapa Island) for fishing.

Prediction: find info showing this outcome is likely. We do this by going through the answer choices one by one and eliminating them.

A. No naturally occurring white-tailed deer remains have been found on East Anacapa Island. 

Let’s think about this being true. If it is true then it makes sense to a degree that the mainlanders were using the island as a fishing ground because we know, theoretically, that the people on Anacapa Island were not the ones creating the white-tailed deer bone fishing tools. Apply the information and consider the implications. So choice A shows a reason that the above outcome is likely.

B. Stone fishing tools have also been found near the excavation site.

This has nothing to do with the white-deer bone fishing tools that have been found on the island. It has no impact on whether mainlanders have used East Anacapa Island for fishing. If no stone tools were found, it would still have no impact on the argument. So, no impact. 

C. Using carbon dating, clamshell mounds on East Anacapa Island have been determined to be greater than 200 years old.

There is much information needed before determining how this affects our argument. There is no timeframe in our prompt. Readily eliminate this choice.

D. The people of East Anacapa Island and the closest mainland are believed to have shared a common ancestor.

That they share a common ancestor does not mean that the people of the mainland used the island as a fishing ground. This also requires additional information.

E. White-tailed deer are primarily herbivorous animals that have never been known to hunt fish.

Do we need the deer to be hunting fish? We are talking about white-tailed deer bones as tools, not if the deer themselves are fish eaters. So this has no impact. Read the question carefully because the other choice involving white-tailed deer as a verbatim phrase is a natural trap answer. So we can select A as the correct answer.

To improve your understanding and score in this section and your GMAT exam overall, go ahead and do more of these practice questions. You can take advantage of the complete GMAT study plan available on our website to beef up your practice. 



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