GMAT CAT Critical Reasoning


You can think of critical reasoning questions as, essentially, mini reading comprehension questions. These questions tend to follow passages that are one paragraph in length. These questions primarily test the analytical and critical thinking skills that admissions committees so badly want to see in their applicants.

A college course in logic may help you with these questions, but it is certainly not a necessity. Many individuals who never took logic as undergrads have scored 750 or higher on the GMAT. With some preparation, you too can learn to think logically and ace these GMAT questions.

A nice added benefit to preparing yourself for critical reasoning GMAT CAT questions is that this preparation will also help you in your business school studies. Many of the same techniques used to answer these test questions will come in handy when you are asked to do case analyses. (This should be an extra incentive for those of you intent on pursuing consulting careers.)

Types of Critical Reasoning Questions

Critical reasoning questions will ask you to:

  1. Strengthen an argument.
  2. Weaken an argument.
  3. Identify a parallel argument.
  4. Identify the assumption.
  5. Identify the inference.
  6. Select the best conclusion.

Our Preferred Approach to Critical Reasoning Questions

1. Read the question before reading the passage

Know what you should be looking for before you begin reading the passage. You will want to approach the same passage a little bit differently, depending on whether you are asked to destroy an argument, or to find the best conclusion to the passage. Also – and we feel we can not say this enough – read the questions carefully. The test makers will deliberately include answer choices that give ‘right’ answers to wrong questions.

2. Identify the passage’s assumptions and conclusion.

This can be tricky. GMAT passages do not always present their conclusions in their final sentences. Sometimes they imply, rather than state, their conclusions. This is a great illustration of where our general tip of “practice, practice, practice” will come in handy. Look for these patterns:

A paragraph may start off with its conclusion in the first sentence, and then give several sentences to support that conclusion. This means you will not be able to look for transition words such as “consequently”, “hence”, and “as a result” that are commonly used to indicate the conclusion.

An assumption is the passage’s “must have.” In other words, if the assumption is not true, it follows that the conclusion is not true. We have a simple method for identifying assumptions. Read each sentence in the passage individually, and then ask yourself if the conclusion would still be true if this one sentence was incorrect.

3. Try to guess the correct answer before you even read the answer choices.

Often your hunch will be correct. This will help you focus on selecting the best answer.

4. Read every answer choice.

Don’t settle for choosing the first one that seems right to you. You may find another answer choice that is even better than the one you initially selected. Eliminate the ones you know are wrong. Carefully analyze the remaining choices with a focus on identifying the one that presents the most relevant arguments and raises the most relevant issues.

Critical Reasoning Tips and Strategies

The most common type of critical reasoning question asks you to weaken an argument.  The GMAT testers expect you to be able to identify one of the following 4 logic flaws:

  1. Circular reasoning
  2. Inaccurate cause-and-effect arguments
  3. Sweeping generalizations
  4. Unqualified “expert” opinions

These tips and strategies can help you answer these questions correctly:

1. Utilize process of elimination

When the test taker is asked to identify the statement that does the best job of strengthening or weakening an argument, there is almost always at least one answer choice that will do the opposite. If you have read the question carefully, you will be able to quickly eliminate these choices.

2. Become comfortable at "working backwards" on these questions.

“Working backwards” – inserting each answer choice into the text and and seeing if the passage still makes sense – is an excellent technique to fall back on if you get stuck on a critical reasoning question. However, it can be time consuming. You may need to re-read a passage 5 times, inserting a different answer choice each time, before you find the choice that seems right to you.

3. Never choose an answer simply because it is true.

The answer choice must be a logical extension of the argument made in the passage.

4. Ignore decoys.

Often times, GMAT passages contain extraneous sentences and information. Learn to separate these decoys from the rest of the passage so they won’t distract you from the content that is important.

5. Avoid answer choices that are emotionally charged or 'over the top.'

The correct GMAT answer choices are always emotionally neutral in tone, and moderate in reasoning.

6. Avoid answer choices that make absolute statements.

Absolute statements are those that use words such as “always” and “must.” The test writers are very biased against these types of statements. Hence, when you encounter an answer choice that makes an absolute statement, you will know that it can be safely eliminated.