Critical Reasoning Overview

Critical reasoning is supposed to be about premises, assumptions and conclusions, but even Socrates might have a hard time with the GMAT.

The critical reasoning questions consist of logical puzzles that hearken back to the classic three-part argument of ancient Greece.

The problem is that on the GMAT the arguments are purposely "tweaked" to make them harder to understand. That isn't part of classical argumentation; it's part of standardized test-writing. Both the arguments and the answer choices are manipulated, not to better evaluate the reasoning skills of test takers, but to spread out the curve and get the statistical results that standardized tests demand.

Break Down the Argument

The first, and most important, skill a test taker needs to learn is how to identify the three elements of an argument. Breaking the argument into its component parts makes finding the correct answer much easier.

But how you break an argument apart depends on the type of question being asked. That's why you should read the question first, and then back up and read the argument. Knowing the question helps test takers anticipate the logical structure of the argument and offers clues about how to deconstruct it.

Critical Reasoning Has Only Six Question Types

Okay, that's a bit of an over simplification, but only a bit. Below are the six basic question types:

  • Conclusion
  • Inference
  • Assumption
  • Paradox
  • Strengthen
  • Weaken

I know it seems as though every critical reasoning question is different and unique, but that's only because you're inexperienced with the test. Once you master the curriculum, you come to see that the test writers are asking the same questions over and over again with only slight variations in the wording.

Should I Practice with LSAT Questions?

This is a common strategy among top test takers, and I agree with it. In fact, I advocate it. Critical reasoning represents fully half of the LSAT exam. (Remember, there is no math on the LSAT, just verbal.) Two of the four sections are critical reasoning, and the questions are virtually identical to those on the GMAT. (I know because I've taught both exams.)

There's a caveat, though. The critical reasoning questions on the LSAT tend to be a little tougher than their counterparts on the GMAT. Not always, but sometimes. And we also see "alternative" question types more often on the LSAT. (Parallel reasoning being the most obvious.) Still, LSAT questions are a great way to study for the GMAT.