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GMAT Critical Reasoning Questions: Common Assumption Types

Written by Sameer Kamat

Our friends from GoGMAT share with MBA Crystal Ball readers GMAT preparation tips to tackle the GMAT Critical Reasoning (CR) questions. This time the focus is on CR question type – Assumption Questions.

Part 1: GMAT Critical Reasoning Questions: Identifying and Checking Assumptions
Part 2: GMAT Critical Reasoning Questions: Common Assumption Types
Part 3: GMAT Critical Reasoning Questions: Assumptions Sample


GMAT Critical Reasoning Question Types

Assumption Questions: Part 2 – Common Assumption Types

From our previous post, you already know what assumptions are, what role they play in GMAT Critical Reasoning problems, and how you can identify and double-check them. This article will review their main roles and provide some more opportunity to practice solving Critical Reasoning assumption problems.

Although all the assumption questions in GMAT Critical Reasoning follow the same general logic, knowing the common types of assumptions you will encounter in GMAT arguments will help you predict what the correct answer might be by simply looking at an argument. Ability to recognize assumptions on which an argument relies will give you a great advantage in managing weaken, strengthen, and evaluate the argument questions. More often than not, the correct solution to any of these problems is the answer choice that tends to disprove (weaken), prove (strengthen), or evaluate at least one of the assumptions on which the argument relies.

The universal role played by ALL the assumptions in GMAT Critical Reasoning problems is to CONNECT EVIDENCE GIVEN TO THE CONCLUSION STATED. In every single GMAT question that asks you to find an assumption on which the argument depends, the correct answer choice will provide grounds to show that the conclusion is valid. The unstated assumption will always strengthen support for the conclusion stated. Yet, even though all assumptions do the same thing, they can do it in several ways:


#1. Show that the evidence given is relevant to the conclusion offered.

This is probably the most common way assumptions connect evidence to conclusion on the GMAT. When the GMAT argument presents evidence that lacks a direct connection to the conclusion drawn, then the missing assumption (correct answer choice) must show a link between that evidence and the conclusion, thus demonstrating that the evidence is relevant. Try this example.

A new book published by Sandra Q is very entertaining and is based on made-up events, but it contains valuable survival advice that can be applied in real world. Therefore, it cannot be considered fiction.

The conclusion drawn by the argument above depends on which of the following assumptions?

Try to come up with one or several assumptions that underpin this argument. You know already that the correct assumption must connect the evidence to the conclusion. The conclusion here is that Sandra Q’s (that’s a made up author, so don’t bother to Google her name) book cannot be considered fiction. The evidence given as the basis for this is that the book provides valuable survival advice that can be used in the real world. Obviously, the author assumes a connection between fiction and real–world advice.  The correct answer choice should say something like this:

Books that provide advice applicable in the real world cannot be considered fictional.

Or this:

Books of fiction don’t provide advice that can be applied in the real world.


#2. Confirm the argument’s underlying causal relationship.

When the GMAT presents a problem in which the premise/evidence is that events A and B coincide, and the conclusion is that A caused B, the missing (necessary) assumption will usually show that no C (nothing else) could have caused B, or that B could not have caused A. Before you read the explanation of the causal argument below, take a minute and a half to read it and find the required assumption among answer choices given.

The Laconian Education Council has announced that the number of university students from poor families has increased by 40 percent over the last five years. At the same time, the government has started paying all university students a scholarship sufficient to maintain an acceptable standard of living without having to take part-time jobs, which are known to distract students from fully committing to their studies. Clearly, financial support from the government is solely responsible for increased enrollment of students from poor families in Laconian universities.

Which of the following is an assumption on which the argument above depends?

A) An upward trend in the Laconian economy allowed the government to create a special fund from which student scholarships are paid.

B) Most university students in Laconia still choose to work part-time to supplement their scholarships.

C) University students from poor families have the same post-graduate opportunities as their more well-off counterparts.

D) Previous Laconian governments paid similar scholarships but only to students who showed significant academic achievement.

E) Large entrance exam fees cancelled five years ago never kept poor Laconians from applying to university.

Two events coincide in time: (A) more students from poor families attend university and (B) the government pays student scholarships. Event B is therefore concluded to have caused Event A. This could be true, but there are other possibilities. It could also be true that other factors contributed to increased enrollment of poor students: decreased tuition costs, lower application cost, better post-graduate opportunities, etc.

The correct assumption will (a) show that the cause-effect relation is not reversed or (b) negate a possible alternative cause, thus strengthening the appearance of causation provided by the argument.

A) An upward trend in the Laconian economy allowed the government to create a special fund from which student scholarships are paid. The argument is concerned with whether scholarships increased the number of poor students. What made those scholarships possible or where the money comes from is irrelevant.

B) Most university students in Laconia still choose to work part-time jobs to supplement their scholarships. OK, but this has no connection to the relationship between the argument’s evidence and its conclusion and it doesn’t rule out alternative causes, so it is irrelevant too.

C) University students from poor families have the same post-graduate opportunities as their more well-off counterparts. Without knowing whether this was the same before (five years ago) and how it may influence enrollment of poor students, this information is not relevant.

D) Previous Laconian governments paid similar scholarships but only to students who showed significant academic achievement. This choice is irrelevant; it does not help support the cause-effect relationship implied by the argument nor does it rule out any alternative causes.

E) Correct. Large entrance exam fees cancelled five years ago never kept poor Laconians from applying to universities. This choice rules out an alternative cause and thereby strengthens the cause-effect relationship of the argument. If the fees five years ago had been a deterrent to poor Laconians who wished to enter university, than it could be argued that increased enrollment (effect) resulted from removal of fees (alternative cause) and not scholarships (presumed cause).The correct answer is E.


#3. Show a relationship between the subject of the evidence and the subject of the conclusion.

An assumption of this type is usually required for an argument that:

– uses evidence about a sub-set to reach a conclusion about a broader set.

– uses evidence about one thing or idea to conclude about another thing or idea.

– uses evidence about A to draw a conclusion about B.

For example—

  • The argument presents evidence about poisonous snakes, and the conclusion is about all snakes;
  • The evidence is about thieves, and the conclusion is about criminals in general;
  • The evidence is about those who wear glasses, and the conclusion is about those with bad vision.

Any problem of this kind will require an assumption that what is true of the subject in the evidence is true of the subject in the conclusion.

In the final part of this mini-series, we’ll take up an example of how you will encounter GMAT Critical Reasoning assumption questions in the real test.


GMAT Preparation Tips by GoGMAT
GoGMAT, founded in 2009, is an adaptive GMAT preparation platform developed by the best instructors in the industry (with 740+ GMAT scores and strong teaching experience). Find out more here: GMAT preparation courses


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Sameer Kamat

About Sameer Kamat

Founder of MBA Crystal Ball | Author of Beyond The MBA Hype & Business Doctors Connect with me on Google+ | Twitter @mba_cb | Facebook

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