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GMAT Preparation: How GMAT Critical Reasoning is structured

In the GMAT Critical Reasoning (CR) questions, identifying the structured of the paragraph is the first and the most important thing to do. The expert GMAT teachers at GoGMAT, continue their GMAT preparation series on MBA Crystal Ball. This time the spotlight is on the Critical Reasoning questions within the GMAT syllabus. And yeah, there are examples and a sample question for you to sink your teeth into.

GMAT Critical Reasoning: Seeing the Structure behind the Words

The good thing about GMAT Critical Reasoning questions is that prospective GMAT takers usually find them interesting and even fun to answer; the bad thing is that they are easy to get wrong. For many test takers, Critical Reasoning questions can be the hardest questions on the GMAT, but if you take some time to learn the basics of GMAT logic, those questions can become your favorites.

Many students skip the basics and jump straight into strategies and approaches—and guess what?—they simply can’t get the right answers. When you learned math in school you started with some elementary concepts; as your familiarity with the underlying principles increased, you were able to master harder topics. It’s the same with Critical Reasoning. One of the basic but essential skills for Critical Reasoning questions is understanding the structure of GMAT arguments, for example, recognizing the conclusion or an assumption. You cannot evaluate, weaken, or strengthen a conclusion if you do not know what was concluded. You cannot find an assumption if you do not know what an assumption is. In this post, you will learn to identify structural parts of GMAT arguments.

In general, CR arguments include three types of information: evidence (factual information), stated or unstated conclusion (based on the evidence), and assumptions (unstated but essential information). Let’s see how to identify each of these in simple examples and then try to answer a more challenging GMAT-style CR structure question.

Evidence is factual information presented as true, and its truthfulness must be accepted. Evidence can be identified by the presence of dates (last year, in 2003, over the last decade) or data (percentages, statistics, general info) and can, but does not have to, be introduced by words such as because, since, owing to, according to, etc. The function of the evidence is to provide grounds for the conclusion, to support it.

Conclusion is the main point the argument attempts to make. It is often placed at the very beginning or end of the argument. GMAT arguments often introduce conclusions with words such as so, therefore, means that, indicates that, etc. Some arguments may also have sub-conclusions that are based on evidence and can be used to support the main conclusion. A good way to identify a conclusion is to find the one sentence or phrase in the argument that best conveys its message.

To sum this all up, identify the evidence and conclusion(s) in the following simple argument.

Jessica knows everything about GMAT and MBA admission, because she has been working for us since the company was established in 2009. Therefore, she will be the best choice for this position.

To identify the main conclusion, think about the purpose of this argument. What does the author seek to prove? What is the one statement that captures the message of this paragraph? Jessica will be the best choice for this position. All the other information in this argument is only there to support this statement, so that is the main conclusion of the argument; you also could identify it by the presence of the word therefore.

The other interesting thing about this argument is that it has a sub-conclusion: Jessica knows everything about GMAT and MBA admission. This sub-conclusion supports the main conclusion that she will be the best choice, and is in turn supported by the statement of evidence because she has been working for us since the company was established in 2009.

Basically, the conclusion is WHAT the author thinks and the evidence is WHY the author thinks so. In the argument above, the two were very easy to spot, but GMAT arguments often go tricky to make argument structure less obvious. You will look at one later, but for now look at the third type of information—assumptions.

Assumptions are not stated in the argument, but they are vital to the argument’s logic. Some assumptions are obvious; others are more subtle. Several types of assumptions are common to GMAT CR arguments, and a whole article could be devoted to them alone. Here you just need a basic understanding of what an assumption is. Take a look at the next simple example:

Jack did not feed his dog today; therefore, Rex must be hungry.

Evidence is the factual information: Jack did not feed his dog.

Conclusion is what the author tries to prove: Rex must be hungry.

Assumption is information that must be true to maintain the logic of the argument but is not explicitly stated. For example, in the above argument, to get from the evidence to the conclusion…

It must be true (assumed) that Rex is Jack’s dog;

It must be true (assumed) that Rex cannot find food on his own;

It must be true (assumed) that Jessica did not feed Rex.

Each of these statements is an essential, but unstated, part of the argument; each must be true for the argument to remain valid. Each of these statements is an assumption made in the argument.

Now you have learned how to recognize stated and unstated but essential parts of GMAT arguments. Keeping all this in mind, try to answer a reasonably hard Argument Structure CR question. Write your response in comments to this post. Good luck!

Sample GMAT Critical Reasoning question:

Hedge Fund managers who have invested in the sub-prime mortgage markets have cited the ongoing economic crisis as reason for delivering lower than expected returns. It is indeed true that the economic crisis has had an adverse impact on regular equity investors, but in the case of hedge funds, this excuse is clearly not acceptable. Hedge funds are intrinsically designed to protect against market uncertainties, and therefore, should have provided sufficient cover against the economic crisis. Rather, it is lack of prudent investing that is to blame.

In the argument given, the two boldfaced portions play which of the following roles?

A. The first provides evidence to support the conclusion of the argument as a whole; the second states the conclusion.

B. The first states the conclusion of the argument as a whole; the second states an intermediate conclusion that is drawn in order to support that conclusion.

C. The first is the position that the argument as a whole opposes; the second provides evidence against the position being opposed.

D. The first states an intermediate conclusion that is drawn in order to support the conclusion of the argument as a whole; the second states the conclusion of the argument as a whole.

E. The first and second both state intermediate conclusions that are drawn in order to support jointly the conclusions of the argument as a whole.

Good Luck!

Continue learning on our GMAT discussion forum. If you have any GMAT related questions about this post or any other GMAT topic, head over to the GMAT preparation helpdesk and shoot your queries.

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Sameer Kamat
About Sameer Kamat
Founder of MBA Crystal Ball. Author of Beyond The MBA Hype & Business Doctors. Here's more about me. Follow me on: Instagram | Linkedin | Youtube