Which Critical Reasoning question type drives you crazy? Boldface? Find the Assumption? Inference?
I’ve put together what I’m calling the Master Resource List for Critical Reasoning. A couple of disclaimers. First, this list includes only free resources, no paid ones. There are a lot of good resources out there that cost some money—they’re just not on this list!
Second, this list for Critical Reasoning is limited to my own articles. I’m not trying to claim that only my articles are good enough to make such a list—far from it. I’m most familiar with my own articles, so that’s what I’m using. (And, okay, I will admit that I think the Manhattan Prep CR process is the best one out there. But I’m biased. 😊)
The Critical Reasoning Process
Before you dive into individual question types, it’s critical to know the overall CR process. A few key notes:
- There are 4 major and 5 minor question sub-types* and each one has its own particular technique details.
- Your job is to learn the overall process/strategy for CR as well as the techniques specific to each question sub-type.
*Every now and then, a question pops up that doesn’t quite fit one of the 9 main categories. There are exceptions to every rule in the universe.
In order to master Critical Reasoning, you should be able to answer the following questions about each question type:
- How do I recognize this question type?
- What kind of information should I expect to find in the argument, based on this question type? What kind of information is going to be the most important?
- What is the goal for this question type? What characteristics must the correct answer have?
- What kinds of traps will be set for me? What are the common wrong answer types for this question type?
The Assumption Family
Assumption Family questions always contain a conclusion. This group consists of five sub-types:
Flaw: The flip of Find the Assumption. The author assumes something, but that thing might not be true. What is the flaw in the author’s reasoning?
Evaluate the Argument: What information would help to determine whether the conclusion is more or less likely to be valid?
Strengthen the Conclusion: What new information would help to make the conclusion a little more likely to be true?
Weaken the Conclusion: What new information would help to make the conclusion a little less likely to be true?
The Evidence Family
Evidence Family questions really don’t have conclusions (never big conclusions, like the Assumption arguments, and usually no conclusions at all). This group consists of two sub-types:
Inference: Given the information in the argument, which answer choice must be true?
Explain a Discrepancy: The argument contains some surprising information or outcome. Which answer choice provides some new information that clears up this surprising situation?
The Structure Family
Like Assumption questions, Structure questions do contain conclusions. The answer choices are usually in more abstract form, discussing characteristics of pieces of the argument.
Describe the Role*: aka boldface. The boldface portion(s) plays what kind of role in the overall argument?
Describe the Argument: These are a variant of the boldface question and they’re so rare that I don’t have an article for you. If you’re really worried about these, you can take a look at our CR Strategy guide—but my best advice for you is not to worry about these. 😊
*Note: this Describe the Role article is old enough that it doesn’t use our new CR process, introduced nearly 2 years ago. I’ll do another in an upcoming article!
What Do I Really Need to Study?
The four major Critical Reasoning types are Find the Assumption, Strengthen, Weaken, and Inference. The majority of your CR questions will be in one of those four categories. If you’re going for up to about 75th percentile on Verbal, concentrate just on those.
Of the minor types, the most common are Discrepancy, Describe the Role, and Evaluate. If you want to break the 75th percentile on Verbal, then also take a look at those three minor types, but spend more time on the major types. If CR is your weakest Verbal area, you can also skip whichever of those three minor types is hardest for you—some people really hate boldface questions and others think Evaluate questions are the worst.
If you’re looking to break the 90th percentile on Verbal, then you have to study everything. You can still pick one minor type as your I’ll guess/bail quickly if I have to question type, but you have to try it first.
Great, I’ve Mastered Critical Reasoning!
Let’s test that theory, shall we? After you’ve studied all of the above and you feel pretty comfortable with CR, try this problem out. I’m not even going to tell you which type it is (in fact, that is one of the things that makes this problem very hard—what is it, in the first place?).
If you struggle with it, don’t get discouraged. It is a very challenging problem. Instead, use it as an opportunity to get even better! 📝
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Stacey Koprince is a Manhattan Prep instructor based in Montreal, Canada and Los Angeles, California. Stacey has been teaching the GMAT, GRE, and LSAT for more than 15 years and is one of the most well-known instructors in the industry. Stacey loves to teach and is absolutely fascinated by standardized tests. Check out Stacey’s upcoming GMAT courses here.