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Applying the Basics of Argumentation for GMAT Critical Reasoning Success

Posted by Stefan Maisnier on Wed, Jun 23, 2021 @ 12:11 PM

Although you’ll likely see slightly fewer Critical Reasoning questions than Sentence Correction or Reading Comprehension on the Verbal section of the GMAT, it is still a sizeable portion of the exam. Having a strong foundational knowledge of argumentation is key to understanding how to answer GMAT critical reasoning questions correctly. 

In this article we’ll cover:

  • How to identify argument tasks
  • Top four and five other argument tasks
  • The argumentation equation 
  • How to identify conclusions and assumptions
  • Using the negation test
  • Simple strategic implications for answering critical reasoning questions correctly.

How to identify argument tasks

  • Approximately 85% Argumentation tasks, 15% Inference tasks
  • Argument tasks apply new information from choices to prompt
  • Note “argument”, “conclusion”, or synonyms to indicate argument task
  • Numerous possible tasks affecting or addressing conclusion

Here is an example argument task:

Local Official: For many years in Yamhill, bears were a constant presence in neighborhood yards. Then, Bill moved in and the number of bear sightings dropped precipitously throughout Yamhill. Bill supposed that he might be driving the bears away, but city records will promptly show a likely cause other than Bill. 

Which of the following is assumed by the Local Official’s argument?

Top four and five other argument tasks

  • Strengthen
  • Weaken
  • Identify assumption
  • Identify flaw
  • Five others: explain (paradox), evaluate (helpful information), identify boldfaced roles, point(s) at issue, method of argument(s)

The Argumentation Equation

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Common technical synonyms

  • Premise: grounds, evidence, reasoning
  • Conclusion: claim, opinion, prediction recommendation, position, hypothesis, argument 

How to identify conclusions

  • First eliminate any clear statements of fact as potential conclusions
    • Presented as objective without requiring interpretation
    • No specific outside knowledge ever needed to evaluate facts
    • Only universal knowledge and explicit statements can be applied
    • At most two statements should be possibly subjective and not facts
  • Then consider two remaining statements A & B
    • Evaluate relationship as providing or requiring support
    • Statement requiring support is the main conclusion 
    • If Statement A supports Statement B, Statement B is the conclusion
    • If Statement B supports Statement A, Statement A is the conclusion 

How to identify conclusions: an example

Local Official: For many years in Yamhill, bears were a constant presence in neighborhood yards. Then, Bill moved in and the number of bear sightings dropped precipitously throughout Yamhill. Bill supposed that he might be driving the bears away, but city records will promptly show a likely cause other than Bill.

Eliminate any clear statements of fact as potential conclusions

  • Bear presence in Yamhill for many years is a fact
  • Bill arrived and bear sightings dropped is a fact

Consider two remaining statements 

  • Bill supposed he might be driving bears away is presented as fact and is not supported by the rest of the sentence
  • While a cause likely other than Bill is a contrast, it is supported by city records, and is therefore the main conclusion

How to identify assumptions: an example

Local Official: For many years in Yamhill, bears were a constant presence in neighborhood yards. Then, Bill moved in and the number of bear sightings dropped precipitously throughout Yamhill. Bill supposed that he might be driving the bears away, but city records will promptly show a likely cause other than Bill.

Assumptions must be true to believe conclusion based on facts

  • Implicit, but never stated in prompt
  • Necessary for conclusion to be logically sound

Consider negation test

  1. Eliminate as many choices as possible for common wrong argument answer reasons
  2. Take a remaining choice and negate impact by using opposite quantity or adding/removing “not” from main verb
  3. If argument fails upon negation, select it as a necessary assumption

Using the Negation Test

Let’s return to a sample critical reasoning Assumptions task we introduced earlier and show how to use the negation test to arrive at the correct answer.

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Simple strategic implications for answering critical reasoning questions correctly

  • Note clues in question stem to help identify both task and possibly main conclusion
  • Limit to single re-read of question stem and/or argument prompt
  • If cannot readily identify question task or main conclusion, immediately move to elimination and guessing in < :30

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