GMAT: What to Expect on Critical Analysis Questions

The critical reasoning questions on the GMAT are designed to test your ability to analyze a situation and make carefully reasoned judgments about it. Each question consists of a situation, an argument, a dialogue, or an incomplete statement, followed by one or two questions. Each question is self-contained; you don't need to have any particular knowledge in order to answer correctly. You do need to be able to consider and evaluate the merits and weaknesses of a conclusion or an argument.

Be sure to read each question (carefully!) before you read the problem, so you know what aspect of the situation to focus on. Separate verifiable facts from information propounded as if it were factual, and be alert for conclusions that do not necessarily or logically follow from the information provided. Also be sure you answer exactly what the question asks, and read all the choices before selecting the best answer.

In these questions, look for the following:

  • Faulty assumptions
  • Weak, inappropriate, or misleading information
  • Vague or irrelevant statistics
  • Unwarranted conclusions
  • Missing information

If you can, plot the situation using letters to reduce it to simple logic. Here is a sample critical reasoning question:

Ralph started a company in Finleytown that washed windows in commercial buildings. His Sparkle View Company was very successful, and he was able to earn a substantial salary and retire at age 50. Ralph's cousin Pete sold his auto repair company in Maintown and opened a Sparkle View Company so that he, too, will be able to retire when he reaches 50.

Which of the following is a faulty assumption upon which Pete bases his conclusion?

A. Because Finleytown is a small city with a population of 60,000, while Maintown has 120,000 residents, more people will know Ralph and patronize his business.

B. The commercial sector of Maintown is mostly composed of office buildings, which have more windows than retail outlets do.

C. Ralph had little experience in the window-washing business, but he took a community-college course in starting a small business, which helped him set up his company.

D. The auto repair business provides an essential service, while window washing is more of a luxury than a necessity.

E. The factors that led to Ralph's success will not necessarily translate to the same success for Pete.

The correct answer is E. Pete's conclusion is based on his assumption that what transpired with Ralph's business will automatically transpire with his business. If you were to diagram this problem, you might come up with something like this:

A: Ralph starts window washing business.

B: Success.

C: Pete starts window washing business.

So:

A = B

A = C

Does C = B? Not necessarily.

The critical reasoning questions can be categorized by type.

  • Plan Questions present you with a strategy, a proposal, or a possible plan. It's up to you to evaluate the strategy, proposal, or plan and decide whether it's logical, sound, or worthwhile. Ultimately, you may be asked whether the strategy, proposal, or plan should be implemented, revised, or rejected.
  • Argument Questions fall into two categories: those that ask you which choice strengthens or weakens an argument, and those that ask you which answer choice is most similar to the original argument.
  • Conclusion Questions present you with one or more premises. Then a conclusion based upon these premises will be given, or you'll be asked to select the most logical conclusion based on the premises.
  • Discrepancy Questions present you with a situation that seems inconsistent or paradoxical. Your task is to note the apparent discrepancy and conceive a logical explanation for the conflict. You may be given an unexpected outcome and asked which of the choices would best explain this result.
  • Incomplete Information Questions require you to reason and deduce missing information. One kind of question presents you with a situation and asks you which choice best completes the passage. Others ask you to consider what piece of information is missing from the passage: Does it need another premise or piece of evidence to make it logical?