Critical Reasoning

The SBC GMAT Files

Critical Reasoning General Strategy: The Maverick

We will now take a look at the third “type” of approach students take when faced with a GMAT Critical Reasoning question.

As you may recall, we have already reviewed two Critical Reasoner types – the Airhead and the White Rabbit. The behavior of each Critical Reasoner is rooted in a misconception or lack of understanding of one of the basic principles of solving Critical Reasoning questions. This missing concept will cause you to make the same mistake over and over again, regardless of the question type or difficulty level. Naturally, some students may have a good grasp on most principles while others may be missing more than one principle (and thereby identify themselves as more than one “type”), but all students have the weakest-link principle that needs to be identified and actively bolstered.

The Maverick
Mavericks don’t bother with tested-out routines for solving Critical Reasoning questions or with valuable classification of question types. They treat CR questions as pure logical challenges and approach them in a straightforward manner, thinking that “Logic is logic” and that method is largely insignificant. Mavericks are usually either highly confident of their logical powers or oblivious to the benefits of near-perfected methods.

Missing Principle: a really fast ninja with superb technique beats a really fast ninja with no technique (i.e. you’ve got nothing to lose)

Diagnosis: for starters, if you read the argument before you read the question stem – you’re a Maverick, and not applying basic routine is already costing you time. In general, common Mavericks may take too long to figure out what a question requires of them. Problem is, the smarter Mavericks are, the harder it is to identify them as such. A smart Maverick can compensate for not knowing the best routine or the question types, but the truth is 99% of them would improve their performance if they got with the program.

Treatment: acquainting yourself with known methods takes little time. The hard part is to practice these methods and resist the temptation to attack a question with brute brainpower (which would be error-prone and a waste of time). A few vital methods to remember:

(a) Work order: always start by reading and identifying the question type, and only then read the argument to avoid having to read it again once your read the question. More about the proper Work Order in future Master GMAT posts.

(b) Know your enemies: if you know what each question type can and cannot do, you gain a lot of valuable information early in the process, for example:

If I see “casts doubt” in the question stem, I know it’s a Conclusion Weakening question. I immediately know that I should look for the conclusion when reading the argument. I also know all the answer choice are new premises, which means they can be as far-fetched as they want – I’m not here to evaluate their validity, I’m here to evaluate how much they weaken the conclusion.
If I identify the question as an Inference question, I immediately know the argument does not include the final conclusion – only premises. The answer choices are possible conclusions to the argument and here I do need to verify their validity.

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