Critical Reasoning

The SBC GMAT Files

Critical Reasoning General Strategy: Which Critical Reasoner Are You? – Part I: The Airhead

Critical Reasoning questions require you to apply a diverse set of principles and skills, including extracting the core of a sentence, breaking down an argument properly, identifying question types, etc. Many students manage to get a good grasp of at least a few such key principals of CR, but either knowingly or unwittingly neglect others.

Losing sight of one of these major CR principles will cause a test-taker to make the same type of mistake over and over again when facing Critical Reasoning questions (and sometimes other types of questions). At Master GMAT we have established several profiles of “Critical Reasoners” based on a few common misconceptions that characterize the student’s approach. Each post in this short series will focus on one of these Critical Reasoners and how they can improve their performance. So… which one are you?

Airheads tend to understand the argument as a story rather than a logical grid of
(a) facts, and
(b) conclusions based on facts (yes, that’s all there is to an argument!).
They skim over the argument and get the general gist rather than nailing down the details. In doing so, Airheads add unfounded details or connections in their head to the story, automatically filling the gaps in the short argument – Often without even noticing that they’ve added something new.  Here are some key characteristics of an Airhead:

Missing Principle: Strip the argument to its bare bones

Diagnosis: Airheads often characterize the correct answer choice as entirely unrelated to the argument, and require a full step-by-step walk-through to understand why it is correct. They are distracted by answer choices that seem to fit in the “story”, but on closer examination reveal a detail which makes these answer choice illogical or irrelevant.

Treatment: coming down to the ground is a challenge, but it’s possible. It involves changing how you read an argument and making sure your data is right before you move on to the answer choices:

(a) Stick to what’s written – when you read a sentence in the argument, focus first on the subject, verb and object to understand the core. Then, proceed to the modifiers and clauses that expand on the core, but stay in touch with what you’ve already established. Consciously make yourself stay with what is written in the argument and avoid auto-completing the gaps.
(b) Write it down – once you have the core of a fact/conclusion – write it down! The noteboard is not just for Reading Comprehension. If the core you are left with is too long to write down quickly, it means you haven’t stripped it down enough – try to boil it down it further.

Try it out – write a short summary of the core of the CR argument in the comments, and tell us what you think is the answer:

The range of companies offering different versions of the same product is immense compared to what it once was. Because of this competition, many companies offer low quality products, preferring to sell more by demanding lower prices. To spend less, consumers buy the cheaper products which last for shorter periods of time, only to be disposed of and replaced by other cheap products. It can be deduced that companies that create products of an inferior quality do not contribute to the strength of the economy.

The argument above is based on which of the following assumptions?
(A) Managing the waste caused by the repeated disposal of products costs governments dearly.”¨(B) There are many factors that can affect the strength of an economy.”¨(C) The repeated purchasing of a product by the same consumer does not positively affect an economy.”¨(D) Products that are not relatively cheap do not necessarily last for longer than those that are.”¨(E) Companies that produce low quality products are not interested in the loyalty of consumers to their specific brand.

Summary of the argument:
Premises: many manufacturers for same product  –> increased competition –> low cost, low quality products  –> consumers buy, dispose when break, buy again.

Conclusion: low cost manufacturers do not contribute to the economy.
When phrased in this way, it is clear that the premises in the argument do not actually support this conclusion, as there is no data in the argument that actually links the production of low quality products to a negative effect on the economy. This cause-and-effect relationship must be assumed by the author in order to reach the conclusion. The correct answer choice will therefore need to establish, or even hint at, this cause-and-effect relationship.

C is the only answer choice that does this, but with an added negation twist: It presents a necessary assumption the author MUST have made in order to reach the conclusion. If C were incorrect, and the repeated purchasing of a low quality product DOES positively affect the economy, then the author’s conclusion that the economy suffers from this practice would be invalidated. Therefore, in order to reach his conclusion, the author MUST assume that C is correct and there is no positive economic effect for the practice described in his argument.
The key to accuracy in CR questions is to keep your brain switched on, think through the reasoning, and try to predict what the right answer should do before you go through them. We’ll discuss this more in our next profile – the White rabbit.

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