GMAT Gurus Speak Out: 3 Tips to Help You Master Critical Reasoning on the GMAT

You already have the skills you need for most Critical Reasoning questions; chances are you’re pretty awesome at deconstructing arguments and isolating conclusions already, but the unique format of “complete the passage” questions requires a few extra tips to master them!

Tip #1 – Break down that argument.

If you’ve been up close and personal with the Veritas Prep CR Lesson Book, then you should be an expert at breaking down the arguments. Figure out what is going on in the passage. Is there a gap in logic that needs to be exposed? Is there a pattern of reasoning that needs to be discerned? Maybe it’s all premise leading up to an unstated conclusion. Either way, do the “normal work” and use your scratch pad to break it down.

Tip #2 – Look for keywords.

Certain clue words, either in the sentence just prior to the blank, or early in the same sentence, will pop up to tell you what the blank represents to the passage. What’s missing? The conclusion? An assumption? Consider how the blank interacts with the author’s point of view. These key words tell you what’s missing.

Tip #3 – Write down your own answer (whenever possible).

Try to “fill in the blank” the best you can. If you took the time to break down the argument, you should have a strong sense of what “goes” in the blank. It’s okay if it’s a little vague (i.e. “Something that discredits X….”), just remember that you can’t “unread” the answer choices once you’ve gone through them, so it’s helpful to get your own opinion down on paper first!

Let’s try these tips out on a sample question from Veritas Prep!

1. Some anthropologists theorize that no great city-state has ever been conquered without first being rife with internal conflict. Recently, evidence has been discovered that a great city-state, known as Archaic C, was sacked and occupied by a rival city-state in the first millennium BC. Therefore, if the anthropologists’ theory is correct, we can say that _______.

Our Notes:

Anthropologists’ argument:  Internal conflict + Great city-state = Conquerable

New Evidence: Great city-state conquered in 1st millennium.

Keywords: “therefore” and “correct” tells us this is a conclusion that will support the anthropologists’ argument. “We can say that…” implies the correct answer might be a slight inference, but it should not deviate from the argument itself, since whatever “we say” must be supporting the argument.

Our Answer: If the argument is to hold up, then we need the 1st part of our “argument equation” – it must be true that there was internal conflict in Archaic C prior to it being conquered.

And here’s how the correct answer is phrased:

Archaic C suffered from internal conflict at some point in the first millennium BC or earlier.

If you follow these tips and spend a few extra seconds on the passage and writing down your own answer for the blank, you’ll be surprised how closely your “prediction” matches the correct answer!

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Vivian Kerr is a regular contributor to the Veritas Prep blog, providing tips and tricks to help students better prepare for the GMAT and the SAT.