Parallel Reasoning Strategies: Part I

Speak OutParallel Reasoning questions on the Critical Reasoning section of the GMAT are a type of “method of reasoning” question-type. These questions require you to focus on the author’s logic. Parallel reasoning questions ask you to look for the answer choice that has the closest logical structure as the argument in the question stem. Ask yourself: which choice best matches the WAY the author moves from the evidence to his conclusion?

How can I tell if I’m looking at a “Parallel Reasoning” question? The question-stem will contain an argument, and the question itself will contain phrases like “method of reasoning,” “parallel reasoning,” “most similar,” “similar reasoning,” or “most closely parallel.” You’ll also see that each answer choice is its own argument, as opposed to an assumption, inference, or flaw.

Let’s look at a simple example!

Argument #1: If someone has blonde hair, then they have blue eyes. My father has blonde hair, therefore my father has blue eyes.

The reasoning here is presented as a conditional A -> B, “blonde hair” means “blue eyes.” This reasoning is then used to make a conclusion, using the exact same pattern: A -> B. Here’s an example of a simple argument that uses parallel reasoning to Argument #1:

Argument #2: The best internet cafes have free wifi. All cafes with free wifi serve unlimited coffee. Therefore, the best internet cafes serve unlimited coffee.

It’s the same reasoning because the logic moves in the same direction from A -> B , going from “wifi” to “coffee,” then “best cafes” to “wifi.” Don’t worry that this argument  is not arranged in exactly the same order as Argument #1, it’s the method of reasoning that must be similar. A correct answer choice can be a little bit different from the question-stem. It’s the LOGIC that counts!

Watch out for…

  •  Answer choices that merely mimic the topic of the argument. The correct answer’s argument usually focuses on an entirely different topic. It’s not what is being discussed that matters, but how the reasoning is laid out.
  • Answer choices that have the same structure as the question-stem argument, but do not have the same logic! Just because an answer choice contains similar keywords, or has a similar number of sentences, doesn’t mean its logic matches! The premises and conclusion can be rearranged, but the logic of an argument doesn’t change.
  • Pacing! These question-types typically take longer than strengthen or weaken CR, because you have 6 arguments to break down, as opposed to 1 (whew!). Practice untimed at first, but as you gain more confident with this question-type, set a timer and try to do them in under 3 minutes, then under 2 minutes.

Look out for Part 2 of this series, where we’ll look at what strategies we can use to break down Parallel Reasoning questions quickly and effectively, and get them correct every time.

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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.