The first step in attacking any Critical Reasoning question on the GMAT is to identify the premises and conclusions of the argument being presented. While Strengthen, Weaken, Assumption and Resolve the Paradox questions include a conclusion in the stimulus, Inference questions require you to select the conclusion (answer choice) that directly follows from the information presented in the stimulus.
This can be difficult because several of the answers can appear attractive. Keep in mind, however, that for Inference questions, the correct answer must be true. Answers that are “likely to be true” or “could be true” based on the information provided in the stimulus seem attractive at first, but if they are not true 100% of the time, in every situation, then they are not the correct answer.
Another difficulty in approaching Inference questions is that with the many of the other question types (Strengthen, Weaken, etc.), your job is to select the answer that includes new information that either undermines or supports the conclusion. For Inference questions, you do not want to bring in information that is not in the stimulus. All of the information required to answer the question will be included in the stimulus.
Here is a 6-step approach that can help you to efficiently attack GMAT Critical Reasoning Inference questions:
1) Read the question stem first.
This will allow you quickly categorize the type of Critical Reasoning question (Strengthen, Weaken, Inference, etc.) and let you focus on identifying the premises in the stimulus. Questions such as, “Which of the following can be correctly inferred from the statements above?” and, “If the statements above are true, which of the following must also be true?” signify that you are dealing with an Inference question.
2) Speculate what you think the correct conclusion is.
Sometimes this may be difficult to verbalize, but having an outline or framework of what the “must be true” answer should include will help to eliminate some answer choices.
3) Evaluate the answer choices using your speculated answer.
You want to carefully read all 5 answer choices. As you read the answers, compare them to the answer, or the outline of the answer, you speculated. Some answers are obviously incorrect – either they are too narrow in scope, too extreme to be always be true, or do not follow the criteria laid out in the stimulus. Eliminate these answers. For other answer choices that seem attractive, keep them as possibilities. Once you have read all of the answer choices, you can then compare your list of possible answers using the criteria that the correct answer must be always be true.
4) Become a Defense Lawyer.
When comparing your list of possible answers, try to come up with plausible scenarios that would prove the answer being considered not true. Just because the stimulus says that “everyone sitting in the dentist’s office waiting room at 9:00 a.m. was a patient” does not necessarily mean that they were waiting for an appointment. Some could have already finished their appointment, and some could have been there dropping off another patient. Like a defense lawyer, you need to find every every scenario in which an answer choice might not be true in order to eliminate it from your options.
5) Be aware of exaggerated or extreme answers.
Because the correct answer must always be true, modifiers that exaggerate an element of the premise or make an extreme claim usually signify an incorrect answer. If the stimulus says, “Some of the widgets produced by Company X were defective,” an attractive, yet incorrect answer choice may exaggerate this statement with a modifier such as “most” by claiming, “Most of Company X’s widgets were found to be defective.” Furthermore, answers that include the terms “always”, “never”, “none” and the like are good indicators that the answer will not be true 100% of the time.
6) Be aware of answers that change the scope of the stimulus.
On more difficult Inference questions (as if they were not difficult enough), the test makers will tempt you to select an answer choice that slightly changes an element of the facts laid out in the stimulus. For example, the stimulus might discuss the decrease in the violent crime rate in City A over a certain time period.
The attractive answer that follows all of the elements of having to be true 100% of the time, but is still incorrect might discuss decrease in the murder rate of City A over that time period. While the answer would seem to fit the bill, the murder rate is not the same as the rate of violent crime – this changes the scope of the initial stimulus and we can therefore rule that answer out.
The correct inference or conclusion on Critical Reasoning Inference questions is very close to what is stated explicitly in the stimulus. Remember, the right answer choice on these question types must be true 100% of the time.
By Dennis Cashion, a Veritas Prep instructor based in Denver.