A Critical Reasoning question is generally of the form of a paragraph or a case, followed by one or two questions. The short paragraph is an argument which comprises of:
The premise – the evidence
The conclusion – the main point of the argument
An assumption – the unstated or missing premises without which the argument would be untenable.
In some cases, the conclusion may not be given and the question may require that you supply the conclusion. The premises are pieces of evidence that the author uses (as a basis) to arrive at the conclusion. The conclusion is valid depending on the strength of the premises and assumptions.
Locating the conclusion
Certain keywords can help you isolate the conclusion and the evidence in a stimulus; clues that signal evidence include –since, because, as, due to, etc. Clues that signal conclusion include – so, therefore, thus, consequently, hence, as a result, etc.
Approach methodology to different types of critical reasoning questions
Look at the question first before looking at the answer choices. The basic question types include
Find the conclusion
In this question type, the test-taker is expected to choose the statement that is already given in the passage as the conclusion of the argument from the answer choices. Look out for keywords like hence, so, thus, therefore, etc. However, a conclusion may also begin without these keywords.
Supply the conclusion
In this question type, the argument consists of merely a set of evidence. The test-taker is expected to supply the conclusion. This implies that the answer is not a sentence given in the passage but must include and rest on all the given evidence.
Find the assumption
To answer this question, the test-taker is expected to identify the conclusion that is already given in the paragraph. An assumption is a statement that is not given as the premise but is required if the conclusion has to be valid. Without an assumption, the conclusion cannot be arrived at. As the assumption is an unstated premise, the answer is not a statement given in the paragraph. There could be several assumptions and hence the test-taker is required to find the assumption on which the conclusion depends.
In strengthen-the-argument questions, the type of premises given should be examined. The premises could be presented in the form of
- Statistical Data – numbers, percentages, ratios, etc.
- Causal Data – the data may be in the form of a cause – effect relationship.
- Analogy – arriving at a conclusion through likening it to a similar situation.
Here the conclusion is already given in the argument. One of the choices if true further supports or reinforces the conclusion. This means that the conclusion is further strengthened if a choice is true. The question is phrased in one of the following ways.
- Which of the following, if true, strengthens the argument?
- Which of the following, if true, least weakens the argument?
- Which of the following, if true, adds credence to the argument?
- Which of the following, if true, reinforces the argument?
Weaken the Argument
In this question type, the conclusion is already in the argument but with a questionable assumption. One of the choices if true weakens the conclusion. The question is phrased in one of the following ways.
- Which of the following, if true, weakens the conclusion?
- Which of the following, if true, least strengthens the argument?
- Which of the following, if true, jeopardizes the argument?
- Which of the following, if true, questions the validity of the argument?
- Which of the following, if true, damages the argument?
Find the inference
In this question type, the conclusion is already given. If the statements in the argument are true, one of the choices also must be true. If there are two premises, it is possible to make two inferences. The questions appear as follows:
- If the statements in the arguments are true, which of the following must also be true?
- Which of the following can be inferred from the passage?
- Which of the following is implies in the passage?
Inferences often have very little to do with the conclusion and for each premise, you can have an inference. So, the inferences made from the premises need to be mapped with the given options to deduce the right answer option.
Mimic the argument
Here one of the choices is similar/parallel to the given argument in logic and structure. The test-taker is expected to determine the option which best matches the given argument. The similarity can be in the form of a premise or conclusion or inference.
- For years, a considerable number of students on West County High School's track team complained about shin splints (medial tibial syndrome). However, during the most recent season, the number of students who complained about shin splints dropped significantly. School officials assert that this reduction in complaints occurred entirely as a result of the school's decision to build a new running track that provided a softer running surface, which absorbed much of the shock on the knees and shins that occur when running and causes shin splints. Which of the following, if true, most severely weakens the school officials' explanation for the decrease in complaints about shin splints?
(a) As a result of West County High School's adoption of better medical staff and new medical scanning devices, many students whose complaints would have been diagnosed in years past as an instance of shin splints are now diagnosed with a different condition.
(b) West County High School built its track after a number of neighboring schools with similar track teams built new tracks and each school saw the number of complaints about shin splints drop.
(c) This past season, members of West County High School's track team received and wore new and highly acclaimed shoes designed to soften the impact of running on the shin and knee.
(d) This past season, the total number of students who complained of pain while running rose.
Solution: The school authorities assert that the new track was "entirely" responsible for the reduction in "complaints" about shin splints. The first choice speaks about the diagnosis of the students' complaints. This cannot weaken the conclusion that the number of "complaints" decreased. The second choice strengthens the argument as it asserts what the school authorities already are claiming. The third choice directly questions the claims of the school authorities as it provides an alternative explanation for the reduction in the number of complaints. Hence, this choice tends to weaken the school officials' explanation. The fourth choice provides non-relevant information as the matter in the discussion is about complaints about shin splints and not complaints about pain while running. Hence, the third choice most severely weakens the school officials' explanation for the decrease in complaints about shin splints.