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    Critical Reasoning
  I: CR Introduction
  II: Argument Structure
  III: Reasoning Skills
  IV: Question Types
  V: Advanced Question Types
  VI: Sample Questions
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I. Critical Reasoning: Introduction
 
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In this chapter, you'll learn how to think critically and use the rules of logic to find errors in reasoning, such as circular argumentation and faulty analogy. You will learn how to quickly identify logical flaws in an argument, evaluate an argument’s strength and determine its validity.

This chapter will help you with the 12-14 Critical Reasoning questions in the Verbal section; many of these strategies will also be useful for the Analysis of Argument essay.

Critical Reasoning questions consist of a passage, a stem, and the answer choices.

Let's look at an example:

The postal service of Fairfield is badly mismanaged. Thirty years ago first-class letter delivery cost only three cents. The price has increased sevenfold since then, but the reliability and speed have declined.

This is the passage, what you read to start the question.

All of the following would tend to weaken the argument above EXCEPT:

This is the stem, which sets up the question. Be on the lookout for words like "EXCEPT."

  1. The volume of mail handled by the postal service has increased dramatically during the last thirty years.
  2. Unprecedented increases in the cost of fuel for trucks and planes have put severe upward pressures on postal delivery costs.
  3. Private delivery services usually charge more than the postal service does for comparable delivery services.
  4. The average delivery time for a first-class letter three decades ago was slightly longer than it is today.
  5. The average level of consumer prices overall has increased fourfold during the last thirty years

These are the answer choices. Most of these should be easy to eliminate.


800score's Critical Reasoning Techniques are easy-to-use and intuitive. Use this six-step method to attack critical reasoning questions:

Step 1: Identify the argument
Read the passage and try to identify the premise and conclusion of the argument. Is it an argument? What is going on? Do any assumptions pop out? Put it into your own words. Read critical reading questions actively and examine the implications of every sentence.

Step 2: Read the stem
Find out specifically what the question is asking for and apply it to the question. Watch out for words like “EXCEPT.”

Step 3: Develop a basic idea of the right answer
If necessary, re-read the passage to examine it more carefully. Put a general idea of the right answer into your own words. Make sure it corresponds to what the stem wants.

Don't overdo this step. Remember that one of the five choices must be right, so they will provide hints about the right answer. If you hit a wall, the answer choices can sometimes provide clues; just don't jump prematurely to the answers, which can make you susceptible to trap choices.

Step 4: Move on to the answer choices.
If you have an idea of what the answer could be, start running through the answer choices and you'll probably find something similar.

Step 5: Process of Elimination (POE)
Eliminate choices and then pick the best answer. Choice A may be a good answer, but choice (E) may be better. This means that you should read all the choices before making a decision. Usually, you can narrow it down to one or two options. As a rule, your first strong hunch is usually the right answer.

Step 6: Double-Check
Unless you are running short on time, take a moment to double-check your answer.


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The "Stem First" Controversy
If you noticed above, we tell you to read the passage first and then the stem second in a natural order. Many test prep companies tell you to read the stem first, then the passage. This does make some sense: if you read the stem first you can then read the passage with an eye toward what the question wants.

However, there are several problems with this "stem first" technique:

  1. Advanced students can read the passage and have a rough idea what the question wants before even getting to the stem. If you have taken hundreds of practice questions, you can see the patterns.
  2. It is distracting to have to bounce from the stem back up to the passage.
  3. You are putting the stem into short-term memory. This process can be awkward and distracting because you are asking your brain to hold this bit of data while trying to process a complex argument.

Obviously, you are the test taker and the decision is yours to make. Try both approaches and see which works best for you.

 
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II: Argument Structure