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 I. Six Principles for Critical Reasoning Questions wA. Learn how to identify arguments wB. Types of arguments wC. Putting it into your own words wD. Evaluate an argument wE. Evaluate an argument's strength and validity wF. Get an idea of the right answer

 II. Typical Critical Reasoning Question Types wA. Must Be True Questions wB. Assumption Questions wC. Strengthen and Weaken Questions wD. Main Point Questions wE. Paradox Questions wF. Reasoning Questions

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C. Strengthen and Weaken Questions

Assumptions connect premises to conclusions. You may strengthen or weaken an argument by strengthening or weakening the assumptions. Here are some examples of Strengthen/Weaken question stems:

Strengthening:

• The conclusion would be more properly drawn if it were made clear that...
• Which of the following, if true, would most strengthen the conclusion drawn in the passage above?
• The argument as it is presented in the passage above would be most strengthened if which of the following were true?

Weakening:

• Which of the following, if true, most seriously weakens the conclusion drawn above?
• Which of the following, if true, would provide the strongest evidence against the above?
• Which of the following, if true, casts the most serious doubt on the conclusion drawn above?

How to approach Strengthen and Weaken Questions

1. Read the argument, find the conclusion, and identify the premises.

2. Identify assumptions.

3. Eliminate answer choices that do not work. Eliminate answer choices that do not strengthen/weaken the assumptions as the question asks.

Strategy: on most other verbal questions, you eliminate potential answers that use strong language. The exception are the strengthen/weaken questions. On these questions, extreme answers (using words such as only, the most, extremely) have an increased chance of being correct. The reason? Extreme answers will have a more powerful weakening/strengthening effect on assumptions.

SAMPLE QUESTION

1) The postal service is badly mismanaged. Thirty years ago, first-class letter delivery cost only three cents. Since then, the price has increased sevenfold, with an actual decrease in the speed and reliability of service.

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

a) The volume of mail handled by the postal service has increased dramatically over the last thirty years.

b) Unprecedented increases in the cost of fuel for trucks and planes have put severe upward pressures on postal delivery costs.

c) Private delivery services usually charge more than does the postal service for comparable delivery services.

d) The average delivery time for a first-class letter three decades ago was actually slightly longer than it is today.

e) The average level of consumer prices overall has increased fourfold over the last thirty years.

Explanation: the conclusion here is that the postal service is poorly managed. We are looking for something that would not weaken the argument, in other words, something that suggests incompetent management, something that doesn't excuse the post office's poor performance.

Choice a) The volume of mail handled by the postal service has increased dramatically over the last thirty years. This would seem to excuse the poor service/price because the service has had to overcome a massive increase in volume.

Choice b) Unprecedented increases in the cost of fuel for trucks and planes have put severe upward pressures on postal delivery costs. This would seem to excuse the poor service/price because costs have increased dramatically.

Choice c) Private delivery services usually charge more than does the postal service for comparable delivery services. This would seem to excuse the poor service/price because other services are not as efficient.

Choice d) The average delivery time for a first-class letter three decades ago was actually slightly longer than it is today. This shows they have made improvements in service, suggesting that the postal service isn't all that bad after all.

Choice e) The average level of consumer prices overall has increased fourfold over the last thirty years. Since the price of postage has increased seven times over, this suggests that postal prices have increased at a rate much quicker than inflation. Thus, choice E suggests that there is price gouging and does support the original argument, making this the correct answer.