GMAT Critical Reasoning questions present either an argument or a set of facts which you need to evaluate. GMAT Critical Reasoning passages are generally shorter than 100 words and drawn from a variety of sources. Although it can be comforting, familiarity with the subject matter is not needed in order to approach CR questions successfully. It’s very important to embrace that idea. Many of our GMAT tutoring students complain about science passages and claim that GMAT science passages are very difficult. Well, they’re no more difficult than any other topic. Topic isn’t related to difficulty level. Done. Forget about it. Read for structure.

Critical Reasoning comprises approximately one third of the GMAT verbal section although most people will spend upwards of 40% of their time on them as it can take longer to evaluate them versus Sentence Correction questions. That’s not a rule. Maybe you’ll breeze through CR and spend more of your time on Sentence Correction. There have certainly been GMATs on which I’ve given SC and CR equal time. I’d roughly break up GMAT Critical Reasoning Questions into assumption based questions and fact sets. For assumption based questions you’ll generally be evaluating an argument and either strengthening, weakening, pointing out an assumption, or pointing out a flaw. For fact sets you’ll be identifying the conclusion or main idea, making an inference, identifying the role of a piece of the argument, or resolving a paradox. Key to Critical Reasoning: Active Reading! Struggling on the GMAT verbal section? Weak at Critical Reasoning? Start working on your basic reading skills. Warning: if your reading skills are down in the dumps getting them up to snuff could take a lot of work. That’s not meant to discourage you at all. Just to set expectations straight. You can start here at the GMAT Reading Comprehension Challenge.

What are some examples of the GMAT Critical Reasoning Question Types? 

Strengthen: Which of the following, if true, provides the most support for the argument above?

Weaken: Which of the following, if true, most seriously weakens the argument above?

Assumption: The politician’s conclusion relies on which of the following assumptions?

Fill in the Blank: Which of the following most logically completes the passage?

Evaluate: Which of the following must be studied in order to evaluate the argument presented above?

Flaw:The doctor’s argument is flawed because it fails to consider that…

Paradox: Which of the following, if true, helps most to explain the decline in the bird populations?

Inference: The statements above, if true, provide the most support for which of the following assertions?

Main Idea: The lawyer’s statements best support which of the following as a conclusion?

Boldface: In the teacher’s argument, the portion in boldface plays which of the following roles?

GMAT Critical Reasoning Example Question

In 1992 outlaw fishing boats began illegally harvesting lobsters from the territorial waters of the country of Belukia. Soon after, the annual tonnage of lobster legally harvested in Belukian waters began declining; in 1996, despite there being no reduction in the level of legal lobster fishing activity, the local catch was 9,000 tons below pre-1992 levels. It is therefore highly likely that the outlaw fishing boats harvested about 9,000 tons of lobster illegally that year.

Which of the following is an assumption on which the argument depends?

(A) The illegal lobster harvesting was not so extensive that the population of catchable lobsters in Belukia’s territorial waters had sharply declined by 1996.

(B) The average annual lobster catch, in tons, of an outlaw fishing boat has increased steadily since 1992.

(C) Outlaw fishing boats do not, as a group, harvest more lobsters than do licensed lobster-fishing boats.

(D) The annual legal lobster harvest in Belukia in 1996 was not significantly less than 9,000 tons.

(E) A significant proportion of Belukia’s operators of licensed lobster-fishing boats went out of business between 1992 and 1996.

For assumption based question always find the conclusion. You need to be clear on that for everything else to click.

Conclusion: Outlaw fishing boats harvested 9000 tons of lobster in 1996


-Pirate lobster boats have been present since 1992.

-Since then lobster catch has decreased.

-In 1996 LEGAL lobster fishing activity didn’t decrease but the catch was 9000 lighter.

Assumption: Nothing else (besides the illegal fishing capturing the 9000 lobsters) caused the decline in 1996.

(A) The illegal lobster harvesting was not so extensive that the population of catchable lobsters in Belukia’s territorial waters had sharply declined by 1996.

This answer is tricky but perfect. It wasn’t that the illegal fisherman captured 9000 lobsters in 1996 but that they caught lobsters in the previous years causing a decrease in the population. So the 9000 missing lobsters in ’96 weren’t caught by the lobster pirates. They were missing entirely from the population.

How to study for GMAT Critical Reasoning?

I could write a book about GMAT Critical Reasoning studying! In brief:

-If your verbal is weak start with verbal before doing quant. Verbal takes longer to improve. Once you get traction on the verbal side then bring in the quant.

-Stick to Official GMAT questions. Third party verbal questions are crappy. There’s plenty of official GMAT questions to practice on. Stick to them!

Use LSAT Reasoning questions for GMAT Critical Reasoning practice. Yes, I know I said stick to Official GMAT Questions but this is the exception. LSAT questions are pretty much as good and in some ways better than GMAT questions. Why? If you get rid of some LSAT only question types, LSAT content is spot on and LSAT questions are more challenging than GMAT ones so they provide superb practice especially if you’re going for a top shelf verbal score.

-If your reading is at all weak add in supplemental non-GMAT reading. I’d suggest a weeklies, monthlies, or quarterlies as the articles tend to be denser than those in dailies (NYT, WSJ…). The Economist if a safe choice. And if you don’t like science passages make sure to overload on science articles!