GRE For High Scorers, Part 4: Critical Reasoning
You guys know what I mean by "Critical Reasoning", right? For some reason, the GRE lumps these questions under the "Reading Comprehension" label, but they have less to do with comprehension than with your ability to think. These are the questions that ask you to strengthen or weaken an argument, or to explain a discrepancy / paradox. You'll see different wording for these questions, but they can be lumped into those two categories.
Sample GRE Critical Reasoning Question
I'm going to start with what I think is a tough CR question and then get into some observations. This one is on page 321 of the Official Guide to the Revised GRE:
Sparva, unlike Treland's other provinces, requires automobile insurers to pay for any medical treatment sought by someone who has been involved in an accident; in the other provinces, insurers pay for nonemergency treatment only if they preapprove the treatment. Clearly, Sparva's less restrictive policy must be the explanation for the fact that altogether insurers there pay for far more treatments after accidents than insurers in other provinces, even though Sparva does not have the largest population.
Which of the following, if true, most strengthens the argument?
Ok - before I get to the answer choices, make sure you read the passage. The first key is to be able to simply paraphrase the relevant part(s) of the passage. What do you think? In this case, there's an argument, so I would say the key part is:
"Clearly, Sparva's less restrictive policy must be the explanation for the fact that altogether insurers there pay for far more treatments after accidents than insurers in other provinces, even though Sparva does not have the largest population."
I would paraphrase this to:
"Less restrictive policy is why they pay for more treatments."
Now, there are other relevant parts of the passage, but I don't want to write down more than I need to. It's essential to be able to understand the argument, since you'll have to think about it clearly. Rewording it simply can often be useful.
Now, let's take a look at the choices:
A. Car insurance costs more in Sparva than in any other province.
B. The cost of medical care in Sparva is higher than the national average.
C. Different insurance companies have different standards for determining what constitutes emergency treatment.
D. Fewer insurance companies operate in Sparva than in any other province.
E. There are fewer traffic accidents annually in Sparva than in any of the other provinces of comparable or greater population.
I'll start by talking about a choice that is wrong, but that a lot of people tend to pick: Choice A. Why does this answer seem correct? I think it's because it's logically true based on the passage. After all, if Sparva insurers pay for "far more treatments", doesn't it make sense that insurance there would cost more?
You would think so, but first of all, we can't prove that. Playing devil's advocate, you might say that Sparva's government subsidises insurers, so that consumers don't have to pay much. More importantly though, Choice A. doesn't have a whole lot to do with the argument. What was that argument again?
"Less restrictive policy is why they pay for more treatments."
Learning that the insurance costs more doesn't affect this argument. Choice A. could be (but isn't necessarily) an effect of the situation in the passage BUT doesn't support that insurers pay for more treatments because of the less restrictive policy.
The right answer here is Choice E. To strengthen an argument, it can be helpful to shoot down an objection to it. If you know that Sparva has fewer accidents than other provinces and insurers there STILL pay for more treatments, then the argument that they pay for more treatments because of the less restrictive policy is made more sound. The potential objection Choice E. shoots down is that insurers pay for more treatments because Sparva has WAY MORE accidents than other provinces. Now that you know it has FEWER, the argument is easier to defend.
In the same vein, for strengthen / weaken an argument questions, you can try seeing if the reverse of your choice does the OPPOSITE of what the question wants. In this case, the opposite of Choice E. might be something like, "There are far more traffic accidents annually in Sparva than in any of the other provinces of comparable or greater population."
That would actually weaken the argument; it's hard to argue that insurers paid for more treatments because of the policy if there is another perfectly good reason they paid for more treatments: there were more accidents!
I'm not going to get to paradox / discrepancy CR questions in this post, but for those guys, you again need to be able to think clearly and precisely about the two opposing facts and then pick a choice that reconciles them.
One final observation for ya - the answer choices for CR are usually not supported by the passage in a conventional way; in fact, they are usually outside the passage entirely.
Why The GRE Includes Critical Reasoning
Do you guys know why the GRE now has Critical Reasoning questions? (By "now" I mean post-August-2011 when the new GRE debuted.)
If you're familiar with the GMAT, the popular business school entrance examination, you know that these types of questions appear on the verbal sections. I heard a rumor that the companies that write the tests used to work together, but had a falling out. The GRE decided to try to get into the business school applicant market (which worked), and revamped its test to be more like the GMAT. One of the results of that effort was the development of Critical Reasoning questions. Since the GRE doesn't publish a whole lot of these questions in its book, an excellent source of additional practice is actually the GMAT's Verbal book.
A GRE Critical Reasoning Question Video Explanation
In this video, I walk you through a critical reasoning question from the first ETS GRE PowerPrep 2 test. It's the Weaken the Argument Type.
If you enjoyed this free guide, check out Vince's other free GRE resources.
Vince's 3 main options to help you with your GRE prep are HERE.
And: Need some help with your graduate admission essays / personal statements? We can help!