GMAT Bold-Face Critical Reasoning

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There's no GMAT Verbal question type that inspires the same kind of fear that GMAT probability (and combinations and permutations) does, but that may be changing. For whatever reason, many test-takers think that boldface Critical Reasoning questions are their worst enemy.

Part of the problem is a lack of familiarity. There are very few boldface CR questions in the common practice materials. In part, that should cause you to worry less--if there aren't very many in the practice materials, such as the Official Guide, there aren't going to be very many on the test. It would be an extremely rare GMAT exam in which you saw more than two of these, and on average, you probably won't see more than one.

Boldface CR Example

I'd imagine that many of you haven't even seen one of this question type. Here's an example from the GMATPrep question pool:

Plant scientists have used genetic engineering on seeds to produce crop plants that are highly resistant to insect damage. Unfortunately, the seeds themselves are quite expensive, and the plants require more fertilizer and water to grow well than normal ones. Thus, for most farmers the savings on pesticides would not compensate for the higher seed costs and the cost of additional fertilizer. However, since consumer demand for grains, fruits, and vegetables grown without the use of pesticides continues to rise, the use of genetically engineered seeds of this kind is likely to become widespread.

In the argument given, the two portions in boldface play which of the following roles?

The wording of the prompt is usually very similar to this, though it's possible you'll encounter something a little different, along the lines of, "The first boldface statement has what relationship to the second boldface statement?"

Don't Just Read the Bold

I think part of the reason many students have problems with these is similar to something that happens on select Sentence Correction questions. In SC, you tend to focus on the underlined part of the sentence. When you do that, you forget that the underlined part has to fit in with the non-underlined part. The same concept applies here with bold and not bold.

In the CR argument quoted above, the conclusion is is the sentence between the two boldface statements. If you just read the two bolded statements and look for the relationship between them, you'll never figure this question out. In the sense, the bold font is actively distracting you, just as the underlining can do on SC.

Structure, Structure, Structure

I'm always telling people to read RC passages for structure--even, to some extent, to the detriment of their content comprehension. Those same skills, which include recognizing how the various pieces of a passage fit together, apply here just as much.

As I've pointed out, the sentence between the boldface statements is the conclusion. In almost any GMAT CR argument, the conclusion is the most important sentence. Everything else centers around that. You certainly can't identify something like the assumption, or a piece of evidence, without knowing what the conclusion is that supports that.

So, take apart the passage as if you didn't have the answer choices in front of you. (You'll want to do the same on the test.) Identify the conclusion. In this case it's not bolded, but it might be on another example. Then analyze how the bolded statements relate to the conclusion. In our example, the first bold statement is a piece of evidence supporting the conclusion, and the second is a piece of evidence seems to contradict the conclusion.

The Answer Choices

Here are the choices for this example:

(A) The first supplies a context for the argument; the second is the argument's main conclusion.
(B) The first introduces a development that the argument predicts will have a certain outcome; the second is a state of affairs that the argument denies will be part of that outcome.
(C) The first presents a development that the argument predicts will have a certain outcome; the second acknowledges a consideration that weighs against that prediction.
(D) The first provides evidence to support a prediction that the argument seeks to defend; the second is that prediction.
(E) The first and the second each provide evidence to support the argument's main conclusion.

Another reason why this question type can be imposing is the wordiness of the chocies. However, the work we've done so far allow us to eliminate three choices:

  • (A): the conclusion isn't bolded.
  • (D): a prediction, in CR, is usually the conclusion; neither of the statements are that.
  • (E): the statements don't serve the same purpose.
That leaves us with only two choices, and we've only skimmed the answers thus far. (B) and (C) have the same first part; the question is how we characterize the second boldface statement. (C) matches up well with our prediction. (B) is wrong: the argument doesn't "deny" that the last piece of evidence is accurate.

Literal Analysis

As with Reading Comprehension "primary purpose" questions, take the answer choices literally. Don't read too much into them--there's plenty to think about without doing that.

As we've seen so far, there are three main steps in a boldface CR strategy:

  • Analyze the pieces of the argument, including the non-bolded statements, looking for parts such as conclusion and evidence.
  • Come up with a rough prediction of how the bolded pieces fit together.
  • Go through the choices, looking for something that matches our prediction, and taking each answer choice literally.

GMAT boldface CR questions don't need to be frightening. A little bit of familiarity goes a long way, and that knowledge, I hope, will show you that these questions aren't much harder than other Critical Reasoning question types.

Note: This article was adapted for inclusion in Total GMAT Verbal, which contains similar descriptions of each CR question type.



About the author: Jeff Sackmann has written many GMAT preparation books, including the popular Total GMAT Math, Total GMAT Verbal, and GMAT 111. He has also created explanations for problems in The Official Guide, as well as 1,800 practice GMAT math questions.

Total GMAT Verbal

The comprehensive guide to the GMAT Verbal section. Recognize, dissect, and master every question type you'll face on the test. Everything you need, all in one place, including 100+ realistic practice questions.
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