Solve Difficult Critical Reasoning Problems Faster

October 22, 2010

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Of all the GMAT Verbal question types, Critical Reasoning may be the toughest to handle within the time constraints of the test. You're asked to deal with a completely new topic and answer a tricky question, all in the space of two minutes or so.

As CR questions get harder, the task is ever more challenging. Here are three proven methods to get you through even the trickiest Critical Reasoning problems with time to spare.

1. Keep moving. CR passages are fairly short, so you can't exactly skim them. But on tough questions, the content can be confusing. All the time, I see students get stuck on a difficult sentence, concept, or answer choice, and freeze up.

You don't have to work fast, but you can't stop and think. If an answer choice is unclear, skip it and evaluate the others. If you're stuck on a concept or vocab word, skip it and read the rest of the passage. Every once in a while, you might miss a question because of this. But it's better to quickly answer one question wrong than spend six minutes trying (and probably failing) to answer it right.

2. Don't re-read.. See a theme developing? Nearly every student has made this mistake. You read through the passage, get to the end, and realize you have no idea what you just read. You have no choice but to start over. It's amazing how much time is wasted that way.

Avoid the need to re-read. Take a deep breath before approaching each new question. Go slowly (but keep moving!), and if you hit a tricky spot, skip it and see what you can understand. With practice, you'll never have to read a passage more than once.

3. Look for patterns. As with everything else on the exam, Critical Reasoning questions aren't written at random. They are designed to test certain skills in a consistent manner.

Every strengthen and weaken question will have a conclusion supported by evidence. Every inference question will have an extreme answer choice or two. The more you are aware of this as you practice, the more patterns you will spot. Then, on test day, those patterns will help you understand the structure of new questions. Yes--even the tough ones.



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.

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