The EASY way to get critical reasoning assumption questions right on the GMAT and GRE

critical reasoning

I hear this all the time from my students:

Me:  How do you feel about critical reasoning?

Student:  Pretty good.

Me: Really?

Student:  Except for assumption questions.  I really don’t get those.   They scare me and make me sad.

There is no reason to be scared by critical reasoning assumption questions.  There is a secret phrase that will unlock the right answer for you.  The phrase is:  That’s only true if….

In your mind, just repeat the conclusion, add the phrase “that’s only true if…” and then say each answer choice one by one.  The answer choice that completes the sentence and makes sense is your answer.

No really, it’s that easy.  Don’t believe me?  Let’s take a quick example.

In order to ease congestion during rush hour on the 405 Freeway, the county of Los Angeles wants to install a number of new lanes on the freeway.  The plan has an excellent chance of working.

critical reasoning

What is an assumption that the argument depends upon?

  1. Significantly more commuters aren’t attracted to using the freeway because of the extra lanes.
  2. Lanes are added in areas most congested during rush hour.
  3. Poor driving habits are not the primary cause of rush hour congestion on the 405 freeway.
  4. Financing exists to install the new lanes.
  5. Dangerous curves that significantly slow traffic at critical junctures during rush hour will be straightened at the same time the new lanes are added.

Let’s take each one by one:

  1. The plan will reduce congestion. That’s only true if…Significantly more commuters aren’t attracted to using the freeway because of the extra lanes.   That make sense – keep that answer choice!
  2. The plan will reduce congestion. That’s only true if… Lanes are added in areas most congested during rush hour.  That also makes sense -keep that answer choice!
  3. The plan will reduce congestion. That’s only true if… poor driving habits are not the primary cause of rush hour congestion on the 405 freeway.  That also makes sense – keep that answer choice!
  4. The plan will reduce congestion. That’s only true if… financing exists to install the new lanes.  That makes sense – keep that answer choice.
  5. The plan will reduce congestion. That’s only true if…dangerous curves that significantly slow traffic at critical junctures during rush hour will be straightened at the same time the new lanes are added. That also makes sense.  We’ll keep that answer choice as well.

In fact, it’s a trick question –  ALL of the answer choices are correct answer choices.

I did that to illustrate how the simple phrase:  That’s only true if…. Can reveal the assumptions behind the questions.

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