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Critical Reasoning – Pay attention to ‘if true’

Students can easily be distracted by answer choices in critical reasoning questions if they don’t pay attention to a short, unassuming phrase—“if true.”

Let’s start with a typical Critical Reasoning question on the GMAT with the phrase:

Over the past ten years, the population of Dismiston has grown five times as large as it was.  During this time, the average income in the city has risen substantially, and a tremendous amount of capital has flowed into city.  An independent audit found that, somewhat surprisingly, the number of violent felonies reported per year is now lower than it was ten years ago.

Each of the following statements below, if true, would explain the somewhat surprising finding EXCEPT:

  1. White collar crimes, which are almost always non-violent, tend to replace street-crimes during times of prosperity.
  2. The police now have a computerized filing system, so that it is almost impossible for a violent crime to be unrecorded.
  3. During this time, the state considerably lengthened felony convicts’ waiting period for parole.
  4. The police force has expanded in number and is equipped with the latest crime detection technology.
  5. The city is now much better lit at night, and security cameras protect a large number of public venues.

Question from a previous Critical Reasoning article

If we don’t assume each answer choice to be true, we could easily be distracted, considering whether white collar crimes go up when prosperity increases or whether a bigger police force will actually lead to less violent crime. Or we might wonder how much longer felony convicts need to wait before they can be paroled and if that is enough time to offset the number of violent crimes being committed. These are dangerous paths to wander down on test day.

We only need to remember the phrase “if true” and all these considerations become moot.

The import of this phrase is clear in how often it appears in question prompts and in how it limits the objections that can be raised by knowledgeable and educated students. Many students are well-versed in the topics that appear on the GMAT—experts in their fields with years of professional experience. As such, the GMAC has to protect themselves from this expert knowledge and avoid inaccurate information. If questions are ambiguous or inaccurate, students can raise objections and question their score. And as time passes, information and knowledge changes, so what might have been true when a question was written two years ago could be false today.

How does the GMAC account for these factors? With the easily glanced over “if true.”

The key is focusing on what matters and realizing that we have to accept the information in the answer choices as true, even if we know it is not. Don’t spend time considering the validity, or even the possible validity, of the information in the answer choices. If an answer says that extraterrestrials live among us or that unicorns have bad-tempers, accept it as true. Only evaluate answer choices on how well they answer the prompt.


About the Author

Kevin has taught for over ten years from San Francisco to Japan, helping students prepare for tests, like the GRE, GMAT, and SAT. He enjoys sharing what he learned, so even more students can achieve their goals. When he is not helping students dominate standardized tests, you can find him in the Pacific Ocean or on a granite dome in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Follow him on Google+ and on Twitter @KevinRocci!

4 Responses to Critical Reasoning – Pay attention to ‘if true’

  1. Yuri March 27, 2014 at 4:30 pm #

    How can I access the critical reasoning part on your forum? There are no YouTube Videos there.. I am interested in them most.

    • Kevin
      Kevin March 27, 2014 at 4:45 pm #

      Hi Yuri, Happy to help!

      If you are talking about the video explanations to The Official Guide (OG) to the GMAT (found here, we haven’t recorded explanations yet. We only have explanations to the Quant questions at this point. Hopefully we’ll have time in the future to record more video explanations and put them up.

      If you are premium member of Magoosh, you can send in your question through the Help Tab and our tutors will answer it for you. Otherwise you’ll have to look on GMAT Club or Beat the GMAT. Many OG questions have been answered there. :)

      Sorry that I couldn’t be of more help! Happy studying! :)

  2. Beth March 24, 2014 at 4:43 pm #

    So what’s the answer

Magoosh blog comment policy: To create the best experience for our readers, we will approve and respond to comments that are relevant to the article, general enough to be helpful to other students, concise, and well-written! :) If your comment was not approved, it likely did not adhere to these guidelines. If you are a Premium Magoosh student and would like more personalized service, you can use the Help tab on the Magoosh dashboard. Thanks!

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