On the GRE, a subset of the Reading Comprehension is called Critical Reasoning. Of course, the new GRE doesn’t call it this, but simply lumps in under Reading Comprehension. Back before the old GRE was the old GRE, and when it was actually the new GRE, ETS had decided to do away with a section called Critical Reasoning. So, the old-old GRE (and I don’t mean Pleistocene-era old – it was only 10 years, the time when I first began tutoring) had an extra section worth a total of 800 points (yes, you can consider yourself lucky, in a way, that the new GRE didn’t completely resurrect this section).
They did, however, resurrect a question type from this erstwhile section – and that is the question type I am labeling a Critical Reasoning question.
Those with GMAT experience will notice that this question type is the same in content and description as the Critical Reasoning questions on the GMAT.
Even for those of you with only GRE experience, you’ve seen it before – it’s a short paragraph with only one question, typically asking you to think logically about information in the passage.
Today, I am going to be dealing with a subspecies of this question that is proving pesky for many students (and for those of you considering only taking the GMAT, you better listen up).
You can identify this question by bolded parts of the text. It is called Argument Construction, and requires that you, unsurprisingly, understand how arguments are constructed.
Below we have an excerpt:
The lower the tide, the less likely guppy fish are to come to the surface to feed. The tern, which feeds exclusively on guppy, does most of its hunting in the evening, when the tide is low. It follows that the tern is going to have more difficulty hunting guppy in the evening than during the daytime, because it expends more energy doing so. Dotting points slightly out to sea are outcrops of rock that the tern usually lands on while hunting. Therefore, an observer is more likely to see tern resting on the rocks in the evening than during the day.
Now the fun part – taking the argument apart.
For an argument to be valid, it must be based on a fact. In this case, we accept what the passage tells us in the beginning two sentences (by the way, I made up these fish facts, so I do not think they actually apply to the natural word). For me to draw a valid conclusion, I must build off of these sentences.
In this case, I am assuming that the tern is going to have trouble hunting the guppy in the evening, because there aren’t too many guppies breaking the surface. This conclusion is by no means 100% valid. It is a conclusion drawn from facts that we, the readers, take for granted are 100% valid (the first two sentences).
With this excerpt, we are not finished. Notice how there is another conclusion: “Therefore, an observer…” You’ll notice that this sentence is the final conclusion, which must be based on the first conclusion. Therefore, the first conclusion is not the main conclusion, but what is known as the intermediate conclusion. Without the intermediate conclusion, the passage would not be able to draw the main conclusion.
Sometimes, the main argument will not agree with the intermediate conclusion. For instance, the main argument could have said something to the effect of, “therefore, the increase of birds on the outcrops during the day cannot fully be explained given the above information.”
In this case, the main argument opposes the intermediate conclusion. That is, there has to some other reason besides resting to account for the increase in terns. Perhaps the terns used the time on the outcrops to clean their feathers (or some other random explanation).
Lastly, not all argument constructions – in fact, very few indeed – actually deal explicitly with intermediate conclusions. But, because this terminology is not common, it tends to throw many people off. However, if you want more practice with argument construction questions, you should not only look at Revised GRE material, but should also look at GMAT and LSAT material. There will be plenty of practice there for this tricky kind of question.