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Different Types of Wrong Answers for GRE Critical Reading Questions

Before launching into the six different types of Critical Reasoning questions mentioned in this series, you should familiarize yourself with how best to approach them.

Let’s take the following sample. The part in italics is called the argument. The question below the argument is called the question (that part’s easy!).

The Malbec grape, originally grown in France, has become the main varietal in Argentina. This is surprising because most Malbec grown in Argentina is grown at high altitudes, whereas the Malbec grape once was grown at low altitudes. Therefore, Argentinian winegrowers should grow the Malbec grape at low elevations.

Which of the following, if true, would most weaken the conclusion of the argument?

(A)  The Bordeaux grape is the most popular grape in France but is rarely, if ever, grown in Argentina.

(B)  Some varietals are unable to grow at high altitudes.

(C)  The soil at high altitudes is filled with nutrients that help the Malbec grape grow.

(D) The Malbec vine is susceptible to phylloxera, a plant louse that only grows at low altitudes.

(E)  Malbec has recently enjoyed a surge in popularity, and can be found in many different countries.

Step #1 – Identify the parts of the argument

An argument is built on premises. Premises are facts on which the conclusion rests.  That is, without the premises, the conclusion could not be validly drawn.

In the argument above the premises are as follows:

Premise 1: The Malbec grape in Argentina is grown at high elevations.

Premise 2: The Malbec grape was originally grown in low elevations in France.

The conclusion is based on these two premises. The conclusion is usually easy to spot, because it typically uses ‘therefore’ or ‘thus’ to begin a sentence.

Conclusion:  Therefore, Argentinian winegrowers should grow Malbec grape at low elevations.

Step #2 – Simplify

Once you’ve gotten the hang of spotting the premises and conclusion, you should get in the habit of simplifying the argument. After all, the argument has a lot of verbiage and usually contains words that are foreign or difficult to pronounce.

In addition to abbreviation (Malbec grape can be shortened to M.G.), make sure to also simplify how the argument arrives at the conclusion:

M.G. originally grown low altitudes; in A. grown high altitudes; therefore, M.G. should be grown at low altitudes in A.

If you are just starting off, you should definitely write down your simplification of the argument. Once you’ve got the hang of it, you can simplify the argument in your head.

So what is the point of simplifying the argument? Well, when you do steps #3 and #4, not having to constantly refer back to the argument, but having a working sense of the argument in your head, will help you answer the question more quickly and accurately.

Step #3 – Anticipate the answer

To anticipate the answer, you of course have to read the question. The better you understand the different question types, the easier it will be to anticipate the answer.

By anticipating the answer, I don’t mean to come up with an answer hoping for an exact match with the correct answer. That most likely is not going to happen. Rather, in anticipating the answer you have to ask yourself: What must the correct answer do? In the case here, the correct answer must provide a reason why growing the Malbec grape at low elevations is a bad idea.

Step #4 – Know what makes an answer choice wrong

In looking for the correct answer, you should always have a sense of why the wrong answers are wrong. Luckily, wrong answers typically fall into one of several buckets.

Out of Scope

This is another way of saying irrelevant. Basically, the answer choice, while providing interesting information, doesn’t directly bear on what is being asked. For the Malbec argument, an Out of Scope answer choice could mention other grape varieties, other countries, or anything relating to the wine industry (while of course omitting any mention of the Malbec grape and Argentina).

Does the Opposite

This wrong answer choice only applies to certain types of Critical Reasoning questions. In the case with weaken/strengthen, the type the Malbec grape question falls into, an answer choice that strengthens a ‘weaken question’ or an answer choice that weakens a ‘strengthen question’ is doing the opposite. These can be tempting because they are definitely relevant to the argument. So be on our guard.

Close But not Quite

The trickiest of the batch, this wrong answer type is definitely not Out of Scope. It sort of provides an answer. Remember, however, that you are looking for the best answer.

The Close but not Quite usually requires you to make some assumptions in order to make the answer truly work. So, when you are confronted by an answer choice, and think, ‘Well that kind of works, if I assume…’ then you are usally dealing with a Close but not Quite.

Now let’s see if we can correctly identify the wrong answers (and, of course, choose the right one!).

(A)  The Bordeaux grape is the most popular grape in France but is rarely, if ever, grown in Argentina.

Out of Scope – We are focusing on the Malbec grape.

(B)  Some varietals are unable to grow at high altitudes.

Out of Scope – Again, we are focusing on the Malbec grape and do not care about other types of wine/varietals.

(C)  The soil at high altitudes is filled with nutrients that help the Malbec grape grow.

This is by far the most tempting wrong answer, and unsurprisingly falls into the Close But not Quite category. Answer (C) gives us a reason why the Malbec grape can also flourish at higher elevations. However, just because it CAN grow at high elevations, doesn’t mean it can’t grow, and perhaps even flourish better, at low elevations.

We want a strong answer that gels with our Anticipation of the Answer: Why moving the Malbec grape to low elevations would be a bad idea. Close but not Quite.

(D) The Malbec vine is susceptible to phylloxera, a plant louse that destroys the grape and only grows at low altitudes

Answer: Here we have a great reason why the Malbec grape cannot be grown at low altitudes: The phylloxera will destroy the grape.

(E)  Malbec grows best near the ocean, because the amount of relative humidity found here helps the grape flourish.

Here we have a reason that would strengthen the argument. That is, moving the Malbec grape to low elevations would be a good idea. Does the Opposite.



The Critical Reasoning question is a difficult question type. Make sure to follow the steps above so you can avoid being confused for either the argument or the answer choices.

By the way, students who use Magoosh GRE improve their scores by an average of 8 points on the new scale (150 points on the old scale.) Click here to learn more.

10 Responses to Different Types of Wrong Answers for GRE Critical Reading Questions

  1. Shreejit March 8, 2014 at 4:17 am #

    Hi Chris,
    What would be the difficulty level of this question when compared to questions on the real GRE?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele March 10, 2014 at 1:18 pm #

      Hi Shreejit,

      This question is average: I’d say about half of test takers would get it right.

      Hope that helps!

  2. sivabalan October 26, 2013 at 7:20 am #

    Is it advisable to check for other answer choices , even after finding the correct one ?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele October 28, 2013 at 2:10 pm #

      That’s a very good question!

      I would say definitely check all answer choices, because you don’t know for sure whether you answer is really the correct one. Sometimes, you may find another answer that also seems correct. At this point, you will have to make a logical decision as to which one is the better answer.

      Hope that helps!

  3. ashok March 3, 2013 at 9:40 pm #

    explain the difference between inference and assumption.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele March 5, 2013 at 11:54 am #

      An inference requires you to draw a conclusion based on the information provided.

      An assumption is something that the paragraph/author makes. Basically, there is a gap between the premises at the beginning of the paragraph and the conclusion drawn from those premises. This gap is the assumption.

      In this question the assumption is that Malbec will grow well at low elevations everywhere.

      Hope that helps answer your question :)!

  4. Akki July 25, 2012 at 11:14 am #

    Hi Chris,

    According to my observations of different questions of
    weaken the argument we can do three things:-

    1)We should try to have another explanation for the conclusion.For eg: if A so B therefore we should think can there be another reason for B ie A’ ?

    2)Why this is a bad idea to go forward with the conclusion?

    3)Attack the assumption.What if the assumption is not valid?

    I feel all weaken the argument.Please help me figure out a ultimate solution to these type of question.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris July 27, 2012 at 4:06 pm #

      Yes you can do 1). As for 2) I am not quite sure what you are asking.

      And 3): attacking the assumption “assumes” the assumption is not valid (It would be difficult to attack a valid assumption :)).

  5. Julia Campos May 16, 2012 at 4:11 am #

    why is it as good idea to put it in low elevations when it would be destroyed there?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris May 16, 2012 at 2:40 pm #

      Hi Julia,

      I am sorry, I am not quite sure I understand your question. Are you referring to (C)?

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