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GRE Critical Reasoning Question Type: Assumption Questions

Assumption questions are relatively common on the GRE Critical Reasoning component of the Reading Comprehension section. You know you are dealing with an assumption when the question is something like this:

Which of the following is an assumption on which the argument depends?

Much like Strengthen/Weaken questions, Assumption questions require you to identify the premises and the conclusions. Once you’ve done so, keep in mind that the conclusion cannot be properly drawn without an additional piece of information. This missing information is the assumption. In other words, there is a gap in the argument, and unless it is filled, so to speak, the conclusion is not valid.

Let’s take a look at the following example:

Maria studied 3 months for the GRE. Therefore she will score in the top 10%.

In this mini-argument, the premise is that Maria studied 3 months. From this a conclusion is drawn: she will score in the top 10%. What is the assumption here? That one only need study for 3 months to score in the top 10%.

Without this assumption, we cannot draw a valid conclusion. The key to answering an assumption question correctly is to identify what is an assumption, and what is not an assumption.

Negating the Assumption

To do so I am going to introduce a technique called Negating the Assumption. The idea is if you take an answer choice and turn it into its opposite form then the conclusion will fall apart. If you negate an answer choice and it does not do anything to the conclusion, then you know that answer choice is not an assumption the argument depends on. Look at the answers below:

  1. Studying for three months automatically means a student will score in the top 10% on the GRE.
  2. Using prep materials is the only way to score in the top 10%.

Let’s negate both of these answer choices to see what happens.

  1. Studying for three months does NOT automatically mean a student will score in the top 10%.
  2. Using prep materials is NOT the only way to score in the top 10%.

By negating (A), the argument falls apart. If studying for three months does not automatically mean scoring in the top 10%, then the conclusion above that Maria will score in the 10% cannot be validly drawn.

By negating (B), we do not affect the conclusion, so we know that answer choice (B) is not an assumption the argument depends on.


Magoosh Practice Question

Now let’s try an actual question from Magoosh. Remember to first identify the premises and conclusion. Next make sure to negate each answer choice. Also, make sure to pick the best answer. Don’t pick an answer because when you negate the assumption the conclusion kind of falls apart. When you negate the answer choice, the conclusion will completely fall apart.

Coursemetrics, a privately owned on-line education platform, recently offered courses targeted to college students. In order to ensure the validity and effectiveness of the video lessons, Coursemetrics selected notable professors from across the country to evaluate the content of the videos. Since Coursemetrics only made part of its curriculum those videos in which more than 80% of the professors rated as “good”, the courses will be popular amongst college students in general.

(E) The courses offered by Coursemetrics are ones in which college students struggle and seek outside help.

Negating the assumption:

The courses offered by Coursemetrics are ones in which college students do NOT struggle and seek outside help.

We can see that once the assumption is negated the paragraph’s conclusion (because college professors rated the program well everybody is going to use it) falls apart.

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39 Responses to GRE Critical Reasoning Question Type: Assumption Questions

  1. Nidhi October 9, 2014 at 2:42 pm #

    In the video regarding this question type, it says to anticipate the assumptions. What is the purpose of anticipating the assumptions? Why not directly negate each of the answer choices?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele October 10, 2014 at 10:22 am #


      Good question! Negating each of the answer choices can be time consuming. Negation is a great technique when you’ve narrowed down the questions to two possible answers. By anticipating the assumption, though it may not necessarily be the exact assumption addressed in the question, you’ll be more likely to spot the correct answer much more quickly. Often, by reading through each answer choice carefully, you are prone to start reinterpreting the prompt, esp. if you never gave that much thought in the first place.

      Hope that helps!

  2. Tuberosa September 24, 2014 at 2:06 am #

    Hi Chris,

    According to the OG, there are no Critical Reasoning question type in the GRE. It’s a GMAT question type. Can you please help me understand why are you talking about this question type in the GRE ?



    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele September 24, 2014 at 3:03 pm #

      Hi Tuberosa,

      On the GRE, the critical reasoning questions are called paragraph arguments. For the longest time, ETS didn’t give them a name and just filed them under Reading Comp. Back then, I used the GMAT term Critical Reasoning to describe the GRE paragraph arguments because they were essentially identical as a question type.

      Hope that helps shed some light 🙂

  3. Karishma May 9, 2014 at 5:37 am #

    Hi Chris,
    I can you please give illustrate how to tackle types of questions of critical reasoning-like you have already did for paradoxes and assumption. Especially bold faced one…thanks a ton!!

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele May 13, 2014 at 10:33 am #

      Hi Karishma,

      Hmm…it seems we don’t have one. So that’s a great idea for a future post. I’ll be sure to include a Bold-faced argument question for a blogpost.

  4. Craig August 29, 2012 at 1:31 pm #

    Hey Chris what about the questions that say this is a theory. The second sentence is a fact. Or this question is something tha t strengthens the argument. Are these those questions?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris August 29, 2012 at 5:03 pm #

      Hi Craig,

      I’m not quite sure I understand what you are asking? Could you rephrase that :)?

      • Craig August 30, 2012 at 1:27 pm #

        Questions that have bolded statements

        • Chris Lele
          Chris September 5, 2012 at 3:34 pm #

          Hi Craig,

          Assumption questions are not the same as bold-faced questions. The latter deal with the structure of the paragraph, and the parts, within that paragraph, that the bold parts play.

          Hope that helps!

  5. anubhav July 13, 2012 at 7:58 am #


    i was wondering if you could tell me some strategy to tackle the RC’s that fall under the social science and arts & literature….

    they are proving to be impeding….it affects the composure….it disturbs the overall flow…
    could you suggest something?

    so awaiting your reply….

    good day… 🙂

    • Chris Lele
      Chris July 13, 2012 at 4:37 pm #

      The social science passages are a bane for many. I think reading artsy stuff from resources such as The New Yorker, The London Review of Books, UK Guardian Art Section will help.

      Of course doing those specific passages in GRE, GMAT, LSAT would help. I think overall these passage are more about big picture meaning and how the paragraphs flow together (what are those few big ideas the author is trying to impart).

      So keep at it, and let me know how it goes :).

  6. anubhav July 11, 2012 at 10:26 pm #

    hello Chris,
    i got your explanation but couldn’t apply it on this example……could you please help me out…..

    Extensive housing construction is underway in
    Pataska Forest, the habitat of a large population of
    deer. Because deer feed at the edges of forests, these
    Line deer will be attracted to the spaces alongside the new
    5 roads being cut through Pataska Forest to serve the
    new residential areas. Consequently, once the
    housing is occupied, the annual number of the forest’s
    deer hit by cars will be much higher than before
    construction started.

    Q. Which of the following is an assumption on which
    the argument depends?
    A The number of deer hit by commercial
    vehicles will not increase significantly when
    the housing is occupied.

    B Deer will be as attracted to the forest edge
    around new houses as to the forest edge
    alongside roads.

    C In years past, the annual number of deer that
    have been hit by cars on existing roads through
    Pataska Forest has been very low.

    D The development will leave sufficient forest to
    sustain a significant population of deer.

    E No deer hunting will be allowed in Pataska
    Forest when the housing is occupied.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris July 12, 2012 at 5:54 pm #

      The assumption here is that ‘edge of the forest’ is the same as ‘edge of the street.’ If deer do not regard the edge of the street the same way do the edge of the forest then they will not congregate here. And the conclusion that they are more likely to be struck by cars will not hold.

      Hope that helps :).

      • anubhav July 13, 2012 at 7:52 am #

        hey Chris,

        that was very helpful…

        thanks….Magoosh GRE blog has been always there to help me out….

        the way you explain the questions is pretty good…

        thanks again…

        • Chris Lele
          Chris July 13, 2012 at 4:31 pm #

          No problem :).

      • anubhav July 15, 2012 at 4:20 am #

        hey Chris,

        they have given the answer as D…..??

        • Chris Lele
          Chris July 18, 2012 at 4:05 pm #

          Oops, I totally jumped the gun on don’t want and neither read answer choice (B) carefully, nor even look at (D).

          (B) says the “forest edge around new houses…”. What I mistakenly interpreted was that deers will think that the road edge is no different from the forest edge. But this answer choice is talking about the forest edge around new houses, which is not quite the same thing.

          The key to answer this question is to focs on the conclusion: the number of deers getting hit by cars will increase.

          (D) gives us an assumption, without which, the conclusion falls apart. If the forest cannot sustain as many deer, then the deer population will plummet. If there are far fewer deers, then there are far fewer deers that will be hit by cars.

          Hope that makes sense, and sorry for any confusion!

          • Harsh June 6, 2015 at 10:59 pm #

            Hi Chris 🙂

            I didn’t quite understand why (D) should be the answer.

            It says: There will be sufficient place for the deer to live in the forest even after the development of houses and roads.

            On negating it means: There will NOT be sufficient place for the deer to live in the forest so they tend to move on to the streets. Eventually, they are prone to get hit by cars.
            And this strengthens the conclusion instead on invalidating it.

            Please help me on this.

            Awaiting reply.

  7. Mark July 2, 2012 at 6:26 pm #

    Thank you Chris your answer help me a lot 🙂

    • Chris Lele
      Chris July 12, 2012 at 5:59 pm #

      I’m happy you found it helpful 🙂

  8. Mark July 2, 2012 at 2:47 am #

    Hello Chris

    The engineering faculty that I applied for , asks 155 for the quantitative section , without mentioning the rest of GRE part sections scores . So my question : does it mean that the rest of sections are not important even if I got low scores?

    thank you very much Chris

    • Chris Lele
      Chris July 2, 2012 at 5:15 pm #

      If you are applying to engineering school, I think you should be okay with a strong quant and a low verbal score, esp. if the school stated as much. At the same time, a candidate who totally blows away the verbal section may stand out over a student who score 135 on Verbal but has the same quant score. Or maybe not.

      Hope that helps 🙂

  9. Apoorv July 1, 2012 at 3:54 pm #

    Hi Chris,

    I am retaking GRE in September . My previous score was 317 and want to improve it to at least 325 + . I have taken the magoosh membership and found it very useful in terms of practice questions.
    I believe , I will be having ample of time after i complete all the magoosh practice questions.

    Kindly suggest me some good practice books,also I am having hard time in solving verbal reasoning questions.


    • Chris Lele
      Chris July 2, 2012 at 5:12 pm #

      Hi Apoorv,

      Beyond Magoosh, the best practice books are MGRE. However, let me qualify that: the Manhattan GRE books provide solid strategies. It is their on-line tests (which come free with purchase of any of their books) that provide helpful practice questions. That is plenty of practice questions, not to mention the 200+ we are soon releasing.

  10. Jay June 30, 2012 at 2:31 pm #

    Hi Chris,

    The negating tool worked really well.

    Thanks 🙂

    • Chris Lele
      Chris July 2, 2012 at 5:10 pm #

      You are welcome 🙂

  11. Komaldevi June 21, 2012 at 2:06 pm #

    Hi, I am having the worst time with RC, which book would you recommend for helping with RC. I start using one book but than still have a hard time. My fear of getting the question wrong is overwhelming.

    Thank you

    • Chris Lele
      Chris June 27, 2012 at 3:17 pm #

      Hi Komaldevi,

      Getting the question wrong is actually part of the learning process. By understand why you missed a question, and why the correct answer is correct, will, over time, mean you are missing fewer and fewer question. So remember: a wrong mistake is simply an opportunity to become even better :).

      For RC sources, which books have you looked at so far?

      • Komaldevi Woelich June 27, 2012 at 10:07 pm #

        Hi Chris,

        Thank you for replying to my question.

        I have all the books! No really! I kinda went a little over zealous on them. I have MGRE, Kaplan, PR, Mac, Barrons. My test is on August the 8th. And I am just really scared of getting the RC completely. wrong. Sometimes it feels like I am understanding the material, and two seconds later, boom! Completely Wrong. I am just so off the mark!

        Maybe you could tell me which book is a good representation of the GRE RC questions? Honestly, it feels like I am bashing my head against the wall!

        P.S. I love your vocab. list. I am doing okay on that.


        • Chris Lele
          Chris June 28, 2012 at 1:33 pm #

          Hi Komaldevi,

          Hmmm….one good strategy to remember is that the wrong answer choices are written in such a way as to seem superficially plausible. Oftentimes a wrong answer is simply the matter of one word in the answer choice that is off.

          Here is a post that elaborates on this issue:

          Then, there are also the Magoosh lesson videos, which are part of product, lessons in which I expand on these concepts:

          As for my write up of sources, take a look at the book reviews (though nothing beats official material):

          Hope that helps!

  12. shuddha June 21, 2012 at 5:42 am #

    Hello Chris,
    Can you kindly give me one more example?I am asking it because I did not understand the point very well and need more clarification.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris June 27, 2012 at 3:15 pm #

      Hi Shuddha,

      As for negating the assumption let’s take another example:

      “Tom is graduating from law school so he will soon be making over 100,000.”

      The assumption is that graduating from law school will automatically mean a person makes over 100K. If we negate this assumption, then the argument above is no longer airtight:

      Graduating from law school does NOT automatically mean a person makes over 100K.

      Hope that helps!

  13. Jenny June 20, 2012 at 10:01 pm #

    Hey Chris,

    Just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate all of the resources Magoosh puts out. The blog along with the youtube videos are a constant supplement to all the practice I’m doing. Thanks so much!

    • Chris Lele
      Chris June 27, 2012 at 3:12 pm #

      Thanks for the kudos Jenny!

  14. Pemdas@BTG June 20, 2012 at 8:42 pm #

    To me, it’s a very unrealistic assumption. I would call this circular reference. This is like saying that a car is black because it is black. Reasoning is introduced like

    argument = Maria studied 3 months –> 10 percentile on GRE
    choice A) = 3-month study –> 10 percentile on GRE.

    Choice A) duplicates/restates evidence, i.e. it employs circular reasoning for the argument. This passage is not complete. To complete it we need another much stronger assumption: “all 10 percentile scorers on GRE throughout several years of an exam administration have reported studying for exactly three months” This is stronger evidence and hinges on studying followed by taking GRE exam, Also, we have the probabilistic theory here involved, which confirms our statement; another way of detracting circular reasoning in arguments.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris June 27, 2012 at 3:12 pm #

      Hi Pemdas,

      I believe (A) only points out an assumption in the argument. Also the word ‘automatically’ is strong, and encompasses anyone who falls into that category. So I’m not quite sure how the argument is circular. Could you elaborate a little :).

  15. Sammy June 20, 2012 at 11:21 am #

    Really astute and educational post
    Thanks, I appreciate the insight from these posts and the fact that they are available at no cost online.
    Keep up the good work!

    • Chris Lele
      Chris June 20, 2012 at 3:28 pm #

      Hi Sammy,

      You are welcome!

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