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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.


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