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Introduction to GMAT Critical Reasoning

GMAT Critical Reasoning is a question type found in the GMAT Verbal section. In CR questions, the prompt presents some sort of argument. Then you need to analyze the argument—for example, by strengthening it, weakening it, finding its underlying assumption, etc.  You’ll find around 13 Critical Reasoning questions in the GMAT Verbal section.

Although you you do have to read a prompt in GMAT Critical Reasoning, CR tests your thinking skills more than your reading skills. The argument prompt is typically less than 100 words, much shorter than a Reading Comprehension passage, and there’s always only a single question on the Critical Reasoning argument.  Critical Reasoning makes up roughly 1/3 of the Verbal Section, about 13 Critical Reasoning questions of the total of 41 Verbal Questions.

After some discussion, this post features GMAT Critical Reasoning practice questions below.

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Why does the GMAT ask Critical Reasoning questions?

You are preparing for the GMAT, which ostensibly means you are planning on attending business school, and this in turn suggests that you are anticipating a management career in some aspect of the business world.  The entire business world runs on buying and selling: even if you are not a salesperson yourself, the success of your business, in a sense the raison d’etre of the business, depends on the money it will make from sales.

In its essence, every sale is an argument.  If I want to sell you something, I have to convince you to buy it.   If I make a wonderfully cogent argument, I may well generate the sale.  If my argument is faulty, and I repeat this pattern, that can only mean bad things for the long-term financial well-being of my business.

Every sale is an argument, but that’s just where the arguments in the business world start.  How does your company decide whether one strategy or policy is better than another? What motivates your company to buy from a supplier?  What motivates your customers to continue buying from you? What concerns does your insurance company have about your company? What concerns do your company’s investors have?  All of these important points, and many more, will be settled by arguments.

A typical manager has to deal with arguments from all quarter all day.  An effective manager has to be skilled at deciding: how would I strengthen or weaken this argument?  what is the assumption of this argument?  what further evidence would I need to evaluate this argument?  In other words, a real-life manager needs to apply all the skills required for Critical Reasoning on the GMAT.  Arguments are very important in business, and the skill of evaluating arguments is one that every manager should cultivate.  That’s precisely why business schools want you to bone up on it, which is why the GMAT asks about it in Critical Reasoning questions.

The 8 Types of CR Questions

Step one of the general strategy for GMAT Critical Reasoning is: read the question before reading the argument.  Know which type of question you are going to have to answer, and read the argument with that question in mind.  The eight broad categories of GMAT Critical Reasoning questions are

1) weaken the argument/find the flaw in the argument

2) strengthen the argument

3) find the assumption (know the Negation Test)

4) draw inference/conclusion

5) structure of the argument, including boldface structure questions and dialogue structure questions

6) paradox

7) evaluate the conclusion

8 ) complete the argument

Types #1-4 account for approximately 75% of all GMAT CR questions.  You can find out more about each one of these types at those linked blog articles and in the CR video series in the Magoosh product.  The basic idea is: when you know what you need to do, you will be reading the argument with that in mind.

Know What You’re Looking For

In all Critical Reasoning questions, the GMAT gives one correct answer and four tempting and potentially confusing statements for the other choices.  Folks who read the argument & question and then wander aimlessly into the answer choices without any further thought are asking to be perplexed, and, chances are, they spend much longer than necessary on many Critical Reasoning questions.

Go into the question with an idea of what you seek.  For types #1-3, the best thing to do is to find the assumption of the argument — reaffirming or undercutting the assumption of an argument is the most powerful way to strengthen or weaken it. Finding the assumption may also be helpful in find the flaw of the argument (if the flaw is a faulty assumption).

For the other question types, you will be less able to predict what the answer will be; still, formulating the task in your own words will help you.  In your own words, what is the structure of the argument? What is the paradox that needs to be resolved? What kind of information would be required to evaluate the conclusion? etc.  The more clearly you understand what type of information or argument will satisfy the question, the more quickly you will find it.

If you can integrate these strategies, you will be able to crack GMAT Critical Reasoning questions faster and more accurately.



GMAT Critical Reasoning Practice Questions

Here is a collection of ten Critical Reasoning practice questions. 


1) In order to combat Carville’s rampant homeless problem, Mayor Bloomfield recently proposed a ban on sleeping outdoors in the city’s many parks. He claims that such a measure will force the homeless to either leave Carville or to find means other than sleeping in public parks.

Which of the following, if true, suggests that Mayor Bloomfield’s plan will be successful?

(A) Until the ban, the city’s many homeless shelters were at less than fifty percent occupancy.

(B) Many homeless tend to congregate underneath Carville’s numerous overpasses.

(C) Adjacent cities have even tougher measures on the homeless sleeping outdoors.

(D) The percent of Carville’s population that has been homeless has been slowly decreasing in the last five years.

(E) Mayor Jonesmith, Mayor Bloomfield’s predecessor, had been far more tolerant towards the city’s homeless population.


2) Megalimpet is a nationwide owner of office space.  They have major office buildings in the downtowns of several cities in the 48 lower states, and rent this space to individual companies.  Megalimpet office spaces vary from small office to large suites, and every space has custom-designed wall-to-wall carpeting.  The carpet in several Megalimpet facilities needed replacing.  The winning bid for the nationwide carpet replacement was submitted by Bathyderm Carpet Company (BCC).  The bid contract involves all delivery costs, all installation, and any ongoing maintenance and upkeep while the carpet is under the three-year warranty.  Both BCC executives and independent consultants they hired felt BCC would be able to perform all these services for far less than their bid price; these circumstances would allow BCC to reap a considerable profit.

Which of the following, if true, most calls in question the argument that BCC will make a large profit from this contract with Megalimpet?

(A) All the carpets will have to be transported by train from BCC factory in Louisville, KY, to Megalimpet’s locations from coast to coast.

(B) BCC has already supplied carpets to a number of restaurant chains, and some of those spaces are as large as Megalimpet’s largest office spaces.

(C) The carpet installation teams will have to cut different sizes of the carpets for the different size office suites in the Megalimpet buildings.

(D) The material in BCC carpets degrades rapidly when it comes into contact with standard toner, found in most laser printers and photocopiers; the degraded sections are unsightly and smell bad, so they often need to be replaced.

(E) The next competing bid after BCC’s was 50% higher than BCC’s bid


3) A minor league baseball franchise experienced a drop in attendance this week after they suffered three losses by margins of ten runs or more last week.  Many spectators of those games wrote letters to the editors of the local sporting news, complaining of the poor play of the team in those three losses.  Nevertheless, the front office of this baseball franchise maintains that the team’s poor play in those three losses has nothing to do with this week’s decline in attendance.

Which of the following, if true, most strongly supports the position held by the front office of the baseball franchise?

(A) The spectators who wrote letters to the local sporting news were long-standing fans of this minor league baseball team.

(B) Many minor league baseball franchises attribute a drop in attendance to the quality of play of the team only after a string of losses.

(C) Other minor league teams in that region of the state reported a similar drop in attendance this week.

(D) This was not the first time this team suffered multiple lopsided losses in a single week, prompting similar letters to the local sporting news.

(E) This minor league team is over four hours from the closest major league team, so many of the minor league team’s fans do not often attend major league games.


4) In a few recent cases, some teenagers with advanced programming abilities used a new programming language, FANTOD, to hack into ETS and change their own SAT scores.  All of the teenagers convicted of this crime were highly skilled in programming FANTOD.  In light of these cases, some colleges have discounted the official SAT scores of applicants with a knowledge of FANTOD, and have required them to take special admission tests in supervised conditions on their own campuses.

Which of following conclusions can most properly be drawn from the information above?

(A) Most people who learn to program in FANTOD do so to commit some kind of hacking.

(B) Colleges should rely on their own admissions tests instead of the SATs

(C) The college admission process possibly places some students with knowledge of FANTOD at a disadvantage.

(D) Students who learn FANTOD tend to have much lower SAT scores than do their peers.

(E) Not all colleges requiring special admissions tests have administered these tests under supervised conditions.


5) In the twentieth century, the visual arts have embarked on major experimentation, from cubism to expressionism.  While tastes always vary, there are certainly some people who find beautiful objects of each of the art movements of the first half of the twentieth century.  In the latter half of the twentieth century, though, most works are so abstract or shocking that neither the critic nor the general public uses the word “beautiful” to describe them: indeed, sometimes late twentieth-century artists have, as one of their expressed goals, the creation of a work that no one could find beautiful.  Whatever these artists are creating may be intellectually engaging at some level, but it is no longer art.

Which of the following is an assumption that supports drawing the conclusion above from the reasons given for that conclusion?

(A) Art critics generally have a different appraisal of a work of art than does the general public.

(B) The meaning of any work of art is defined entirely by the ideas of the artist who created it.

(C) Beauty is a defining quality of art.

(D) All art movements of the latter half of the twentieth century are responses to the movements of the first half of the century.

(E) It is not possible for any work to be simultaneously beautiful and intellectually engaging.


6) The National Farm Administration (NFA) has been concerned over the last decade with the struggles of barley growers.

Plan: In an effort to support these barley growers, two years ago, the NFA began a program of sending them, each autumn, a free special mix of fertilizer and enzymes designed to multiply barley yield, to be applied the following spring during first growth.  This mix had been stunningly successful in multiplying the yield of barley in laboratory conditions.

Results: Most barley growers reported little change in their economic status over this two year period.

Further information: All barley growers received the shipments, and all used them.  Weather conditions have been fair to optimal for barley growth over the past two years.

In light of the further information, which of the following, if true, does most to explain the result that followed the implementation of the plan?

(A) During these two years, most of the barley growers reported using no other fertilizer besides the special mix sent by the government.

(B) The trucks that drove the special mix from the depot in Wisconsin to the individual farms sometime took as much as 4 or 5 days.

(C) Some of the enzymes in the special mix multiply the growth of a bacteria that feeds on the young barley plants.

(D) This program was implemented at a time when more than half of barley growers nationwide were reported barely breaking even in their yearly expenses.

(E) This was the second such NFA program to aid barley growers; the first one, 14 years ago, was started with high hopes, but did little to change their situation.


7) When, on a particular shopping trip, a consumer purchases an item which he previously had no intention of purchasing, this sale is called an “impulse purchase.”  The objects of impulse purchases are occasionally essential items (i.e. items that satisfy basic subsistence needs), but much more frequently are luxury or non-essential items.  Researchers have determined that, at the end of a shopping trip, a consumer is much more excited if she has bought a luxury item on an impulse purchase, than if she had made no impulse purchases.

If the information above is true, and if the researchers’ investigation was properly conducted, then which of the following must also be true?

(A) The impulse purchase of a luxury or non-essential item is more exciting than the impulse purchase of an essential need.
(B) A consumer who, for whatever reason, is not able to purchase an item she had planned to buy is necessarily disappointed.
(C) Consumers seeking a high level of excitement often make impulse purchases.
(D) The researcher had a reliable way to determine whether the consumer had planned to buy the luxury or non-essential item he purchased on that trip.
(E) The probability that a consumer makes an impulse purchase of an item decreases the price of the item increases.


8) Over the past ten years, the population of Dismaston 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:

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


9)  Archeologists have discovered three sites showing conclusive evidence for the mastery of fire in Tanzania, from a period slightly after the time that Homo habilis was present in Africa.  These sites clearly were founded by Homo erectus, the descendent species of Homo habilis that migrated north, out of Africa and into Asia. Homo erectus was known to have mastered fire, from ample evidence at sites in Asia.  There is no reason to attribute mastery of fire to Homo ergaster, the descendent species of Homo habilis that remained in Africa.

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

(A) Before their migration, Homo erectus occupied African territory as far south as Tanzania.
(B) The strain of migration provided the selective pressure motivating Homo erectus‘ mastery  of fire.
(C) Homo ergaster would not have derived as much benefit from the mastery of fire as did Homo erectus.
(D) Homo ergaster inherited all cultural knowledge from Homo habilis, a species that did not have mastery of fire.
(E) Homo ergaster did not occupy regions as far south as Tanzania until well after the time of these three sites.


10) Five years ago, the town of Bayside, in the Katonic River Valley, had catastrophic flooding one spring, and consequently, most insurers now refuse to write flood insurance for houses in Bayside.  The town of Dryadia, in the Phemptic River Valley, is much like Bayside in its proximity to a similar river at an almost identical point in the river valley.   We can conclude that the only reason the same insurers do not write flood insurance for houses in Dryadia either is its similarity to Bayside in terms of where it is situated in the river valley.

Which of the following, if true, would most seriously undermine the argument?

(A) A small number of independent insurers will write flood insurance for at least some houses in each of the two towns.
(B) It is hard for an homeowner to buy flood insurance if a large proportion of other houses in the same town have been flooded in recent years.
(C) In many other towns in the Katonic River Valley, it is hard for home-owners to buy flood insurance.
(D) The town of Dryadia has some flooding most springs.
(E) Flooding from spring surges in rivers is only one of the ways in which a home can become flooded.

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Practice Question Explanations

For the first six GMAT Critical Reasoning practice question, follow the link.  Re-enter your answer and submit it, and the subsequent page will have a full video explanation.








For the last four practice questions, the explanations are given in the text here.


7) The credited answer is choice (D).  If the researcher was able to conclude anything about how an impulse purchase made someone feel, then the researcher first had to know that it was an impulse purchase, that is, that the purchase was not planned.  If the researcher had no way to determine whether a purchase was planned or unplanned, then the researcher would have no way of determining which purchases were impulse purchases.

We know the consumer find the impulse purchase of a luxury item more exciting than the planned purchases.  We don’t necessarily know how exciting the impulse purchase of an essential need is—maybe it’s less exciting than the impulse purchase of a luxury item, or maybe it’s just as exciting.  We suspect from real life that this may be true, but we cannot determine this from information in the prompt, so it can’t be the answer to a “must be true question.” Thus, choice (A) is incorrect.

We only know about the excitement brought about by an impulse purchase of a luxury item, but we have no information about what happens if a purchase is planned but not made. Choice (B) inappropriate extends the pattern into situations the prompt doesn’t cover at all.  Choice (B) is incorrect.

We know that the impulse purchase of a luxury item is exciting, but we don’t know whether this is sufficient inducement for a person seeking excitement to make this kind of purchase frequently.  The expense, for example, might be a mitigating factor.  We can conclude nothing for certain about this, so choice (C) is incorrect.

This is a tempting one—we certainly might suspect that the luxury items of higher price would be bought as impulse purchases less frequently.  We might suspect this, but notice that the prompt says nothing about high price vs. low price items.   This answer choice invites us to bring in irrelevant outside knowledge, so, like (A), it can’t be the answer to a “must be true question.”  Choice (E) is incorrect.


8) This is an EXCEPT question.  Four of the answer will be perfectly valid explanations, and these will be incorrect.  One of the answers will not be good explanation—either it will be irrelevant, or it may even suggest a rise instead of a decline; this oddball choice will be the correct answer.

The credited answer is (B).  The new filing system, in essence, never misses the report of a violent crime.  This at least implies that perhaps the previous filing system missed some violent crimes on occasion—for whatever reason, some violent crimes that took place slipped through the cracks and failed to be reported.  Well, if we were not reporting everything before, and are reporting everything now, if anything this might suggest an increase in the number of reported violent crimes.  It most certainly would not, by itself, explain a decrease.  This is not in any way a good explanation, so this the correct answer.

We know, over the past decade, “the average income in the city has risen substantially” and “a tremendous amount of capital has flowed into city,” both of which indicate conditions of prosperity.  Therefore, according to choice (A), white-collar crimes would increase, and street-crimes would decrease, with a concomitant drop in violent crimes.  Choice (A) is a valid explanation, so it’s an incorrect answer.

If the state kept convicts in jail longer, that would mean fewer of them would be back out on the streets committing felonies, most of which are violent.  Therefore, it would lead to a drop in the number of violent crimes.  Choice (C) is a valid explanation, so it’s an incorrect answer.

Better police and better crime detection means more arrests and fewer violent crimes.  Therefore, it would lead to a drop in the number of violent crimes.  Choice (D) is a valid explanation, so it’s an incorrect answer.

Better lighting at night and security cameras have some effect in reducing crime.   Choice (E) is a valid explanation, so it’s an incorrect answer.


9) Remains of prehistoric fire were found in Tanzania.  The author says that Homo erectus made these fires, and that there’s no reason to assume Homo ergaster did.  What is a necessary assumption?

The credited answer is choice (A).  Homo erectus had to be as far south as Tanzania—if they were not, there would be no way they could have made those fires there, which would seem to indicate that Homo ergaster made them after all.  Negating this statement devastates the argument, which is a confirmation that we have an assumption.

Whatever might have caused Homo erectus to master fire doesn’t clarify who made those fires in Tanzania: Homo erectus or Homo ergaster?  Choice (B) is not correct.

Suppose Homo ergaster would have derived as much benefit from the master of fire as did the Homo erectus, or even more benefit.  That fact, by itself, would imply nothing about which one of these species created those fires in Tanzania. Denying this doesn’t change the validity of the argument.  Choice (C) is not correct.

Choice (D) is intriguing, because it may be true.  Both Homo erectus and Homo ergaster evolved from Homo habilis, so it’s quite likely that the Homo habilis was the sole source of cultural knowledge for either of these species.  BUT, we know that Homo erectus, presumably without the benefit of cultural knowledge about fire, was able to master fire.  If Homo erectus did that, why couldn’t Homo ergaster? In other words, the limits of the cultural knowledge inherited does not necessarily set limits on what these human species could achieve.   Therefore, we can draw no conclusion with respect to this argument.   Choice (D) is not correct.

If Choice (E) were true, it would support the argument, but a supporting statement is not necessarily an assumption.  We have to use the Negation Test.  Suppose Homo ergaster was all over in Tanzania, before & during & after the time that those fires were created.   Would that prove Homo ergaster started those fires?  Not necessarily.  It could still be true that both Homo ergaster and Homo erectus occupied that region, that only the latter had mastered fire, and therefore, that the later had to start those fires in Tanzania.  Thus, we can deny choice and it doesn’t necessarily contradict the argument.   Therefore, it is not an assumption.  Choice (E) is not correct.


10) The credited answer is choice (D).  If the town of Dryadia really does flood, then that’s the reason insurers won’t write flood insurance for it!  Therefore, the “only reason” cannot be “its similarity to Bayside in terms of where it is situated in the river valley.”  Choice (D), if true, obliterates the argument, so this is the best answer.

The argument say that “most insurers” don’t write flood insurance in either town, but if most don’t, this implies that some do.  Therefore, choice (A) is actually expected from the argument and does not challenge it at all.  Choice (A) is incorrect.

Choice (B) would not be surprising, and could be perfectly consistent with the argument.  We know Bayside had “catastrophic flooding“, but we don’t know for a fact that every single house was flooded—maybe or maybe not.  If some houses were not flooded, it sounds as if the insurers don’t write flood insurance for any house in Bayside, so even those houses that never flooded could not buy flood insurance.  Therefore, this would validate (B) without threatening the argument in any way.  Choice (B) is incorrect.

Choice (C) is irrelevant.  Even if no resident in absolutely any other town up and down the Katonic River Valley can buy flood insurance, that doesn’t necessarily shed light on why folks in a town in a completely different river valley can’t buy insurance.  Choice (C) is incorrect.

Choice (E) is too general and vague.  Yes, perhaps there are many ways a house can be flooded, and correspondingly, perhaps there are many reasons why an insurer would deny any particular house flood insurance.  Even if this is true, it doesn’t shed any light on exactly why the folks in Dryadia have trouble getting flood insurance.  Choice (E) is suggestive, but it doesn’t actually tell us anything.  Choice (E) is incorrect.


Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in April, 2012, and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.


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