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GMAT Verbal: Can You Really Improve Your Critical Reasoning?

Conventional GMAT wisdom suggests that you should spend the majority of your time preparing for the Quantitative section. The reasoning behind this claim is largely valid: The Quantitative section tests mathematical reasoning in a highly nuanced way, and before you can even begin to learn and recognize these nuances, you need to brush up on the basic mathematical content that appears on the exam. All told, re-learning the content and then learning how to apply it on GMAT-style questions can sometimes take months. Point granted.

However, because the Quant seems so “foreign” and the Verbal questions so familiar, test-takers adopt the mistaken view that they just need to throw in a sampling of Verbal questions to make sure that their Verbal skills don’t become too rusty. The logic is usually some variant of the following: Well, I read all the time at work and for pleasure, and I can hold my own in an argument, so what is there to “study” or “learn”?

And here’s the issue: Aside from learning certain logical principles that you might not be familiar with (the contrapositive, correlation versus causation, etc.), there is not much content to learn for Critical Reasoning. But this fact does not mean that you can simply use your pre-existing reading and analytical skills to master Verbal. Performing well on Critical Reasoning requires a highly disciplined and systematic way of approaching the arguments and answer choices, and unless you’ve taken the LSAT or majored in Philosophy, it’s unlikely that you haveĀ explicit familiarity with this approach. You might have an intuitive idea of how to identify claim of an argument, but when the argument is very dense and you don’t have obvious triggers such as “thus” and “therefore,” are you still able to identify that claim? When you look at the choices, do you find yourself mistakenly selecting an answer that attacks or supports the premises instead of theĀ link between premises and conclusion? When you tackle an Assumption question, do you have a technique for double-checking whether your answer is correct? All of these are essential skills for Critical Reasoning, but many test-takers neglect them because they incorrectly assume they can perform well simply by reading the arguments and choices the way they would read a book or textbook, if only more carefully. Now, this isn’t all to say that you can improve your Critical Reasoning by leaps-and-bounds if you implement these steps. But if you want to see gains in both the Quant and Verbal section (which you should, since the GMAT algorithm rewards balance across sections), then you’d be well-advised to make sure that you have a methodical and systematic strategy for attacking Critical Reasoning arguments and answer choices.


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