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 I: Critical Reasoning Introduction

In this chapter, you'll learn how to think properly using rules of logic and how to find errors in reasoning like circular argumentation and faulty analogy. We'll teach you how to quickly identify logical flaws, evaluate the strength of an argument and determine its validity.

This section will help you with the 12-14 critical reasoning questions in the Verbal section and
many of these strategies will prove useful in the Analysis of Argument section.

Introduction to Critical Reasoning

Critical Reasoning questions are broken into a passage, a stem and the answer choices.

Let's look at an example:
 The postal service of Fairfield is badly mismanaged. Thirty years ago first-class letter delivery cost only three cents. The price has increased sevenfold since then and the reliability and speed has declined as well. This is the passage, what you read to start the question. All of the following would tend to weaken the conclusion of the argument above EXCEPT: This is the stem, which sets up the question. Be on the lookout for words like "EXCEPT". The volume of mail handled by the postal service has increased dramatically over the last thirty years. Unprecedented increases in the cost of fuel for trucks and planes have put severe upward pressures on postal delivery costs. Private delivery services usually charge more than the postal service does for comparable delivery services. The average delivery time for a first-class letter three decades ago was slightly longer than it is today. The average level of consumer prices overall has increased fourfold over the last thirty years These are the answer choices. Most of these should be easy to eliminate.

This is the 6-step method to attack most critical reasoning questions. LSAT Center's Critical Reasoning Techniques are designed to be easy-to-use and intuitive.

Step 1: Identify the argument
Read the passage and try to identify the argument consisting of premise and conclusion. Is it an argument? What is going on? Do any assumptions pop out? Put it into your own words. Read critical reading questions actively and examine the implications of every sentence.

Step 2: Read the stem
Find out specifically what the question is asking for and apply it to the question.

Step 3: Develop a vague idea of the right answer
If necessary, re-read the passage to examine it more carefully and then put it into your own words relating to what the stem wants.

Don't overdo this step. Remember that one of the five choices must be right, so they will provide hints about the right answer. So, if you hit a brick wall, the answer choices can sometimes provide clues (just don't prematurely fall for trap choices).

Step 4: Move on to the answer choices.
If you have an idea of what the answer is, start running through the answer choices and you'll probably find something similar.

Step 5: Process of Elimination (POE)
Eliminate choices and then pick the best answer. Choice A may be a good answer, but Choice E may be a better answer. This means that you should read all the choices before making a decision. Usually, you can narrow it down to one or two options. As a rule, your first strong hunch is usually the right answer.

Step 6: Double Check
If you are doing well as far as time, take a moment to double check your answer.

 The "Stem First" controversy If you noticed above, we tell you to read the passage first and then the stem second in a natural order. Many test prep companies tell you to read the stem first, then the passage. This does make some sense: if you read the stem first you can then read the passage with an eye towards what the question wants. There are several problems, however, with this "stem first" technique: For most advanced students, they can read the passage and have a rough idea what the question wants before even getting to the stem. If you have taken hundreds of practice questions, you can see the patterns. It is distracting to have to bounce from the stem back up to the passage. You are putting the stem into short term memory. This process can be awkward and distracting because you are asking your brain to hold this bit of data while trying to process a complex argument. Obviously, you are the test taker and the decision is yours to make. Try both approaches and see what works for you.

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