How to Master Critical Reading Questions
When I was a kid, all I wanted was a cool mono-syllabic last name. People would fumble through my clunky last name and inevitably layer some hybrid of odd accents in all of the wrong places. I just wanted to play lacrosse and hear “Go Capps” or “Go Carp!” Since I couldn’t change my name, I wished for a good nickname instead because let’s be honest, that can be even cooler. But you can’t pick your nickname, so I ended up getting labeled “JC” (my initials). When you go to a Catholic high school and your nickname is a shared reference with Jesus Christ, you’re not exactly striking fear in the hearts of your opponents. I should’ve been aggressive and spoken up, but I wanted to fit in so it stuck.
Chances are, you’ve spent a fair amount of time on Critical Reasoning. You’re really good at identifying the conclusion and eliminating easy trap answer choices. But then you get stuck between 2 or 3 choices and start rationalizing. You find an answer choice that’s so far off that it might just be right, or you find one that doesn’t sound relevant so it’s probably wrong … right? Or wrong.
To be a true master of Critical Reasoning, you have to attack the answer choices. The stimulus is going to be the key to your CR success or failure. Just skimming isn’t going to be enough. As you read, be ready to be overly critical of the answer choices. Focus on finding a weakness and identifying the answer choice that best supports your conclusion. It’s not always going to be clear. You may see some of the same words in the answer choice and think it’s a trap, or maybe the right answer. Attack those answer choices by actively looking for the same words in the stimulus and answer choice and looking for logical relationships (or lack thereof).
Other answer choices may seem irrelevant from the start. They might include a seemingly unrelated statistic or fact that causes you to think it’s not even worth reading the rest of the statement. Don’t stop before you reach the end of the statement. If you understand the argument and its weakness, you’ll be able to identify what you need to strengthen or weaken it further, and that key information may be buried in the second half of the sentence. Just like the high schooler who obsessively wants playing time on the varsity squad, don’t get so distracted by the conclusion that you overlook the distracters (which are almost always intentionally and strategically placed where you’re least likely to look for them).
Finally, make sure you deconstruct the sentence. It’s easy to get lost in complicated sentence structure and cascading clauses. To simplify things, take the same approach that you would in sentence correction by identifying some of the irrelevant filler. Be careful to still actively and keep crucial information, but sifting through and eliminating some of the fluff should help you navigate more complicated statements.
So as you tackle Critical Reasoning, remember to attack and don’t let the answers sway you one way or another. Listen to Nike and the cheerleaders on the sideline: Just do it. Be aggressive.