Tips for Critical Reasoning in CAT (and GMAT)

Assumption – Argument – Conclusion map

Choose variables and write down the main argument that has been drawn in the passage. It might not be a single argument but an argument map (A leads to B and B leads to C etc.).

Once you have carefully analysed and listed down all the arguments carefully read the question – does it ask you for an answer that would weaken the argument or does it ask you to choose an option that strengthens the argument (or validates it/ supports it etc.). In some cases, you might also be asked to look for a conclusion that can be drawn from the passage. A useful technique here is to dumb down the argument by simplifying it and making it easier to understand.

Before you look at the options, analyse the argument map and identify flaws if any or missing gaps. Now if an answer option supports this ‘gap’ it will weaken the argument. On the other hand if an answer option fills up this gap, or provides some information that can help you plug the loopholes in the given argument then you are looking at an answer that strengthens the argument.

But remember DO NOT draw inferences or conclusions before reading the options. This almost always works negatively – it might lead to a sort of a bias based on your own personal opinions and might lead you to choosing the incorrect answer.

The same holds true for assumptions – we often make assumptions based on our personal biases – it is always advisable to look at the answer options to decide what are the basic assumptions necessary to arrive at the argument/conclusion mentioned in the passage.

Difference between Inferences and Conclusions

These are very common questions in CAT where the candidate is asked to identify an inference or a conclusion based on the argument provided.

There is a very subtle difference between an inference and a conclusion. A conclusion is very specific to the argument that is given in the passage, while an inference is more generic and more generally applicable. Let’s take a very basic example:

Argument: When lions are injected with certain specific chemicals (X and Y) they start showing erratic and overly aggressive behaviour.

Inference – Chemical injections are not good for lions’ behavioural patterns.

Conclusion – If particular chemicals X and Y are given to the lions they will always behave aggressively.

These examples above might not be absolutely correct and watertight but they give a general idea about the difference between an inference and a conclusion.

Another important difference (that is easier to identify) – Conclusions might or might not be stated in the passage (directly or indirectly), but an inference is never stated in the passage and is almost never directly related to what is said in the passage (it is more of a generic statement that covers the argument made in the passage).

Pay attention to exceptions and additions

In the passage itself the author might make additions and exceptions to the argument. For example, the use of word ‘specifically’ or ‘especially’ might introduce a specific example. The usage of the phrase “In addition to” might be for introducing an additional/condition. On the other hand, the phrase “despite that” or “while that is true” might be used to make a counter point or a concession to the given argument.

Continuing in the same vein, ‘thus’, is often used to summarize the passage while ‘hence’ and ‘therefore’ are used to present conclusions to the entire argument or a part of it.

Once you identify these keywords, your assumption-argument-conclusion map will become much more refined and help you answer the question much more easily and with a higher accuracy.


Deepak Nanwani is the co-founder of MyPrepMate.com, an online adaptive solution for GMAT, and CAT prep with focus on comprehensive test analytics. An alumnus of IIT Guwahati & IIM Bangalore, he is a master strategist for all competitive exams.

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