These are the Critical Reasoning questions on the GMAT and the Logical Reasoning questions on the LSAT. Indeed, the approach to the short reading comprehension passages on the GRE should be approached blending the Arguments and Reading Comprehension question approaches. There is no equivalent question type on the SAT.
Important: If you are taking the LSAT, arguments are 50% of the test. Games and Reading Comprehension are each 25%. TestSmashing Arguments is the most valuable thing you can do to up your LSAT score. Not to mention there is a lot of spillover between Arguments and RC. Games are the strangest (and most fun) part of the LSAT, so they often suck up most of the attention of LSAT studiers. This is a mistake. If you can avoid that temptation, you are ahead of the game already.
Okay, ‘nough warm up. How to smash arguments:
1. Read the question stem first. A lot of prep companies spend a lot of time categorizing the question types in elaborate ways, and that isn’t a terrible thing to do, but I also think it isn’t the most important thing to worry about. I would, however, write one of three things down on the test next to the question (or on scratch paper for the GMAT): DESTROY, SUPPORT, DESCRIBE. Or symbols that are meaningful, like X, (check), ~. (Spending time writing lots out is not the TestSmasher way, unless it is necessary.)
2. Read the argument with one main purpose: which bit of the argument fits into which slot? There are two slots: Premise and Conclusion. They take the form, Premise: A is X. Conclusion: Therefore, B must be Y. In other words, there is a statement of fact (the premise) and then a statement about something else that must also be true (conclusion) because of the original fact. The order in which these items come is not consistent. Sometimes the conclusion comes first. It is very important to know which is which.
3. Do. Not. Ever. Engage. The substance of the argument is irrelevant. The truth in the real world is irrelevant. This is how people get snookered on arguments.
4. If you wrote down DESCRIBE on your paper, you are done. Look at the answer choices and, like in reading comp, prove that every word in your answer choice describes what is happening in whatever part of the argument you have been asked to describe.
5. Otherwise, you have to figure out the mechanism by which the author of the argument got from Premise to Conclusion. Unless the argument is:
A is X. Therefore, A is X.
(and very, very occasionally, you will see an argument that is a tautology like the one above) there is an Assumption involved in the argument.
6. The key to most argument questions is realizing that there is only a small set of structures to the arguments. If you can see past the substance and the crappy writing style, you’ll learn that there are maybe 5 or 6 arguments on the tests. Once you are able to see that, identify the class of argument, know how the correct answer is structured, you have smashed Arguments!!!
Some of the underlying structures are:
A is X. Therefore, B is X. Answer choice deals with the question: Is A = B?
A is X. Therefore, A is Y. Answer choice deals with the question: Does X imply Y?
There are a handful of these structures, and the prevalence and flavor are somewhat different between the LSAT and GMAT. You should find a way to characterize the structures in a way that is meaningful to you, and your study time on arguments should be about noting and understanding the structure of arguments.
7. Which word did you write down? If you wrote DESTROY, and the argument is such that the answer choice deals with the question of, Is A=B?, then you look for an answer choice that says “B is not the same as A.” If you wrote SUPPORT, the correct answer would be “B is indeed the same as A,” at least for the purposes of the argument.
8. Double check that you executed the correct action on the argument. The other way people get snookered is that they DESTROY instead of SUPPORT or vice versa. This usually happens when they ask you to DESTROY a sensible argument or SUPPORT a really stupid one. If you are not engaged with the substance of what you are reading, you won’t make this mistake as much.
Note: One frequent question type is “What assumption does the argument rely upon?” This sounds DESCRIBE-y, but, since it deals with the assumption it isn’t. Whether it is DESTROY or SUPPORT depends a bit on your temperament. TestSmashing makes me snarky, so I like to think of identifying the assumptions as an act of destruction. Some of you may feel more nurturing than me, and see identifying assumptions as a road to supporting the argument by making it stronger. So interpret the question in the way that speaks to your perspective, but in the end the answer will always be “the argument assumes A = B” or “the argument assumes that X implies Y.”
How do you know you have smashed Arguments, once and for all?
Well, you’ll get them 100% correct, all the time. I mean 100%. Not 80% or 90%. And, you will start to weird yourself out, since you’ll read the argument, have a pretty good idea of what the correct answer will say, and read the answer choices only to realize you predicted the exact wording of one of the answer choices. That should scare you, because answer choices that sing to you are often traps, but if you are test smashing arguments in particular, you will know what the right answer should say almost to the word. Of course, sometimes they will choose a bizarre route to the right answer. Sort of like “X doesn’t imply Y when aliens invade,” but you should, by now, recognize that indeed it is true that X doesn’t imply Y when aliens invade, this is the form of answer I am looking for, therefore this must be right, bizarro though it may be.
I’ll do some worked examples in subsequent posts.