How to Start a Critical Reasoning Question

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There is a debate in the LSAT and GMAT communities about where to start a critical reasoning question (the LSAT calls them logical reasoning, but everything I say holds true for both). One camp holds that you should start by reading the paragraph of information (usually an argument). The other says that you should start by reading the question before doubling back to read the argument. I’m amazed the argument even exists.

Imagine if they released the “Where’s Waldo?” books without a title. Here’s a massive jumble of people. That’s nice. After you’ve spent a couple minutes looking at the page, someone tells you that you are supposed to be looking for Waldo. Sure, there’s a chance you stumbled upon Waldo when you were looking at everything else, but there’s a much greater chance that you spent your time focusing on a whole lot of other irrelevant things.

Read the question first. It allows you to focus on the correct things and to figure out what’s important and what isn’t. And that’s even more relevant because not all critical reasoning questions ask about the same thing. Some tell you that an argument is coming and ask you to figure out what would strengthen it. Some tell you an argument is coming and ask you to find a flaw. Some tell you there’s no argument, just a set of facts and ask you to find what must be true. Knowing which of the question types you’re going to get allows to focus on the proper approach to the problem, filter out the irrelevant information and find Waldo much more effectively.