<<go back to table of contents

Critical Reasoning
Print out for easier use

This section is divided into two parts:
I. Six Principles for Critical Reasoning Questions
II. The Seven Main Types of Critical Reasoning Questions

 

I. Six Principles for Critical Reasoning Questions   
    
Critical Reasoning questions typically involve an argument. To address Critical Reasoning questions, you must learn how to analyze logical arguments.

A. Learn how to identify arguments
B. Types of arguments
C. Putting it into your own words
D. Evaluate an argument
E. Evaluate an argument's strength and validity
F. Get an idea of the right answer
G. Don't fall for traps from test writers


A. Learn how to identify arguments

     Is the text an argument? An argument here doesn't mean a dispute or controversy. It means an attempt to provide a reason for believing something by citing something else. It is an attempt to show that something is true, or probably true, by appealing to something else, some reason or evidence, which indicates that it is true.

The following text includes an argument:

New evidence shows that the AIDS virus may not be as lethal as it has been thought to be and that some people may be able to develop a defense against it. The evidence involves an appreciable number of people who have been HIV positive for many years (some of them for twelve years or more). Lab tests show that the virus is present in their blood. But they have not developed any symptoms of AIDS. They continue to be in good health and show no signs of developing the disease. Some researchers estimate that as many as 5% of those infected by the virus may be in this category and that they will never develop the disease.

      In this text a claim is made about how lethal the AIDS virus is. It may not be 100% lethal. Some people may be able to resist it, perhaps because of a natural immunity. And some evidence is cited to show that this claim is true. That evidence is the (alleged) fact that some people have had the AIDS virus in their system for many years and show no signs at all of developing the disease. It is plausible to think that the person who wrote that text intended to cite that fact as a reason for believing the claim about the lethality of the AIDS virus.


Premises and Conclusions

     In an argument some claims are put forward in support of others. The claim that is being supported is the conclusion. The claims which are alleged to support the conclusion are the premises. There may be more than one conclusion in an argument, and often, there is more than one premise. In the argument above about AIDS, there is a closely related set of conclusions.

New evidence shows that the AIDS virus may not be as lethal as it has been thought to be and that some people may be able to develop a defense against it.

       In support of these conclusions, the author cites the (alleged) fact that some people have been infected with the virus for a long time without showing any signs of the disease itself. This latter assertion is the premise in this argument.

       How do you identify premises and conclusions? Reliable clues are provided by certain key words, which are often used to identify premises and conclusions. The following words and phrases are quite often used to introduce conclusions:

So...
This shows that...
Therefore...
We can infer that...
Hence...
Consequently...
It follows that...
This indicates that...
For that reason, we may say...

These are phrases that introduce the premises of an argument:

The reason is that...
Because...
Since...
Evidence...
On the basis of...
It follows from...
In view of...
We may infer from...

 

       When you are able to identify premises and conclusions, you may easily analyze how strongly the premises back up the conclusion. In many of the Critical Reasoning questions, there will be a gap between the premises and the conclusion--the assumptions. Your objective is to find the gaps (the assumptions) and use that knowledge to find the solution. For example, in the AIDS argument above, one of the unstated assumptions is that the evidence about AIDS is accurate.

Premises + Assumptions = Conclusion

B. Types of Arguments (If you have limited time to prepare, skip to C.)

Now that you can identify premises and conclusions, how are they structured into arguments?

      Deductive arguments are arguments that show a tight connection between the premises and the conclusions. There is no possible way the conclusion could fail to be true if the premises are true. (That is not to say, of course, that the premises are true.) Arguments in mathematics and in pure logic are often of this sort: "If no one watered my plants during my vacation, they will all die. No one watered my plants during my vacation. Therefore, my plants have all died." The premises of that argument might possibly be false. But, if they are both true, then there is no way the conclusion can be false.

 

C. Putting it into your own words


Now that you know how to break down arguments into premises and conclusions, you are able to translate a passage into your own words.

     
Each question is divided into two parts: the stimulus (the first part of the question that usually consists of an argument) and the stem, which asks a questions such as, "which of the following is an assumption of the paragraph above?"  When you finish reading the stimulus, try to summarize in your mind what the argument in the stimulus is about (premises, conclusions, and assumptions). Most of the stimulus parts of the questions have a flaw that you can readily identify, such as a flawed assumption. When you put the argument in your own words, you can usually identify what the stem will ask before you even get to it. This process helps you identify the meaning of the stimulus. Usually the stimulus describes something very simple in a complicated manner, and putting it in your own words helps you to get a handle on what the passage means.

Apartment building owners argue that rent control should be abolished. Although they acknowledge that they would increase rents in the short term, owners argue that in the long term the rent increases would lead to greater profitability. Higher profits would lead to increased apartment construction. Increased apartment construction would then lead to a greater supply of residences and lower prices as the potential apartment residents have a better selection. Thus, abolishing rent control would ultimately reduce prices.

     Try to express that complicated argument in your own words? Simple. Abolishing rent control will increase the supply of housing (premise); greater supply leads to lower prices (premise); and thus abolishing rent control leads to lower rents (conclusion). It is a supply/demand argument.

Once you put it into your own terms, the question becomes much easier to understand.

 

D. Evaluate an argument

Now that you can break a stimulus into premises and conclusions and put the argument into your own words, how do you find errors in the arguments?

The Usual Suspects: Common Logical Fallacies

We've identified several logical errors that commonly appear in the Critical Reasoning questions.

1. Circular Reasoning

     Here, an unsubstantiated assertion is used to justify another unsubstantiated assertion, which is, or at least could be, used to justify the first statement. For instance, Joe and Fred show up at an exclusive club. When asked if they are members, Joe says "I'll vouch for Fred." When Joe is asked for evidence that he's a member, Fred says, "I'll vouch for him."

2. The Biased-Sample Fallacy

     The Fallacy of the Biased Sample is committed whenever the data for a statistical inference is drawn from a sample that is not representative of the population under consideration. The data drawn and used to make a generalization is drawn from a group that does not represent the whole.

Here is an argument that commits the fallacy of the biased sample:

ln a recent survey conducted by Wall Street Weekly of its readers, 80% of the respondents indicated their strong disapproval of increased capital gains taxes. This survey clearly shows that increased capital gains taxes will meet with strong opposition from the electorate.

     The data for the inference in this argument is drawn from a sample that is not representative of the entire electorate. Since the survey was conducted of people who invest, not all members of the electorate have an equal chance of being included in the sample. Moreover, persons who read about investing are more likely to have an opinion on the topic of taxes on investment different from the population at large.


3. The Insufficient Sample Fallacy

     The Fallacy of the Insufficient Sample is committed whenever an inadequate sample is used to justify the conclusion drawn.

Here's an argument that commits the fallacy of the insufficient sample:

I have worked with three people from New York City and found them to be obnoxious, pushy and rude. It is obvious that people from New York City have a bad attitude.

The data for the inference in this argument is insufficient to support the conclusion. Three observations of people are not sufficient to support a conclusion about 10 million.

4. Ad hominen

     One of the most often employed fallacies, ad hominen means "to the man" and indicates an attack that is made upon a person rather than upon the statements that person has made. An example is "Don't listen to my opponent; he's a homosexual."

 

5. The Fallacy of Faulty Analogy       

     Reasoning by analogy functions by comparing two similar things. Because they are alike in various ways, the fallacy is that it is likely they will share another trait as well. Faulty Analogy arguments draw similarities between the things compared that are not relevant to the characteristic being inferred in the conclusion.

Here's an example of a Faulty Analogy fallacy:

Ted and Jim excel at both football and basketball. Since Ted is also a track star, it is likely that Jim also excels at track.

In this example, numerous similarities between Ted and Jim are taken as the basis for the inference that they share additional traits.

 

6. Straw Man

     Here the speaker attributes an argument to an opponent that does not represent the opponent's true position. For instance, a political candidate might charge that his opponent "wants to let all prisoners go free," when in fact his opponent simply favors a highly limited furlough system. The person is portrayed as someone that he is not.

 

7. The "After This, Therefore, Because of This" Fallacy (Post hoc ergo propter hoc)

     This is a "false cause" fallacy in which something is associated with something else because of mere proximity of time. One often encounters people assuming that because one thing happened after another, the first caused it, as with "I touched a toad; I have a wart. The toad caused the wart." The error in arguments that commit this fallacy is that their conclusions are causal claims that are not sufficiently substantiated by the evidence.

Here are two examples of the After This, Therefore Because of This Fallacy:

Ten minutes after walking into the auditorium, I began to feel sick to my stomach. There must have been something in the air in that building that caused my nausea.

The stock market declined shortly after the election of the president,thus indicating the lack of confidence the business community has in the new administration.

     In the first example, a causal connection is posited between two events simply on the basis of one occurring before the other. Without further evidence to support it, the causal claim based on the correlation is premature.

     The second example is typical of modern news reporting. The only evidence offered in this argument to support the claim that the decline in the stock market was caused by the election of the president is the fact that election preceded the decline. While it has been a causal factor, to argue that it is the cause without additional ination is to commit the After This, Therefore, Because of This Fallacy.



8. The Either-or Thinking

      This is the so-called black or white fallacy. Essentially, it says "Either you believe what I'm saying, or you must believe exactly the opposite." Here is an example of the black or white fallacy:

Since you don't believe that the earth is teetering on the edge of destruction, you must believe that pollution and other adverse effects that man has on the environment are of no concern whatsoever.

The argument above assumes that there are only two possible alternatives open to us. There is no room for a middle ground.


9. The "All Things are Equal" Fallacy

     This fallacy is committed when it is assumed, without justification, that background conditions have remained the same at different times/locations. In most instances, this is an unwarranted assumption for the simple reason that things rarely remain the same over extended periods of time, and things rarely remain the same from place to place.

The last Democrat winner of the New Hampshire primary won the general election. This year, the winner of the New Hampshire primary will win the general election.

     The assumption operative in this argument is that nothing has changed since the last primary. No evidence or justification is offered for this assumption.

 

10. The Fallacy of Equivocation

    The Fallacy of Equivocation occurs when a word or phrase that has more than one meaning is employed in different meanings throughout the argument.


"Every society is, of course, repressive to some extent - as Sigmund Freud pointed out, repression is the price we pay for civilization." (John P. Roche- political columnist)

In this example, the word repression is used in two completely different contexts. "Repression" in Freud's mind meant restricting sexual and psychological desires. "Repression" in the second context does not mean repression of individual desires, but government restriction of individual liberties, such as that in a totalitarian state.

11. Non Sequitor

     This means "does not follow," which is short for the conclusion does not follow from the premise. To say, "The house is white; therefore, it must be big" is an example of the Non Sequitor fallacy. It may be a big house, but there is no intrinsic connection with its being white.


12. Argument ad populum

     A group of kindergartners are studying a frog, trying to determine its sex. "I wonder if it's a boy frog or a girl frog," says one student. "I know how we can tell!" pipes up another. "All right, how?" asks the teacher, resigned to the worst. Beams the child: "We can vote."

     This is argumentum ad populum, the belief that truth can be determined by more or less putting it to a vote. Democracy is a very nice thing, but it doesn't determine truth. Polls are good for telling you what people think, not whether those thoughts are correct.


E. Evaluate an argument's strength and validity

Now that you may identify arguments and are able to identify logical flaws, you may assess an argument's strength and validity.

     More than simply "putting it in your own words," you need to evaluate an argument's persuasiveness. Actively read the stimulus. Always evaluate the argument and check for assumptions as you are reading the passage. Virtually every passage you read has some form of logical flaw. When you read the essay, make sure to be actively seeking those flaws. Read the stimulus with a specific purpose of finding assumptions and errors in logic.


F. Get an idea of the right answer

If you can identify an argument and assess its strengths, you may come up with a right answer after reading the stem.

     When you finish reading the stimulus and the stem and you have analyzed everything using the techniques above, you can usually come up with a pre-phrase of the right answer before even getting to the answer choices. Coming up with the right pre-phrase of the answer is only half of the battle, however. From the five answer choices, you have to pick the answer that most closely resembles your pre-phrased answer. The potential answers are difficult to read and contain traps. If you have a general idea of the answer going into the answer choices, you are in a good position to correctly identify the answer.

    Test takers should not be discouraged if they cannot come up with a pre-phrase. Some questions are difficult and an immediate answer will not jump out at you.


G. Don't fall for traps from test writers

If you have gone as far as to be able to identify and assess an argument, don't fall into a trap when picking an answer.

    Test writing is an extremely time-consuming task. One of the most difficult parts of test writing is generating the "junk" wrong answer choices. Test writers have an easy way out. On nearly every question you will see wrong answers that are either the trick opposites or scope traps. These wrong answers do not do much to test ability; they are simply there to fool inexperienced and unskilled test takers. Test writers like to use them because they take a few seconds to write and fool most students, thereby making the question "harder."

    On the positive side, a skilled test taker may quickly identify these two trap questions types. Most of the wrong answers in any given Verbal test will be one of the two types of junk answers. If you can identify the junk answer choices, you may thereby eliminate wrong answers and increase your chances of getting the right answer. Below we have several examples.


Trick Opposites

     This is an underhanded trick from test writers that does little to improve the quality of the test. This trap involves contradicting the question stem, the end of the question that asks you what to look for. Here are examples:

1. "All of the following may be inferred from the passage EXCEPT," then give a few borderline answers and one answer that absolutely may be inferred from the passage (which someone picks automatically if he forgot the "EXCEPT").

2. Ask for an assumption in an argument, then give an answer choice that is a summary.

3. "Which of the following weakens the argument above," then give an answer choice that obviously strengthens the argument.

      These tricks are intended to catch students who rush through questions. However, you may turn this tactic to your advantage if you read the question stems slowly and carefully. Then you may identify the trick opposites, eliminate them as answer choices, and increase the chances of getting the right answers.

 

The Scope Trap (this section is a repeat from the Reading Comprehension section)

      When it comes to determining the scope of a passage, you need to understand what we mean by "scope". Think of scope as a narrowing of the topic. If you've found the main point, you must also identify what is in the range of the argument. Scope is related to more than just the general topic being discussed, it is the narrowing of the topic. Is the article about graduate-school admissions, MBA admissions, or helping international students get into the business school program of their choice? Each step represents a narrowing of the scope.

     Scope is one of the most important concepts for doing well on the verbal section, particularly for high scorers. Why? Put yourself in the position of the test question writers. They must write difficult questions. Only one of the five choices is correct; the rest are junk answers.  They have to write questions that a certain number of students will get wrong and they have to make up "junk" answers to fool people. The issue of scope solves both problems for test question writers: it allows them to easily generate wrong answers, and it makes the questions harder because scope is a challenging issue.  Most critical reasoning or reading comprehension questions have junk answers that are "outside of the question's scope."

     Some common examples of scope junk answers are choices that are too narrow, too broad, or literally have nothing to do with the author's points. Also, watch for and eliminate choices that are too extreme to match the argument's scope; they're usually signaled by such words as all, always, never, none, and so on. Choices that are in some way qualified are usually correct for arguments that are moderate in tone and contain such words as usually, sometimes, probably.

 all

 always

 never

 only

words that signal answers that are too strong and therefore usually outside the scope of an argument.


Example:

Some scientists believe that carbon dioxide induced global warming may increase the number of hurricanes in the future and their severity.

What if someone inferred from that statement that

All of this season's severe hurricanes were caused by global warming.

That statement would be outside of the scope of the original argument. The inference made is outside the scope of the argument. The argument is not that strong. What about this statement:

Some of this season's storms may have been caused and exacerbated by global warming.

This statement is more measured and is within the scope of the original argument.

Strategy: If the question asks "which of the following is NOT an assumption of the argument" or "which of the following does NOT describe an argument made in the passage above," the answer will often be the one with extreme language.


Here is a critical reasoning question that illustrates scope.

Apartment building owners argue that rent control should be abolished. Although they acknowledge that they would increase rents in the short term, owners argue that in the long term the rent increases would lead to greater profitability. Higher profits would lead to increased apartment construction. Increased apartment construction would then lead to a greater supply of residences and lower prices as the potential apartment residents have a better selection. Thus, abolishing rent control would ultimately reduce prices.

Name an assumption made by the owners: (hint: this is a difficult question, but you may eliminate 4 of the 5 answers as outside the scope of the argument).

a) Current residents of rent control apartments would be able to find new apartments once their rents increased.
b) The fundamental value of any society is to house its citizens.
c) Only current apartment owners would profit significantly from market deregulation.
d) New apartment construction will generate a great number of jobs.
e) The increase in the number of apartments available would exceed the number of new potential apartment residents.

Which possible answers are outside of the scope? The scope is the argument that deregulation will increase supply and lower prices. "Name an assumption" means find a direct assumption of that supply/demand argument.

a) Current residents of rent control apartments would be able to find new apartments once their rent increased--is this outside of the scope?
Well, this sentence expresses a nice sentiment for the welfare of renters, but it has nothing to do with our argument, which is about a supply/demand dynamic.

b) The fundamental value of any society is to house its citizens. Is this outside of the scope? Again, nice sentiment, but this does not directly tie into the argument.

c) Only current apartment owners would profit significantly form market deregulation. Is this outside of the scope? The profitability of the apartment owners is not directly relevant. Note: of course if the profitability of the apartments increases, it would help increase supply because other companies would be drawn into the market, thus increasing supply. Indeed this looks good and as if it is an assumption, but "Only current apartment owners" is too limiting. How about newer apartment owners? The profits made by "only current owners" is not the issue at hand; it is the prices of apartments. Again, as previously mentioned, answer choices that use words such as "only" tend to be outside the scope of the question. Here "only" is too restrictive and allows you to eliminate this answer choice.

d) New apartment construction will generate a great number of jobs. This is clearly outside of the scope.

e) The increase in the number of apartments available would exceed the number of new potential apartment residents. Aha! This is an argument about supply and demand, and this is an answer about supply and demand. This is clearly within the scope of the argument, and it is the correct answer. If demand rose with new apartment construction, then prices would not decline, invalidating their argument.

Optional Strategy: Some students prefer to read the question stem first and then read the stimulus itself. This lets the user look more specifically for what the question is asking and identify the question type beforehand. You may choose to this strategy. Many test prep companies recommend this approach. Use your own preference.

 

II. Typical Critical Reasoning Question Types

A. Must Be True Questions
B. Assumption Questions
C. Strengthen and Weaken Questions
D. Main Point Questions
E. Paradox Questions


A. Must Be True Questions

Must Be True Questions are extremely common. These are the typical Must Be True Questions:


How to tackle
Must Be True Questions:

 

SAMPLE QUESTION

1)Every store on Main Street in Summitville has an awning, and all of these awnings are either green or red. If the statement above is true, which one of the following must also be true?

a) I only

b) II only

c) I and II only

d) I and III only

e) I, II, and III

 

 

Explanation: Note that this question is not an argument. Statement I may not be true: the question states that all of the awnings on Main Street are either green or red, but this does not preclude the possibility that all of the awnings on Main Street are red. Statement III may not be true either: the question states that every store on Main Street has either a red awning or a green awning, but this does not preclude the possibility that a store on some other street has a red awning. Statement II must be true: if every store on Main Street has an awning, then a store without an awning cannot be on Main Street. The correct answer is B.

 

 

 B. Assumption Questions

 

     An assumption is an unstated premise that supports the author's conclusion. It's the connection between the stated premises and the conclusion. An assumption is something that the author's conclusion depends upon. Assumption questions are extremely common on the LSAT and have stems that look like this:

 

How to approach Assumption Questions

Here is an example:

Express that complicated argument in your own words.

Premise 1: Abolishing rent control will increase the supply of housing (premise).
Premise 2: Greater supply leads to lower prices (premise).

Conclusion: Abolishing rent control leads to lower rents (conclusion). It is a supply/demand argument.

Try to find gaps between premises.

Look at premise 1: Abolishing rent control will increase the supply of housing.
This premise seems reasonable. Higher profits draw increased supply.

Look at premise 2: Greater supply leads to lower prices.
This is a supply/demand argument; greater supply leads to lower prices. However, there is something missing: supply and demand require a discussion of demand. Indeed, demand is missing; that is the hidden assumption.

 

SAMPLE QUESTION

There are many reasons why individuals want to run their own businesses. Some foresee more personal satisfaction if they are successful in launching their own business, while others are interested mainly in the prospect of larger financial rewards. Since the late 1970s and early 1980s, tax regulations and other changes have encouraged increasing numbers of venture capitalists and entrepreneurs to start new enterprises. Since 1980, some one-half million new ventures have been started. Not all have succeeded, of course.

The above statement makes which of the following assumptions?

 

a) Success in starting a new business depends in large part on sound financial planning.

b) Social incentives motivate investors just as much as financial rewards.

c) Financial incentives are associated with new business starts.

d) Most new business ventures succeed initially but fail later on.

e) Venture capitalists are motivated by non-monetary gains.

 

Explanation: While personal satisfaction is a motivating factor, the statement shows that since 1980, business starts increased along with a set of tax changes, promoting financial gains. (B) is the second best answer. However, it cannot be inferred that social motives are just as strong as the financial motive, given that the passage states that tax regulations motivated increasing numbers of entrepreneurs to invest. Answer choice (A) may be correct, but there is nothing in the passage to substantiate it. Choice (D) may be eliminated because of the word "most." There is no evidence in the passage to support answer choice (E). (C) is the correct answer.

 

 

C. Strengthen and Weaken Questions

  Assumptions connect premises to conclusions. You may strengthen or weaken an argument by strengthening or weakening the assumptions. Here are some examples of Strengthen/Weaken question stems:

Strengthening:

Weakening:

 

How to approach Strengthen and Weaken Questions

 

SAMPLE QUESTION

1) The postal service is badly mismanaged. Thirty years ago, first-class letter delivery cost only three cents. Since then, the price has increased sevenfold, with an actual decrease in the speed and reliability of service.

All of the following would tend to weaken the conclusion of the argument above EXCEPT:


a) The volume of mail handled by the postal service has increased dramatically over the last thirty years.


b) Unprecedented increases in the cost of fuel for trucks and planes have put severe upward pressures on postal delivery costs.

c) Private delivery services usually charge more than does the postal service for comparable delivery services.


d) The average delivery time for a first-class letter three decades ago was actually slightly longer than it is today.


e) The average level of consumer prices overall has increased fourfold over the last thirty years.


  

Explanation: the conclusion here is that the postal service is poorly managed. We are looking for something that would not weaken the argument, in other words, something that suggests incompetent management, something that doesn't excuse the post office's poor performance.


Choice a) The volume of mail handled by the postal service has increased dramatically over the last thirty years. This would seem to excuse the poor service/price because the service has had to overcome a massive increase in volume.

Choice b) Unprecedented increases in the cost of fuel for trucks and planes have put severe upward pressures on postal delivery costs. This would seem to excuse the poor service/price because costs have increased dramatically.

Choice c) Private delivery services usually charge more than does the postal service for comparable delivery services. This would seem to excuse the poor service/price because other services are not as efficient.

Choice d) The average delivery time for a first-class letter three decades ago was actually slightly longer than it is today. This shows they have made improvements in service, suggesting that the postal service isn't all that bad after all.

Choice e) The average level of consumer prices overall has increased fourfold over the last thirty years. Since the price of postage has increased seven times over, this suggests that postal prices have increased at a rate much quicker than inflation. Thus, choice E suggests that there is price gouging and does support the original argument, making this the correct answer.

 

D. Main Point Questions


      In MAIN POINT questions, you have to identify the conclusion of an argument. You are trying to find the author's point and should approach this question in a similar way to the reading comprehension main point questions. They come in several different formats:

     The conclusion of arguments in Main Point questions is usually not directly stated. To find the conclusion, identify the premises and then identify the conclusion drawn from the premises. Main Point questions differ from the other Critical Reasoning questions in that the argument in the stimulus is usually valid. (In most other Critical Reasoning questions the reasoning is flawed.)

How to approach Main Point Questions:

 

SAMPLE QUESTION

Although Locke has been hailed as a giant figure in European intellectual history, his ideas were largely borrowed from his predecessors, now unfairly neglected by historians. Furthermore, Locke never wrote a truly great book; his most widely known works are muddy in style, awkwardly constructed, and often self-contradictory.

With which of the following would the author most likely agree?

a) Locke made use of ideas without acknowledging his predecessors as the sources of those ideas.

b) Current historians are re-evaluating the work of Locke in the light of present-day knowledge.

c) Locke's contributions to the development of European thought have been greatly exaggerated.

d) Historians should re-examine Locke's place in European intellectual history.

e) Although Locke's ideas were important, his way of expressing them in writing was sadly inadequate.

 

Explanation: The author makes two assertions about Locke: that his ideas were not original and that his books were not very good. On the basis of these assertions, the author concludes that Locke's reputation as an intellectual giant is undeserved. Choice (C) accurately summarizes this conclusion. Choice (A) focuses on a subsidiary point, not the main idea; moreover, it makes an assumption unsupported by the passage namely, that Locke did not acknowledge the sources of his ideas. Choice (B) is wrong because although the passage clearly indicates that the author is "re-evaluating" Locke's work, it does not suggest that "current historians" in general are doing so. Similarly, (D) implies that the author recommends that other historians re-examine Locke. Since no recommendation exists in the argument, Choice (C) is the only option.

SAMPLE QUESTION

Opening a retail business in Kosovo is not inadvisable, despite what critics of the plan may say. Eighteen years ago we opened a construction business in Beirut during an invasion, and that location has been generating profits ever since.

Which of the following is the author of the above argument trying to imply?

a) The proposed retail store can make money despite being in the middle of a war zone.

b) Wars are profitable for retail.

c) Kosovo is not as politically unstable as Beirut.

d) Opponents of a new construction company in Kosovo are probably biased.

e) The proposed company in Kosovo will do better than the construction company in Beirut.

 

 

The author is using his prior experience to make a generalization. If he thought wars were profitable, he would be more encouraging of the venture instead of "not inadvisable." (B) is a matter of degree; he is implying that war is not bad for business, but he is not arguing that war is good for business. (A) is the correct answer.

 

Strategy: This question illustrates a point that will undoubtedly frustrate students with a poor grasp of the English language. This question does not ask you to assess a logical argument, but to measure the degree of enthusiasm for an argument. Measure the tone and strength an author puts into his point of view when assessing questions, particularly when the question asks you to find the author's conclusion. Students with a poor grasp of the English language should move very carefully through these Main Point questions to carefully assess the writer's viewpoint and his enthusiasm in expressing it.

 

 

E. Paradox Questions

     These questions present you with a paradox, a seeming contradiction in the argument, and ask you to resolve it or explain how that contradiction could exist. Paradox questions are rare and more common at the higher skill levels. Here are some examples of the ways in which these questions are worded:

How to approach paradox questions

1. Read the argument and find the apparent paradox, discrepancy, or contradiction.

2. State the apparent paradox, discrepancy, or contradiction in your own words.

3. Use POE (process of elimination). The best answer will explain how both sides of the paradox, discrepancy, or contradiction can be true. Eliminate answers that are out of scope.

SAMPLE QUESTION

Inflation rose by 5.1% over the 2nd quarter, up from 4.1% during the first quarter of the year, and higher than the 3.3% recorded during the same time last year. However, the higher price index did not seem to alarm Wall Street, as stock prices remained steady.

Which of the following, if true, could explain the reaction of Wall Street?

a) Stock prices were steady because of a fear that inflation would continue.

b) The President announced that he was concerned about rising inflation.

c) Economists warned that inflation would persist.

d) Much of the quarterly increase in the price level was due to a summer drought's effect on food prices.

e) Other unfavorable economic news had overshadowed the fact of inflation.

 

  

Explanation: This is a paradox because the high inflation report would seem to indicate that the stock market should go down. A fear that inflation would continue (A), an announcement by the president that he was concerned about inflation (B), economists' warnings about inflation (C), and other unfavorable economic news (E) would all tend to cause stock prices to decline and cause alarm on Wall Street. What we are looking for instead is an explanation which suggests why a high-inflation report would not spook the markets. (D) is most appropriate. If most of the quarterly inflation was due to a rise in food prices caused by a drought, then other prices rose less or no more than in the last quarter. Since the drought is probably a temporary phenomenon, it may be expected that inflation will decline next quarter. Thus, there is no cause for alarm on Wall Street, and the high-inflation report should not scare the equity markets.


F. Reasoning Questions

     Reasoning questions ask you to describe how the argument was made, not necessarily what it says. Here are some examples of the ways in which these questions are worded:

 

 How to approach Reasoning Questions

1. Read the argument and find the conclusion.

2. State the reasoning in your own words. Describe how the author gets from the premises to the conclusion.

3. Use POE. The best answer will describe the reasoning used in the argument. Eliminate answer choices that don't match the reasoning used in the argument.

SAMPLE QUESTION

There is a piece of folk wisdom expressed in the saying, "If it is not broken, don't fix it." A factory manager who accepted that saying would, on that account, be least likely to:

a) agree to union demands, in the interest of safety, for better lighting in the stairwells and storage areas.

b) respond to the difficulty of retaining skilled electronic technicians by establishing an on-site day-care center for small children.

c) order the immediate replacement of windows broken in a strike.

d) replace the quality control supervisor after receiving several complaints about defective units in recent shipments from the factory.

e) institute a program of preventive maintenance for major pieces of production machinery.



(E) The point of the proverb "If it is not broken, don't fix it" is that tampering with something which is not an urgent problem is unnecessary. All of the alternatives involve the manager's making some change or taking some action. But the first four represent the manager's action as being a response to a particular existing problem. They are not against the spirit of the proverb. But preventive maintenance, over-hauling the machine before it breaks down, seems to be just what the proverb advises against.

 

Sample Questions


1. Former prisoners of Japanese internment camps seeking monetary reparations from the government are often told, "There is neither wealth nor wisdom
enough in the world to compensate in money for all the wrongs in history." Which of the following most weakens the argument above?

A) Prior wrongs should not be permitted as a justification for present wrongs.
B) Even though all wrongs cannot be compensated for, some wrongs can be.
C) Since most people committed wrongs, the government should compensate for wrongs with money.
D) Monetary reparations upset social order less than other forms of reparation.
E) Since money is the basic cause of the wrongs, should it not be the cure?


(B) The argument states that there can be no compensation for "all the wrongs in history," but the argument is about just one wrong of history. Even though all wrongs cannot be compensated for, some wrongs can be.


2.
It is a myth that U.S. workers are pricing themselves out of the market. The wages of U.S. manufacturing workers increased at a slower rate in the 1970's than those of workers in other major countries. Between 1970 and 1980, pay increased 489% in Japan and 464% in Germany, compared to 128% in the United States. Even though these countries experienced faster productivity growth, their unit labor costs still rose faster than in the United States. During the 1970's, unit labor costs rose 192% in Japan, 252% in Germany, and only 78% in the United States.
According to the above passage:

A) unit labor costs in the 1970's were higher in Japan than they were in Germany or the United States
B) the wages of U.S. workers need to be increased to be consistent with other countries.
C) U.S. workers are more productive than Japanese or German workers
D) the wages of U.S. workers in manufacturing increased at a slower rate in the 1970's than the wages of workers in Japan or Germany
E) Workers in Japan and Germany work harder than workers in the U.S., and their wages have increased accordingly.

 

 



(D) Answers A and C are incorrect because they are simply not supported by the facts stated in the passage. Answer B is not necessarily true because the passage compares wages in terms of percentage increases, not actual wages. Answer D is almost identical to the second sentence in the passage, and is correct.

 



3. The Museum of Modern Art in New York City contains several automobiles. Automobiles are means of transportation and are therefore not art. The automobiles should not be in the collection. Which of the following best underlies the reasoning in the argument above.

(A) The automobiles will not be used as transportation because they are in a museum, so they can be counted as art.
(B) Many features of automobiles, like fins, serve no practical purpose and therefore cars can be counted as art
(C) A true artist works without commercial concerns.
(D) Art must be designed without pragmatic utility.
(E) The automobile industry has excessive costs because of focusing on design rather and cost and pragmatism.


(A) and (B) are actually counter-arguments that make the case that the cars are in fact art using the reasoning in the argument. The argument states that automobiles cannot be art because they serve a practical purpose. (C) could be stretched to mean that art should not be made with any pragmatic design, but (D) is a better answer. (D) directly establishes that cars are not art because they serve a pragmatic purpose. (E) is a counter-argument to the entire premise of the argument.





4. Time and again it has been shown that students who attend colleges with low faculty/student ratios get the most well-rounded education. As a result, when my children are ready to attend college, I'll be sure they attend a school with a very small student population. Which of the following, if true, identifies the greatest flaw in the reasoning above?


A) A low faculty/student ratio is the effect of a well-rounded education, not its source.
B) Intelligence should be considered the result of childhood environment, not advanced education.
C) A very small student population does not by itself, ensure a low faculty/student ratio.
D) Parental desires and preferences rarely determines a child's choice of a college or university.
E) Students must take advantage of the low faculty/student ratio by intentionally choosing small classes.

 





(C) The evidence says that students who attend colleges with low faculty/student ratios get well-rounded educations, but the conclusion is that the author will send his kids to colleges with small student populations. Since colleges can have the second without necessarily having the first, (C) is correct.

 


5.
Enrollment in computer training programs tends to be high in a strong economy and much lower during weak economic times. How individuals view the likelihood of future job availability, therefore, affects people's willingness to pass up immediate their current employment opportunities in order to invest in career-related training. The argument above assumes that:

A) those who enroll in computer training schools during a strong economy help increase the economy's strength.
B) computer training programs admit fewer students during recessions.
C) perceptions of the likelihood of job availability are related to the state of the economy.
D) the perceived likelihood of job availability has decreased in recent years.
E) all those who avoid computer training school during an economic slump do so because of the perceived lack of future jobs.





(C) In this question we have to find what assumption underlies this argument. The argument involves a question of cause and effect. Since enrollment in computer training programs tends to be high when the economy is strong and low when it is weak, the reason must be, according to the author, a matter of people's perceptions of job availability. Sounds reasonable, but do all the terms match up with those in this conclusion? We know from the question stem that they do not. What's missing? Well, the evidence pertains to the state of the economy. But the conclusion strays into the area of psychology--people's perceptions. Are these the same things? The author treats them as such by arguing from evidence regarding the state of the economy to a conclusion based on people's perceptions of the economy. The author takes the relationship between these for granted, but technically, in order for the argument to work, this must be established. (C) is this basic assumption.



 

6. In Los Angeles, a political candidate who buys saturation TV advertising will get maximum name recognition. The statement above logically conveys which of the following?

A) TV advertising is the most important factor in political campaigns in Los Angeles.
B) Maximum name recognition in Los Angeles will help a candidate to win a higher percentage of votes cast in the city.
C) Saturation TV advertising reaches every demographically distinct sector of the voting population of Los Angeles.
D) For maximum name recognition a candidate need not spend on media channels other than TV advertising.
E) A candidate's record of achievement in the Los Angeles area will do little to affect his or her name recognition there.



(D) An L.A. political candidate who buys saturation TV advertising will get maximum name recognition. In other words, such advertising is sufficient for maximum name recognition. If so, then it must be true that, as (D) says, a candidate can get such recognition without spending on other forms of media.



7.
The rate of car theft in New York City has increased 19% from 2001. The blame for this rests with the soft-on-crime judges the new administration has appointed. The argument above would be weakened if it were true that


A) murders in this city has also increased by over 25 percent in the last year.
B) polls show that 65 percent of the population in this city opposes the death penalty.
C) 35 percent of the police in this city have been laid off in the last year due to budget cuts.
D) the city has hired 25 new judges in the last year to compensate for deaths and retirements.
E) 85 percent of the other cities in the nation have lower crime rates than does this city.

 



(C) If we can show that something besides the court system may explain the increase in crime we would weaken the argument. The author assumes that there is no other cause. Tackle the choices, looking for another cause besides the allegedly lenient court sentences.
The argument's scope is the crime rate increase in this particular city only. In (A), the fact that white collar crime is also on the rise is more of a strengthener than a weakener. (C) presents an alternative explanation for the increase in crime (reduction in police). As for (B), what if 65 percent of people in the city oppose capital punishment? This provides little insight into why crime has gone up since last year. (D) tells us that numerous judges have been replaced in the last year. It is possible that the new judges are more lenient, but this would only strengthen the author's argument. (E) does not compare one city to another.

 

 

8. The increase in the number of false new stories revealed to be false serves to strengthen the argument that the media company CEO's first priority is audience size over reporting the truth. Local TV stations even have teams to identify false stories. The argument above assumes that:

A) the media company's CEO decides what stories are broadcast.
B) news stories exposed as fabrications are a recent phenomenon.
C) every news story must be factually verifiable.
D) fact checking is more comprehensive for small news organizations than major ones.
E) Until last year, news companies did not even admit to broadcasting fictional stories.




(A) This conclusion makes sense only if we assume (A), that the media CEO is the one who decides what to print. If (A) weren't true and this decision were up to someone other than the media CEO, the argument would fall apart. (B) is not relevant.

 




9. Beavers use twigs to construct dams. Different regional populations of beavers will use different techniques for constructing dams. Researchers studying beaver construction techniques have found that regional populations of beavers use different construction techniques. Researchers have concluded that these building techniques are culturally based rather than genetic. Which of the following, if true, would most strengthen the conclusion drawn by the researchers?

(A) Studies have shown that beavers are nearly as intelligent as dogs.
(B) Young beavers cannot build dams alone and carefully mimic how their parents build them.
(C) The dams built vary in their effectiveness in holding back water levels depending on a region's rainfall level.
(D) Beaver populations are often located in mountainous regions that isolate population groups.
(E) The dam construction is primarily based on the water flow rates in specific regions.

 

 

Choice (B) provides the necessary information because it shows that the process of building dams is learned and not inherited. Choice (A) establishes that traits could be passed on culturally, but does not establish that this takes place. (D) the isolation of population groups could support both a genetic and cultural basis of passing on building techniques. (C) and (E) are not relevant to how the information is passed on to future generations.

 


 

 

10. All biology professors, except for Simmons, are Darwinists. From which of the following can the statement above be most properly inferred?

A) Except for Simmons, if someone is a Darwinist biology professor, then he or she is a biology professor.
B) Simmons is the only non-biology professor who is an darwinist.
C) If a biology professor is an Darwinist, then he or she is a biology professor, as long as he or she is not Simmons.
D) Simmons is not an Darwinist biology professors.
E) Aside from the biology professors Simmons, if someone is a biology professor, then he or she is a Darwinist.

 

 

 

(E) The question stem asks you to pick the choice from which the statement can be derived, and that's (E). If, as (E) says, anyone who is a biology professor is an Darwinist except for the biology professor Simmons, then all biology professors except for Simmons are Darwinists. That being the case, it would certainly be true that, as the stimulus says, with the exception of Simmons, all biology professors-being a subset of all professors-are Darwinists. If you take the logic of the statement, that is the logical implication.




11. The judge told the criminal defendant, "You are consistently deceitful and cannot be trusted. Once you begin speaking honestly, I will begin believing you." Which of the following is assumed by the Judge’s statement?

A) The judge has explained what is wrong about lying.
B) The judge has determined that the defendant knows what a lie is.
C) The judge knows when the defendant has been truthful.
D) The judge is routinely truthful with her defendant.
E) The judge believes the defendant ultimately will tell the truth.



(C) The judge will have to be able to tell when the defendant is lying or telling the truth.

 

12. The widespread use of antibiotics has two negative effects. Antibiotics use can produce antibiotic-resistant strains because the small numbers of bacteria that aren't killed by the antibiotic are the ones that survive and breed. In addition, antibiotics can kill the body's natural microbes that help fight off foreign bacteria. Which of the following practices can help ameliorate these negative consequences and benefit patients?

(A) Using antibiotics derived from natural products
(B) Produce stronger antibiotics
(C) Steadily increase dosage if the results begin to decline
(D) Do not give the antibiotic to all people who are sick
(E) Changing the antibiotics used every few weeks




Choice (E) gives a way of counteracting a serious drawback of the sustained massive use of antibiotics. If you rotate the antibiotics, the bacteria that develop a resistance to one bacterium will then be killed by the next antibiotic. Choice (A) would not necessarily make any difference. Steadily increasing dosage or developing stronger dosages will not kill the bacteria that have developed a resistance, so choice (B) and (C) can be ruled out. (D) Not treating patients will not benefit patients.


<< go back to table of contents