In some Reading Comprehension questions, you could be asked to do one of the following:
- Choosing an option which, if true, could seriously weaken the conclusion that the writer has made in the passage.
- Choosing an option which, if true, could strengthen the conclusion that the writer has made in the passage.
- Identifying the Conclusion that the writer has made in the passage.
- Identifying the assumption(S) that the writer has made in the passage, which were not stated, and on which the conclusion is based.
- Making valid inferences/deductions based on the given assumption or conclusion in the paragraph. Such questions read something like, “Given that the statements in the paragraph are correct, then which of the following must also be true?”
Do’s And Don’ts
- Do read each and every answer choice.
- Do make sure you have understood what the question asks completely.
- Do read the ‘stem of the question’ (what it asks you-whether to identify the conclusion or assumption, strengthen or weaken the Argument etc).
- Do train yourself to identify the premises (the statements that underpin the Conclusion), the assumptions (stated or un-stated) and the Conclusion.
- Do look for certain key words in the passage.
- Do try and train yourself in identifying and generating possible assumptions which the writer has implicitly assumed.
- Don’s stop once you feel you have got the answer and not even glance at the other options.
- Don’t get missed by red-herrings-options which are not relevant to the question that has been asked.
As mentioned above, the skills that are evaluated in such questions include your ability to recognize assumptions, particularly those that could strengthen or weaken the conclusion and your ability to make inferences from the given statements (such statements on which the conclusion is based, are called the premises).
Now, let us take an example of a typical Critical Reasoning question to illustrate what you are expected to do, what all questions appear, and how you could go about solving these questions:
Last year, the membership of gymnasiums declined in India by approximately 15 per cent. At the same time, the sales of fast-food based products, widely recognized to have adverse affects on health, rose by a significant margin. This shows that during the past year, the Indian people have become less health-conscious.
How can the conclusion be weakened?
The first step is to clearly identify what the conclusion is. Here it is that the Indian people have become less health-conscious.
Now, we need to understand the assumptions on which the Conclusion was based. Here they are:
- The author has assumed that the membership of gymnasiums is an appropriate indicator of the health consciousness of people.
- Let us assume this is true. Even if it is, is it the only indicator? Perhaps not! It is possible, for example, that people may not be joining gymnasiums, but could possibly be indulging in other activities such as exercising at home, walking in parks, purchasing equipment to exercise at home, etc.
- The author also assumes here that no other factor has influenced the membership of gyms. But it could possibly be that there were other factors that impacted membership, such as:
An increase in the membership charges
Some gyms may have closed down
- Another assumption that the author has made is that people are aware of the health impact of fast-foods, but have still consumed them, meaning that they are less concerned with their health.
There could indeed be several other possible assumptions.
Understanding what assumptions have been made is key to attacking/weakening the Argument or strengthening it.
In this example, if you were asked to choose a statement that “most seriously weakens the Conclusion”, you could choose an option states that:
Declining membership in gymnasiums was not due to decreased health-consciousness, but due to the fact that people chose other methods to exercise such as walking, exercising at home etc.
In effect, you have provided an alternate explanation.
Here are some points to keep in mind while you prepare for such questions based on Critical Reasoning:
- For while one answer option may not be wrong, there may be a still better option. Don’t miss this!
- Next, it is good strategy to read the stem of the question (what it asks you-whether to identify the conclusion or assumption, strengthen or weaken the argument etc) before attempting the question. This will help you focus your efforts more.
- In terms of preparation technique, train yourself to identify the premises (the statements that underpin the conclusion), the assumptions (stated or un-stated) and the conclusion. Remember that these may not appear in any particular order. Some paragraphs could commence with the conclusion and then outline the premises on which the conclusion was based, while others could reverse the order.
- While you prepare, look for certain key words. For example, the words, ‘consequently’, ‘thus’, ‘here’, ‘subsequently’, ‘it follows’ etc, could help in identifying the Conclusion. On the other hand, the premise generally contains facts, figures, data etc on which the Conclusion is based. Look for words such as the following: ‘given that’, ‘since’ etc.
- It is also important to train yourself in identifying and generating possible. Assumptions which the writer has implicitly assumed. This is a key skill for Critical Reasoning.
Let me give you an example here:
Let us say that you are given a fact-that Player X made a century in the last cricket match. Now, the writer assumes that this means that the player must have batted well. But could there be an alternative explanation? Yes, there could-that the player made a century because the bowling was so poor, not because of his good batting. Or it could be that he was dropped more than once during his innings and that it was poor fielding from the bowling side that contributed to the batsman’s success!
Both these explanations contradict the author’s assumption-that if the batsman made a century, he must have batted well.
- Also watch out for the red herrings-these options are not really relevant to the question that was asked (but may deal with some other aspect of the paragraph).
Point to Remember:
- Have you read all the answer options?
- Have you understood what the question asks completely?
- Have you identified the premise (the statements that underpin the Conclusion)?
- Have you identified the assumptions (stated or un-stated) that the author has made in the passage?
- Have you identified the Conclusion that the writher has made (if any)?
- Have you identified certain key words in the passage?
- Have you identified any alternative explanations apart from that indicated by the author?
Critical Reasoning Video Lecture