Argument Structure Passages

Reading Comprehension also contain another type of passage: Argument structure Passages (ASPs).

Expect to see about 1-3 ASPs per section; each passage will be accompanied by a single question.

ASPs on the GRE involve reading brief arguments (each argument is generally one to three sentences long) and answering questions relating to those arguments. These arguments are made up of premises, counter-premises, assumptions, and conclusion. Some arguments will also contain background information or context; this information helps you to understand the topic under discussion but is not actually part of the argument itself.

The main point of the argument is the conclusion. Conclusions are in the form of an opinion or a claim; they are not pure facts. Most arguments contain conclusions, but not all of them.

Premises provide support for the argument’ s conclusion. They may be facts, opinions, or claims. If they are opinions or claims, they will not be the overall claim the author is making; rather, they will be some immediate claim the author is using to support the overall claim (conclusion).

Counterpremises undermine or go against the conclusion. Occasionally an argument will present both sides of an argument, with evidence to support both. Therefore, some of the provided evidence will be used as premises and some as counterpremises (supporting a kind of counterconclusion).

Assumptions are unstated pieces of information that the argument requires to function.

Here’ s a simple example to illustrate:

While the plot of the movie was compelling, the acting was atrocious. Thus, the movie will not win an Oscar.

Conclusion: Thus, the movie will not win an Oscar.
Supporting premise: The acting was atrocious.
Counterpremise: The plot of the movie was compelling.
Assumption: Atrocious acting prevents a movie from winning an Oscar (any kind of Oscar!).

Four-Step Process

You’ll use a four-step process for every ASP you encounter:
Step 1: Identify the question type.
Step 2: Deconstruct the argument.
Step 3: State the goal.
Step 4: Work from wrong to right.
An overview is below; later, you’ ll go through the process in detail for each question type.

Step 1: Identify the Question Type

The vast majority of question stems will allow you to categorize a question, which will direct everything else you do. However, if the question type is difficult to identify, do not dwell on the issue. Go ahead to the next step; afterwards, you can re-examine the question.

Step 2: Deconstruct the arguments
The question type will help you anticipate what to expect from the argument. For example, some types do have conclusions and others don’t; after you’ ve identified the question type, you’ ll know whether to look for a conclusion when reading the argument. You’ ll also take light notes during this stage.

Step 3: State the Goal
You’ ll have a particular goal that you’ re trying to accomplish for each question type. For example, on Strengthen questions, the goal is to find the answer that makes the conclusion at least a little more likely to be true or valid. This step only takes about 3-5 seconds, but don’ t skip it! Make sure that you have a clear idea of your goal before you move to the final step.

Step 4: Work from Wrong to Right
As on any RC question, process of elimination rules the day. As a general rule, cross definite wrong answers off first and then compare any remaining tempting answers. Certain question types have common traps in the wrong answers; it’ s important to be familiar with those before test day.

Taking Notes

When doing Argument Structure Passages, you are going to take some light notes as you do for regular Reading Comprehension passages. These notes are going to be even more abbreviated, though, and are going to focus on the flow of information. What leads to what?

There are any number of ways to take notes; a few ideas are presented below and you can choose what you think would work best for your brain.

You already know that arguments contain different pieces of information: a conclusion, premises, and so on. Your two main goals are to:
1) Classify each piece of information.
2) Understand how the different pieces of information fit together.

While attempting Argument Structure Passages, you are supposed to read the entire argument first and then jot down notes.

First, draw a Table on your scratch paper. Make it asymmetrical, leaving more room on the left side, which will be the “pro” side. In most arguments, you will have very little “con” side (to the right).

Step 1.

Second, read the argument and look for the conclusion. Once you find the conclusion, write it in the first raw of the table, abbreviating heavily.

Step 2.

Conclusion

Third, add the rest of the argument information to the diagram. Write anything that supports the conclusion on the left column of the table (“Pro” or “Premise”), and write anything that goes against the conclusion on the right column of the Table (“Con” or “Counter premise”).
Finally, if you happened to think of any assumptions while reading, place them in brackets somewhere below the T.

Conclusion
-Pro-Con
-Pro
-[Assumption]

Here’ s how the original argument might look in T-diagram form:

Environmentalist: The national energy commission’ s current plan calls for the construction of six new nuclear power plants during the next decade. The commission argues that these plants are extremely safe and will have minimal environmental impact on their surrounding communities. However, all six nuclear power plants will be located far from densely populated areas. Clearly, the government is tacitly admitting that these plants do pose a serious health risk to humans.

Which of the following, if true, most seriously weakens the environmentalist’ s claim of an unspoken government admission?

plnts increases hlth riskPlants safe, less environmental impact,
plnts far frm pop areas
[no other reason for distance?]

There is more than one way to write something down; use what works best for you.

There are many different ways someone might choose to take notes. You are n’ t obligated to follow one particular method; you can develop your own as long as you are accomplishing three goals:
1) If the argument does contain a conclusion, then you do need to find and note it. The conclusion (when present) is the most important part of the argument.
2) If the argument contains any kind of “flow” of information (e.g., one thing leads to another or one thing goes against another), then you definitely want to take note of how that information fits together.
3) You need simple and consistent ways to note important information. You don’ t need to designate the conclusion with a C, but you do need to designate the conclusion the same way every time. You don’ t want to spend time thinking about how to write something down or wondering what one of your abbreviations means.
If your note-taking style accomplishes those three goals at a minimum, then your process is good.

Strategies for all question types

Boundary Words in the argument:

For any question, it is helpful to focus your attention on the boundary words and phrases provided in the argument. These words and phrases narrow the scope of a premise. For example:

Premise: The percentage of literate adults has increased.

The boundary word “percentage” limits the scope of the premise. It restricts the meaning to percentage only, as opposed to the actual number of literate adults. For all you know, the actual number went down. The boundary word”adults” also limits the scope of the premise. It restricts the meaning to adults only, as opposed to the total population, or children.

Extreme words in the Argument

Another general strategy for all ASP questions involves extreme words and phrases in the body of the argument. Extreme words, such as “always,” “never,” “all,” and “none,” are the opposite of boundary words- they make the argument very broad or far-reaching.
Using extreme words opens up an argument unreasonably, making it very susceptible to strengthening or weakening. For example:

Conclusion: Sugar is never healthy for anyone trying to lose weight.

The extreme word “never” unreasonably opens up this argument, placing no limitation on the claim that sugar is unhealthy. A more moderate conclusion would argue that sugar is often unhealthy, or that excessive sugar is unhealthy.

Boundary Words in the Answer Choices

Boundary words in the answers are just as important as boundary words in the body of the argument, though for a different reason. A correct answer choice must be 100% correct.
When you see boundary words in an answer choice, ask yourself, “What is the most extreme example I can think of that would still fit the wording of this answer choice?” Then, using the conclusion and the question asked, see whether your extreme example allows you to eliminate that answer choice.
For example, an answer choice might say:

(D) Some teachers leave the profession entirely within three years of beginning their teaching careers.

You might choose to address one of two different boundaries here. The word “some” refers to some number of teachers but does not specify the size of the group. The phrase “within three years” refers to a period of time but does not specify the exact length of time.

If you choose to address the word “some,” you could say that 1% of teachers leave within three years, or that 99% of teachers do so. Either way, the statistics still fit the criterion that some teachers do this. Suppose the conclusion asserted that new teacher turnover is having a major impact on the industry. If only 1% of new teachers leave within three years, then new teacher turnover will probably not have much of an impact.

Question Types

Question TypesExampleHow to recognize
Strengthen the ConclusionWhich of the following, if true, most strongly supports the scientists’ hypothesis?In the question stem: Strengthen, support, or similar

Will often (but not always) include the words “if true”
Weaken the conclusionWhich of the following, if true, most seriously undermines the mayor’ s claim?In the question stem: Weaken, undermine, or similar

May ask what supports the idea that something will not be successful

Will often (but not always) include the words “if true”
Analyze the Argument StructureIn the argument above, the two portions in boldface play which of the following roles?In the question stem: role or similar

In the argument: boldface font
Draw a Conclusion (Inference)Which of the following conclusions can best be drawn from the information above?In the question stem: Conclusion, assertion, infer or similar
Resolve a ParadoxWhich of the following pieces of evidence, if true, would provide the best explanation for the discrepancy?In the question stem: Paradox, discrepancy, resolve or similar.
The GRE may make a question a bit more

The GRE may make a question a bit more complex by structuring it as a “Fill-in-the-Blank” question. This is not a new type of question; it is a disguised version of one of the question types listed above.

Once you recognize that a “Fill-in-the-Blank” question is of a certain type, you can use the standard strategies associated with that type.

Let’ s look at each question type in more detail.

Strengthen the Conclusion

On Strengthen questions, your goal is to find an answer that makes the conclusion a little more likely to be valid. The conclusion likely won’ t be made perfect- just somewhat better than it was before.

Step 1: Identify the question type

Strengthen the conclusion questions ask you to provide additional support for a given conclusion. The question stem may appear in a number of forms:

  • Which of the following, if true, most strengthens the argument above?
  • Which of the following, if true, most strongly supports the scientist’ s hypothesis?
  • Which of the following provides the strongest reason to expect that the plan will be successful?
  • Shuai will win the tournament because _______.

Step 2: Deconstruct the Argument

Strengthen arguments will always contain conclusions; because your task is to strengthen the conclusion, your first task is to find that conclusion. Also take note of the premises offered to support the conclusion and think about the gaps in the argument. What is the author assuming must be true in order to draw that particular conclusion?

For example, consider this sort argument:

Shuai is the number one tennis player in the country. She lost in the final match of last year’ s national tennis championship, but she will win the tournament this year because_______.

What is the author assuming in drawing this conclusion? Shuai is the number one player, which sounds great, but she did lose last year. The author is assuming that there is some reason that Shuai will have a better chance this year. Perhaps she was n’ t the top-ranked player last year. Perhaps the player who beat her last year has retired. Perhaps Shuai has gotten better than the player who beat her last year. Who knows? The correct answer will provide some reason to support the idea that Shuai will win this yaer (though the answer won’ t absolutely guarantee that Shua will win).

Step 3: State the Goal

For strengthen questions, the correct answer will be a new piece of information that will make the conclusion at least a little more likely to be valid or true. It could be inserted into the argument as a new premise supporting the conclusion.

Step 4: Work from Wrong to Right

Use an S-W-Slash chart to categorize and eliminate answer choices.

If you have more than one S, compare the answer choices. Only one choice will strengthen the conclusion in the end, so see whether you mistakenly labeled something an S when it should have been labeled something else. If they both still look good, then try to decide which one supports the conclusion more strongly.

Here’ s an example (real test questions will have five answer choices):

At QuestCorp, many employees have quit recently and taken jobs with a competitor. Shortly before the employees quit, QuestCorp lost its largest client. Clearly, the employees were no longer confident in QuestCorp’ s long-term viability.

Which of the following, if true, most strengthens the claim that concerns about QuestCorp’ s viability caused the employees to quit?

  • Employees at QuestCorp’ s main competitor recently received a large and well-publicized raise.
  • QuestCorp’ s largest client accounted for 40% of sales and nearly 60% of the company’ s profits.
  • Many prospectives hires who have interviewed with QuestCorp ultimately accepted jobs with other companies.

Step 1: Identify the Question Type

The “most strengthens”  and “if true” language indicate that this is a Strengthen the Conclusion question.

Step 2: Deconstruct the Argument

The question stem provides the conclusion: concerns about Q’ s viability caused employees to quit. One set of notes might look like this:

+ Q lost client, then E quit, went to compet

(concl) E lost conf in Q viab

Step 3: State the Goal

The author assumes that the employees were n’ t quitting for some other reason. One way to strengthen the argument would be to show that there was some significant negative consequence because the largest client left.

Step 4: Work from Wrong to Right

Use an S-W-slash chart to categorize and eliminate answer choices.

  1. Weaken or slash. If the competitor is offering more money, then perhaps that’ s why the employees switched companies; if so, this choice weakens the argument. Note that this choice does n’ t actually say that the competitor is now paying more money than QuestCorp, so perhaps this information is irrelevant. Either way, this choice does not strengthen the argument.
  2. The largest client accounted for a very large percentage of both sales and profits. This piece of information does strengthen the idea that some employees may have lost confidence in QuestCorp’ s long-term viability.
  3. The argument concludes something about QuestCorp employees, not people who interviewed with QuestCorp but ultimately accepted a job elsewhere.

Answer choice (B) is correct.

 

Weaken the Conclusion

Weaken the Conclusion are exactly like Strengthen the Conclusion questions in every way except the obvious (they want you to weaken instead of strengthen!).

Step 1: Identify the Question Type

The question stem may appear in a number of forms:

  • Which of the following, if true, most seriously weaken the argument?
  • Which of the following, if true, could present the most serious disadvantage of XYZ corporation’ s new marketing initiative?
  • Which of the following, if true, most strongly supports the view that the drug treatment program will not be successful?

Step 2: Deconstruct the Argument

Weaken arguments will always contain conclusions; because your task is to weaken the conclusion, your fast task is to find that conclusion. Also take note of the premises offered to support the conclusion and think about the gaps in the argument. What is the author assuming must be true in order to draw that particular conclusion?

You may or may not be able to brainstorm any assumptions made by the author; it’ s worth spending about 15 to 20 seconds to try. For example, consider this short argument (the same one you saw in the Strengthen section above):

Shuai is the number one tennis player in the country. She lost in the final match of last year’ s national tennis championship, but she will win the tournament this year. Which of the following, if true, most undermines the author’ s claim?

What is the author assuming in drawing this conclusion? Shuai is the number one player, which sounds great, but she did lose last year. The author is assuming that there is some reason that Shuai will have a better chance this year.

The correct answer will provide some reason to weaken the idea that Shuai will win this year (though the answer won’ t absolutely guarantee that Shuai will lose). Perhaps the same player who beat her last year will be in the tournament again this year. Perhaps another player, who has beaten Shuai recently, will be playing in the tournament. Perhaps Shuai will be injured or sick.

Step 3: State the Goal

For weaken question, the correct answer will be a new piece of information that will make the conclusion at least a little less likely to be valid or true. If it were inserted into the argument, the conclusion would be doubtful.

Step 4: Work from Wrong to Right

Use an S-W-Slash Chart to keep track of answers and eliminate answer choice one by one.

If you have more than one W, compare the answer choices. Only one choice will weaken the conclusion in the end, so see whether you mistakenly labeled something a W when it should have been labeled something else. If they both still look good, then try to decide which one weakens the conclusion the most.

Here’ s an example:

The national infrastructure for airport runways and air traffic control requires immediate expansion to accommodate the increase in private, smaller planes. To help fund this expansion, the Federal Aviation Authority (the FAA) has proposed a fee for all air travelers. However, this fee would be unfair, as it would impose costs on all travelers to benefit only the few who utilize the new private planes.

Which of the following, if true, would cast the most doubt on the claim that the proposed fee would be unfair?

  • The existing national airport infrastructure benefits all air travelers.
  • The fee, if imposed, will have a negligible effect on the overall volume of air travel.
  • The expansion would reduce the number of delayed flights resulting from small private planes congesting runways.
  • Travelers who use small private planes are almost uniformly wealthy or traveling on business.
  • A substantial fee would need to be imposed in order to pay for the expansion costs.

Step 1: Identify the Question Type

The “cast the most doubt” and “if true” language indicate that this is a Weaken the Conclusion question.

Step 2: Deconstruct the Argument

The question stem indicates the conclusion: the proposed fee would be unfair. One set of notes might look like this:

Fee unfair
Cost for all,

Benefits only

For priv planes

Step 3: State the Goal

The author assumes that the benefits will apply only to those flying in the private plans. One way to weaken the argument would be to show that there was some benefit for a great group, or perhaps for all of the people who would be paying the fee.

Step 4: Work from Wrong to Right

Use an S-W-slash chart to categorize and eliminate answer choices.

(A) The argument concerns a fee needed in order to expand the existing infrastructure. The status of the existing infrastructure is irrelevant to the argument.

(B) A negligible impact is a very small impact. The fee, though, is intended to be used for infrastructure expansion. The argument makes no claim about what will happen with the overall volume of air travel.

(C) This choice offers a benefit for all air travelers: if the expansion can reduce congestion, and therefore the number of delayed flights in general, then others besides the private plane travelers will benefit from the fee.

(D) The wealth or employment status of the passengers does not address whether the fee benefits just these passengers versus all of the passengers.

(E) Strengthen or slash. The amount of the fee does not address whether the fee is unfair. If anything, you might argue that a very high fee is even more unfair, in which case this choice would strengthen the argument, not weaken it.

Answer choice (C) is the correct answer.

Analyze the Argument Structure

Analyze the Argument Structure questions ask you to describe the role of a part or parts of the argument; these portions will be shown in bold font. Annoyingly, the arguments tend to be complex, often with an argument/counterargument structure. Be prepared with guessing strategies (discussed below).

Step 1: Identify the Question Type

The question type will be immediately apparent because of the boldface font in portions of the argument. The question will typically ask what “role” the bold portions play in the overall argument.

Step 2: Deconstruct the Argument

The boldface portions can play one of three primary roles:

1 (C): The statement in boldface is the author’ s conclusion.

2 (S): The statement in boldface is a premise that supports the author’ s conclusion.

3 (W): The statement in boldface is something else (usually weakens the conclusion, but not always).

Find the author’ s conclusion, then classify each statement according too the categories C, S, or W. These arguments tend to be longer than average; note that you do not need to categorize the entire argument, just the two statements in bold font. Do not go to the answer choices until you have found the conclusion and categorized the statements!

Step 3: State the Goal

Your Goal is to categorize the boldface statements and then to find an answer choice that matches your categorization. Note also whether the boldface statements are on the same side of the fence (categories 1 and 2) or on opposite sides of the fence (1 versus 3 or 2 versus 3).

Step 4: Work from Wrong to Right

The wrong answer will provide descriptions of the wrong combination of categories. For example, you might decide that the first boldface is a C while the second is an S. One wrong answer might describe the combination C, W (in that order). Another might describe the combination W, C. Both would be wrong if you are looking for the combination C, S.

Here is an example

Mathematician: Recently, Zubin Ghosh made headlines when he was recognized to have solved the Hilbert Conjecture, postulated a hundred years ago. Ghosh posted his work on the Internet rather than submit it to established journals. In fact, he has no job, let alone a university position; he lives alone and has refused all acclaim. In reporting on Ghosh, the press unfortunately has reinforced the popular view that mathematicians are antisocial loners. But mathematicians clearly form a tightly knit community, frequently collaborating on important efforts; indeed, teams of researchers are working together to extend Ghosh’ s findings.

In the argument above, the two portions in boldface play which of the following roles?

  1. The first is an observation the author makes to illustrate a social pattern; the second is a generalization of that pattern.
  2. The first is evidence in favor of the popular view expressed in the argument; the second is a brief restatement of that view.
  3. The first is an example of a generalization that the author contradicts; the second is a reiteration of that generalization.
  4. The first is a counterexample to a generalization that the author asserts; the second is that generalization.
  5. The first is a judgment that counters the primary assertion expressed in the argument; the second is a circumstance on which that judgment is based.

Step 1: Identify the Question Type

The boldface font in the argument and the word “role” in the question stem indicate that this is an Analyze the Argument Structure question.

Step 2: Deconstruct the Argument

The author’ s conclusion is that mathematicians actually form a tightly knit community. The counterargument is that mathematicians are antisocial loners. Now, label each statement as either Conclusion (C), Support (S), or Weaken/Something Else (W).

The first boldface represents an example that supports the counterargument; label this statement W. The second boldface represents the author’ s conclusion, C.

Step 3: State the Goal

You’ re looking for an answer that describes the first statement as a W and the second statement as a C. Note that these two statements are on opposite sides of the fence (the first goes with the counterargument and the second goes with the author’ s argument).

Step 4: Work from Wrong to Right

(A) This answer says that the author uses the first statement to illustrate a pattern. On the contrary, the author believes that the pattern described by the counterargument is not valid. Eliminate answer (A).

(B) The first portion of this answer is accurate: the first statement does support the popular view, which goes against the view held by the author. The second half of this answer, though, is inaccurate. The second statement does not restate the popular view; rather, it provides the author’ s opposing view. Eliminate answer (B).

(C) The first portion of this answer is accurate: the first statement does support an idea that the author contradicts. The second statement, is not “that generalization,” or the popular view. Rather, the second statement reflects the author’ s opposing point of view. Eliminate answer (C).

Note that answers (A), (B) and (C) all describes the two statements as being on the same side of the fence. That’ s not what you want! You’ re looking for the two statements to be on opposite side of the fence.

(D) CORRECT. The author does assert something and the first statement does go against that assertion; the first half of this answer is accurate. The second half of this choice refers to “that generalization,” or the generalization that the author asserts. The author asserts his own conclusion, so the second half of this answer is also accurate. Leave this answer in.

(E) The first does counter the author’ s assertion, or conclusion, though note that this answer choice describes the first statement as a “judgment.” It is not a judgment; rather, it’ s a fact or example. The second half of the choice says that the second boldface statement is based on the first statement; in fact, the second statement goes against the first one. Eliminate answer (E).

The correct answer is (D).

Draw a Conclusion (Inference)

Draw a Conclusion questions are very similar to Inference questions for regular Reading Comprehension passages. You need to find the answer that logically follows, or must be true, based upon the information given in the argument.

It’ s critical to make a distinction between conclusions given in an argument and conclusions (or inferences) given in answer choices. When an ASP provides a conclusion for you in the argument itself, that conclusion is pretty faulty. It’s an arguable statement, or claim, that is only partially supported by the premises of the argument, and you can find lots of gaps in the argument.

By contrast, if you are asked to draw a conclusion or to infer something yourself, that conclusion must be able to be proven from the given premises. The conclusion should not require you to make any additional assumptions at all, even tiny ones. The correct answer to a Draw a Conclusion question is not a claim or an arguable statement. Rather, the correct answer must be true based directly and only upon the information given in the argument.

Step 1: Identify the Question Type.

The question stem may appear in a number of forms:

  • If the statement above are true, which of the following must be true?
  • Which of the following conclusions can best be drawn from the information above?
  • The statement above, if true, best support which of the following assertion?
  • Which of the following can properly be inferred from the statement above?
  • (A full argument) Students typically study five days a weak. Therefore, _______.

The last is an example of a Fill-in-the-Blank format. The word “therefore” signals that the correct answer is the conclusion of the argument.

Step 2: Deconstruct the Argument

Draw a Conclusion questions do not contain a conclusion in the argument. The argument will contain only premises and these premises will be primarily factual (though some might be more on the opinion or claim side). As with the other question types, jot down some light notes. if you can brainstorm any possible conclusions, do so-but remember that you might not think of actually what the correct answer will say.

Consider the following simplified example:

Samantha and Isabel are the only two people in the dining room. They are both women.

What can be safely inferred from these facts? That is, what absolutely must be true as a result?

Must be true: There are no men in the dining room.

This conclusion may not seem very meaningful or important in a real-world sense, but this is what the correct answer to a Draw a Conclusion is like. Avoid grand conclusions in these problems. A correct answer might simply restate one or more of the premises, using synonyms. Alternatively, a correct answer might be a mathematical or logical deduction.

Step 3: State the Goal

You need to find the answer choice that must be true given some or all of the information found in the argument. (Note that the correct answer is not required to use all of the given information.)

Step 4: Work from Wrong to Right

Eliminate any answers that require additional assumptions or outside information in order to be true. The wrong answers will all include something that does n’ t have to be true.

Consider the following example:

In certain congested urban areas, commuters who use public transportation options, such as trains and subways, spend approximately 25 percent less time in transit, on average, to reach their destinations than commuters who travel by car. Even individuals who drive their entire commute in carpool lanes, which are typically the least congested sections of roadways, still spend more time, on average, than commuters who use trains and subways.

The statement above, if true, best support which of the following assertions about commuting in the congested urban areas mentioned above?

(A) Waiting in traffic accounts for approximately 25 percent of the commuting time for individuals who drive to their destinations.

(B) Walking between a subway or train station and one’ s final destinations does not, on a average, take longer than walking between one’ s car and one’ s final destination.

(C) Using carpool lanes does not, on average, reduce driving time by more than 25 percent.

(D) Individuals who commute via public buses spend approximately 25 percent more time in transit than those who commute using public trains or subways.

(E) Subways and trains are available in the majority of congested urban areas.

Step 1: Identify the Question Type

The word “assertion” coupled with the fact that the assertion is in the answer choices indicates that this is a Draw a Conclusion/Inference question.

Step 2: Deconstruct the Argument

One set of notes might look like this:

 

Pub trans (trn, sub): ~25% < t than ppl using car

Even true for carpool

 

Step 3: State the Goal

You’ re looking for something that must be true using at least some of the presented information. It might be tempting to conclude that people “should” use public transportation-but note that this does n’ t have to be true. Don’ t introduce opinions or real-world logic.

Step 4: Work from Wrong to Right

(A) While waiting in traffic probably does account for some of the commuting time, there’ s no reason why it must account for approximately 25% of that time. This might be an appropriate for a Strengthen question. But not for an Inference question. Eliminate answer (A).

(B) Careful! This one is tempting initially because it might cause someone to think, “Oh, wait, did they account for the time it takes to get from the subway to work or your house? Maybe this is it!” The difficulty here is that this length of time does not have to be similar to the length of time it takes to walk from the car to the final destination. The argument compares the overall commute time, not the time for smaller pieces of the commute. Eliminate answer (B).

(C) The argument does mention that “even” when someone uses a carpool lane, which should save time, it’ s still faster to take public transportation. Given that info, if public transportation also takes about 25% less time than using a car, then it actually must be the case that using a carpool lane does not (on average) save more than 25% of car commuting time. If it did, then carpooling might actually be faster than taking public transportation. Leave this answer in.

(D) The argument does not make a comparison between different forms of public transportation. Rather, it compares all of public transportation to all commuting by car. Eliminate answer (D).

(E) Tricky! Again, this one might make someone think, “Oh, they’ re assuming that public transportation is actually available!” Note first that this argument is assuming nothing at all-it does not contain a conclusion and, by definition, only arguments containing conclusions also have assumptions. Next, the argument provides actual data for areas that do have public transportation, so that’ s the only concern. Finally, the argument never specifies that these areas must have subways and trains, specifically (buses are also public transportation), nor does it specify that a “majority” of these areas have public transportation. In fact, the argument refers only to “certain congested urban areas.”

The correct answer is (C). Note that the correct answer addressed only one narrow part of the situation. It did not assume anything or go at all beyond the scope of the information given in the argument.

Problem Set

Use the four-step process taught for all ASPs, as well as any specific techniques recommended for that question type (e.g., the S-W-Slash chart). Consider all five answer choices before you make your final decision!

1. John was flying from San Francisco to New York with a connecting flight in Chicago on the same airline. Chicago’ s airport is one of the largest in the world, consisting of several small stand-alone terminals connected by trams. John’ s plane arrived on time. John was positive he would make his connecting flight 30 minutes later because________.

Which of the following most logically completes the argument above?

  1. John’ s airline is known for always being on time.
  2. A number of other passengers on John’ s first flight were also scheduled to take John’ s connecting flight.
  3. At the airport in Chicago, airlines always fly into and out of the same terminal
  4. John knew there was another flight to New York scheduled for one hour after the connecting flight he was scheduled to take.
  5. The airline generally closes tho doors of a particular flight 10 minutes before it is scheduled to take off.

2. Media Critic: Network executives have alleged television viewership is decreasing due to the availability of television programs on other platforms, such as the internet, video-on-demand, and mobile devices. These executives claim that declining viewership will cause advertising revenue to fall so far that networks will be unable to spend the large sums necessary to produce programs of the quality now available. That development, in turn, will lead to a dearth of programming for the very devices that cannibalized television’ s audience. However, technology executives point to research that indicates that users of these platforms increase the number of hours per week that they watch television because they are exposed to new programs and promotional spots through these alternate platforms. This analysis demonstrates that networks can actually increase their revenue through higher advertising rates, due to larger audiences lured to television through other media.

The portions in boldface play which of the following roles in the media critic’ s argument?

  1. The first is an inevitable trend that weighs against the critic’ s claim; the second is that claim.
  2. The first is a prediction that is challenged by the argument; the second is a finding upon which the argument depends.
  3. The first clarifies the reasoning behind the critic’ s claim; the second demonstrates why that claim is flawed.
  4. The first acknowledge a position that the technology executives accept as true; the second is a consequence of that position.
  5. The first opposes the critic’ s claim through an analogy; the second outlines a scenario in which that claim will not hold.

Solutions

The solution key sometimes shows sample notes to illustrate how they might look and to help you brainstorm abbreviations and other note-taking methods.

Ans 1) Step 1: Identify the Question Type

The blank in this Fill-in-the-Blank question is preceded by the word because, most commonly signaling a Strengthen question, but you’ ll need to read the argument to be sure. The beginning of that sentence contains the conclusion, so this is indeed a Strengthen question.

Step 2: Deconstruct the Argument

The Chicago airport is busy and very large, consisting of several small stand-alone terminals. Despite this, John thinks he will make his connecting flight.

Step 3: State the Goal

The correct answer choice will make it a little more likely that John’ s conclusion is valid. The information needs to support the idea that he will make the connecting flight despite the size of the airport.

Step 4: Work from Wrong to Right

(A) This is a general observation about the timelines of John’ s airline, but it does not provide any new information- the argument already states that John’ s particular flight arrived on time. The fact that his connecting flight will probably depart on time might even weaken the argument.

(B) Airlines have been known to delay flights in order to ensure that a large number of passengers can make the connection, but you should not have to make an additional assumption in order to say that this choice strengthens the given conclusion.

(C) CORRECT. Strengthen. John will not have to take a tram to another terminal in order to reach his connecting flight. The premises describe the individual terminals as “small.” If he can walk to his next flight in a small terminal, then 30 minutes is likely enough time to make the connection.

(D) This choice is out of scope. The argument concludes that John will make his current flight; the following flight has no bearing on John’ s ability to catch the flight on which he is currently booked.

(E) Slash/ Weaken. If anything, this choice weakens the idea that John will catch the connecting flight by shortening the length of time he has to get to the second flight’ s gate. He now has only 20 minutes, not 30.

Ans 2) Step 1: Identify the Question Type

The boldface font indicates that this is an Analyze the Argument question. Note that the question stem references the “media critic’ s argument”-this is the conclusion you want.

Step 2: Deconstruct the argument

The first three sentences describe the network executive’ s argument: alternate viewing platforms will cause fewer people to watch TV, resulting in lower advertising revenues. The networks then won’ t have enough money to continue producing high-quality programming, so everyone will lose, even the people who are watching on alternative viewing platforms.

The fourth sentence begins with the word “.however” The argument goes on to indicate that technology executives have research that contradicts the network executives’ view. The media critic then concludes that the networks can actually increase their advertising revenues.

The first boldface portion opposes this position by predicting smaller audiences; label it W. The second boldface lends support to the critic’ s conclusion by citing evidence that alternate media platforms lead their users to watch more television; label this one S.

Step 3: State the Goal

The correct answer will first describe a W and then a S.

Step 4: Work from Wrong to Right

(A) The first boldface statement does weigh against the critic’ s claim, but it is a prediction, rather than an inevitable trend. The second boldface statement is a premise supporting the claim; it is not the conclusion itself.

(B) CORRECT. The critic’ s conclusion about a potential increase in network revenue is contrary to the first boldface statement’ s prediction about shrinking audiences and falling revenue. Also, the critic’ s argument also depend upon the second boldface statement’ s assertion that users of alternate devices will actually watch more hours of television.

(C) The first boldface statement opposes the critic’ s claim, rather than clarifies it. The second boldface statement is used to support the critic’ s claim; it does not indicate that the critic’ s claim is flawed.

(D) The argument does not indicate whether the technology executives accept or deny the prediction of the network executives. (Given, though, that the technology executives think that people will watch more television, not less, it does n’ t seem likely that the technology executives will agree with the network executives.) The second boldface statement contradicts the first one; it does not follow as a consequence.

(E) The first boldface statement offers a prediction, not an analogy. The second boldface statement is in agreement with, not in opposition to, the critic’ s claim.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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