March 31, 2022

Solving “Reasoning” Questions

These top-down questions ask you to describe how the author draws her conclusion:

  • Which one of the following most accurately describes the method of reasoning used in the argument?
  • The ethicist derives her conclusion by
  • The argument proceeds by

Make a Strong Prediction

If it’s a Reasoning question, the passage will be an argument and can be either valid or flawed. The question asks you to understand how that argument works. 

Engage with the passage the first time you read it. Pause to think about what the author is trying to say after each sentence. By the time you finish reading the passage, you should know the main conclusion. You should also have a strong grasp of how the argument proceeds. 

Reasoning questions are completely predictable. Before you read the answers, predict how the correct one will describe the author’s reasoning:

  1. Spot the premises and the main conclusion. If you’re unsure, learn more about argument parts and indicators here. If a statement isn’t a premise or a main conclusion, it might be an example, a concession, or background information. 
  2. Describe how the premises support the main conclusion. Your prediction doesn’t need to be perfect. Just outline what’s happening in the argument using plain English. 

 For example, you might observe that “The author disproves a study’s results by showing that its sample is unrepresentative.” Or you might observe that “The author is rejecting a person’s argument by pointing out that that person is dumb.” Keep it as simple as possible.

What to Look For

Once you’re confident in your prediction, look for an answer choice that matches it. 

The correct answer must accurately describe what happens in the passage. If, for instance, the passage uses one example to support its conclusion, you can rule out an answer choice that says that the argument “relies on multiple examples.”

 Break down the answers part by part. In your mind, replace abstract words in the answer with concrete ideas from the passage.

 Consider this question and possible answer choice: 

The argument proceeds by

(A) inferring that an attitude would be justified in all situations of a given type on the grounds that this attitude is justified in a hypothetical situation of that type.

 Let’s break this answer into three parts:

  1. inferring that an attitude would be justified 
  2. in all situations of a given type 
  3. on the grounds that this attitude is justified in a hypothetical situation of that type

 Restate part 1 to yourself and check that it matches the passage: “Is the argument concluding that an attitude would be justified?” If not, stop and move on to the next answer choice. Do the same for part 2: “Is that conclusion for all situations of a certain type?” And part 3: “Is this because that attitude is justified in one of those situations?” If you answer “no” to any of these questions, this answer choice is wrong. Time to move on.