Day 14 – CARS Question Types: Inference
Today, we’re going to finish the second of the two “unstated, but necessary conclusion” question types on the CARS. Yesterday, we looked at the implication question type and today we take up the inference type. These two have significant similarities in what they test and the skills required to answer them correctly. Try to think of them as a set and you’ll be well served. Let’s get to it!
The Inference Question Type:
Inferences are unstated, necessary internal conclusions that concern one or more of the components of an argument. Whereas main idea or passage detail questions deal with particular stated aspects of the passage, Inference and implication questions deal with implicit, unstated information. These latter question types are not dealing with what might possibly be true. They are asking you about things which must be true or, at least, are highly probable. These two question types make up roughly 15% of the questions on the CARS or somewhere around eight questions in a section test. Inference questions differ in one critical way from implication questions. Implication questions imply something about outside cases or something in the future, but they always reference something external to the argument. Inferences tell you something internal to the argument. Inferences always require you to think internally to the language and reasoning of the passage. While the conclusion will not be explicitly stated, it will be obvious when you identify a well-supported inference that is true. Take one of the most standard examples of an inference:
All men are mortal. – (Premise)
Socrates is a man. – (Premise)
Therefore, Socrates is mortal. – (Inference)
Notice that in the argument, it is never stated that Socrates is mortal, but based on the argument, this must be true. Thus, the unstated, but necessary conclusion of the argument is that Socrates is mortal. This is an inference because it describes something internal to the argument, namely something we did not previously know or something that had not been previously stated about Socrates. Take a look at another example:
All meat comes from animals. – (Premise)
Beef is a type of meat. – (Premise)
Therefore, beef comes from an animal. – (Inference)
If the premises are true, and the directionality of the interpretation is correct, the inference must also be true. Take a look at these next two examples. What’s wrong with them?
All A are B. – (Premise)
C is a B. – (Premise)
Therefore, C is an A. – (Inference)
All apples are fruit. – (Premise)
Bananas are fruit. – (Premise)
Therefore, bananas are apples. – (Inference)
Why don’t these two inferences work? Especially in the second case, it’s clear that this isn’t right. The issue in the first case and the second case is one of directionality of the application of the premises. Just because all A’s are B’s does not necessarily mean that all B’s are A’s. This could be the case, but it doesn’t have to be. Think of the example that while all squares are rectangles, not all rectangles are squares. The category of square has more limitations on it. It is more specific. In the second example, the category of fruit is more general, whereas the category of apples is more specific, namely round, red fruit. This is why bananas are not apples.
This might seem to be getting into the weeds, and in truth, we’re pushing on the boundaries of the kind of thinking the MCAT CARS will require of you, but if you see how inferences work close up, you’ll be better prepared to evaluate which are valid and strong and which are not. Let’s take a look at a few example question stems.
Examples of Inference Question Stems:
Based on the author’s treatment of the US’s counter-terrorism strategies, it is reasonable to infer which of the following?
It is reasonable to conclude that the author believes what about George Washington Jr?
Which of the following inferences is most justified based on the author’s arguments concerning the enfranchisement of women in the early 20th century?
Campbell’s argument that Star Wars is an example of a mythological journey allows for which of the following inferences?
A reasonable supposition from the passage concerning the primary problem that plagues most philosophers is that:
Apparently, both sides participating in the debate assume that:
According to one of the positions presented, government is an “affair of invention and contrivance” and is supremely concerned with questions “of means and end.” If both of these premises are true, which conclusion is most reasonable?
Tips for Inference Questions:
– When you believe you’ve correctly identified the inference, be sure to double check the premises that support it, both that they are true and also that the directionality of the application of the premises is correct.
– Look for the necessary conclusions of the support given in the passage.
– What are the underlying assumptions that the author relies on to make his or her argument? What must be true for the argument to be true? These assumptions will lead you to the correct inference.
– With inference questions, try to identify which of the answer choices is grounded in the support given in the passage. Then remove these pieces and see if it affects the author’s thesis. If the author’s thesis is weakened or bankrupt without the premises, you know you have identified the essential premise and thus a necessary unstated conclusion, which with inference questions, equals the correct answer.
– Usually, you’ll just have a feeling about inference questions. The best answer is the one that seems to make the most sense. Which one is most supported by the passage? More often than not, that’s your answer.
Great job today! I’d recommend looking at inference and implication questions together as they’re similar and interconnected, in fact, most companies teach them as the same thing, but I believe the differences are significant enough to invest the time with each. Today’s your break day, so don’t do any passages today. We’ll start up with three passages tomorrow!
Today’s Assignment: Take a break! Don’t do any practice passages today.
“What seems to us as bitter trials are often blessings in disguise.”
– Oscar Wilde