Conclusion questions

 

In this article, I will be discussing the “conclusion” question type, which appears regularly in every test, often not more than twice per section and usually towards the front and middle.  This question type tests your ability to recognize arguments, since the ability to figure out whether a statement is a premise or conclusion is something you need to have in order to evaluate arguments.  You can tell you're doing a “conclusion” question if you're asked something like the following:

”Which one of the following is the main conclusion of the argument?”, “Which one of the following provides a logical completion to the passage?”, “Which one of the following most accurately expresses the main conclusion drawn in the argument?”, etc...

Each conclusion question type contains a passage that can be either an argument or just a collection of statements.  If it’s an argument then that argument will not be clearly presented and you won't be able to easily tell what the premises are and what the conclusion is.  If it’s just a collection of statements (all premises, no conclusion), then one of the answer choices will be the the most reasonable conclusion that can be drawn.  Furthermore, all the premises in the passage will provide support for one of the answer choices.

 

EXAMPLE

In order to be environmentally-friendly, most publishing houses print books on recycled paper.  But, it’s probably a better idea for them to start publishing e-books.  E-books have a minimal impact on the environment since they’re only responsible for the energy that goes into running the computer system.

The main point of the argument is that

A) The way that publishing houses can be most environmentally-friendly is to stop publishing books printed on recycled paper.

B) Publishing houses need to publish more books on cd.

C) It’s a better idea for publishing houses to start publishing e-books than to print books on recycled paper.

 

This is a simplified version of a conclusion question and our approach to doing this question (like it would be for all conclusion questions) is to first analyze the content and look for premise and conclusion indicators as well as for statements that interpret or evaluate information.  This is because a statement that interprets or evaluates information is most likely the conclusion in an argument. In general, you won’t find obvious indicators but you will usually be able to establish the relationships between some of the statements.

In the above case you should be able to see that there are no obvious premise and conclusion indicators.  However, you should also see that the third sentence, “E-books have a minimal impact on the environment...” supports the second, “...it’s probably a better idea for them to start publishing e-books.”   Likewise, the first sentence merely presents a fact but the second sentence is an evaluation – it suggests something.  The first sentence presents context and background info and the second sentence is the main conclusion in the argument.  So with the knowledge that we have the conclusion we now need to go through the choices and find the one that most closely resembles it.

Choice A is not the correct answer because it says something that isn’t mentioned at all in the passage.  Saying that publishers should publish more e-books and saying that publishers should stop publishing print books are two very different things.  They may seem similar on a superficial reading but in fact this choice adds new information and is wrong.  Any time you see new information on a conclusion question answer choice you can safely know that the choice is incorrect.

Choice B is not correct because it’s subtly different from what the actual conclusion says.  The conclusion doesn’t say that more books on cd need to be published, it says that more e-books need to be published, and those are two different things.  The difference is subtle but it’s a difference, and in fact this is a common wrong answer choice as well.  Whenever you are presented with a choice that subtly shifts the meaning of a key term, you need to train yourself to be on the lookout for that because it’s going to be important for most of the rest of the question types as well.  Pay attention to the meaning of key concepts and whether that meaning shifts from the content to the answer choice.

Choice C is correct because it basically restates what we determined to be the correct choice.  And in those variations of the conclusion question type where the argument does contain a conclusion the correct choice is simply going to restate it.

 

So that’s the basic approach that you need to take when doing these question types.  Now take a look at this example for a common variation:

Businesses that don’t replace outdated technology won’t remain competitive in the marketplace.  LaserTech hasn’t installed a new computer inventory system in over three years, and new systems come out once a year.

 A)  A business that doesn’t replace outdated technology won’t remain competitive in the marketplace.

 B)  LaserTech will definitely go out of business.

 C)  LaserTech won’t remain competitive in the marketplace.

 

This is another simplified version of a conclusion question and it illustrates the second major variation that you’ll find for this question type.  As with the previous example the first thing that you should do is analyze the content to see if you can find a conclusion.  And here we don’t have any premise and conclusion indicators, the relationship between the sentences is that the first presents a general rule and the second is an example of a situation where a condition for the general rule is fulfilled.  And you can’t say that either sentence supports the other.  So in these situations you’re looking to see if there’s a conclusion that the argument is pointing towards.   The first sentence presents a general rule that says that something will happen if a condition is met, and the second sentence says that there’s a specific situation where that condition has been met.  So we can see that the argument is moving towards the conclusion that LaserTech won’t remain competitive in the marketplace.  And this is an example of the argument type where two premises work together to support a conclusion.  So we have a potential conclusion and let’s go through the answer choices to see if we can find it.

Choice A is incorrect because it simply restates one of the premises.  You need to be on the lookout for this since it’s a common incorrect answer.  In particular, this can be tricky in those situations where the restated premise is a sub-conclusion, that’s a bit trickier since it’s a conclusion – just not the main conclusion.

Choice B is incorrect because there’s a shift and because it uses extreme language.  The argument isn’t talking about anyone going out of business, it’s saying that business will no longer be competitive, and those are two slightly different things.  Likewise, the answer choice says ‘definitely’, which is an adjective that conveys certainty.  Any time that you have an adjective that has that kind of unqualified certainty whether it’s definitely, always, never, etc then you should be suspicious of it since most arguments aren’t so black and white.

Choice C is the correct answer because it combines the two premises in the argument and articulates the logical conclusion.  Businesses that don’t replace outdated technology won’t be competitive, LaserTech is a business that hasn’t replaced outdated technology, so LaserTech won’t be competitive.

That’s the basic approach to these conclusion question types.  The question will ask you to choose the conclusion that restates the actual conclusion in the argument or that is the most appropriate and reasonable conclusion give the information in the passage.  You need to look for premise and conclusion indicators and try to figure out the basic structure of the argument.  Correct choices will either restate the conclusion (which won’t be obvious) or will be a logical conclusion to the premises in the passage.  Incorrect answers will add new information, have a shift in terms, use extreme language, or restate one of the premises.

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