How to Analyze Relationships Among Ideas for the GED RLA

By Achim K. Krull, Murray Shukyn

On the Reasoning Through Language Arts test, you’re expected to identify and analyze the relationships between ideas. When two or more ideas are presented in a text, they’re related by sequence, connection, or cause and effect and ultimately lead you to arrive at a certain conclusion.

Sequence

Ideas or events are related by sequence when one idea comes before or after the other or the two ideas exist at the same time. To identify ideas related by sequence, look for words such as before, during, and after. The following passage serves as an example of events related by sequence.

There was a major snowfall in Buffalo yesterday. Because of a gas shortage, many people were clearing snow by hand. The next day, local hospitals reported a significant increase in the number of heart attacks.

This passage relates a clear sequence of events: a snowfall, a shortage of gasoline, clearing snow by hand, and an increase in heart attacks. Determining whether the events prove a true causal relationship is more difficult; the clearing of snow by hand and the increase in heart attacks may be a coincidence. You need further information to draw such a conclusion. All that is clear here is that the events occurred in a sequential order.

Connection

Ideas or events are related by connection when they’re presented as being like or unlike one another or are both relevant to whatever is being described or analyzed. To identify ideas and events related by connection, look for words and phrases such as and, but, and as well. Here’s an example in which the word and is used to connect the characteristics of a certain task:

Changing settings on an onboard computer can be both complicated and time-consuming. If the work is not handled carefully, it could result in a complete crash of the system.

The first sentence clearly shows the connection: Changing settings is both complicated and time-consuming. The two ideas are linked in one sentence.

Here’s an example in which the ideas are connected in a way that highlights their differences:

Lord Fontleroy was very generous in his giving to philanthropic organizations but stingy when asked by family members for any sort of financial assistance.

Cause and effect

Ideas and events are related by cause and effect when one idea or event gives rise to the other. To identify passages that contain cause-and-effect relationships, look for words and phrases such as because, as a result, and outcome. Keep in mind, however, that causes and their effects may be implied rather than explicitly stated. Here’s an example of a cause-and-effect relationship that’s clearly stated:

Due to the increasing frequency and duration of droughts in California, wildfires have become much more common and devastating.

The use of the due to establishes the cause-and-effect relationship: the increasing frequency and duration of droughts causes wildfires that are more common and devastating.

Correlation or coincidence isn’t necessarily proof of causation.

Here’s a passage from The Prince by Nicolo Machiavelli in which the cause-and-effect relationship is less obvious:

But let us come to Commodus, to whom it should have been very easy to hold the empire, for, being the son of Marcus, he had inherited it, and he had only to follow in the footsteps of his father to please his people and soldiers; but, being by nature cruel and brutal, he gave himself up to amusing the soldiers and corrupting them, so that he might indulge his rapacity upon the people; on the other hand, not maintaining his dignity, often descending to the theatre to compete with gladiators, and doing other vile things, little worthy of the imperial majesty, he fell into contempt with the soldiers, and being hated by one party and despised by the other, he was conspired against and was killed.

Why was Commodus assassinated?

  • (A) He corrupted his soldiers.

  • (B) He was cruel and brutal.

  • (C) He didn’t maintain his imperial majesty.

  • (D) all of the above

The correct answer is Choice (D), all of the above. The text presents a clear linkage showing that Commodus’ brutal nature, lack of dignity, and other vile actions led to his being despised and eventually assassinated.