How to Draw Generalizations and Hypotheses from the Evidence for the GED RLA

By Achim K. Krull, Murray Shukyn

Being able to identify generalization and hypotheses from evidence is an important skill for the GED Reasoning Through Language Arts. A generalization is a broad conclusion drawn from evidence presented. A conclusion based on limited or unsupported evidence is called a hypothesis, which is essentially an educated guess. The GED RLA test expects you to be able to extract information from passages and turn that information into a general statement.

The good news is that the test provides you with a passage that contains all of the information you need. Here’s an example from the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Emergency Disinfection of Drinking Water:”

  • Use bottled water that has not been exposed to flood waters if it is available.

  • If you don’t have bottled water, you should boil water to make it safe. Boiling water will kill most types of disease-causing organisms that may be present. If the water is cloudy, filter it through clean cloths or allow it to settle, and draw off the clear water for boiling. Boil the water for one minute, let it cool, and store it in clean containers with covers.

  • If you can’t boil water, you can disinfect it using household bleach. Bleach will kill some, but not all, types of disease-causing organisms that may be in the water. If the water is cloudy, filter it through clean cloths or allow it to settle, and draw off the clear water for disinfection. Add teaspoon (or 8 drops) of regular, unscented, liquid household bleach for each gallon of water, stir it well and let it stand for 30 minutes before you use it. Store disinfected water in clean containers with covers.

  • If you have a well that has been flooded, the water should be tested and disinfected after flood waters recede. If you suspect that your well may be contaminated, contact your local or state health department or agriculture extension agent for specific advice.

Review this passage and list the key points.

The idea of making generalizations from evidence is more than simply making one or two statements that sum up the information presented. The passage is about making water safe to drink, but what is the aim of all that information? What one phrase would summarize the purpose of all these basic points? Try answering the following question:

Which of the following statements most accurately summarizes this passage?

  • (A) Water must always be purified to make it suitable for drinking.

  • (B) In an emergency, tap water is not safe to drink.

  • (C) There are various ways to obtain safe drinking water when tap water is contaminated.

  • (D) You can make contaminated water safe by boiling it or adding bleach.

The first generalization to draw from all this information is that untreated water isn’t safe to drink. The second generalization is that contaminated water can be made safe, or at least safer, to drink. Choice (C) is the only choice that is both supported in the passage and broad enough to summarize the entire passage.

Choice (A) isn’t supported in the passage because the passage discusses drinking water safety only in the context of an emergency, not “always.” Choice (B) is implied in the passage and serves more as an assumption on which the passage is based. Although Choice (D) is true and supported in the passage, it doesn’t accommodate the fact that bottled water is also an option. Choice (C) is the best answer.

Have a look at this passage from An Unsinkable Titanic by John Bernard Walker (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform):

… she [the Titanic] was supposed to be the “last word” in first-class steamship construction, the culmination of three-quarters of a century of experience in building safe and stanch vessels. In the official descriptions of the ship, widely distributed at the time of her launching, the safety elements of her construction were freely dwelt upon. This literature rang the changes on stout bulkheads, watertight compartments, automatic, self-closing bulkhead doors, etc., — and honestly so.

There is every reason to believe that the celebrated firm who built the ship, renowned the world over for the high character of their work; the powerful company whose flag she carried; aye, and even her talented designer, who was the first to pronounce the Titanic a doomed vessel and went down with the ship, were united in the belief that the size of the Titanic and her construction were such that she was unsinkable by any of the ordinary accidents to which the transatlantic liner is liable.

Which of the following conclusions can you most reasonably draw from the evidence presented in this passage?

  • (A) People had good reason to believe that the Titanic was unsinkable.

  • (B) People were misled to believe that the Titanic was unsinkable.

  • (C) The person who designed the ship was wrong.

  • (D) The Titanic was a well-built sea vessel.

To answer this question, first jot down the evidence presented in the passage.

Use your evidence list to test the answer choices. Based on the evidence, which is the most valid conclusion you can draw from the passage?

The evidence presented backs up the idea that confidence in the unsinkability of the Titanic was perfectly justified. History proved that the Titanic wasn’t safe, not unsinkable. However, based on this passage, people had good reasons for their confidence in the Titanic. Choice (A) is best. Nothing in the passage supports the notion that reports at the time were intended to mislead people about the Titanic’s safety, so rule out Choice (B).

Although the designer of the ship may have made mistakes, nothing in the passages supports this theory, so Choice (C) is wrong. You can also rule out Choice (D), because even though the Titanic may have been a well-built sea vessel, that’s not the main point of the passage; the main point has more to do with people’s confidence in it.