How to Find Premises and Assumptions for the GED RLA

By Achim K. Krull, Murray Shukyn

The GED Reasoning Through Language Arts test will include questions that ask you to find premises and assumptions in arguments. Arguments contain one or more premises on which the argument is based, and you need to be able to tell the difference between the two:

  • A premise is a statement, presumed to be true, on which an argument is based. For example, “Freedom of speech is the most essential of all freedoms” establishes the writer’s belief. For the argument to be convincing, the reader would need to accept this statement as true as well.

  • An assumption is an unstated premise. For example, in the statement, “We have a global imperative to reverse global warming,” the assumption is that global warming is harmful in some way, even though that premise isn’t stated explicitly.

Whenever you’re called on to analyze an argument or present an opposing viewpoint, look for the premise or assumption on which the argument is based. One very common and effective way to challenge an argument is to question the premise or assumption or, better yet, prove it to be wrong.

Finding the premise on which the argument is based

Finding a premise in an argument is easier than finding an assumption, because a premise is a statement included in the argument. It’s even easier to locate if it’s preceded by one of the following conditional words or phrases:

  • because

  • due to

  • for

  • given that

  • in that

  • on the basis of

  • owning to

  • since

For example, “Due to the likelihood of attracting biased jurors, the judge should move the trial to another county.” The premise here is that by having the trial in this county, the court is likely to end up with jury members who are biased in favor of or against the person on trial. The conclusion — that the judge should move the trial to a different county — depends on how true the premise is.

Try your hand at identifying the premise in the following example:

Healthcare costs are out of control because doctors make too much money. According to an article in Forbes magazine, 21.5 percent of physicians in the United States are in the top 1 percent of income earners. In addition, the average physician in the United States earns $250,000 a year, while the average physician in the United Kingdom earns $114,000 annually.

Which of the following statements, if true, would work toward disproving the premise of this argument?

  • (A) Out of pocket expenses for people who enroll in Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act have dropped from $1,463 to $34 per year.

  • (B) Physicians in the Netherlands earn on average $286,000 annually.

  • (C) The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 75 cents of every dollar spent on healthcare in the U.S. goes toward treating largely preventable chronic illnesses.

  • (D) In the healthcare system, doctors are paid for doing more rather than having their compensation tied to how effective they are in treating patients.

Don’t feel bad if you picked Choice (B), (C), or (D), which are all wrong. This is kind of a trick question. Remember, the premise is stated but presumed to be true. The premise in this passage is that healthcare costs are out of control, not that doctors make too much money. If the fact that doctors make too much money were presumed to be true, the writer would not have given evidence to try to support that conclusion.

Correct answer: Choice (A), the only evidence that challenges the premise that healthcare costs are out of control.

Identifying assumptions

Spotting assumptions is a little more difficult than spotting premises because you’re asked to see what’s not there, what’s not stated. To find the hidden assumption, look between the conclusion and the evidence used to support the conclusion. The assumption usually requires the reader to make a leap from evidence to conclusion without providing any rational link between the two. Consider the following argument:

She was a wonderful teacher. All of her students received As and Bs.

What is the underlying assumption?

  • (A) Students who receive high grades have effective teachers.

  • (B) Great teachers give great marks.

  • (C) Students learn better from great teachers.

  • (D) Student grades are an accurate indicator of a teacher’s effectiveness.

Look for an “if–then” statement implicit in this sentence. The underlying assumption is that a connection exists between the teacher’s status as wonderful and all students’ receiving great marks. If the students received great marks, then the teacher is wonderful. Choice (A) is incorrect because although the passage implies a connection that a wonderful teacher improves student performance, it doesn’t imply that students can’t achieve high grades without an effective teacher.

Choices (B) and (C) are general statements that may or not be correct, but they don’t relate to this specific example. Choice (D) is correct because the passage assumes that high student grades reflect a teacher’s performance. The only reason the teacher is wonderful is because she gave everyone great marks.

Here’s another example:

Real men don’t eat quiche, but Robert loves quiche and eats it at every opportunity.

What is the assumption in this sentence?

  • (A) Robert eats too much quiche.

  • (B) Quiche makes men.

  • (C) Quiche does not make real men.

  • (D) Robert is not a real man.

You can rephrase this info as an “if–then” statement. If Robert doesn’t eat quiche, he is a real man, or if Robert eats quiche, he isn’t a real man. Because Robert loves quiche, he isn’t a real man. Choice (D) is the correct answer. Choice (A) is irrelevant, and you can discard it. Choices (B) and (C) get no support from the text. Of course, if you were asked to provide an opposing view, your option would be to attack the premise. What’s the premise? The premise is “Real men don’t eat quiche.”