How to Gauge an Author’s Credibility for the GED Social Studies Test

By Achim K. Krull, Murray Shukyn

The GED Social Studies test will ask questions that require you to determine the credibility of an author. Evaluating whether an author is believable based on the information provided in a written passage and the citation isn’t always easy, but you may be able to pick up clues by carefully examining the following areas:

  • Author’s credentials: Does the author have any special credentials relevant to the topic? Check the byline that accompanies the passage to determine whether the author has any special training that qualifies her as an expert in the field.

  • Citations: Authors of nonfiction materials cite other sources to provide supporting evidence for their claims. Look at the sources they use. A large number of citations shows that the author has done her research. Check the citations themselves. Are the sources reliable? Do they show biases? For example, if a company sponsors a study, the researchers may be reluctant to release any results that reflect poorly on the company or its products.

  • Tone: Objective passages present the facts in a matter-of-fact way, without a lot of emotion. A strident tone may indicate that the author is biased and isn’t as objective as she’s trying to present herself.

  • Balanced view: Credible authors recognize and acknowledge different sides of an issue and address common or obvious objections to whatever claims they’re making. An author loses credibility by not acknowledging other viewpoints or by presenting those other viewpoints as preposterous without providing evidence to prove it.

Compare the following two excerpts and determine which is more credible.

Passage One

From Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, International Religious Freedom Report for 2013.

In Syria, as in much of the Middle East, the Christian presence is becoming a shadow of its former self. After three years of civil war, hundreds of thousands fled the country desperate to escape the ongoing violence perpetrated by the government and extremist groups alike.

In the city of Homs the number of Christians dwindled to as few as 1,000 from approximately 160,000 prior to the conflict. Elsewhere, in the Central African Republic, widespread lawlessness and an upsurge in sectarian violence between Christians and Muslims reportedly resulted in at least 700 deaths in Bangui in December alone and the displacement of more than one million people throughout the country during the year.

Passage Two

Letter to the editor

The problem with the Affordable Care Act purely from an economics perspective is that it increases demand for healthcare while doing absolutely nothing to increase the supply. The end result will be ever increasing prices for consumers in the form of both higher health insurance premiums and increases in out-of-pocket costs.

My insurance company, for example, recently canceled the high-deductible policy I was paying $247 a month for because it did not comply with Affordable Care Act requirements. The “low cost” replacement plan the company recommended would cost me $448 a month. This is just one example of how the Affordable Care Act increases the cost of healthcare.

If you chose the first passage as the more credible, you answered correctly. The first passage contains plenty of facts presented objectively. The second begins by saying that the Affordable Care Act did “absolutely nothing” to increase the supply, which seems to be an exaggeration.

In addition, the only evidence given to support the claim that the Affordable Care Act increases healthcare costs is a personal account of an increase in an insurance premium, which only proves that the author of the letter has reason to be biased against the Affordable Care Act.