LSAT Reading Comprehension: How to Answer Inference Questions
Reading inference questions on the LSAT ask you about information that’s implied by the passage rather than directly stated. These questions test your ability to draw conclusions using evidence that appears in the passage. For inference questions, you’re normally required to do one of these four things:
Identify a logical consequence of a statement or of two statements taken together
Infer the intended meaning of a word that’s used figuratively in the passage
Determine the author’s attitude toward the passage’s topic or subtopics
Infer from attitudes portrayed in the passage how the author or others feel about different theories or events
For instance, suppose you read a passage that compares the rapidity of wing beats between houseflies and horseflies. Information in paragraph two may state that the wings of horseflies beat at 96 bps (beats per second). Information in paragraph four may say that a Purple Winger is a type of horsefly.
From this information, you can infer that the wings of the Purple Winger beat at a rate of 96 bps. This is an example of the first bullet in the preceding list: recognizing a logical consequence of the author’s statements.
The horsefly conclusion doesn’t require that you make great leaps of logic. When you’re answering an inference question, look for the choice that slightly extends the passage’s meaning. Choices that go beyond the passage’s scope are usually incorrect. Don’t choose an answer that requires you to assume information that isn’t somehow addressed by the passage.
As you read the passage, look for clues to the author’s tone as well as his or her purpose. You’re bound to see questions that ask you to gauge how the author feels about the topic. Tone and style questions commonly ask you to figure out the author’s attitude or complete the logical flow of the author’s ideas.
The author may be neutral, negative, or positive and may have different attitudes about different types of information within the same passage. It’s up to you to determine the nature and degree of the author’s feeling from the language used in the passage. With practice, you’ll figure out how to distinguish between an enthusiastic author and one who’s faking enthusiasm to mock the passage’s subject.
When making determinations about the author’s style and tone, consider the passage as a whole. You may find one or two examples of praise in an article that’s otherwise overwhelmingly critical of a subject.
Don’t make the mistake of quickly categorizing the passage from a few words that happen to catch your attention. Instead, determine the passage’s main idea and the author’s purpose (you need to do this to answer other questions, anyway), and use that information to help you discern the author’s style and tone.
For example, if an author’s purpose is to argue against a particular point of view, critical words regarding the proponents of that viewpoint reveal an overall critical attitude. However, you wouldn’t say the same about an author of a passage that supports a viewpoint overall but includes one or two criticisms of some supporters of the viewpoint.
Style and tone questions may point you to a specific portion of a passage, or they may be about the whole passage. Even if a question does reference a specific part of the text, it does so in relation to the passage as a whole.
For example, you can usually answer a question that asks you why an author chose to use certain words in a particular sentence only within the context of the entire passage. So if you know the main idea, author’s purpose, and tone of the entire passage, you should be able to effectively deal with questions about the use of a particular word or phrase in one part of the passage.
The LSAT primarily tests your logical reasoning ability, so expect to see a lot of inference questions in the reading comprehension section. They’re easily recognizable because they usually contain infer, suggest, or imply in the question, such as these examples:
It can be inferred from the passage that the Western concept of “need” differs from other definitions of need in which one of the following ways?
Information in the passage implies that which one of the following is often the subject of Neruda’s poetry?
The author’s stance toward the Western concept of “need” can best be described as
The author brings up southern migration patterns most likely to suggest which one of the following?
Sometimes knowing a great deal about a passage’s topic can be a detriment because you may be tempted to answer questions based on your own knowledge rather than the passage itself. Simply answer the questions as they’re asked, and make inferences that can be justified by information in the passage.