Praxis Core Prep: How to Answer Long Passage If Questions
“If” questions (so called because they usually begin with “If it were found that … ”) are like argument/support questions on the Praxis Core, only instead of asking how a detail from the passage is used to support the author’s argument, they ask how a detail or fact that is not in the passage would affect the author’s argument if it were found to be true.
The point of such questions is that they demonstrate advanced logical thinking — that is, they show that the test-taker fully understands the weight and implications of the argument being made on an abstract level, rather than merely showing that the test-taker comprehends the passage’s exact words.
For example, consider a question like “If it were found that the defendant in a murder trial has a twin brother, how badly would this weaken the prosecution’s case?” The answer would be that the prosecution’s case would be weakened if it relied solely on eyewitness testimony but that it would not be weakened if they had fingerprint evidence, because twins look alike but don’t have identical fingerprints.
Don’t worry — questions on the test don’t involve outside knowledge; they deal only with the information provided to you in the passage and the questions themselves. (So if, in the example given here, they wanted you to base your answer on the fact that twins don’t have identical fingerprints, the passage would tell you this.) This is just an example of what is meant by an “if” question.
If you’re good at logical reasoning, you may be excited about answering “if” questions. But if you’re not so hot at logical reasoning, rest assured that there are simple, step-by-step ways to eliminate wrong answers to an “if” question, just as there are for the other types of questions.
“If” questions come in two basic types. In the first kind, the question gives you a detail, and the answer choices are possible ways that the detail may affect the argument. Keep in mind that there are only three ways in which a given detail can possibly affect an argument:
It can support it.
It can undermine it.
It can have no effect.
However, the question needs to have five choices, so the choices can involve questions of degree: “The given fact completely proves the argument,” “The given fact supports the argument slightly,” “The given fact completely disproves the argument,” “The given fact undermines the argument slightly,” and “The given fact has no effect on the argument.”
“If” questions also often pop up in reference to passages that compare excerpts from two authors.
The answer choices may be something like “The given fact supports the author of Passage 1,” “The given fact undermines the author of Passage 1,” “The given fact supports the author of Passage 2,” “The given fact undermines the author of Passage 2,” and “The given fact has no effect on the argument of either author.”
The second type of “if” question reverses this dynamic. Instead of providing you with a single detail and giving you five choices about how the detail affects the argument, this type of “if” question asks you to identify which of five possible details supports or undermines the argument.
The way to approach such a reverse if question is to begin by understanding that a detail has to be about the same thing as the argument in order to have any effect on it one way or the other. So your first step is to eliminate all the choices that are unrelated.
After you’ve eliminated the answer choices that have no effect one way or the other (unless you’re being asked to identify the detail that has no effect on the argument, which is rare, but possible), the next step is to look for points that are either consistent with or mutually exclusive to the author’s viewpoint.
A detail or factoid that is consistent with the author’s viewpoint (a detail that would or could be true if the author is right) supports that argument, and a detail or factoid that is mutually exclusive to (that is, couldn’t be true at the same time as) the author’s viewpoint undermines it.