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Verbal Test I

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Verbal Reasoning Tests aim to engage your ability to read, comprehend, analyze, and draw inferences from a series of passages. Each passage is typically 150-200 words highlighting a news story, a series of facts, or general info on a select topic. The topic can range from business and science to art and literature.

What is a Verbal Reasoning Test?

Verbal Reasoning Tests aim to engage your ability to read, comprehend, analyze, and draw inferences from a series of passages. Each passage is typically 150-200 words highlighting a news story, a series of facts, or general info on a select topic. The topic can range from business and science to art and literature. They often contain statistical facts and some technical information. These are often designed to overwhelm the reader but do not let them distract you. They are not always relevant for every question.

VERBAL REASONING TIP: It is not a ‘fact-based’ test but an ‘inferential’ test. This means that you should treat whatever facts the passages give as true even if you think otherwise or they are blatantly false. We can still draw inferences from false statements.

Verbal Reasoning tests typically contain 4-5 passages with roughly 4-5 questions related to each passage, making up a total of 20 questions. They are typically timed at 20 minutes to complete.

How to Analyze an Argument

Not all passages are arguments. But all arguments contain some passages consisting of key parts. This is important to keep in mind because not every sentence in a paragraph is part of an argument. Some might be introducing a topic; others might be stating a fact without saying anything else. For example, today is Monday. This might be true or false, depending on when you are reading it. But it is difficult to say that this is an ‘argument.’ Or, consider a character in a play that says to another character, “But I love you. We have spent three years helping each other, building a home, and caring for our animals. Surely, this shows you that I love you.” Believe it or not, there is an argument in that claim; in fact, there is an argument with three supporting premises. So, what makes an argument an argument? What gives it its key features? Understanding the parts of an argument will help you.

The Anatomy of an Argument

All arguments contain two types of statements: Premises and Conclusions.

What is a statement?

A statement is a proposition/declaration that has a truth-value. It can be either true or false. It cannot be true and false at the same time. But it has to have some truth-value, even if we disagree. So, whenever you see a statement that can be either true or false, you know you have something that can be used in an argument. If it doesn’t, then it is not part of an argument.

EXAMPLE:

The following are all statements because they are capable of having a truth-value (true or false)

  1. It is raining outside (T or F)
  2. LeBron James is a professional baseball player (F)
  3. Chicago is a city in the United States of America (T)
  4. The Jeffersons moved to Alaska (T or F)
  5. Mary is 6 feet tall. (T or F)

The following are all non-statements since they do not have a truth-value

  1. Fantastic. (subjective reaction, it is neither true or false)
  2. Who is at the door? (this is a question, not a statement)
  3. Where are we going today? (this is a question, not a statement)
  4. I really liked the last president of this company. (this is a subjective expression about a like/dislike. It is neither true-or-false to others).

Role of Statements

Statements can play one of two roles in an argument.

  1. Premise: Statements can be in support of a point and serve as the ‘evidence’ for that point.
  2. Conclusion: Statement that presents the overall claim and is the one supported by the ‘evidence.’

An argument can have many premises or a few. An argument can only have one MAIN conclusion but can have minor INTERMEDIATE conclusions too.

Premise Indicators

Premises can be spotted by looking for ‘premise indicators.’ Premise indicators are keywords that indicate that the statement you are reading is a premise and not a conclusion.

  1. Since...
  2. Moreover...
  3. And...
  4. Additionally...
  5. It is the case that...
  6. This is evidenced by...
  7. This is supported by...
  8. Because...
  9. For...
  10. Given that...
  11. Seeing that...
  12. As indicated by...
  13. For the reason that...


Conclusion Indicators

Conclusions can be spotted by looking for ‘conclusion indicators.’ Conclusion indicators are keywords that indicate that the statement you are reading is playing a conclusive role and not a premise role. (Note: intermediate conclusions serve a dual role of closing out a small argument and starting its next part toward the MAIN conclusion).

Key Conclusion Indicator Terms:

  1. Therefore...
  2. Thus...
  3. In conclusion...
  4. For these reasons...
  5. Consequently...
  6. It follows that...
  7. As a result...
  8. So...



Examples

Consider the following two passages, note the keywords that help us quickly determine which statements are premises and which is a conclusion.

Example 1: Artists and poets look at the world and seek relationships and order. But they translate their ideas to canvas, or marble, or into poetic images. Scientists try to find relationships between different objects and events. To express the order they find, they create hypotheses and theories. Thus, great scientific theories are easily compared to great art and great literature. (Douglas Giancoli)

CONCLUSION: Great scientific theories are easily comparable to great art and great literature

Example 2: Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and pursuit, is thought to aim at some good; and for this reason, the good has rightly been declared to be that at which all things aim. (Aristotle)

CONCLUSION: The good [is]…. that which all things aim.

Test Examples

Consider the following passage and let’s break it down. First, let’s find all the key indicators in this complicated set of arguments.

  1. Highlighted in RED are premise indicators
  2. Highlighted in BLUE are conclusion indicators

Egypt is home to 35% of the world’s camel population. Known to be a special animal in Muslim societies for its role in the life of its Prophet (Muhammad), its enigmatic smile, and ability to travel long distances in the desert without the need to replenish its water, the slaughtering of camels has come under great scrutiny.

Neighbouring Sudan does not have anti-camel slaughtering laws or procedures. As a result, many poachers work extensively to lure camels across state boundaries to slaughter, sell, or abuse camels. While Egyptian authority has tried to combat poachers, they are limited since Egyptian law cannot transcend Sudanese territorial boundaries. Once the camels cross the border, Sudanese laws apply, and Egyptian authorities can only observe but not act.

Experts suggest that resolving this problem requires applying international laws and not state-based laws since the former can apply to both states without contradiction. The only problem is that international law does not have the same force as state-based law, given that territorial integrity cannot easily be compromised by international law. In other words, not all states observe international law, and when they fail to do so, the punitive punishment can be insufficient.

Others recommend that both states negotiate a camel treaty that would target the illegal practices of poachers as criminal behavior with an attached high penalty for its violation. In doing so, the hope is that Egypt can preserve its camel population while camels that do, on their own, cross the border into Sudan are fair game. The camel population would be allowed to grow back faster and no longer endanger the species. Therefore, any solution that is likely to work will require cooperation between both states and likely not require the interjection of the international community.


Now we can quickly pull out the main conclusion.

CONCLUSION: Any solution that is likely to work will require cooperation between both states and not require the interjection of the international community.

We now know that the outcome of the passage is that we need a cooperative solution. But what supports this conclusion? Let’s break the passage down one paragraph at a time.

Paragraph 1

Egypt is home to 35% of the world’s camel population. Known to be a special animal in Muslim societies for its role in the life of its Prophet (Muhammad), its enigmatic smile, and ability to travel long distances in the desert without the need to replenish its water, the slaughtering of camels has come under great scrutiny.

Paragraph 2

Neighbouring Sudan does not have anti-camel slaughtering laws or procedures. As a result, many poachers work extensively to lure camels across state boundaries to slaughter, sell, or abuse camels. While Egyptian authority has tried to combat poachers, they are limited since Egyptian law cannot transcend Sudanese territorial boundaries. Once the camels cross the border, Sudanese laws apply, and Egyptian authorities can only observe but not act.

Paragraph 3

Experts suggest that resolving this problem requires applying international laws and not state-based laws, since the former can apply to both states without contradiction. The only problem is that international law does not have the same force as state-based law given that territorial integrity cannot easily be compromised by international law. In other words, not all states observe international law, and when they fail to do so, the punitive punishment can be insufficient.

Paragraph 4

Others recommend that both states negotiate a camel treaty that would target the illegal practices of poachers as criminal behavior with an attached high penalty for its violation. In doing so, the hope is that Egypt can preserve its camel population while camels that do, on their own, cross the border into Sudan are fair game. The camel population would be allowed to grow back at a faster rate and no longer endanger the species. Therefore, any solution that is likely to work will require cooperation between both states and likely not require the interjection of the international community.

Other Key Terms

There are two more things to keep in mind when looking for key terms. Some terms play different roles in a passage, and it is crucial to be mindful of them.

Conjunctions (and, moreover, in addition)

  1. Conjunctions join two or more statements together. These are called ‘compound’ statements. If they are conjoined/compounded, then each has to be individually true for the whole statement to be true. One false part and the whole compound is false.

For example: I am 6 feet tall and 35 years old.

These compound/conjoined statements need to each be true for the whole compound to be true. If one of them is false, then the entire statement ‘I am 6 feet tall and 35 years old’ is FALSE.

Disjunction (or/either/one but not the other)

  1. A disjunction is a statement that consists of two or more parts, but only one of them has to be true for the whole compound to be true.

For example: I am either 6 feet tall or a Trillionaire

As long as one of those two disjunct statements is true, then the WHOLE thing is true. We only have to satisfy one of them in a disjunct statement.

So be careful to pay attention when a statement is connected with an ‘and’ or an ‘or’. It makes an important difference when trying to understand the argument.

Counter-terms

  1. Certain key terms (e.g., but, however, yet) offer a counter-point to the main argument that the author wants to consider. We do this all the time when we speak. We set something up, and the listener is waiting for us to say ‘but. . .’ which means that here comes the counter-consideration to the point.

For example: I know many people go on this ride every day, and parents permit their children to ride it, and it has not had a serious incident in its 50 years of operation. But, given the potential cost of having an accident, and given how precious you are to me, I do not support your decision to ride it.

Let’s Break it Down:

  1. This paragraph has three conjoined premises in the first sentence alone. They are all part of an implicit argument that the person should be allowed to go on the ride.
  2. Notice the ‘But’ in the second sentence. It is saying that ‘despite these good reasons for supporting you’, there is a counter-consideration.
  3. ‘Given that’ is a premise indicator. Given that you are precious to me and given the potential harm if it did have an accident, are the reasons/premises the person is giving in support of their conclusion.
  4. Conclusion is implied in the last part of the second sentence ([therefore] I do not support your decision to ride it).

This is how loaded those two sentences are. They provide an outline of an argument for the ride and an argument against riding it, with the author siding on the side of being against it.


Types of Questions

There are several different kinds of questions you will find on Verbal Tests and a select few answers.

VERBAL REASONING TIP: Only conclude what you can know for sure. Do not make unnecessary assumptions. Never say something is ‘true’ or ‘false’ unless you know with certainty that there is no chance it cannot be true or false.

True/False/Cannot say

The most common question you will see on verbal reasoning tests are ones giving a statement (remember, a statement has to have a truth-value) and asks you to determine if it is true/false or inconclusive given the passage.

There is no need to guess these questions. Find the supporting evidence from the passage by locating your premise indicators and determining if the statement is supported/rejected or unable to do either.

Example 1: CANNOT SAY

Statement 1: The Camel is a prized animal in Muslim society.

Statement/Question; All Muslims prize camels.

There is nothing in Statement 1 that is conclusive about ‘all Muslims.’ Imagine someone says, ‘Baseball is a prized sport in America.’ This does not mean that ‘every American’ prizes the sport. It might be the case that every one of them does, but it might also be that some do not prize it while maintaining the truth of the conclusion.

Example 2: TRUE

Statement 2: iPhones sell for a higher cost than all other Apple products and has sold the most units this year.

Statement/Question: iPhones grossed the most sales for Apple this year.

This statement requires you to make some inferences to the conclusion. If it is true that iPhones are the most expensive of all the Apple products AND it is true that they outsold all the other products, then IT MUST FOLLOW that they grossed the most sales this year.

Conclusion Questions

Another common question you will find will ask if you can identify the main conclusion. You can look for the key conclusion indicators. But be careful, as an argument can have mini/intermediate conclusions supporting one MAIN conclusion. So, do not jump at the first conclusion indicator you find but scan for other possible terms.

For Example:

If we invite Adam to the party, then Bethany will have to be invited too. If Bethany is invited, then Charlie will attend too. Therefore, if we invite Adam to the party, then Charlie will attend. However, this bothers me very much. Charlie is a rude guest. He never shows up on time. And he makes a big mess. Thus, I think we should not invite Adam.

Notice we have two conclusion indicators, but only one of them is the MAIN conclusion. There are two arguments in his short passage. The first one is a conditional argument about what would follow if Adam is invited.

The second argument is why the author does not want to invite Adam. Charlie will attend, and we are given three reasons why Charlie attending would bother the author. So, the conclusion is that we should not invite Adam.

Strength Questions

You may find another type of question requires you first to determine the main conclusion, its supportive premise (evidence) and, assuming everything is true, determine which statement would further endorse the conclusion. In other words, it makes it even more likely to be true. These questions are the most challenging since they require comprehension and not strictly finding any specific term or keyword. This is a critical type of question.

For Example:

During the last five years, hurricane patterns have weakened over the Atlantic. Many think that is because of recent climate change patterns.

Which of the following, if true, would further strengthen this claim that this is because of climate change patterns?

  1. Colder temperatures are known to affect hurricane season
  2. During similar temperature changes a hundred years ago, hurricane patterns weakened as well
  3. We have only been studying hurricane patters for a few decades
  4. Scientists agree that hurricane strength and temperature are related

First, we have to assume all the answer options are true. So, if they are true, which helps support the main conclusion?

Option A is too narrow. We don’t know if climate change means warmer or cooler, and this fact being true doesn’t support the notion that hurricanes are getting ‘weaker.’

Option B is helpful if true. If it turns out that a similar change a hundred years ago had the same result, then this would further support the current conclusion.

Option C is irrelevant. The paragraph was about the last five years. This statement either helps or hurts the conclusion.

Option D is also irrelevant. Even if scientists agree on some facts about the world, this doesn’t provide the strongest support for the conclusion, even if true.

Our best option is Option B.


Additional Advice

You can practice verbal reasoning tests in many ways. Read newspaper Op-Ed pieces, news articles, and books featuring argumentative passages (e.g., Philosophy). You will start to notice premise and conclusion indicators everywhere.

But also take some time to think about the overall point of the passage and the supporting reasons the author gives for that claim. You don’t have to agree or disagree with the write-up, but you should be able to analyze it. This will strengthen your verbal reasoning skills and make the test passages easier to tackle.