Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills Section - Skill 2: Reasoning Within the Text
Recognizing and Evaluating Arguments
Questions assessing Reasoning Within the Text will also require you to understand how the different parts of the passage fit together to support the author’s central thesis. Some questions will direct your attention to an argument, claim, or evidence presented in the passage and then ask you to evaluate it according to specific criteria. The criteria could be the logic and plausibility of the passage text, the soundness of its arguments, the reasonableness of its conclusions, the appropriateness of its generalizations, or the credibility of the sources the author cites. The questions require you to dig beneath the passage’s surface as you examine the presence or absence of evidence, the relevance of information, and faulty notions of causality and to determine the significance of and relationships among different parts of a passage. Some questions may require that you analyze the author’s language, stance, and purpose. For example, plausible-sounding transitional phrases may in fact be tricky. If read quickly, the words appear to make a legitimate connection between parts of a passage; however, when subjected to scrutiny, the links they appear to have established may fall apart.
The skills required to answer both types of Reasoning Within the Text questions may sound like a long list of possible critical and analysis skills to have mastered, but they are skills you probably already have and use every day. Similar to your reactions when you hear someone trying to convince you about something, persuade you to think a particular way, or sell you something, these questions often invite you to doubt and then judge the author’s intentions and credibility. Questioning an author is a legitimate and often necessary analysis strategy that can serve test takers well when making sense of complex text. Answering these questions requires looking beyond contradictions or omission of facts or details to find clues such as vague or evasive terms or language that sounds self-aggrandizing, overblown, or otherwise suspect within the context of the passage. Credible sources — essayists, scientists, lecturers, even pundits — should be both authoritative and objective and should clearly demonstrate expertise. Blatant, one-sided arguments and rigid points of view are easy to identify, but some authors are more nuanced in presenting biased ideas in the guise of objectivity. The key to identifying bias lies in identifying the author’s treatment of ideas, which you achieve by analyzing and evaluating different aspects of the passage. For example, an author who uses demeaning stereotypes or derogatory labels is not likely to be a source of objective, judicious analysis.