In a previous article, I introduced the informal, albeit an evidently important, category of the GRE passages which I mostly referred to as argument-based passages. We discussed the basic components of these special passages and these components were illustrated through an example. In this article, we’ll explore the various types of questions that are commonly associated with an argument-based passage. Without further ado, let’s dive straight into the subject matter:
Types of questions appearing with argument-based passages
There are normally 2 argument-based passages appearing in a single verbal section of the GRE. Any argument-based passage is accompanied by only one of the following question types:
Strengthening the argument
Two of the most common question types associating an argument-based passage are the ‘strengthening/weakening the argument’ questions. As the name implies, in the ‘strengthening the argument’ question type, you’re asked by the question stem to select an answer choice that strengthens or reinforces the main conclusion or point of the argument. This can be done by selecting an answer choice that does one of the following:
- Provides further premises/facts/reasons that lead to the same conclusion
- Provides a premise that eliminates reasons for attacking the conclusion
Remember that the correct answer achieves one of the following on its own i.e. without requiring any outside assumptions.
For a detailed illustration of this question type with the help a sample passage, read this piece on Strengthening the Argument.
Weakening the argument
Again as the name implies, here you have to select the answer choice that weakens or undermines the main conclusion or claim of the argument. In these questions, the correct answer choice raises doubts about the validity of the conclusion by challenging one of the assumptions on which it is based.
Remember that the correct answer manages to call into question the conclusion of an argument solely on its own i.e. without requiring any outside assumptions.
For an illustration of how this happens, read this piece on Weakening the Argument.
Identifying the assumption
“Which of the following is an assumption on which the argument depends?” Questions such as these ask you to identify the missing link between the premises and the conclusion, some general fact that has to be true for the argument to be valid. In other words, without assuming that fact, it would be incorrect to reach the stated conclusion from the stated premises. For more details, read the essay on Identifying the Assumption where I have explained this question type through an example.
Identifying roles of sentences
These question types essentially require the vital skill of being able to correctly analyze the structure of an argument. In other words, we are required to identify the function of sentences within the argument: individual roles they play to collectively establish the point that the argument is trying to make. The question stem asks you to select an answer choice that best describes the roles played by bold-faced sentences in the passage. For more details, see Identifying Roles of Sentences.
This question type is associated with a special type of argument that is… well…. not really a complete argument. The passage is a set of premises without a conclusion and it is you who are to infer the right conclusion from those premises. Contrary to regular argument-based passages which has a conclusion that is almost always based on some unstated assumptions, in the inference questions you are asked to deduce a conclusion that can be directly drawn from only the stated premises. Any outside assumption will lead to wrong answer choices.
Similar to the previous type, this question type is also almost always based on a “conclusion-less” argument. There is a set of seemingly irreconcilable set of premises, a passage comprising apparently conflicting statements. You have to somehow make the statements compatible by selecting an additional premise from the answer choices. This premise bridges the gap between the contradictory statements in the passage and resolves the existing paradox.