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Step 1: Get a Job

This page describes the 1st step of approaching a Reasoning question: figuring out what the question is asking you to do.

Each question provides precise instructions, so you can always figure out what a question is asking on test day, but thinking is expensive. Learning the tendencies of the common families, styles, and types will save you brainpower and time.

On reading the question first...

There's some debate about whether reading the question first is a good idea.

Reading the question first will feel less useful if you have not memorized the common question families, styles, and types.

As always, experiment with my suggestions and do what works best for you.

3 families

Family tells what to look for in the argument.

Question Family Example Read For...
DESCRIBE "The argument proceeds by..." The structure of the argument
ARGUE "Which of the following is a flaw in the argument above?" The problem with the argument
INFER "Which of the following follows from the statements above?" Combinable facts
How to spot a DESCRIBE question

DESCRIBE questions are neutral. They don't ask you to argue with or extend the argument.

DESCRIBE questions ask you to say what happened in the argument.

How to spot an ARGUE question

ARGUE questions suggest that something could be improved or criticized about the argument.

ARGUE questions ask you to select an answer that adds to the argument.

How to spot an INFER question

INFER questions generally ask you to choose an answer that follows from the argument.

The argument on INFER questions isn't really an argument. There's no conclusion. They only give you facts.

2 styles

Style determines the type of attention you need to pay to the argument and what kind of prediction you can expect to make before seeing the answers.

MECHANICAL and ORGANIC questions use different parts of your brain. If you don't know the difference, the Reasoning section can feel bewildering, exhausting, and even unfair.

Style | Type of Attention | Type of Prediction -- | -- MECHANICAL | Pedantic. Robotic. No new ideas. | Specific ORGANIC | Holistic. Creative. "What if"s are welcome. | Flexible

11 types

Many questions can be answered by knowing the question's family and style.

There 9 special Reasoning question types that are worth memorizing:

Type Example Family Style
ROLE "What role does 'blah blah blah' play in the argument?" DESCRIBE MECHANICAL
PARALLEL "Which of the following is most similar to the argument?" DESCRIBE MECHANICAL
HURT "Which of the following is a flaw in the argument?" ARGUE ORGANIC
ORGANIC-HELP "Which of the following, if true, most supports the conclusion?" ARGUE ORGANIC
MECHANICAL-HELP "Which of the following principles, if valid, would justify the argument above?" ARGUE MECHANICAL
DEPENDS "Which one of the following is an assumption the argument requires?" ARGUE BOTH
(DIS)AGREE "Which of the following is the the economist most likely to agree with" INFER ORGANIC
MUST BE FALSE "Which of the following must be false based on the above?" INFER MECHANICAL
RULE "Which of the following examples conforms to the principles stated above?" INFER MECHANICAL

Each type inherits the general tendencies of its family and style. Knowing a question's specific type gives you even more detailed instructions about what to look out for in the argument and answers.

Example: MECHANICAL-HELP questions

The conclusion can be properly drawn if which one of the following is assumed?

As a member of the ARGUE family, your primary job on MECHANICAL-HELP questions is figure out what's wrong with the argument.

On all HELP questions, you want to solve the problem. On MECHANICAL-HELP questions, you can expect to come up with that solution before you see the answers. The solution will connect the facts and the conclusion. To find that solution, you may use conditional logic.

Lessons you learn on MECHANICAL-HELP questions can help with other MECHANICAL questions, HELP questions, and ARGUE questions.

Example: (DIS)AGREE questions

The two people above are most committed to disagreeing about which of the following?

This is a variation on ORGANIC INFER questions. Like ORGANIC INFER questions, you want to make a flexible prediction. That flexible prediction might just be knowing what the two people did and didn't say. And like ORGANIC INFER questions, you should favor modest answers because they're more provable.

Unlike ORGANIC INFER questions, you aren't really trying to combine what they said. Instead you're looking for the overlap. Since you have a slightly different mission, it's worth distinguishing this type of question.