What Is The Author Trying To Prove? Conclusion Identification in Critical Reasoning
Today’s article is the second in a series intended to help test-takers deal with Critical Reasoning questions. The focus here is on how to identify a conclusion in an argument. Again, as we explained with identifying premises, we will keep this simple; there is absolutely no reason to get into heavy logic or to overcomplicate matters. Why do so when the GMAT doesn’t. Most of our students get a very firm and quick grasp of what this section is about without sweating it too much and getting into crazy formal logic!
For those who are at the very beginning of their preparation for the GMAT let us briefly state what a conclusion is.
A conclusion is a position, opinion or judgment reached after consideration of evidence or facts (ie the premise[s]).
Example: If John beats Jane at a single chess game, one possible conclusion is that he is a better chess player.
Although it can be concluded that John is a better chess player than Jane is, it has not been proven. Although there is some evidence, this conclusion is still an opinion held by the author.
Now let’s start with the most useful techniques necessary to locate a conclusion. Quite commonly, a conclusion is often preceded by words that describe a judgement, opinion, prediction or conclusion, such as: conclude that, contend that, believe that, hypothesize that, clearly. Such wording allows you to identify the conclusion in no time.
The second commonly used way in which a conclusion can be stated is by a recommendation given by the author of an argument:
1. The company lost money last year. The company should do so and so.
2. The company lost money last year. It is recommended that the company do so and so.
Thirdly, the conclusion can be introduced with the use of conjunctions. Conclusion conjunctions help us identify the conclusion, which normally appears AFTER such words as therefore, thus, consequently, hence, so, which means that, it follows that, etc. For example:
Structure: [premise]. Therefore, [conclusion].
Example: Jane is hungry. Therefore, she will be making herself a sandwich soon.
Reason conjunctions also help identify the conclusion, which appears BEFORE these words. Reason words include words such as because, since, and as.
Structure: [conclusion] because [premise].
Example: Jane will be making herself a sandwich soon because she is hungry.
Naturally, this means reason conjunctions can also help us identify the premise, which will appear immediately AFTER these words, as can be seen in the example above and as discussed in the previous article.
Now, let’s take a look at a question which contains no direct clues which we could use to identify the conclusion.
Citizens in Country X are frequently complaining that lines in government offices are much longer now than they were 15 years ago. No real measure of the length of the lines in government offices in Country X 15 years ago or today exists, but the citizens’ complaints are almost certainly exaggerated, if not altogether unwarranted. The number of government officials in Country X has quadrupled over the past 15 years whereas the number of citizens has only doubled.
Different parts of the argument have been marked by using differrent font effects. Now let us try to decide which component of an argument each part represents.
The text in the boldface type provides factual data so it’s a premise. While the citizens’ complaints are their opinions, notice that this sentence reports this as information (the citizens complain about this and that) and does not reveal the author’s opinion. The underlined text also provides factual data so it’s a premise; it tells us that there’s no data on a certain issue, and this is a fact. The text in italics is the author’s judgment, or opinion, on the matter, supported by the data in all the other sentences. Therefore, this portion can be identified as the conclusion. The last statement also provides factual data and thus it is a premise.
As you can see, not all Critical Reasoning arguments provide a clear-cut clue to identifying the conclusion, such as a conjunction (e.g., therefore), a recommendation (e.g., The company should do so and so) or conclusion words (e.g., The researcher concluded that). Moreover, a conclusion does not always appear as the last bit of info in an argument.
In the example discussed above, we did not have any tangible clue that would help us identify the conclusion.
However, having no direct clues does not mean we are helpless and that the conclusion cannot be identified. It simply means that the process of identifying the conclusion relies on common sense rather than spotting certain words (such as conjunctions). In fact, the clues we’ve learned so far are just there to reaffirm what we understand using our logic and common sense.
In signing off, I am leaving you with an argument to consider:
(1) Over the past 20 years, Hormone Replacement Therapy has been used to give new life to ageing people, primarily by raising their energy levels.
(2) However, research indicates that the hormone dosage used in the past had extremely negative health effects.
(3) Doctors want to stop using this type of therapy altogether.
The argument’s conclusion appears in which sentence(s)?