These questions are somewhat uncommon. They present you with a complete argument and then ask you to identify the argumentative strategy used. They are usually pretty straightforward and should not be overthought.
The argument presented will be a solid argument – you don’t have to strengthen or weaken it, just to identify the method used. The goal is to classify the argument in very obvious, general terms – usually the first thing that comes to mind. For example:
Whoever stole the cookie from the cookie jar had to be someone who knew the combination code to the cookie jar lock. Tom, Dick, and Harry are the only people who knew the code. Tom was out of the country on the night the cookie was stolen, and Dick left his office too late to have done it. Therefore, Harry was the cookie thief.
Which of the following best describes the argument’s method of reasoning?
The obvious answer here is: the argument uses process of elimination to deduce that Harry committed the crime. Therefore, the answer would be something like “deducing the conclusion by eliminating the only possible alternatives”.
Again, just think of the obvious answer. How would you say the argument supports its conclusion, in general terms? Then just find the answer choice that paraphrases that.
(By the way, the conclusion in the above argument is the last sentence, and the rest of the paragraph is support for it.)
Another possible wording for this question is “the argument proceeds by”. Here’s another simple example:
Tom claims that Harry was with him on the night of the cookie theft, and therefore that Harry could not have been the thief. However, Tom has been shown to have lied many other times, so we cannot trust him. Therefore, we should not rule out the possibility that Harry was the thief.
The argument proceeds by
In this case, the argument demonstrates that Tom is a liar, and that therefore we should not conclude that Harry is innocent based on his testimony. So, the answer to the question would likely be something like “casts doubt on an opposing argument by questioning the reliability of its source”. Tom’s testimony is the source for the opposing argument, and it’s shown to be an unreliable source (because Tom’s a liar).
Sometimes, this question will be a conversation between two people, and you need to identify the method of reasoning of one of the two people. Here’s a simple example:
Dick: I recently heard about a study demonstrating that cookies are unhealthy. Therefore, we should stop eating cookies.
Tom: I disagree. If you search hard enough, there are studies showing that just about every food is unhealthy. But if we stop eating every food, we’ll starve.
Tom responds to Dick’s argument by doing what?
Tom essentially shows that Dick’s standard for deciding to cut a food out is too low (the fact that a study exists demonstrating it’s unhealthy). Why? Because If he applied that standard across the board, it would result in cutting out every food, which is absurd. Therefore, the answer to the question would be something like “argues that Jack’s reasoning is faulty by showing that by extension, it would result in an absurd conclusion”.
Here’s a real example from June 2007:
Here, the argument shows that even though the association voted against the new water system, the number of people who voted were too small to be representative of the entire city. In other words, the argument shows that we can’t conclude that the city is against the new water system just because the association voted against it, since the vote was taken from too small of a sample to be representative of the city. In other words, (E).
As you can see, this question type is fairly straightforward. In summary:
- As you read the argument, think about how you would phrase what the argumentative strategy being employed is, in very obvious and general terms
- Find the answer that paraphrases that
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