How to Crack Logic-Based Inference Questions

In SAT Reading by Peter PengLeave a Comment

I’ve touched upon inference questions in an earlier post (remember: ask yourself WHY something was written, not just WHAT was written). But logic-based inference questions get their own special article because they are a more specialized and advanced subcategory of inference questions. These questions truly test if you know WHY something was written. They don’t just ask what can be inferred or what a particular sentence suggests; those are reserved for the normal, easier inference questions.

Logic questions are harder and ask which of the following is most analogous or best represents the issue/event/phenomenon described in the passage. They require you to fully understand both the meaning and purpose of the passage, then apply that understanding to hypothetical situations. The SAT is checking whether you can accurately judge situations not discussed in the passage based upon logic directly derived from the passage.

Let’s take a look at a question from the OSSG (Official SAT Study Guide) 2nd Edition.

EXAMPLE — Logic-Based Inference Question
OSSG 2nd Edition
pg. 592 #20

The example passage is about bats. First off, notice what the question is asking: which of the following LEAST detracts. The CollegeBoard has been kind enough to capitalize that keyword for you, yet so many simply overlook it. Be very careful around LEAST, EXCEPT, and NOT questions. The right answer is the one that answers the question correctly, not necessarily the one that matches what the passage says.

So the first thing you need to do is to straighten out the question itself, figure out what it’s truly asking for. In other words, ask yourself what would something that detracts very little from the author’s argument look like? Probably something that firmly supports the author. If none of the choices directly support the author, then look for the second best thing: a neutral choice that doesn’t support or oppose the author, basically a choice that bears no relationship to the author’s argument. And if all the choices oppose the author, then look for the third best thing: the choice that opposes the author to the least extent or degree.

Of course to answer the question, you first have to understand what the author’s argument is. Let’s go to the passage for that, pg. 591. Read lines 25-42 carefully.

Again, there are two levels of understanding:
1. WHAT something says (superficial first level)
2. WHY something was said (deeper second level)

WHAT is said:

  • Typically humans sleep at night.
  • Our “normal” time is daytime, when we are awake.
  • Anything that doesn’t follow our “normal” schedule is up to no good…scary…make us feel vulnerable & defenseless.
  • Bats operate outside our “normal” schedule because they are awake at night.
  • This makes bats frightening to humans.

WHY it is said:

  • To provide the logical framework we need to answer the question.
  • The logic of the author’s argument is simple:
    • “Normal” daytime hours = humans feel safe
    • Abnormal nighttime hours = humans feel threatened

So look at the answer choices and see if any support the logic above. Anything? Sadly no.

A) WRONG. If many people work at night, then by the author’s logic, these people would scare most other people. But we all know some night owl folks and probably aren’t scared of them. You may even be a night owl yourself, studying for the SAT late into the night. Are you scary? Probably not. So this definitely opposes the author’s logic that night dwellers are scary.

B) WRONG. The author says night animals are scary. Yet, the choice says owls (nocturnal animals) don’t cause fear. This is the opposite of the author’s claim/logic, so B is wrong.

C) WRONG. The author says daytime animals are nice and safe. Predators are pretty scary stuff, yet they are awake during the day? The hell? This opposes the author’s logic, so C is wrong.

D) WRONG. Bats have positive qualities?! Not according to the author’s logic that bats = nighttime = negative/threatening. So this is wrong too.

E) RIGHT. Okay, who cares if our dreams come from our personal lives? That doesn’t have anything to do with the author’s claim that day = nice/safe and night = bad/scary. Sure, this choice doesn’t support the author’s claim, but it also doesn’t detract. Since all of the other choices heavily detract, E is the best choice as the only answer that doesn’t detract.

EXAMPLE — Logic-Based Inference Question
OSSG 2nd Edition
pg. 579 #17

This example is about the decreasing involvement of women in business. The question asks which of the following would most directly support the author’s viewpoint (that women are becoming less and less involved in business).

Try it out yourself first, then check out the explanations below.

A) WRONG. Both raising status and assuming greater responsibilities have nothing to do with women becoming less involved in business. Note: “greater responsibilities” by itself doesn’t mean greater responsibilities in business. Since this choice is unrelated, it does not support the author.

B) WRONG. Writing novels has nothing to do with running businesses, so this choice doesn’t support the author’s claim.

C) WRONG. Working in factories shows MORE involvement in business, not less. Definitely does not support the author; in fact, this choice directly opposes the author’s view.

D) RIGHT. If married couples aren’t running business together (jointly) anymore, then either the men or the women are becoming less involved in business. While the choice doesn’t specify that women are the ones becoming less involved, this is the only choice that presents the possibility of women retreating from business.

E) WRONG. Academic institutions have nothing to do with running businesses. This is unrelated, hence unsupportive. Not detracting, but not supportive either.

These logic questions can be a sly devil. It’s kind of like in the movie Collateral when Tom Cruise’s character says he’s in town visiting friends. He’s a hit man, so he kills these “friends,” later justifying himself by saying, “They’re somebody’s friends.” Technically, he’s right…but it’s deceptive, just like these SAT questions.

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