In the reading section of the TOEFL exam, you will come across the inference type questions. Though the word ‘inference’ seems harmless enough, many misunderstand what an inference really is. For instance:
A man carrying a vegetable bag goes to the market.
What can you infer about what he is about to do?
Your guess is that he goes there to buy vegetables, yes?
But this inference need not be a hundred percent correct. He carries a vegetable bag, but perhaps he plans to buy both vegetables and milk.
The problem here is that an inference isn’t what can be assumed, rather what can, without a doubt, be understood based on the given information alone. This can make inference questions quite challenging.
Here are some points to remember before drawing out inference
- An inference is something that must be true, based on the information provided.
- It won’t be explicitly stated in the passage
- It may take some Critical Thinking to figure out, but you will always be able to pinpoint exactly why a valid inference is made.
Strategies for Inferences
Read actively: To infer is to read between the lines and conclude logically. As you saw in the above example, finding inference in a passage could be a little tricky. A TOEFL passage consists of 500 – 700 words. You will come across a number of sentences where you will need to make inferences about to understand the main points made by the author that indirectly indicate the scope and purpose of the passage.
Look for Keywords: A vague inference question can direct you to a particular paragraph and ask, “What does the author wants to imply in the second paragraph ?”. And, subsequent options will follow. You will then have to use the Passage map and understand the purpose that paragraph is serving. A certain keyword may be repeated often to direct your attention towards the main purpose of the paragraph. Once you have an image of the purpose, you can filter through the answer choices.
Do’s and Don’ts for Inference Questions
Don’t Skim through the reference lines: Skimming is one of the popular ways to approach a reading comprehension. It takes less time because you read your passage the same way as you read newspaper articles superficially (Just to get an idea about it). This way will not work for Inference questions.
Do Map the Passage: It is important to map your passage before you target your questions. It saves time as you know where to search for the information in the lengthy passage.
Do Understand the Scope of the passage: A scope is different from title: the scope is what the passage narrows down about the title. Suppose the passage is about Frontier line, then the question arises what is the passage especially dealing about the topic ‘Frontier line’. Is it the “Significance of Frontier in American history” or “Literature of the American Frontier”. Understanding the scope really helps finely analyse parts of the passage that you need to make inferences for.
Eliminate Implausible answer choices: Look out for extremely worded answer options and those that make too many unsupported assumptions. These kinds of options generally tend to be wrong.
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