question-mark-1495858_1920We have already understood the importance of identifying the command of evidence based question types in the reading comprehension portions of the SAT and delved into the specifics for detail and global questions in the previous blog. 

The inference questions generally constitute the harder or more commonly missed set of questions in the reading section because of how it is treated on tests as compared with our everyday use of inferences. To get to the bottom of this we need to first understand what an inference is.

What is an Inference?

An Inference is a conclusion that can be definitely drawn based on evidences or premises that are provided to us. This forms a logical opinion or interpretation. Inference is an important part of logic and reasoning. There can either be valid inferences, which are supported by the premises, or invalid inferences (which cannot be completely supported by the information provided).

Spotting Inference Questions

To identify that a question is asking you for an inference you should look out for phrases such as “must be true”, “infers,” “implies,” or “suggests” in the question stem. Remember that the most common phrasing for this question type is “most likely agree” in an inference stem. Once you see any of these triggers, immediately switch your mindset to look for what MUST be true. You should also want to pose the question “must it be true that…” before reading each answer choice. Trust me, this will revolutionize your approach to inference questions. To better understand this, let’s look at an SAT like inference situation in the context of literature.

Inference in Context of Literature

Literary passages rely on the ability of readers to make inferences to understand symbolism, metaphors, themes, and underlying and implicit meaning. Readers find the experience of going through a text infinitely richer if they are able to use skills of inference to understand characters’ true motivations and the meaning of figurative language. Thus, examples of inference are commonplace in literature, as most authors want to challenge their readers just enough to come to conclusions themselves. This is also an important part of the dictum, “Show, don’t tell.” When authors show scenery and situations without explicitly telling their reading audience what is happening the writing is elevated and more pleasing to read.

At times, authors may also play with the inferences they assume the reader is making, especially in mysteries and thrillers. Authors will sometimes add a red herring, knowing that the reader will make a false inference and get waylaid from the real conclusion.

Illustrative Example:

I lost all fear, and all respect, and said, “Yes, I do, sir, too well! Well may I forget that I am your servant, when you forget what belongs to a master.” I sobbed and cried most sadly.
Said he: “Have I done you any harm?” “Yes, sir” said I, “the greatest harm in the world: You have taught me to forget myself, and what belongs to me; and have lessened the distance that fortune has made between us, by demeaning yourself, to be so free to a poor servant. Yet, sir, I will be bold to say, I am honest, though poor: And if you were a prince, I would not be otherwise than honest.”

Let’s look at a sample question which is extracted a novel Pamela:

The passage most strongly suggests that Pamela believes which of the following?

  1. Servants and masters differ only in their economic status, not in their basic human    rights.
  2. Servants and masters may develop more equal relationships only if each retains an understanding of distance between them.
  3. Masters are obligated to respect their servants despite the differences in social status.
  4. Servants are appropriately subordinate to their masters, who have the right to          command them.

Explanation: In the paragraph Pamela stands up to her master’s mistreatment of her. The lines “You have taught me to forget myself, and what belongs to me; and have lessened the distance that fortune has made between us” serves as evidence that though she is a “poor servant”, she does not “belong” to anyone else. Choice A matches this prediction.

Paying attention to HOW something is said, rather than just what is said can help you a lot in decoding inferences.

Did you find this post interesting? Check out our blog post on The 3 Steps to a Higher SAT score.

Suresh Daniel has been teaching English for about 15 years now. He is an avid reader and loves to indulge in passionate discussions about philosophy and other abstract subjects. He is extremely fun loving and you can find him having the most fun when he is teaching!