An “identify the conclusion” question is one that directly asks you what the main conclusion of an argument is. The question stem for an identify the conclusion question might read:
- The main point of the argument can be expressed as
- Which of the following most accurately expresses the main conclusion of the argument?
- The argument leads to which of the following conclusions?
These questions are very straightforward. We solve them by following three steps:
- Analyze the argument’s reasoning structure.
- Identify the argument’s conclusion.
- Choose the answer that most clearly expresses the same content as the conclusion.
But before we look at those steps, let’s think a little more about what an argument is.
A basic argument has two main elements: a set of premises and a conclusion. The conclusion is the main point of the argument; it is the position that is being argued for. Premises are statements that provide support for the conclusion.
Let’s look at an example of an argument:
Cheese is awesome, and people should eat awesome foods. So you should eat cheese.
The conclusion of this argument is: “you should eat cheese.” This statement is the conclusion because it is what the person making the argument wants to convince you of. This is the statement that the rest of the argument is leading up to.
The other statements in this argument are premises. This argument has two premises:
- Cheese is awesome.
- People should eat awesome food.
We know these are premises because they support the argument’s conclusion; they are reasons to believe the conclusion.
Let’s look at another example:
I know Mary went to bar last night. I saw her car in the bar’s parking lot, and Brenda said she got a drunk text from Mary last night! Plus when Mary got home, she smelled like alcohol.
So what is the argument’s conclusion? Remember, the entire point of an argument is to convince you of something. So what is the author trying to convince you of? The answer is: “I know Mary went to bar last night.”
Now, we need to think about which statements are premises. Which statements provide reasons to believe the conclusion? Which statements answer the question: “Why should I believe the conclusion?” There are three premises this time:
- I saw her car in the bar’s parking lot.
- Brenda said she got a drunk text from Mary.
- When Mary got home, she smelled like alcohol.
Each one of these premises provides some support for the argument’s conclusion; each one gives a reason to believe that Mary was actually at the bar last night.
With that covered, let’s get back to solving an Identify the Conclusion Question.
Step 1: Analyze the Argument’s Reasoning Structure
This step is simple: just get a feel for how the argument is reasoning. Take a look at each statement and think briefly about what that statement is doing. For example, the first statement in an argument might be making an assertion while the second statement provides an example to back up that assertion. Think about what the author of the argument is trying to accomplish with each statement in the argument.
Step 2: Identify the Argument’s Conclusion
Now that you have a feel for the argument, you need to identify the main conclusion of the argument. Remember, the main conclusion is the statement supported by the rest of the argument.
Once you identify the conclusion, mark it. I like to put parentheses around the conclusion personally, but some like to underline. Either method is fine. Just be sure to actually mark off the conclusion in a clear way. When comparing answer choices, you want to be able to find the conclusion at a glance; marking off the conclusion makes that possible.
Step 3: Choose the Answer that Most Clearly Expresses the Same Content as the Conclusion
Once you have marked off your conclusion, work through the answer choices. In your first pass, eliminate any answer choices that clearly contain make a different claim than the argument’s conclusion. Look out especially for rephrased premises in the answer choices; these are often used as incorrect answers.
If the first pass eliminates all but once answer choice, then you’ve found your answer. However, if you still have a couple choices to sort through, think about which answer best expresses the same informational content of the conclusion. The correct answer will make the same claim as the conclusion but in different words, so choose the answer that makes the same claim as what you have marked in your argument.