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Learn This Key Question to Identify an Author’s Conclusion

how to find conclusions on gre reading comprehensionAuthor Stephen Covey famously wrote, The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.

When it comes to reading comprehension on the GRE verbal section, often that’s exactly what you’re asked to do — to identify the author’s “main thing,” i.e. the author’s conclusion.

But that’s easier said than done sometimes.

How do you know you’ve actually identified the conclusion? How do you know you’re not confusing it with a premise or random background information?

Here’s a really cool trick you can use — in fact, it’s a simple question you can ask yourself — for quickly and accurately identifying conclusions on GRE reading comp (watch this short video):

Tip for Identifying Conclusions on GRE Reading Comprehension

Picture this. It’s the day of your GRE, and you’re faced with one of those short argument-based reading comprehension passages. The question you’re working on depends on your ability to identify the author’s conclusion. But you’re confused. There aren’t any clear indicator words like “therefore” or “so” to unequivocally introduce the conclusion, and there are a couple different sentences that could reasonably be the conclusion. You’re not sure which one it is.

What do you do? How do you make that determination?

There’s a very simple question you can ask yourself to help clear it up for you. The question is this:

If someone were to come up to me on the street and randomly say Sentence X to me, how would I likely respond?

Ask that about each of the statements being considered. For example, let’s say you’re unsure whether Sentence X or Sentence Y is the author’s conclusion. Ask yourself, what if someone said Sentence X to me out of the blue? How would I respond? Likewise, how would my response be different if they said Sentence Y to me instead?

If your response to the person would be, “Really, why do you think that?”, then you’ve just identified the conclusion. The very fact that you need more information — more proof, more evidence — to understand why the person’s position is what it is, that’s clearly his/her conclusion. It’s a position that rests on premises not yet supplied.

Conversely, if your response to the person’s out-of-the-blue statement would be, “Hmmm, that’s interesting….,” then you’ve just been given a premise, not a conclusion. The statement stands on its own. You might be surprised to learn that little fact, but it’s not a belief that depends on anything else for support. You don’t need any more info.

Application Example

I think this little litmus test will help you immensely if you’re struggling to identify conclusions on the GRE. In fact, give it a try right now. Here’s a sample GRE argument-based passage:

A recent poll of undergraduate university students demonstrates a clear drop in the number of young people interested in pursuing a medical career. This is an unfortunate commentary on our society as a whole since it clearly demonstrates a lack of compassion for fellow human beings in the hearts and minds of the leaders of tomorrow.

Question: What’s the author’s conclusion?

Post your answer in the Comments area below!