Stuart Mill English

How to Learn, How to Teach English

Beyond Practice Tests: Inference Questions

Beyond Practice Tests: Inference Questions

Inference questions are hard. You can’t read the answer. You can’t hear the answer. You just have to know it. But how is it possible? How can you know something that no one writes or says?

Well, it’s not so hard as all that. We do it every day. For example, imagine that you’re at a party and the time is 1:00a.m. Your friend says to you, “Wow, I’m so tired. I woke up at 6:00a.m. today and drinking makes me sleepy.” You can guess that your friend wants to go home. You infer that your friend wants to go home.

This is inference. Inference is when you guess something because of other things.

Other things: Your friend is tired. Your friend woke up at 6:00a.m. It’s 1:00a.m. now. Your friend has been drinking.

Inference: Your friend wants to go home.

Let’s look at another example.

Milwaukee is a city in Wisconsin, USA. It’s not a very big city, but there are many activities. There are lots of concerts by the lake in the summer. In the winter, you can enjoy ice-skating downtown. At anytime of year, you’ll find friendly people who will welcome you into bars and restaurants, parks and museums with a friendly smile.

From this reading, we can infer that the author…

  1. a. thinks you would enjoy a visit to Milwaukee.
  2. has lived in Milwaukee for many years.
  3. often goes ice skating in the winter.
  4. think Milwaukee is the best city in America.

The answer is A because the author gives many reasons you might enjoy Milwaukee. It’s not B because the author might have learned these things from just visiting. We don’t know how often the author goes ice skating (C) and the author doesn’t compare Milwaukee to any other cities (D).

Here are seven strategies for studying inference questions:

20 Questions Do this one with a friend. Think of a person, place, or thing. Your friend should ask you questions in order to guess what you’re thinking of. They can ask at most 20 questions. For example:

Is it big or small? It’s medium sized.

Is it hard or soft? It’s hard.

What’s it made of? It can be made of wood or metal.

Is there one in the room now? Yes, there are many in this room.

Is it a chair? Yes, it’s a chair!

20 Hints Just like the 20 Questions, but a little easier. One person just says things until the other person can guess. For example:

It’s usually blue, but it can also be black, red, or gray. It’s really big, and it’s everywhere. The sky!

Pay attention During the day to try to spot things you infer. It’ll keep you practicing all day long. What can you infer from the guy who smiled at you?  Your teacher asked you to come answer the question? What can you infer? Why did she ask you?

Lists of Inferences After you read something, make a list of ten inferences and the reasons for them.

Just the first paragraph Read just the first paragraph of something and make a list of inferences/guesses about the rest of the article. Then, finish reading the article and see if you were right.

Scavenger Hunt Think of different beliefs and try to find articles with someone who believes them. For example, try to find an article about someone who believes in aliens, someone who loves France, or someone who likes to swim. You might not find the exact support you want, but can you find good inference material?

Using Practice Test Answers Take a practice test and remember which questions were inference questions. Learn which answers are wrong and write sentences to make them right. What is missing in an article so that you could infer the wrong answers?

For the example above about Milwaukee. (B) would be right if you added “Since I was a young girl, I’ve loved my city.” (C) would be right if you added “Like many people in Milwaukee, I love ice-skating.” (D) would be right if you added “No place in America offers as many nice things as Milwaukee.”

September 18, 2010 - Posted by | Studying Strategies, Test Prep | , , , ,

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