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Writing Technique Questions
All coherent writing has a superstructure or blueprint. When writing, we don't just randomly jot down our thoughts; we organize our ideas and present them in a logical manner. For instance, we may present evidence that builds up to a conclusion but intentionally leave the conclusion unstated, or we may present a position and then contrast it with an opposing position, or we may draw an extended analogy.
There is an endless number of writing techniques that authors use to present their ideas, so we cannot classify every method. However, some techniques are very common to the type of explanatory or opinionated writing found in CAT passages.
A. Compare and contrast two positions.
This technique has a number of variations, but the most common and direct is to develop two ideas or systems (comparing) and then point out why one is better than the other (contrasting).
Writing-technique questions are similar to main idea questions; except that they ask about how the author presents his ideas, not about the ideas themselves. Generally, you will be given only two writing methods to choose from, but each method will have two or more variations.
Example: (Refer to the first passage.)
Which one of the following best describes the organization of the passage?
(A) Two systems of criminal justice are compared and contrasted, and one is deemed to be better than the other.
(B) One system of criminal justice is presented as better than another. Then evidence is offered to support that claim.
(C) Two systems of criminal justice are analyzed, and one specific example is examined in detail.
(D) A set of examples is furnished. Then a conclusion is drawn from them.
(E) The inner workings of the criminal justice system are illustrated by using two systems.
Clearly the author is comparing and contrasting two criminal justice systems. Indeed, the opening to paragraph two makes this explicit. The author uses a mixed form of comparison and contrast. He opens the passage by developing (comparing) both systems and then shifts to developing just the adversarial system. He opens the second paragraph by contrasting the two criminal justice systems and then further develops just the inquisitorial system. Finally, he closes by again contrasting the two systems and implying that the inquisitorial system is superior.
Only two answer-choices, (A) and (B), have any real merit. They say essentially the same thing--though in different order. Notice in the passage that the author does not indicate which system is better until the end of paragraph one, and he does not make that certain until paragraph two. This contradicts the order given by (B). Hence the answer is (A). (Note: In (A) the order is not specified and therefore is harder to attack, whereas in (B) the order is definite and therefore is easier to attack. Remember that a measured response is harder to attack and therefore is more likely to be the answer.)
B. Show cause and effect.
In this technique, the author typically shows how a particular cause leads to a certain result or set of results. It is not uncommon for this method to introduce a sequence of causes and effects. A causes B, which causes C, which causes D, and so on. Hence B is both the effect of A and the cause of C.
Thirdly, I worry about the private automobile. It is a dirty, noisy, wasteful, and lonely means of travel. It pollutes the air, ruins the safety and sociability of the street, and exercises upon the individual a discipline which takes away far more freedom than it gives him. It causes an enormous amount of land to be unnecessarily abstracted from nature and from plant life and to become devoid of any natural function. It explodes cities, grievously impairs the whole institution of neighborliness, fragmentizes and destroys communities. It has already spelled the end of our cities as real cultural and social communities, and has made impossible the construction of any others in their place. Together with the airplane, it has crowded out other, more civilized and more convenient means of transport, leaving older people, infirm people, poor people and children in a worse situation than they were a hundred years ago. It continues to lend a terrible element of fragility to our civilization, placing us in a situation where our life would break down completely if anything ever interfered with the oil supply.
George F. Kennan
Which of the following best describes the organization of the passage?
(A) A problem is presented and then a possible solution is discussed.
(B) The benefits and demerits of the automobile are compared and contrasted.
(C) A topic is presented and a number of its effects are discussed.
(D) A set of examples is furnished to support a conclusion.
This passage is laden with effects. Kennan introduces the cause, the automobile, in the opening sentence and from there on presents a series of effects--the automobile pollutes, enslaves, and so on. Hence the answer is (C). Note: (D) is the second-best choice; it is disqualified by two flaws. First, in this context, "examples" is not as precise as "effects." Second, the order is wrong: the conclusion, "I worry about the private automobile" is presented first and then the examples: it pollutes, it enslaves, etc.
C. State a position and then give supporting evidence.
This technique is common with opinionated passages. Equally common is the reverse order. That is, the supporting evidence is presented and then the position or conclusion is stated. And sometimes the evidence will be structured to build up to a conclusion which is then left unstated. If this is done skillfully the reader will be more likely to arrive at the same conclusion as the author.
Extension questions are the most common. They require you to go beyond what is stated in the passage, asking you to draw an inference from the passage, to make a conclusion based on the passage, or to identify one of the author's tacit assumptions.
Since extension questions require you to go beyond the passage, the correct answer must say more than what is said in the passage. Beware of same language traps with these questions: the correct answers will often both paraphrase and extend a statement in the passage, but it will not directly quote it.
"Same Language" traps: For extension questions, any answer-choice that explicitly refers to or repeats a statement in the passage will probably be wrong.
The correct answer to an extension question will not require a quantum leap in thought, but it will add significantly to the ideas presented in the passage.
Example: (Refer to the first passage.)
The author views the prosecution's role in the inquisitorial system as being
(A) an advocate for both society and the defendant
(B) solely responsible for starting a trial
(C) a protector of the legal rule
(D) an investigator only
(E) an aggressive but fair investigator
This is an extension question. So the answer will not be explicitly stated in the passage, but it will be strongly supported by it.
The author states that the prosecutor is duty bound to present any evidence that may prove the defendant innocent and that he must disclose all pretrial evidence (i.e., have no tricks up his sleeve). This is the essence of fair play. The answer is (E).
Application questions differ from extension questions only in degree. Extension questions ask you to apply what you have learned from the passage to derive new information about the same subject, whereas application questions go one step further, asking you to apply what you have learned from the passage to a different or hypothetical situation.
To answer an application question, take the author's perspective. Ask yourself: what am I arguing for? what might make my argument stronger? what might make it weaker?
Example: (Refer to the first passage.)
Based on the information in the passage, it can be inferred that which one of the following would most logically begin a paragraph immediately following the passage?
(A) Because of the inquisitorial system's thoroughness in conducting its pretrial investigation, it can be concluded that a defendant who is innocent would prefer to be tried under the inquisitorial system, whereas a defendant who is guilty would prefer to be tried under the adversarial system.
(B) As the preceding analysis shows, the legal system is in a constant state of flux. For now the inquisitorial system is ascendant, but it will probably be soon replaced by another system.
(C) The accusatorial system begins where the inquisitorial system ends. So it is three steps removed from the system of private vengeance, and therefore historically superior to it.
(D) Because in the inquisitorial system the judge must take an active role in the conduct of the trial, his competency and expertise have become critical.
(E) The criminal justice system has evolved to the point that it no longer seems to be derivative of the system of private vengeance. Modern systems of criminal justice empower all of society with the right to instigate a legal action, and the need for vengeance is satisfied through a surrogate--the public prosecutor.
The author has rather thoroughly presented his position, so the next paragraph would be a natural place for him to summarize it. The passage compares and contrasts two systems of criminal justice, implying that the inquisitorial system is superior. We expect the concluding paragraph to sum up this position. Now all legal theory aside, the system of justice under which an innocent person would choose to be judged would, as a practical matter, pretty much sum up the situation. Hence the answer is (A).
Tone questions ask you to identify the writer's attitude or perspective. Is the writer's feeling toward the subject positive, negative, or neutral? Does the writer give his own opinion, or does he objectively present the opinions of others?
Before you read the answer-choices, decide whether the writer's tone is positive, negative, or neutral. It is best to do this without referring to the passage.
However, if you did not get a feel for the writer's attitude on the first reading, check the adjectives that he chooses. Adjectives and, to a lesser extent, adverbs express our feelings toward subjects. For instance, if we agree with a person who holds strong feelings about a subject, we may describe his opinions as impassioned. On the other hand, if we disagree with him, we may describe his opinions as excitable, which has the same meaning as "impassioned" but carries a negative connotation.
Example: (Refer to the first passage.)
The author's attitude toward the adversarial system can best be described as
(A) Encouraged that it is far removed from the system of private vengeance
(B) concerned that it does not allow all members of society to instigate legal action
(C) pleased that it does not require the defendant to conduct his own pretrial investigation
(D) hopeful that it will be replaced by the inquisitorial system
(E) doubtful that it is the best vehicle for justice
The author does not reveal his feelings toward the adversarial system until the end of paragraph one. Clearly the clause "the adversarial system of criminal procedure symbolizes and regularizes the punitive combat" indicates that he has a negative attitude toward the system. This is confirmed in the second paragraph when he states that the inquisitorial system is historically superior to the adversarial system. So he feels that the adversarial system is deficient.
The "two-out-of-five" rule is at work here: only choices (D) and (E) have any real merit. Both are good answers. But which one is better? Intuitively, choice (E) is more likely to be the answer because it is more measured. To decide between two choices attack each: the one that survives is the answer. Now a tone question should be answered from what is directly stated in the passage--not from what it implies. Although the author has reservations toward the adversarial system, at no point does he say that he hopes the inquisitorial system will replace it, he may prefer a third system over both. This eliminates (D); the answer therefore is (E).
As mentioned before, each passage contains 200 to 600 words and only four to seven questions, so you will not be tested on most of the material in the passage. Your best reading strategy, therefore, is to identify the places from which questions will most likely be drawn and concentrate your attention there.
Pivotal words can help in this regard. Following are the most common pivotal words.
As you may have noticed, these words indicate contrast. Pivotal words warn that the author is about to either make a U-turn or introduce a counter-premise (concession to a minor point that weakens the argument).
I submit that the strikers should accept the management's offer. Admittedly, it is less than what was demanded. But it does resolve the main grievance--inadequate health care. Furthermore, an independent study shows that a wage increase greater than 5% would leave the company unable to compete against Japan and Germany, forcing it into bankruptcy.
The conclusion, "the strikers should accept the management's offer," is stated in the first sentence. Then "Admittedly" introduces a concession (counter-premise); namely, that the offer was less than what was demanded. This weakens the speaker's case, but it addresses a potential criticism of his position before it can be made. The last two sentences of the argument present more compelling reasons to accept the offer and form the gist of the argument.
Pivotal words mark natural places for questions to be drawn. At a pivotal word, the author changes direction. The CAT writers form questions at these junctures to test whether you turned with the author or you continued to go straight. Rarely do the CAT writers let a pivotal word pass without drawing a question from its sentence.