Question Criteria

While it might seem odd to start by learning how to break down and answer questions if we will eventually read the passage first and answer questions after. However, every bit of strategy we learn should ultimately help us score points. Since points in the section come from answering questions correctly not just understanding what the passage tells us we will first make sure you can consistently get the correct answer and build our strategies backward from there.

Before we can answer questions we need to know what they are asking and how this relates to the passage information. I call this a question’s criteria because the question will indicate what kind of criteria the correct answer has to meet.

When we think of criteria we also want to think of opposites too. For example if the question asks us to determine what the author likes about a topic it is also worthwhile to ask what the author dislikes about the topic. While many passages will give you a clear reference that aligns with the language in the question stem other passages will only give you information that opposes what the question stem asks and we will need to infer what the author likes based on what they dislike.

I find it best to turn these criteria into questions that we can “ask” the passage about. Since this sets us up to find and interpret the relevant information we need. While this process starts off as an intentional step the end goal is to turn this process into an automatic and intuitive way we solve CARS questions.

To find criteria we will focus on picking out specific ideas the question wants us to address. Which raises the questions which ideas within a question stem are important? And which aren’t?

Generally, we will want to focus on ideas that the passage discusses and place less emphasis on those that are not discussed. This is especially important for questions that bring in new information that wasn’t discussed in t

For example, let’s assume a passage discussed the problems with current curriculum design and how it could be improved. Furthermore, no mention of universities or education levels is ever made throughout the entirety of the passage.

Now let’s look at a potential question related to this passage.

Suppose the author was asked to guide a university in creating a new science curriculum. Based on the passage the author would suggest the university:

We know for sure that the passage discussed curriculum making this an important criteria to focus on in our question stem.

Even though the passage made no mention of different levels of higher education (i.e universities) we will pull this idea out, but it won’t be our major focus because we aren’t likely to find any information about universities in the passage.

What about science though? If you don’t remember or unsure treat it as though the passage discussed this idea. It might not have, but our memories aren’t perfect and we don’t want to miss out on important passage information that might just give us the answer to the question in front of us.

So in total we would need to assess what the passage tells us about:

  • Curriculum development (Major Criteria)
  • Universities or higher-education
  • Science (Major Criteria)

We could rephrase this as a series of questions:

  • What do the passage tell us about how curriculum should be developed?
  • Does the passage tell us about how universities should be run or how they shouldn’t?
  • Does science specifically matter?

At this point, we would either jump back to the passage to see what it tells us or use the main idea if relevant to answer these questions. The correct answer will most closely align with what the passage tells us and will require either no or very few assumptions.

Now that you have seen one example let’s try another. For this question imagine the passage discussed various scholars views on the church-states of 1400s to 1600s Europe.

Which additional information would provide support for Winifred Miles’ views of the 1500s church-state?

We know the passage discussed church-states and the 1500s fits within the time frame mentioned so we will definitely want to look back to the passage to learn more about that information.

Additionally, we know that multiple different scholar’s view were presented. Winifred Miles is probably one of those scholars so we would want to hunt down their specific views on this subject.

In this question it is probably more important to know what Winifred Miles thinks on this topic so that would be our major focus when going back to the passage. In total our criteria are:

  • Winifred Mile’s views (Major Criteria)
  • 1500s church-states

Now let’s rephrase these criteria as a series of questions:

  • What are Winifred Miles’ views on church-states?
  • Do they think different things about church-states in different eras? (This information could help us find incorrect answers)
  • What about the 1500s specifically?

Again depending on the scope of this question (whether it is asking about big picture ideas or narrower ones) we would either use our main idea to answer the question or find a specific passage reference.

We will get into the specifics how to find the right information later, but for now go ahead and practice finding the question criteria on your own. Make sure you rephrase the criteria as questions and see whether you are able to consistently come up with a series of important ideas the question addresses and clear concrete questions you would be able to ask the passage.