A “parallel reasoning” question is one that asks you to identify two arguments that use the same reasoning to reach their respective conclusions. The question stem for a parallel reasoning question might read:
- The pattern of reasoning displayed in the argument above is most closely paralleled by that in which of the following arguments?
- The reasoning in which one of the following is most similar to the reasoning in the argument above?
- Which of the following arguments is most similar in its reasoning to the argument above?
We solve these questions by following four steps:
- Identify the argument’s conclusion.
- Identify how the conclusion is supported.
- Map out the reasoning structure of the argument
- Choose the answer with the same reasoning structure.
Let’s take a look at each step.
Identify the Conclusion
The main conclusion of the argument is supported by everything else in the argument; it’s what the rest of the argument is attempting to convince you is true. If you struggle with identifying conclusions, take a look at the Identify the Conclusion Questions lesson.
Identify How that Conclusion is Supported
Make a note of the premises. What supports the conclusion? Why does the author think we should believe the conclusion? Silently paraphrase the support to yourself, trying to understand why the author finds the premises to be so convincing.
Map out the Reasoning Structure of the Argument
For these questions, you need to identify more than just what supports the conclusion; you need to pay attention to how the conclusion is supported. For example, you might note that a counter example is used to disprove a claim. Or you might note that two alternative options are eliminated.
You also want to note how definitive the conclusion is. Consider the difference between the following two statements:
- Thus, you are not obligated to serve any government unless that government is just.
- Thus, you are likely not obligated to serve any government unless that government is just.
One of these answers is definitive while the other is probabilistic. Figure out whether the conclusion in the stimulus is definitive or probabilistic.
Choose the Answer
Focus on eliminating wrong answers in these questions. It’s a lot easier to spot an incorrect parallel reasoning answer than it is to spot a correct answer.
Start with the conclusions of the arguments. If the stimulus conclusion is definitive, eliminate answers with probabilistic conclusions. Alternatively, if the stimulus conclusion is probabilistic, eliminate answers with definitive conclusions.
After that eliminate answers that don’t match the reasoning of the stimulus.
Remember that your goal is to find the answer with the closest reasoning, not the closest language. Similar language is often used in incorrect answers in an attempt to trick test takers, so be cautious!