English Comprehension - Fair versus Unfair Inference Questions


Poorly set comprehension questions are often landmines for heated arguments between the question-setter and the indignant comprehension-doer. Don't land yourself in hot soup by setting inference questions that are irreverent of actual content in the comprehension passage. Study the following positive and negative examples well and you'll never stray from the path of righteousness again.

Passage A

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the king's horses and all the king's men Couldn't put Humpty together again.

Question: Is Humpty Dumpty an egg?

Comment: Even with multiple rereadings, one would be hard-pressed to find any information whatsoever regarding Humpty Dumpty's "egg-ness".

Verdict: This is not a fair inference question.

Passage B

Rock-a-bye baby, on the treetop When the wind blows, the cradle will rock. When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall And down will come baby, cradle and all.

Question: Are the baby's parents good at discharging their parental duties?

Comment: Leaving one's baby swaying in a cradle on a treetop is considered sound parenting practice only if the baby in question is simian in constitution. (Here, it's reasonable to assume the protagonist is human because a cradle - a human contraption - is involved.)

Verdict: This is a fair inference question.

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