You must be able to spot and distinguish between extreme and soft claims when reading text in the UCAT verbal reasoning subtest. Your ability to evaluate extreme language is an important skill to develop before test day.
Evaluating extreme language in the UCAT verbal reasoning subtest is all about spotting subtle differences in sentences or phrases. It consists of assessing a wide range of qualifiers that are extreme (i.e. never, always, all, only) or soft words (i.e. closely, nearly, less, fewer) which are often incorporated into text passages, statements or answer options to evaluate candidate’s attention to detail to spot subtle differences in meanings or arguments. These qualifiers can be easily overlooked when reading quickly in the exam. Let’s first look at how qualifiers are used in the exam before diving into some of the most common examples. I’ve done my best to keep this article straight to the point, however, if you would like more advanced tips, strategies and techniques to improve your accuracy and speed on this subject do grab our new UCAT Study Guide.
How are Qualifiers used in the UCAT?
Qualifiers are words or phrases used to limit or enhance another word’s meaning, as well as affect the certainty and specificity of a statement. There are a number of key ways they are used in the UCAT, they are as follows:
Time: This is when words or phrases are used to specify time. For example, ‘occasionally’, ‘sometimes’, ‘now and again’, ‘usually’, ‘always’, ‘never’.
Necessity: This is when words or phrases are used tospecify the state of an event or object being required. For example, ‘must’, ‘should’, ‘ought’, ‘required’, ‘have to’.
Quality: This is when words or phrases are used to specify relative quality. For example, ‘best’, ‘worst’, ‘finest’, ‘sharpest’, ‘heaviest’.
Quantity:This is when qualifiers are used to specify relative quantity or proportion. For example, ‘some’, ‘most’, ‘all’, ‘none’.
Possibility: This is when words or phrases are used to specify the possibility of an event. For example,‘could’, ‘may’, ‘likely’, ‘possible’, ‘probable’
Common Words used in the UCAT
The table below shows some of the commonly used extreme words in the verbal reasoning subtest and their softer alternatives. For example, the words “May”, “Might” and “Could” that mean that is possible for an event to take place without any reference to frequency or probability. Consider the statement “Smoking may lead to lung cancer”, It suggests that is possible for smoking to cause lung cancer, however it is not definite as opposed to “Smoking will lead to lung cancer”. The second statement uses an extreme tone and assumes that the evidence is conclusive. It’s very important for the verbal reasoning subtest to be able to spot and distinguish between extreme claims (in which the text is asserting that something is unconditionally true) and more softer claims (where the text is asserting something but recognizing that the claim has limits). These claims can be found in the passage, question or answer options, and are easily missed when reading quickly.
Common Mistakes to Avoid
To help explain some of the most common mistakes to avoid, lets solve some verbal reasoning questions related to the passage below:
Mistake #1: Misinterpreting Quantifiers, Qualifiers and Modifiers
This is the most common mistake candidates make when evaluating extreme language. Attempt the problem below:
If you picked True, then you are misinterpreting quantifiers. Quantifiers are qualifiers used to indicate the amount of something. The passage says “Many public and private schools organise sport related events to promote health and well-being of their students” – the use of “Many” suggests a large number but necessarily the majority. Whereas, the statement in the question uses the qualifier “Most” which means the majority. Since no other sentence in the passage gives any indication that an overwhelming majority of schools organise sport events the correct answer is CANT’T TELL. There can also be similar confusion with other quantifiers like “few”, “fewer”, “some”, as well as modifiers such as “can”, “could” or “might” used in the exam that might shift statement from ‘True’ or ‘False’ to Can’t Tell’.
Mistake #2: Only Searching for Qualifiers in a Statement
Qualifiers are usually incorporated in the statement but can be found in the passage and answer options as well. Be sure to keep an eye out for them at all times as they can shift the meaning of a sentence. Consider the problem below:
Using the process of elimination, we can deduce the following:
Option A – Childhood obesity has become the most expensive health problem in Lisbon. The passage says, “Childhood obesity has become an urgent and expensive health problem in Lisbon”. The answer option uses the extreme word “most”, which cannot be concluded from the passage. Therefore, option A is Incorrect.
Option B – Most private schools in Lisbon organise sport related events. The passage says, “Many public and private schools organise sport related events to promote health and well-being of their students”. However, it doesn’t indicate what proportion of private school organise sport events. Therefore, Option B is incorrect.
Option C – Schools have a huge influence over the health and well-being of their students. The passage says “schools have a significant role to play in its mitigation along with partners in the community” which suggests that schools may have influence over their student’s well-being. Therefore, option C is Correct.
Option D – Sport events are usually organised once a week at the campus auditorium. The passage says, “Students regularly meet at campus once a week and get involved in a wide range of competitive and leisure activities, organised by the student union”. However, there is no information provided where at the campus events held. Therefore, Option D is Incorrect.
Please note: Options A, B and D are incorrect because we ‘Can’t Tell’ based on the information provided in the passage not because they are ‘False” i.e. contradicts the information in the passage.
Mistake #3: Not Keeping an eye out for subtle claims in the passage
There will be cases where an extreme or soft claim may be used in the passage without it being obvious. In cases like this it is important to establish the conditions or rules set in the passage before picking an answer.This can help with solving questions that require you to make inference. Consider the problem below:
If you picked Can’t Tell, then you missed a subtle claim in the passage. In the first sentence the text says, “Childhood obesity has become an urgent and expensive health problem in Lisbon and the schools have a significant role to play in its mitigation along with partners in the community”. This is subtle, but you can infer that local communities might have a role to play. The Statement in the question uses soft qualifiers so it not beyond the scope of the passage. Therefore, the statement is True.
The Golden Rule for Extreme Language
The golden rule when evaluating extreme language is as follows; soft statements tend to be True whilst extreme statements tend to be False or Can’t Tell. This should be used with caution and students must always find textual evidence to back-up decisions. Unless the passage makes it absolutely clear, a statement with an extreme qualifier is more likely False or Can’t Tell.
For more UCAT tips check out the rest of the blog and join our free UCAT Study Group. You can opt-in for our UCAT Virtual Tutor – 30-day Study plan designed to get you from zero to scoring in the top percentile within 30-days. For in-depth exam strategies and actionable techniques grab our new UCAT Study Guide, includes 250+ exam strategies and techniques for each subtest.