Inference questions on the GMAT appear in two distinctly different sections of the Verbal Section: Critical Reasoning and Reading Comprehension. Unlike the majority of questions that comprise these sections, inference questions pose a challenge because they must be answered in a fundamentally different way. Whereas almost all other types of questions found in the Reading Comprehension and Critical Reasoning sections are best approached with a prediction in mind, inference questions cannot be approached thusly. In other words, almost all the questions in these two sections demand that you first consider the question, then locate the relevant information (either in your memory or in the text), and finally use this information to formulate a reasonable expectation of what the correct answer will look like. Then you use this prediction to locate the answer choice that best matches it. Making a prediction for these questions ups the chances that the test-taker will not be distracted or fooled by tempting wrong answer choices.
Inference questions, on the other hand, require the opposite. Because the number of things it is possible to infer from any given set of circumstances or evidence is limitless, it would be to the test-taker’s detriment to attempt to answer the question in the way described above. Making a prediction would be foolhardy since any number of possible predictions could be made. What the test-taker must seek to do instead is to take the sum of the evidence or circumstances in question, then evaluate each and every answer choice, one by one, in order to eliminate those statements that cannot be correctly inferred from the evidence or circumstances in question. Keep in mind, as always with the GMAT verbal section, there may be many answers that could be right, but there is only one best answer. Your job is to find the answer for which there is the clearest and most cogent support. This support will be made explicit in the text or the body of the question to the point where it is often easy to overlook precisely because it doesn’t stand out—it seems too obvious. The correct answer to these questions will invariably be the one to which it is impossible to raise objection. Ironically, this makes it easy to overlook.
A word about inference questions in general: a surprising number of students confuse the concepts implication and inference. Imply is what you do when you say something without saying it, so to speak. Infer is what you do when you understand the meaning conveyed of someone doing the former. Consequently, inference questions are all based upon implications. As we’ve already noted, a text can imply any number of things. However, the quality of the inference derived from the text is ultimately bounded by logic. Suppose, for example, someone says that they enjoy music. From this statement, you infer the person owns a pink elephant. Clearly the legitimacy of this inference must be contested, and the quality of the logic is poor. Such is the essence of the inference questions on the GMAT: you’re not looking for the answer choice that serves up a far-flung scenario or possibility that you have to climb out on a limb for; you’re ultimately looking for the answer choice that’s right beneath your nose.