In AP Language and Composition, I am often tasked with identifying and examining the line of reasoning of an argument. While I can reliably internalize an argument and understand what the author uses to support their argument, oftentimes I get hung up in trying to examine the line of reasoning. I find that I just repeat the author's argument without doing any real analysis.

Even with very simple arguments, I still do not understand what it means to "identify/examine the line of reasoning". For example, if the author says, "I should not go to school because I am sick," then the line of reasoning is obviously very clear, yet I struggle to add anything meaningful to my analysis other than paraphrasing the original argument: "The author's line of reasoning is that they should not go to school because they are sick." Clearly that is not what the exam is looking for.

I was hoping to see if any of you could help clear up this confusion for me and give me a more concrete understanding of how to identify the line of reasoning.

NOTE: In many cases, the prompt simply asks you to IDENTIFY the line of reasoning, not argue about its efficacy. Thus, I don't think I can center my response about whether the line of reasoning makes sense (though I would if I could), and instead I should focus more on the identification.

NOTE 2: I did ask my teacher about this. He told me that I was doing better than I thought I was and that it's tricky for everyone. Not very helpful, hence why I came here! :)

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    The AP exam is likely looking for a specific kind of answer, and I don't know which, so I can't give you a proper answer, but perhaps you ought to "unpack" the argument, meaning, make explicit the subtext. For example, "I am sick, therefore I shouldn't go to school" is, without context, a weak argument. It relies on one or some of these unstated assumptions: If I am sick and I go to school, 1) I may prolong my illness; 2) I may infect others; 3) I may be a disruption; 4) I may perform poorly (and would do better to make up the work later); etc. – Juhasz Apr 5 at 21:11
  • Did you happen to study Logic, at least informally? – Alexander Apr 6 at 18:29
  • @Alexander very, very basic logic. I took geometry last year, and a large part of that class was dedicated to proofs which involve logic. It's less related to literature though. – user3576467 Apr 6 at 18:54
  • I suggest that you spend a bit of your time studying formal logic and Logical form. That should give you understanding how any argument can be deconstructed and analyzed. – Alexander Apr 6 at 18:58

The fact that you're worrying about this question is a clear sign that you're doing well; many students just state blankly.

The trick here is to dig a bit into the assumptions. So, if someone says:

"I should not go to school because I am sick."

Then ask yourself: why is being sick a reason not to go to school? A bunch of rationalizations might arise:

  • An illness might make it too difficult to concentrate on schoolwork
  • An illness will go away more quickly with quiet and rest
  • An illness might be communicable to other students, making them sick in turn
  • An illness might turn worse, requiring a visit to the doctor, so ought to be monitored by a parent at home.

Different reasons might apply to different kinds of illnesses, leading to different types of analysis, but in general you want to try to dig out the unspoken assumptions and make them spoken.

This is also the first step towards critical analysis, where you start looking at that reasoning and evaluating it. For instance, if the sickness is allergies, do any of those three bullet points really apply, and thus can we rationally justify staying home from school? What if the sickness is depression? How about bubonic plague? In each case we can work through the bullet points and determine their validity, using our critical faculties to decide whether going to school is or is not appropriate.

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