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Succeeding in postgraduate study
Succeeding in postgraduate study

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5.1 Examples

Now let’s consider the following argument:

Statistics from a number of higher education institutions suggest that students who attend tutorials often pass their examinations. In 2014, 58% of students surveyed indicated that they believe their attendance at tutorials was the main reason for their success in their examination. I am a very motivated student who is very keen to pass my examinations so I will attend all my tutorials and feel confident it will guarantee my success.

The claim here is that attending tutorials will somehow guarantee success in examination. Remember we are not saying this is true or false. What we are doing is evaluating the claim being made. Firstly, according to the author, there is some evidence (58% of students from a survey) to suggest that students who attend tutorials often pass their examinations. However, the survey data does not indicate the sample size or population, and the source of the data has not been referenced, so there is no opportunity to refer back to the original source. This is important because the sample size may not be compelling. Also the population chosen for the study may reveal certain characteristics that could influence our judgement about the claim being made. The survey response, as reported in this extract, also indicates that attendance at tutorials was the main reason (for student’s success in exams), which implies that there were other factors, too. This makes the argument imbalanced because it hasn’t adequately explored other reasons for the association between success and attending tutorials. The writer qualifies their argument by including motivation as another factor and, by doing so (indirectly), acknowledges the limitations of over-reliance on attendance at tutorials as a reason for success.

In summary, the claim is attempting to establish a ‘cause and effect’ without providing compelling evidence. Perhaps, attending tutorials could be a contributory factor if we considered this within a spectrum of factors that could help students to succeed at examinations. The example provided here therefore represents a ‘flawed’ argument.

In order to think about this argument critically, you would ask the following questions:

  • Who was surveyed and what was the sample size?
  • What are the characteristics of students who attend tutorials? For example, do they have more time to study and is this the factor that gives them the edge?
  • What is it about tutorials that may make a difference?
  • What else contributes to success?

Let’s take a look at another example. This short presentation shows how critical reading and analysis are concepts that can be applied in everyday life.

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