The TASC Reading Literacy Test, like so many others, assesses your ability to not only understand what you read directly from a text, but also your ability to “think beyond” the text and form opinions or draw conclusions based on what you’ve read. This ability to comprehend the text but also to move beyond the text requires an understanding and application of both evidence and inferences that you can gather from the text. Here’s what those terms mean and how they apply to most literacy assessments.
What Is Evidence?
Often, test questions or classroom assignments ask you to use evidence to support your argument or to identify the evidence an author uses to support a claim. It is important, when asked for evidence, not to confuse it with inference. Evidence is provable, observable, measurable information that can be analyzed and used to support a claim or prove an argument. When writers make a claim or set forth an argument and they want to convince their audience to believe them, they provide evidence to back up each claim.
Evidence can’t just be stuck into a text, however. It can’t just be listed and then abandoned. Evidence must be supported and its significance with regard to the topic explained. This makes it easier for the reader to find and identify. Evidence should be linked to the topic and its connection to the argument or claim made clear. When you are asked to support your answer with evidence, what that means is, support your reasoning for how and why you arrived at a conclusion.
What Is Inference?
An inference is an educated guess. When you draw an inference or conclusion based on the evidence, there’s a reason you come to that conclusion and that reason likely comes from the evidence presented within the text. Inferences may be made based on evidence, but an inference itself is not evidence. Different people may make different inferences based on the same evidence because inferences also require the reader to apply prior knowledge and experience to the evidence presented. Because we all have different experiences we bring to the table, our inferences may be slightly different as we synthesize all of the information through our own perspectives and personal lenses.
Using Inference and Evidence as a Reader
On an assessment test, the questions are likely to ask you to locate key words, ideas, or details included within the text. That would be evidence. If you are asked to draw a conclusion or determine what inference can be made, you must synthesize the evidence provided with your own personal understanding and experience to infer meaning from the text.
Writers may steer the reader toward a certain desired inference, but the only aspect they are really able to control 100% is the evidence used to support their claim or make their argument. And this complex skill as a reader—being able to draw inferences from a text—is applicable to a variety of reading tasks, not just those for English or those encountered on an exam. Identifying and evaluating evidence and being able to draw inferences are life-long skills, applicable far beyond the classroom or any test.