College professor: College students do not write nearly as well as they used to. Almost all of the papers that my students have done for me this year have been poorly written and ungrammatical.

Which one of the following is the most serious weakness in the argument made by the professor?

[A]. It requires confirmation that the change in the professor's students is representative of a change among college students in general.
[B]. It offers no proof to the effect that the professor is an accurate judge of writing ability.
[C]. It does not take into account the possibility that the professor is a poor teacher.
[D]. It fails to present contrary evidence.
[E]. It fails to define its terms sufficiently.
Answer: A

The professor’s argument makes the “assumption of representativeness” without justifying it. She argues that college students in general don’t write as well as they used to; her evidence is that almost all of her students’ papers were poorly written. She assumes without evidence that the writing produced by her students is representative of the writing produced by college students in general. But, it needn’t be.

(B) and (C) While it’s true that no proof of the professor’s competence is offered, this is a much less important omission than that mentioned in (A). If we were given the “proof” that (B) mentions, would the prof’s conclusion be stronger? No, because (A)’s crucial assumption would still be unsupported. So (B) is far from the biggest flaw. As for her teaching skills, we don’t even know she teaches writing, so we can’t argue, as (C) does, that she is responsible for her students’ poor abilities.

(D) There is no contrary evidence. If contrary evidence were presented, we could expect the author to address it. We can’t, however, fault her for not presenting evidence against herself.

(E) While it’s true that writing well and writing poorly may be somewhat subjective terms, they definitely aren’t ambiguous. Moreover, the term “ungrammatical” certainly isn’t ambiguous. However, even if you did consider some of the terms to be in need of further definition, this clearly isn’t as serious a weakness as that described in answer choice (A).

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