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A sample IELTS question in the reading section concerns a passage about how dentistry has improved over the last few centuries. The passage includes:

Modern dentistry was in its infancy for most of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century and for the average person, the only solution to tooth decay would be extraction. ...

In addition, the practice of selling one's teeth to wealthy people in exchange for a meager amount of money wasn't uncommon in the Victorian era either. Human teeth were the preferred choice for the production of dentures...

Though the thought of having healthy teeth removed with pliers and with no anaesthetic... may seem ... unwise to modern readers, for many desperately poor Victorian people, including children, this was often one of the few ways to provide for themselves or their families.

The question asks:

Does the following statement reflect the claims of the writer? Answer
YES if the statement reflects the claims of the writer
NO if the statement contradicts the claims of the writer
NOT GIVEN if it is impossible to say what the writer thinks about this.

The statement is:

Healthy individuals in the Victorian Era didn't generally have their decayed teeth extracted.

The official correct answer is NOT GIVEN. The explanation cites a subset of the quoted text above:

"for the average person, the only solution to tooth decay would be extraction."

I would have thought the answer would be NO because of the cited text and the fact that healthy individuals had even healthy teeth extracted, so having decayed teeth extracted would seem implied as a relatively common practice. This answer does require some assumed correlation between "average" and "healthy" people, but the test applies the adjective "healthy" to people with decayed teeth and the passage makes no explicit difference between these sets (nor does the passage suggest that the average person was unhealthy beyond tooth decay).

Is there really no correlation that can be assumed between those groups? Or is there an extra negative or other factor I'm overlooking here?

  • This is not about English. It's about what the French call: textual explanation. – Lambie Sep 29 '18 at 22:21
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    @Lambie The British Council thinks it's on-topic as a question on an English test. – WBT Sep 29 '18 at 22:23
  • Is this an official question used in past test, or an example question? – James K Sep 29 '18 at 22:25
  • @JamesK It's from a Kaplan book that "provides printed exams and expert explanations" for the test. The marketing strongly implies they're past official test materials, though there's no disclosure about the timing when specific tests/questions were used. – WBT Sep 29 '18 at 22:32
  • Ah, but the SAT is also then an English test. These are not language tests per se. They are about the ability to reason when reading a text and are given to speakers of English too. – Lambie Sep 29 '18 at 22:55
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The statement is odd. If you are "healthy" you don't have "decayed teeth".

The text states that that for most people extraction was the only treatment, and implies that (otherwise) healthy people would generally have decayed teeth extracted.

It could be interpreted as "not given" if we read this as a possible meaning that most people with decayed teeth put up with having toothache, as extraction was too painful.

However the general implication of the text is that extraction was fairly common, and so it seems that the statement contradicts the claims of the writer.

I note that the statement is "odd", so this may simply be a bad question.

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In the quoted text:

for the average person, the only solution to tooth decay would be extraction

indicates a possible solution, but it does not say how often such action was taken.

Healthy individuals in the Victorian Era didn't generally have their decayed teeth extracted.

This implies that such activity would have happened not often or rarely. This idea was not stated in the text, therefore such attitude was NOT GIVEN in the original text.

The remaining text regarding what people did with "healthy" teeth is irrelevant.

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The question is typical of tests that measure things like logical reasoning and reading comprehension. The test-makers expect that a good number of students will jump to a reasonable conclusion that is not actually supported by the text, and so get it wrong.

To answer the question we have to examine what the passage actually says, and discard anything else that we happen to know to be true.

This depends partly on your understanding of:

the practice of selling one's teeth ... wasn't uncommon in the Victorian era

"Wasn't uncommon" only means that it happened fairly often. It is not a measure of what percentage of healthy individuals had their teeth extracted, nor does talk about the number of otherwise healthy people who chose to have their decayed teeth extracted. As such it's a kind of "red herring" meant to mislead most test-takers.

In addition, as mentioned, this part of the passage is also inconclusive:

for the average person, the only solution to tooth decay would be extraction

"Average" does not mean "healthy". The passage simply does not talk about what healthy people with bad teeth did or did not do, and, again, it does not explicitly address the relative percentage of people who would choose to have their teeth extracted.

Because the passage does not explicitly confirm or contradict the statement, the correct answer should be NOT GIVEN.

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