Observation vs Inference

Many students find it difficult to differentiate between making observations and making inferences.

To be successful on the GED® Reasoning through Language Arts and Science subtests it is important, however, that you know the difference and how to use it.

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It is key to understand that observations relate to things that can be seen, felt, or heard easily whereas inferences are ideas or guesses that need to be supported by additional evidence.

Observation and Inference

You can, for example, make the observation that geckos have four skinny, short legs. You could then make the inference that geckos move pretty quickly due to the observed evidence of the way the legs are shaped.

But until you’ve witnessed a gecko moving very quickly, your guess is an inference and not an observation.

Another very useful tool that may provide you with evidence to make correct inferences is Prior Knowledge.

You may know from prior knowledge, for example, that birds can fly. You may even think that all birds can fly. It is important, however, to question your prior knowledge because it could not necessarily be true. Ostriches, for example, are birds that cannot fly.

So let’s take a closer look at how we can observe a number of objects and then make inferences. This is actually an important part of scientific processes and it is key that you understand the differences between making an observation and an inference clearly so you can attain good scores on the GED exam.

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Observing, Inferring

Observation – When we can clearly identify things, by using our five senses, we speak of observation.

When we can hear, smell, see, touch, or taste things, we know those things are real. That’s when we can make observations based on realities.

Inference – When we make guesses or assumptions based on evidence from observations or from prior knowledge, we can make inferences. These are educated guesses or assumptions.

Examples of Observations

Observations are things we can see, hear, and so on. These are factual things not based on assumptions or guesses.

We can see, for example, that some animals have four legs while others have, for example, big ears.

We can see that some animals have fur or whiskers, while some other animals come with beautiful golden color or are white underneath.

These are all observations. They are factual and are not open to interpretation. Understanding this is key to be successful on the GED Language Arts subtest!

Examples of Inferences

Let’s stay with our examples. If we would state that an animal can hear very well because of its large ears, or can hide well from its prey due to its camouflage, we are assuming that to be so. We are guessing in an educated way. We are inferring, not merely observing!

When looking at animals with fur, we may think or assume that they may live in colder climates as the fur will protect them from snow and low temperatures. We are inferring!

The difference between Observations and Inferences

The GED exam (GED is the acronym for General Education Development) requires you to understand the difference between the two. So let’s take a closer look at what observations and inferences are and the difference between the two.

A good explanation would be that, again, observations are related to things you can sense: see, hear, smell, taste, or touch. Inferences are things related to events or persons you think or decide about after you have observed them.

So making an inference has to do with deriving rational conclusions from circumstances or facts during observations. So we can say that observations are objective while inferences are subjective.

Observations are what you notice or perceive while inferences are assumptions or explanations of what you have seen or perceived.

Observations and Inferences in Statistics

In statistics, we can see the expressions observation and inferences used frequently, also in the  GED exam. Here, observations relate to the act of monitoring things (units, persons, objects, or anything else) by using our senses.

Inferences, on the other hand, refer to the conclusions drawn based on the accumulated facts, data, and evidence during the observations. Inferences are the deductions or assumptions made based on the conducted research.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. These two terms are closely related and intertwined and often, they seem synonymous but the fact of the matter is that these two expressions are entirely different.

So, to make things a bit more clear, let’s take another look in the following comparison chart at the key differences between observations and inferences.

Overview

Comparison Observations Inferences
Meaning Observations: carefully examining or watching objects or persons during a process or event. Inferences: drawing rational conclusions from observed circumstances or facts, or prior knowledge.
Nature Observations are objective by nature. They relate to what we perceive. Inferences are subjective by nature. They are assumptions or explanations of what we have perceived.
Basis Observations are based on factual and observed information. Inferences are decisions or guesses based on the collected data or information.
Process Making observations involves attentively monitoring subjects, persons, or events. Making inferences involves deducing logical conclusions by reasoning.

Conclusion

So now you understand more about the differences between observations and inferences. The GED exam is a pretty challenging assessment and understanding this is important to be successful!

We’ve seen that observations and inferences are interrelated to each other since observations relate to things, persons, or events that take place whereas inferences relate to what we deduce or conclude based on our observations.

So you may say that inferences are often interpretations of the things, events, or persons we have observed.

So let’s take one more look at the key differences between observations and inferences.

  • Observations are acts of carefully examining or watching objects or persons in a process. Inferences are acts of deriving rational conclusions from circumstance or known facts.
  • Observations are objective whereas inferences are subjective. Observations are what you notice or perceive. Inferences are assumptions or explanations of what you have seen or perceived.
  • Usually, observations are based on hands-on, observed experience. Inferences, then again, are based on already known facts or second-hand information.
  • Observations require and imply attentive monitoring of subjects or persons under study. Inferences, however, logically deduce conclusions by reasoning.
  • Observations are related to obtaining and gathering information without questioning persons or subjects while making inferences involves drawing conclusions or making decisions in relation to the collected information or data.

Last Updated on October 4, 2021.