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The question comes from the official IELTS sample (PDF): https://www.ielts.org/-/media/ea45c7fc36b14b699434210871c6f06b.ashx

Wear a helmet

Every year we are delighted to see more riders wearing protective helmets, but we would like to see every cyclist on the ride wearing one. More than half of reported injuries in cycling accidents are to the head, and a helmet gives the best protection when the head hits the ground.

The question:

Helmets are compulsory for all participants (T/F/NG)

The "right" answer is False, but this can be very opinion-based. If I was given this form in real live, I would say it is compulsory, based on my perception of social norms. The heading of the paragraph goes "Wear a helmet", which can be taken literally.

Besides, if we take a look at the previous paragraph it goes Follow all instructions. Following the same logic we can assume that following all instructions is not compulsory, in the same manner as not wearing the helmet.

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    The test is not about what you think is logical or what you perceive is the norm. It is about whether you can comprehend what is written in the text.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Oct 3, 2020 at 12:40
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    The answer is false because of this section: but we would like to see every cyclist on the ride wearing one. which means not everyone wears a helmet. Ergo helmets in races are not mandated, they are an optional.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Oct 3, 2020 at 12:41
  • @Mari-LouA I obviously comprehend what is written, but I fail to interpret it correctly, that's the problem. Oct 3, 2020 at 12:44
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    The sub heading has "Wear a helmet" but it is not obligatory, it's a recommendation and they explain why cyclists who want to participate in the ride should wear one. It is the head which suffers the most injuries.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Oct 3, 2020 at 12:51
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    (1) In a logics forum, the answer has to be 'not given' as no statement of a rule is supplied. There might for instance be a rule often flouted, as at the moment with some Covid requirements. BUT (2) in an English Language forum, Gricean maxims dictate that normal usage (this is the realm of pragmatics) be included in communication/interpretation. Since no supporting caveat (eg 'as regulations decree' at the end of the first sentence) is present, outside of a logics forum, 'F' must be taken as the only correct answer./But one is left wondering what these questions are supposed to be testing. Oct 3, 2020 at 13:22

2 Answers 2

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The heading “Wear a helmet” may be understood as no more than advice. It has no more legal force than something like “Cross the road carefully”. It is not a statement of statutory duty, which would be stronger and contain an imperative such as “must” or “is obligatory”, and would be followed by some reference to the relevant regulations, or to the mutually agreed conditions on which participation in the event had been granted.

The following paragraph supports this viewpoint. “We would like ...” says that we want but cannot insist on the wearing of helmets. As in “I would like you to accept this answer”. The remainder of the paragraph merely explains why wearing a helmet is desirable.

In conclusion, neither the heading nor the prose make a case for compulsory wearing.

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    Thanks. Would you agree that a less ambiguous title, such as "Wearing a helmet", would be more appropriate for this question? Regarding "we would like", I get the point. But, it might depend on the context, e.g. "We would like you to leave (our house)", it can bear very strong, but polite obligation. Oct 3, 2020 at 13:46
  • I agree with both your subtly thought suggestions.
    – Anton
    Oct 3, 2020 at 13:54
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It is true that the quoted text does not say that the helmets are compulsory, but it is also true that it does not say that they are not compulsory.

'We would like to see' is compatible with both possibilities: it may be a way or urging the riders to wear helmets even though it is not compulsory, but it may also be a way of urging them to follow the rules. It is possible that the riders don't like to follow the rules just because they are rules, but that they are likely to be responsive to an exhortation formulated in terms of 'we would like to see', and accompanied by reasons for wearing helmets that are independent of the rules. Nothing in the quoted text rules out that possibility, and the correct answer is therefore 'not given'.

The other possibility is, however, more likely, so 'false' being treated as the correct answer reveals that what is being tested by the test is the candidates' ability to guess what was likely to have been intended by the text, rather than their ability to carefully analyse it, in the manner in which one would analyse a legal text or a scientific treatise.

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    Truth. We would like to see motorists always stop for pedestrians in a crosswalk. This is mandatory in most jurisdictions, but that doesn't mean that motorists always stop.
    – Hot Licks
    Oct 3, 2020 at 21:39

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