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Usually for the reaction mechanism it states whether or not the reaction is fast or slow. If the reaction step is slow than that is the rate determining step for the reaction. In addition you would know that the reverse reaction for the slow step is almost nonexistent while for the fast reaction the forward and reverse reaction could still be happening.
The slowest step determines the rate because the reaction cannot proceed until the slowest step has gone to completion. Essentially, if you think about it like a group on a hike, the slowest person determines the pace of everyone because the group cannot go on without them.
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