LSAT Kung Fu Blog / FAQ Three
Today, we'll continue our dive into the Velocity mail bag, in what would constitute a federal crime if these missives weren't meant for me. What a difference an address makes! Anyway, onward:
Q: How should I go about reviewing practice tests?
A: One of the most important things to do in your learning is achieve a studied, deep review of your practice exams - something that can help you catch the points you'll need to hammer down.
Here's the basic approach I recommend:
- Make sure that you completely understand why every correct answer is correct. No half-assery will do! I'm always hanging around the Forum if you need help, but you have to totally get the reasons for right answers.
- Make sure you can articulate the weaknesses of any bad answer choices you fell for. Again, I can help if you're stuck, but you need to really understand what makes an attractive bad answer wrong.
- Think of it this way: If you had to teach someone else how to answer the question, what would you say?
While you're taking a practice test, find a way to mark every question that you're not 100% on (a box around the question number, for example).
It's totally cool if you end up with boxes around literally half the test. Just take time to mark every instance where you're not sure. Then, when you do your review, concentrate on confirming all the right answers to those boxed questions - you made a lot of good choices: Why? - and on getting a deep understanding of where you went wrong. You'll need to know why every right answer is right if you want to repeat good performances and eliminate bad ones.
Couple review of those questions with complete review of any questions that you missed and yet didn't mark (i.e., the ones you thought you were 100% sure of), and you'll have a comprehensive overlook of your areas of weakness, so you can systematically eradicate those weaknesses.
Q: Any quick tips for dealing with Necessary Assumption Questions?
A: Yes! Let's start with these four:
- The necessary assumption is a piece of evidence that the argument needs but does not have. The right answer has to be something that fills in a blank within the argument - some place in which the arguer didn't provide you with the evidence, but instead just assumed that the evidence was true.
- To identify that place, look for shifts in language: Is there some place in the argument where the author changes the subject? If the author provides evidence about one thing, and a conclusion about something else, that author has assumed there's a connection between those two things. That shift in language gives evidence of the shift in logic.
- The right answer is necessary. That means that if you take it away, the argument will die, right? When you think you've found the right answer, ask yourself this question: "If this answer choice weren't true, would the conclusion still make sense?" If the conclusion can live without the answer choice, it's not the right answer! If the right answer isn't true, then the conclusion of the argument will become stupid. This is because the conclusion depended on the truth of the right answer.
- The right answer will often be small. Like most other necessary things in the world, the right answer is not likely to be something big and aggressive. Consider the things we need in life. We don't need the $600 bottle of Cristal, we don't need the McMansion - or the McDonald's, for that matter - we need only some food, some shelter, something to drink. In the same way that our physical needs tend most often to be little, the right answer to the Necessary Assumption question will tend to be little. Expect often to see the word "some" or "not all" and the like.
So, when choosing between two answer choices in Necessary Assumption questions, choose the smaller answer, and try the test discussed in point 3 above.
Answer Part 6 - Weaken + Strengthen Questions
We've talked a lot about language cues, because they are among the most important indicators of correctness (and incorrectness) when you've got two answer choices left.
There are pretty strong cues at work for Weaken and Strengthen questions, too. Like this:
- We know that the right answer to a Weaken or Strengthen question will (respectively) attack or assert the necessary assumption of the argument. In order to do so effectively, that answer needs to employ bigger, more powerful words than the soft language we expect from Inference and Necessary Assumption answers.
- While the load-bearing language we know to expect from the answers to Sufficient Assumption questions would be awesome for doing the work of weakening and strengthening, experience teaches us not to expect such language to be used.
So, while it would certainly kick a lot of ass (in more ways than one) if an answer choice said "Nobody has ever enjoyed any Steven Seagal movie," such an answer isn't to be expected among the answer choices.
At the same time, an answer that said "People do not always enjoy Steven Seagal movies" is such weak sauce that it can't be expected to effectively counter (or support) much of anything, and would therefore be very unlikely to be the credited response.
Instead, we will expect language that's in between those two poles.
I'm thinking about words like these:
I call these words (quite cleverly, I think) "Middle Language."
Denotatively, they're not so different from the soft language of previous discussions. However, these words trade heavily in connotation. So much of their force comes not from direct meaning, but instead from their evocative nature. "Many" doesn't mean much different from "some," but it sure sounds like more, doesn't it? For this reason (along with those given above) we can expect this kind of language within the right answers to weaken and strengthen questions.
So, when choosing between two answer choices for Weaken and Strengthen questions, look for Middle Language.
Answer Part 7 - Parallel Questions
The Parallel Question asks you to describe an argument (exactly the same task demanded by the Method Question), but then, instead of answer choices articulating that description, you're given 5 other arguments, one of which answers to the same description as the original.
There are three quick checks you can perform to get rid of many bad answers to these questions:
- Does the conclusion match? If our argument was prescriptive, then the right answer must also include a prescription (look for the words should, ought, must, + needs to). If our argument concluded that Thing X was not the cause of Thing Z, then the right answer must likewise conclude that Thing F was not the cause of Thing M. If the conclusion doesn't match in its form, that's not the right answer.
- Do the quantifiers match? If our argument said "most lizards are herbivores," then the right answer must say "most musicians are bassists," and not "some moles are cancerous." If our argument says "all members of the Kardashian family are vapid pretenders," the right answer cannot say that "many exotic birds are preening narcissists." The language of quantity is a major indicator of the underlying logical structure. It has to match.
- Do the topics match? If so, that's almost certainly the wrong answer. It is an extremely common red herring used by the test writers to present you with an argument about travel by train, and then a wrong answer choice about travel by bus, in the hopes that you'll mistake a similarity of content for a similarity of logical structure. Don't fall for it. Answer choices with similar subject matter to the argument are almost always wrong (really, I think they've actually always been wrong, but it's certainly possible to construct an argument with the same structure about the same content, so let's content ourselves with a strong warning against same-content answers, rather than a strict prohibition against them).
Running checks of those three items can help shorten the time it takes you to answer Parallel Questions, and can help you decide when you find you have two contenders left among answer choices.
Answer Part 8 - Flaw Questions
There are three kinds of answer choices associated with Flaw Questions. None of the three is more (or less) likely to be correct than the others. Instead, it's just that there are three flavors used by the test writers. Understanding these types of answer choices can help you understand when a choice is wrong and why it is.
Here are the three types:
Presumes without providing justification that...
Takes for granted that...
Those two phrases mean "assumes." If an answer starts with that language, then whatever follows must be a necessary assumption of the argument, or it isn't the right answer. Answer choices that begin this way are Necessary Assumption answer choices, and are therefore subject to the same rules and tests as the answers to any Necessary Assumption Question (see Part 5 for more on this topic).
- Choices that identify flaws. These answer choices are generic in language - they're not specifically tied to the content of the argument. They describe the flaw in structural terms (see this PDF - the same one I posted earlier - for examples of how LSAC identifies flaws in this way). When dealing with answer choices of this type, you must ask yourself only, Did we? "Did we, in this argument, really [generalize based on a sample, etc.]?" What sample? If you cannot identify the sample, then the argument didn't commit a sampling flaw, and this answer choice isn't correct.
- Choices that identify the assumption of the argument. These answers most typically begin with these words:
- Choices that negate the assumption of the argument. These answers most typically begin with these words:
Overlooks the possibility that...
Fails to consider that...
Ignores the possibility that...
Neglects the fact that...
All of those phrases are code for an answer that says "the assumption isn't true." Like this:
The only thing you can overlook (that it is a flaw to overlook) is the dreadful, ruinous possibility that the assumption of your argument is false. Consider this example:
She can't be a supermodel. She's only 5'3".
This argument has assumed that you have to be taller than 5'3" to be a supermodel.
It's flawed because it presumes without providing justification that you have to be taller than 5'3" to be a supermodel.
Another way of saying that is to say that it's flawed because it overlooks the possibility that you don't have to be taller than 5'3" to be a supermodel.
In other words, the reason it's flawed is that it has overlooked the possibility that its assumption is false. The wonderful thing about this 3rd type of answer choice is the clear effect that such a negation has on the argument.
If the right answer to a flaw question begins with this 3rd set of phrases, then whatever comes after them must ruin the conclusion, as in our example:
If you don't have to be taller than 5'3" to be a supermodel, then this argument is blown up. The conclusion becomes stupid, because the answer negates an assumption that the argument was depending on.
So, understand these three types of answers, and you'll go a long distance toward knowing how to get rid of bad answer choices in Flaw Questions.
And speaking of supermodels, tell us how beautiful we are: Check us out online or drop us a line at Info@VelocityLSAT.com, and visit The Forum (http://www.VelocityLSAT.com/Forum) to join the conversation, to share your thoughts on our answers here or to ask a question of your own, or to suggest topics for future conversations.
Until next week, be beautiful and be thin. Or else, you'll have to be smart.