LSAT Kung Fu Blog / How To Get Inference Questions Right
How To Get Inference Questions Right
Inference Questions are probably, as a class, my favorite type of Logical Reasoning questions. They're awesome. And if you want a strategy for dealing with Logical Reasoning questions on the LSAT, you could do a lot worse than starting with how Inference Questions work.
They underpin a lot of what we talk about when we talk about LSAT LR as a whole—the ideas of proof, and of Load-Bearing Language (a term I use to denote language that is big and aggressive enough to bear the burden of proof), and conditional reasoning, and language cues from answer choices. Inference Questions are the whole package, is what I’m saying (except for flaws. They don’t have flaws, usually, which is also in my estimation greatly to their credit).
Let’s pause there for a second; they don’t have flaws. This is because most Inference Questions are asked about passages that aren’t even arguments at all. They’re often just dumps of information.
Take question 17 from the second LR section in PrepTest 80—the December 2016 LSAT—for example.
This is an Inference Question. Though it has only denotatively asked us what is most strongly supported by the passage, experience teaches us to expect that the right answer will be actually, fully proved by the evidence the test writers gave in the passage.
Now look at the passage. It’s not an argument! It just says that when expert witnesses testify, they confuse jurors (because jurors are simple folk, unused to hearing and assessing evidence, and easily swayed), so that the jurors are unable to assess the reliability of their testimony. It just ALL SOUNDS TRUE AND THEY ARE NOT, NOT I REPEAT, INTELLIGENT PEOPLE, jurors. They are just some of the saddest incompetent mofos. So they shake their dumb juror heads and shrug their inelegant juror shoulders and mumble something about “alternative facts” and call it a day. Did I mention that jurors are so, so dumb?
Anyway, that’s all there is; just two sentences telling us how easily jurors (BECAUSE, DUMMIES) are confused and frightened by expert witnesses.
And we’re asked what we can prove. This won’t be difficult; all we can prove is what the passage said, and the passage just said that jurors can’t understand expert testimony.
Let’s look at answer choices:
(A) is prescriptive. That’s bad! Juror dumbness, while hilarious, is not sufficient to constitute proof that we should do anything. We cannot prove what we should do without evidence about what we should do.
(B) is small. That’s good! It just says that jury decisions are not always (emphasis mine, duh) determined by the reliability of expert testimony. I would [heart] this answer if I’d never read a passage. Not always!? What does that mean, even? Nothing! It means practically nothing! That’s why it would be so, so easy to prove. And of course we can prove it here. From the sounds of it, jurors are so dumb (How dumb are they?) that their decisions are prolly never decided by reliability. How could they possibly know who’s reliable? THEY’RE TOO DUMB.
(C) is conditional. That’s bad! How can we prove what would happen, if some theoretical genius juror (DOESN’T EXIST) were to come along? Impossible, unless we were told some evidence about this hypothetical super-juror.
(D) is prescriptive. We discussed this in (A). Boo.
(E) is qualitative—experts are likely to agree—which is bad! How can we prove what’s likely if we don’t even have a definition for what makes something “likely”? Also, (E) is stupid. Opposing experts are supposed to be likely to agree in their evaluations? WTF is that noise? Don’t pick an answer that is aggressively stupid (unless the passage said something aggressively stupid. In that case, just go with what the passage said. Always go with what the passage said).
And that’s it! We are likely to be able to prove small, limited claims. They are simply by definition easier to prove. And never never forget that jurors are dumb. So very very very dumb. Sigh.
Love + kisses,
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