LSAT Kung Fu Blog / Really - Are ALL Bunnies Chocolate?
Really - Are ALL Bunnies Chocolate?
So, we're feeling pretty sad because this weekend we lost Amy Winehouse. She rocked, and we’ve had Back to Black basically on a loop since Saturday. But enough of sadness. Let’s talk about kicking some ass, shall we?
We’ve talked a lot in our series of award-winning (not actually award-winning) video lessons about the importance of understanding language cues for making you a fiercer, faster test taker. Thought it seemed like fun to augment your LSAT preparation with a few minutes of discussion on that topic.
So, first we’ll talk about types of language (specifically quantifiers), then we’ll talk a little about some question types in the Logical Reasoning sections of the test, just a mite bit about the Reading Comprehension, and finish it off with a discussion of what you’re likely to find - in terms of the language used - from right and wrong answers to questions on this test. For our purposes, we can effectively split the world of quantifiers into three categories.
The first category is what we’ll refer to as “soft” or “small” language. We’re talking about words that are moderate in their scope, tone, and purpose. Here’s a (non-exhaustive) list:
- not all
- not every
- not always.
These words don’t say very much, and they don’t go very far. “Some”? Just means “not none.” “Some” could mean a thousand or it could mean, like, just the one guy. It’s nebulous and it’s inexact. It’s slippery and hard to pin, and it is for that reason really easy to prove. If I want to demonstrate beyond all doubt that some people love Amy Winehouse, I just have to raise my hand. I adore her, and that one example proves “some.” And if you wanted to demonstrate that at least some people want me dead, you’d only have to find one nasty comment on YouTube.
You wouldn’t have to read me the whole list to prove to me that “some” do. “Some” is just that small. Of course, this kind of small language isn’t very useful for doing work with, again because of its soft, mushy nature. If you were to tell me that some rabbits are made out of chocolate, I would not, on that basis alone, go find me a rabbit and take a hopeful bite thereof. Just the fact that some are does practically nothing to assure me that this one I’ve found in my back garden is. It’s this soft, small quality of these words that’s salient to our purposes. We’ll come back to why - and when - it’s important in a minute.
Now, at the opposite end of the spectrum from this small language is a set of giant, brass-balled muscle-bound indicators we’re calling “Load-Bearing Language” (we’re coining a term here). Load-Bearing Language is language that is strong enough - big enough - to bear the burden of proof. The opposite of the small language we just talked about.
Another (non-exhaustive) list:
Plus all the superlatives:
- earliest, etc.
These words are mighty. If you tell me that every person in the world loves Amy Winehouse, then I can prove that Stanley does, and Aloysius, and that nasty commenter from YouTube. I don’t need to know anything else about those people, because you’ve established that a love for Amy Winehouse is shared by every person. Tell me that all rabbits are made of chocolate, and just watch me beat a path to that garden, chocolate-eating bib tied smartly around my neck. All, like every, is load-bearing. It bears proof for all instances. Of course, precisely because of its size and strength, load-bearing language is incredibly difficult to prove. How could I prove that all people love Amy Winehouse? That nobody is out to kill me?
To demonstrate that statements that big are true, we’d need all the evidence in the world! We’d literally have to poll every man, woman and child, if we wanted to know what everyone thinks. So at one end of the spectrum we have our small language, and all the way down at the other end we have its opposite, load-bearing language. And somewhere in between? We have the set of quantifiers that constitute what I will (quite cleverly) refer to as “Middle Language.”
First, notice that only two of those words have specific denotative meaning. Do you know which they are? Think about it. We’ll get back to it in a second. The important feature of this list of “middle” language is that the words are connotative. If I tell you that many people love Amy Winehouse, then it sounds like more than just me and my dog.
The word seems like we’re talking about a whole bunch of people, but notice how its meaning slides as its context changes: There are 26,097,155 eligible voters in the states of California, Montana, and Louisiana (the three states in which Ron Paul was on the ballot in the presidential election of 2008). 26,097,155. Got that one? Now, picture in your head the number 26,359. That is the number of people from those three states that voted for Ron Paul for president in 2008. How many people voted for Congressman Paul? Not many. Not many. But... If I tell you that 26,359 is the number of people in California, Montana and Louisiana who were born with a tail, well, whoa. That is many people. I had no idea that many people were born with tails - and that’s for only 3 states! Dear god, our country is being overrun by people with tails! So, so many tails. See? We’re talking about the exact same number, but in one context that number means many, and in another context it means not many. Many is just not a particularly meaningful word. It has to be plural, but past that? Nada. Same with often. When it comes to, say,, showering, twice a month is not often. Not nearly often enough.
On the other hand, if we're talking about taking a vacation, twice a month is pretty often (also, where do you work?). Like "many," the word "often” doesn't have much intrinsic value. But in certain uses, it can sound like more than just "sometimes." So, did you figure out the two with meaning? Most and usually, right? Most means more than half, and usually means more than half the time. So, these two do have particular, useful definitions. Everything else on our list of Middle Language, however, trades in innuendo and connotation. These words feel like they mean more than our small language words do, and we'll stab at the dark heart of meaning in that feeling in just a mo'.
There are 5 types of questions asked in the Logical Reasoning section for which we can make strong expectations as to language in answer choices. First are the Inference questions, which, phrased in various ways, ask us what we can prove based on a passage. Let me put the question to you: given only 4 or 5 lines of text, and a question asking you what you can prove on the basis of that text, how likely do you think it is that the right answer to that question - the thing that you can prove is true - contains the word "all"? Right. Not likely in the least. It's certainly possible that a passage could prove that all steam punk practitioners are raving loonies, but that's tough to do - it would be much easier, given only a few lines of text, to prove that at least some steampunkers are batshit crazy. You know, all you'd have to do is give one example, and the proof would be in front of you. So, for Inference questions, we will expect generally to see correct answer choices that employ small language.
Consider, also, the Necessary Assumption question. This question asks you to identify a bit of information that is necessary to the conclusion, but that is missing from the argument. If this bit of information is necessary, that means that the argument cannot do without it. In much the same way that I cannot do without water. If you take away my water, it won't take long, and I'll be gone. It's necessary. But it's also so small - I mean, I need it, for sure, but it just doesn't go very far in ensuring my survival. Give me water but no food, and I'll make it a couple of weeks, but not more. Give me water but no shelter, and there are some places in the world where I'll die faster than if I had no food. And water but no air? You can measure my life expectancy in seconds. I certainly need the water, but it isn't enough to guarantee anything, and it's so small in comparison to the totality of my existence. Necessary Assumptions are like that. They're required, sure, but they don't guarantee anything, and they're likely small, in the scheme of things. In much the same way that I need the small, boring water, but not the Triumph Rocket III Roadster with blacked-out upside-down forks up front (at least, my wife says I don't need it), all the things we need tend to be small.
So it is with arguments - the pieces missing from the argument are very likely to be individually small, and for Necessary Assumption questions, as for Inference questions, we will expect generally to see small language in correct answer choices. Sufficient Assumption questions, on the other hand, demand answers that are sufficient to prove their conclusions. That is woman's work (by which I mean that it is work that demands a strong answer, capable of doing big things). To be sufficient to prove that some claim is true, an answer choice pretty much has to be Load-Bearing, as we've used the phrase - it needs to be big enough to bear the burden of proof. For this reason, we can expect generally that the right answers to Sufficient Assumption questions will use the kind of load-bearing language under discussion earlier.
And then there are Strengthen and Weaken questions, which we'll take together. These questions ask you to - wait for it! - make arguments stronger or weaker. Again, I'll put the question to you: How likely do you think it is that a small answer is capable of weakening an argument effectively? Right - it's not at all likely. If some argument is trying to prove that some fact is generally true (as so many arguments are), then saying that it sometimes ain't true just isn't a very effective rebuttal. More effective is would be an answer that indicates that it usually - or even often - isn't true.
Small language is not very effective for dealing forcefully with arguments, so we must not expect small language from the answers to weaken and strengthen questions. On the other hand, while Load-Bearing language would be great for dealing with things in the strongest way possible (see our discussion of 2 minutes ago), experience teaches me that we should not expect to see such language from the answers provided to weaken and strengthen questions. Instead of the weak sauce of the small language - which wouldn't be very effective - and instead of the very effective, but almost-never-used Load-Bearing language, for Weaken and Strengthen questions, we will expect right answer choices that employ Middle language, as we've outlined that language here.
Finally, a word about the Reading Comprehension. All of the questions in the Reading section ask you what is true according to the passage. In other words, all of the questions in the Reading section are really Inference questions. Thus, the same rules that apply to Inference questions in the Logical Reasoning apply also to all of the questions in the Reading Comprehension, and we can say that we will expect that the right answers to the questions asked in the Reading section of the test will tend to make use of small language.
So, to recap:
- Small language = some/sometimes (etc.).
- Load-bearing language = all/only (etc.).
- Middle language = many/usually (etc.).
For Inference and Necessary Assumption and Reading Comprehension answer choices, we like small language. For Weaken and Strengthen questions, we like middle language, and for Sufficient Assumption questions, we heart load-bearing language.
And this is the twofold utility of all of that - First, if we're trying to decide between two answer choices in any one of those question types, we can use our knowledge of language probabilities to tip the scale toward one answer over another. Second, when diving into answer choices, we can begin our assessment by focusing on the answer choices that are most likely to be correct based on the clues offered by the language the choices use. This knowledge goes some distance toward making us faster, fiercer, and better at LSAT. And that, my friend, is what we mean when we talk about Kung Fu.
For more, 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 about Amy Winehouse or the number 27 or language cues, or to suggest topics for future conversations.
Until next week, stay relentless, even in the face of sadness.