The LSAT: Understanding the Architecture of Argument (part 2)

In my last post, I emphasized the importance of understanding the argument that is made in an LR, and I said that once you understood the argument—that is, once you figured out that the speaker was saying ‘I conclude ZZZ on the basis of XXX’ and that s/he must also be thinking YYY because otherwise s/he couldn’t get from XXX to ZZZ—you’d be ready for almost any question.  So here we go:

What is the conclusion?  ZZZ.

What is the premise?  XXX.

What is the role played by XXX?  It provides support for ZZZ.

Which of the following assumptions is required by the argument?  That would be your YYY.

Which of the following, if true, would strengthen the argument?  Well, anything that provides support for XXX or YYY.

Which of the following, if true, would weaken the argument?  Anything that challenges XXX or YYY.  (And, less often, something that challenges ZZZ.)

Which of the following is an issue of contention between A and B?  Okay, compare A’s ZZZ with B’s ZZZ.  Do they agree about the conclusion?  Then compare A’s reasons for his/her conclusion—look at the XXX and the YYY—with B’s reasons.

How does B respond to A?  Again, look at A’s argument and look at B’s response: does B challenge the conclusion (the ZZZ) or the reasons provided to support that conclusion (explicitly, XXX, or implicitly, YYY).

And note, that I am suggesting you figure out the answer before you look at the options.   The options are not easy to understand.  So if you just dive in and start considering each option, chances are good you’ll have forgotten the question by the time you’re at (C) and you’ll have lost your grip of the argument by the time you’re at (E).  It’s much easier to skim the options, specifically looking for the one you already know to be right.  Only if it’s not in the list (and sometimes it isn’t; sometimes the speaker needs to believe more than one other thing in order for the conclusion to follow from the given premises/evidence/reasoning), should you then systematically consider each option.

Peg Tittle used to work at LSAC writing the questions that go on the LSAT; she’s the author of a logical reasoning textbook (Critical Thinking: An Appeal to Reason, Routledge 2011); she has an M.A. in Philosophy (we’re all about argument!), a B.A. in Literature (there’s my RC!), a B.Ed. (so I know pedagogy), and ESL certification; and she has over ten years’ teaching/tutoring experience.

She has set up an FAQ page about her LSAT tutoring (which she does by phone or skype).

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