Examining Less Common Logical Reasoning Question Types - Logical Reasoning: Picking Apart an Argument - LSAT For Dummies 

LSAT For Dummies, 2nd Edition (2014)

Part III. Logical Reasoning: Picking Apart an Argument

Chapter 10. Examining Less Common Logical Reasoning Question Types

In This Chapter

arrow Resolving discrepancies and paradoxes

arrow Analyzing patterns of reasoning

arrow Spotting principles

arrow Deciphering argument structure

Lawyers are artists of a sort — or maybe craftspeople is a better word. They build arguments. Lawyers use as much craft in drafting a brief or presenting a closing argument as craftspeople do in building a fine cabinet. The LSAT tests to see whether you have the natural aptitude for this craft, whether you understand how arguments hold together, and why an author uses particular words.

The questions we discuss in this chapter tend to appear less frequently on the LSAT (once or twice per logical reasoning section) and generally concern the ways arguments and their elements are constructed and examine the thought processes that underlie statements. To succeed on these questions, you can't just ask “what.” You must also ask “why” and “how.” Think like a craftsperson, an artisan of arguments, and you'll be fine.

Reconciling Discrepancies and Paradoxes

Sometimes a set of facts just doesn't seem to hold together. One of the pieces seems to, if not quite contradict another, at least create a questionable relationship. That is, the passage contains a discrepancy or paradox that requires explanation.

Looking for paradox questions

The logical reasoning sections include a number of questions designed to test your ability to resolve paradoxes or discrepancies. They almost always contain the word explain or resolve, followed by a word like paradox, discrepancy, surprise, or conflict. To answer these questions, you have to figure out what piece of information would help you explain why the apparent conflict is not in fact a conflict at all.

The following list includes some examples of paradox and discrepancy questions:

·        Which one of the following, if true, most helps to resolve the apparent paradox?

·        Which one of the following, if true, would most effectively resolve the apparent paradox above?

·        Which one of the following, if true, most helps to resolve the apparent discrepancy in the passage above?

·        Which one of the following, if true, most helps to resolve the apparent discrepancy described by the representative?

·        Which one of the following, if true, contributes most to an explanation of the behavior of chimpanzees describe above?

·        Which one of the following, if true, most helps to resolve the apparent conflict described above?

·        Which one of the following, if true, most helps to reconcile the specialists’ two claims?

·        Which one of the following, if true, most helps to reconcile the experts’ belief with the apparently contrary evidence described above?

You answer these questions by reading the passage to figure out which two facts seem to be at odds with each other. Then try to come up with an idea that would reconcile the inconsistency and make the paradox disappear. You probably won't be able to envision the exact answer before reading the choices, but you can come up with something in the ballpark.

Perusing a paradox example

Here's an example of a paradox question:

example.eps Skydiving experts have noted that improvements in gear and training techniques have led to fewer fatalities than occurred in the sport's earlier years. However, fatalities among very experienced skydivers, who use the most modern gear equipped with a device that automatically opens the reserve parachute if the skydiver has not opened the main parachute by a certain altitude, have held steady for the last 12 years.

Which one of the following, if true, most helps to resolve the apparent paradox in this passage?

(A) Most skydivers prefer not to buy improved gear as it appears because it costs too much.

(B) Experienced skydivers favor tiny parachutes that fly at high velocities and that must be landed precisely, which makes them more likely to hit the ground at an uncontrolled high speed, even under an open parachute.

(C) Not all jumpers choose to use the device that automatically opens their reserve parachute for them.

(D) The U.S. Parachute Association's recommended minimum opening altitude for reserve parachutes has increased over the last 12 years.

(E) Most inexperienced skydivers rent gear from drop zones instead of owning their own gear.

Read the question. The passage contains an apparent paradox. Despite advancements in safety, skydiving fatalities have not decreased among experienced skydivers. This fact is surprising because experienced skydivers use modern gear that guarantees that their parachutes will open. An open parachute must not be the only guarantee of a safe landing. If experienced skydivers are dying despite open parachutes, their fatalities must result from another cause. Snipers aren't picking them off from the ground, so they must be dying on landing. Perhaps experienced skydivers land differently from novices. See what the answer choices have to offer.

·        Choice (A) doesn't explain the specific paradox related to the fates of experienced skydivers. The buying habits of other, less experienced skydivers are irrelevant.

·        Choice (B) does explain the results; experienced skydivers land differently and more dangerously than novices do, which could explain why the safer parachutes aren't leading to fewer deaths.

·        Choice (C) is also irrelevant because it doesn't pertain specifically to the experienced skydivers who are at the heart of the paradox.

·        Choice (D) makes the paradox even more surprising. If the reserve parachutes activate at higher altitudes, fewer fatalities should result.

·        Choice (E) doesn't explain anything about fatalities. It may explain why inexperienced and experienced skydivers use different gear, but it doesn't explain why experienced skydivers die despite having good, high-tech, perfectly functioning equipment.

Choice (B) is the correct answer.

Reasoning by Pattern

A well-structured argument is a beautiful thing. A reader can follow the steps of the reasoning from start to finish with no effort at all, and the conclusion should seem self-evident if the author has done her job right. Structuring an argument well isn't that easy, though. Lawyers spend years perfecting the art of putting arguments together and taking apart their opponents’ arguments. The first step toward doing both is understanding how existing arguments work. The LSAT exists partly to test your ability to do this.

Finding pattern-of-reasoning questions

These logical reasoning questions ask you to choose an answer that uses the same method of reasoning as the argument or, less often, directly ask you what type of reasoning the author uses to make an argument. Look over these examples of pattern-of-reasoning questions:

·        Which one of the following exhibits a pattern of reasoning most similar to that exhibited by the argument above?

·        Which one of the following arguments is most similar in its pattern of reasoning to the argument above?

·        The reasoning in which one of the following arguments is most similar to that in the argument above?

·        Which one of the following most closely parallels the newscaster's argument in its reasoning?

·        Which one of the following is most closely parallel in its flawed reasoning to the flawed reasoning in the argument above?

·        Which one of the following employs a flawed argumentative strategy that is most closely parallel to the flawed argumentative strategy in the letter above?

·        Which one of the following uses flawed reasoning most similar to that used in the argument above?

·        The flawed reasoning in the argument above is most similar to that in which one of the following?

remember.eps For the purposes of the LSAT, the chief methods of reasoning are as follows:

·        Deductive, which is reaching a specific conclusion from general premises.

·        Inductive, which is drawing a general conclusion from specific premises and which includes the following methods:

·        Cause and effect, which shows that one event resulted from another.

·        Analogy, which shows that one thing is sufficiently similar to another thing such that what holds true for one is true for the other.

·        Statistics, which uses population samples (surveys) to reach conclusions about the population as a whole.

When you know you're dealing with a pattern-of-reasoning question, you just need to focus on the way the author makes the argument to make sure you choose an answer that follows the logic most exactly.

warning.eps Don't choose an answer just because it deals with the same subject matter as the given argument. These choices are often traps to lure you away from the answer that more exactly duplicates the author's logic but addresses another topic.

It doesn't matter whether the argument makes sense. If the given argument isn't logical, pick an answer choice that isn't logical in the same way.

tip.eps You may focus on the method of reasoning better if you substitute letters for ideas in the argument. For instance, say you're presented with this argument: “Balloons that contain helium float. Jerry's balloon doesn't float, so it doesn't contain helium.” You can state this logic with letters, like this: “All A (helium balloons) are B (floaters). C (Jerry's balloon) isn't B (a floater), so C isn't A.” Then you can apply that formula to your answer choices to see which one matches best.

tip.eps You may have noticed that many of the questions mention the flawed reasoning or the flawed argumentative strategy in the arguments. You know what that means — something's wrong with the argument. And it likely contains one of the informal fallacies we list in Chapter 8.

Patterning a reasonable example

Here's an example of a pattern-of-reasoning question:

example.eps Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen. Many nail polishes contain formaldehyde. Therefore, anyone who wears nail polish will get cancer.

Which one of the following is most closely parallel in its flawed reasoning to the flawed reasoning in this argument?

(A) Hot dogs can contain insect parts. Insects are dirty and carry disease. Therefore, people should not eat hot dogs.

(B) Ultraviolet rays can cause skin cancer. Sunscreen can prevent damage from ultraviolet rays. Therefore, people who wear sunscreen will not get cancer.

(C) Sodium can cause high blood pressure. Potato chips contain sodium. Therefore, anyone who eats potato chips will get high blood pressure.

(D) Beans contain a large amount of dietary fiber. Dietary fiber may be able to prevent some kinds of cancer. Therefore, people who do not eat beans will get cancer.

(E) Alcohol consumed during pregnancy can cause fetal brain damage. Wine contains alcohol. Therefore, pregnant women should not drink wine.

Read the question. You need to find the answer that uses the same process of reasoning as the argument. You know that this process of reasoning is flawed because the question tells you so. So, how is it flawed? The flaw is in the conclusion, which makes an unjustified assumption that the presence of a known carcinogen in nail polish means that everyone who wears nail polish will get cancer.

The problem with the conclusion is that it assumes that a carcinogen automatically causes cancer in everyone who encounters it, which isn't justified by the evidence presented in the argument. The argument doesn't say that formaldehyde always causes cancer or that nail polish causes cancer; all it says is that formaldehyde can cause cancer and that nail polishes contain formaldehyde. You can't assume based on that information that nail polishes inevitably cause cancer.

Truthfully, though, the flaw isn't the important thing here. The reasoning process is all you really care about. You want to find the answer choice that uses the same process of reasoning as the argument. For the purposes of finding the answer with parallel reasoning, break down the argument's structure. You can rewrite it in a formula, like this: F can cause C; NP contains F; therefore, NP always causes C.

tip.eps In questions like this, it can be helpful to abbreviate players, just as you do in analytical reasoning questions. When writing equations, single letters are faster and easier to use than full words and can make the pattern of reasoning clearer.

Which answer choice makes this same kind of logical leap?

·        Choice (A) says that H can contain I; I causes disease; therefore, don't eat H. That's not the same as the argument.

·        Choice (B) says that U can cause C; S prevents damage by U; therefore, S prevents C. That's not the same as the argument.

·        Choice (C) says that S can cause H; P contains S; therefore, P always causes H. That looks identical to the argument's reasoning.

·        Choice (D) says that B contains F; F can prevent C; therefore, B prevents C. That's not the same as the argument.

·        Choice (E) says that A during P causes BD; W contains A; therefore, P shouldn't drink W. That's not the same as the argument.

Choice (C) is the correct answer because it exactly parallels the argument's reasoning.

Exploring Arguments Based on Principles

Lawyers often base their arguments on particular principles or propositions. These propositions sound like statements of truths, especially universal truths — “we hold these truths to be self-evident” sort of statements. How well these principles apply or closely adhere to a particular situation is the matter up for debate.

Pinpointing principles questions

These logical reasoning questions test your ability to identify principles stated in arguments and then pick the answer that describes an action that conforms most closely to or violates most clearly that principle. Alternatively, a principle question may ask you to pick an answer that most accurately expresses a particular action's underlying or supporting principle. These questions can look like this:

·        Which one of the following most closely conforms to the principle above?

·        Which one of the following judgments best illustrates the principle illustrated by the argument above?

·        Which one of the following judgments conforms most closely to the principle stated by Laila?

·        To which one of the following principles does the critic's commentary most closely conform?

·        Which one of the following conforms most closely to the principle illustrated by the statements above?

·        Which one of the following most accurately expresses the principle underlying the argumentation above?

·        Which one of the following best illustrates the proposition above?

tip.eps When you see the word principle, or occasionally proposition, read the argument looking for some fairly general statement about what's necessary or proper given the circumstances. These arguments often start with the words “it is,” as in “it is crucial” or “it is essential.”

remember.eps A principle is a kind of abstract rule or concept that applies to most situations. On the LSAT, laws themselves can be principles because they make statements about correct or incorrect action. When you see a principles question, try to come up with an abstract rule or unstated law that guides the passage's author.

Read the argument looking for a principle. The argument may state it explicitly or just imply it. Definitely try to formulate an answer to principles questions before you look at the answer choices. Stating the principle in your own words usually isn't that difficult, and it can save you tons of time spotting the right answer.

Parsing a principles example

Here's an example of a principles question:

example.eps When deciding which colleges to include on her application list, Alicia researched university mission statements and found that College X, a small private college with a cost of attendance of $50,000 per year, was dedicated to producing compassionate and curious leaders. College Y, a large public university with a cost of attendance of $35,000 per year, promoted itself as a leading scientific research facility. Alicia's future goals include working as an executive of a nonprofit organization designed to provide assistance to underrepresented populations. Therefore, she decided to apply to College X rather than College Y.

Alicia's decision most closely conforms to which one of the following principles?

(A) A direct relationship exists between a college's cost and the quality of the education it provides.

(B) Students should apply to smaller colleges that offer more personalized attention from professors.

(C) A large research university cannot prepare students for a career as a nonprofit executive.

(D) Students should apply to colleges with mission statements that align with their goals.

(E) The best way for students to know which college is the best fit for them is by researching each college's mission statement.

Break down Alicia's decision process. Her main activity was researching mission statements. Although the paragraph provides each college's cost and size, it doesn't mention that Alicia used these factors in her comparison of the two colleges. The statement leading to Alicia's conclusion regards her plans to lead a nonprofit organization, so she most likely based her decision on a determinate of which college provides a better preparation for her goals and used the college's mission statement to make that determination. Therefore, the underlying principle guiding her decision is that she should put colleges on her application list based on how well their mission statements fit her goals.

·        Choice (A) regards college cost, but no evidence exists to indicate that Alicia considered price in her decision, so it can't be the right answer.

·        Choice (B) can't be the underlying principle. It concerns college size, and Alicia researched college mission statements rather than college sizes.

·        Choice (C) may seem applicable at first, but it actually regards what universities can and cannot do rather than what a student like Alicia should rely on during the college application process. So the principle in Choice (C) doesn't specifically relate to Alicia's decision-making process.

·        Choice (D) is the best answer. It specifically relates to Alicia's decision regarding whether to apply to a particular college and supports her use of mission statements in the process.

·        Choice (E) seems very similar to Choice (D). It acknowledges the importance of college mission statements. However, the principle supports Alicia's research activity rather than her decision to apply to a college based on her research. So Choice (D) is a better answer than Choice (E).

Choice (D) best expresses the principle upon which Alicia based her decision to add College X to her application list. It verifies that applying college mission statements to one's goals is a good way to create a college list.

Figuring Out an Argument's Structure

Arguments are like wars; individuals who argue use a variety of tactics to make their points and disarm their opponents. They may deny something the other person says, challenge their opponent's evidence, explain what they mean, or use analogies to illustrate their points. Lawyers, being in the business of argument, use these tactics all the time. Law schools want to pick students who already understand the rudiments of this art.

Spotting structure questions

A number of logical reasoning questions focus on the structure of arguments. These questions usually involve two speakers who disagree with each other in some way. The question usually asks you to explain how the second speaker responds to the first. These questions can look like this:

·        Yolanda responds to Javier by . . . (arguing, denying, using analogy, challenging, showing evidence)

·        In responding to Penelope, Odysseus . . . (accuses, criticizes, challenges, explains, assumes)

·        Carter counters Yvette's argument by . . . (questioning, suggesting, denying, pointing out, calling into question)

·        This advertisement proceeds by . . . (using analogy, proving, understating the role, demonstrating, asserting)

·        Seth challenges Arne's reasoning by . . .

·        Kelsey's criticism suggests that he interpreted Mac to be . . .

·        Landrieu and Blanco disagree about whether . . .

·        Marquis responds to Theodora's argument in which one of the following ways?

·        Rinn responds to Julio's criticism by . . .

Your goal is to figure out how the second speaker's argument relates to the first. The second speaker addresses the first speaker in some way; you have to figure out how. If there's only one speaker, you simply have to describe how the speaker constructs the argument.

Tackling a structure-of-argument example

Here's an example of a structure-of-argument question:

example.eps Gabrielle: The man who invented the shopping mall in the United States envisioned it as the heart of a pedestrian community, much like the centers of European towns, with their sidewalk cafes, boutiques, and pleasant boulevards. Malls now provide a safe environment in which people can walk from shop to shop and meet with their friends.

Antonia: Although people walk within a mall, the very existence of the shopping mall has killed pedestrian culture. American town centers are now wastelands where no one goes, and malls themselves exist in the center of massive parking lots. People isolated in their cars drive to suburban malls and then wander around the mall ignoring and avoiding their fellow shoppers.

Antonia responds to Gabrielle by

(A) arguing that the invention of the mall has led to consequences that are exactly opposite what the mall's inventor intended

(B) proposing that sensible urban planning could result in the shopping mall becoming a positive force in communities

(C) using an analogy to illustrate the detrimental effects of malls

(D) pointing out that European cities now have shopping malls in their suburbs

(E) explaining why American cities have developed in such a way that private automobiles are the only practical form of transportation

Read the question first. It asks how the second speaker responds to the first. The answers to this sort of question always start with verbs, such as criticize, argue, point out, and things like that. You want to decide for yourself how Antonia responds before you start reading the answer choices.

Gabrielle suggests that the shopping mall has evolved as its creator envisioned — as a safe, enclosed, walkable community. Antonia disagrees with her, contending that malls have ended pedestrian culture and community spirit. So you want to find an answer that disagrees with Gabrielle's argument and claims that the mall isn't the institution its creator imagined.

·        Choice (A) looks like exactly the answer you want; Antonia does argue that the mall's consequences are opposite those intended by its creator.

·        Choice (B) is wrong because Antonia doesn't mention sensible urban planning.

·        Choice (C) is wrong because Antonia doesn't use an analogy.

·        Choice (D) is wrong because Antonia doesn't mention Europe.

·        Choice (E) is wrong because Antonia doesn't mention automobiles.

Choices (B) through (E) all bring up points that Antonia might use if she were to continue her argument, but they're not relevant here. Choice (A) is the correct answer.