Is the text an argument? An argument here doesn’t mean a dispute or controversy. It means an attempt to provide a reason for believing something by citing something else. It is an attempt to show that something is true, or probably true, by appealing to something else, some reason or evidence, which indicates that it is true.

You see arguments everyday in advertisements, where companies are making arguments to persuade you to buy their product: A LSAT course will teach you how to attack the common LSAT question types so that you can beat the LSAT. You should therefore buy a LSAT course.

In many of the Critical Reasoning questions, there will be a gap between the premises and the conclusion–the assumptions.

Target: Assumptions. On many critical reasoning questions, the question will turn on assumptions. Premises (evidence) on the LSAT will never be false. So you don’t have to worry about that. The conclusion is often stated, so the whole game usually revolves around the assumptions.

Let’s look at an argument to buy a LSAT course.

A LSAT course will teach you how to attack the common LSAT question types so that you can beat the LSAT. You should therefore buy a LSAT course.

Premise: A LSAT course can teach you how to attack the common LSAT question types.
Conclusion: You should therefore buy a LSAT course.

There are some “assumptions”, “errors” or “gaps” in that statement:

  1. A LSAT course can teach you common question types, but not all question types. A LSAT course can try to prepare you, but obviously a course can’t prepare you for every past question that has appeared on the LSAT.
  2. The LSAT comes up with new questions all the time, so it is possible that you can come across a question that no one has seen before.
  3. A LSAT course may have the content, but will you have the willpower to use it?

Valid vs. True
The LSAT is looking for valid arguments, not necessarily true ones. A valid argument follows from its premises.

An ostrich is a bird
All birds fly
Conclusion: an ostrich can fly

The above argument is valid, but not “true,” given that we know that, in the real world, ostriches actually can’t fly. Try not to argue or bring in external knowledge to the LSAT, where you are just looking for valid arguments, given the information that they have given you. In this case, the conclusion would be correct.

Why are flying ostriches so important to skilled critical thinking?

In this chapter we regularly discuss absurd things. This isn’t entirely for humorous effect. Skilled critical thinkers often employ the argument ad absurdum, which means taking a logical argument and stretching it to its breaking point to determine its validity. In this case, we use flying ostriches to show that arguments may be true but not valid.

Assumption Hunt

When you assume, you make an ass out of u and me

-Felix Unger, The Odd Couple

Unstated assumptions are technically logical errors (errors of omission). A clear and effective argument will state its assumptions and not leave them out. So, finding unstated assumptions is a task of finding gaps in reasoning.

We call this process the “Assumption Hunt”. Most LSAT questions contain hidden assumptions and it’s your job to find them. You will need to use this “Assumption Hunt” on the critical reasoning and AWA Analysis of Argument essay.

Since assumptions lie between the premises and conclusions, we first need to find the premises and the conclusion. Mr. LSAT is usually nice enough to use set “red flag” phrases to help you identify these parts of an argument.

How do you identify premises and conclusions? Reliable clues are provided by certain key words, which are often used to identify premises and conclusions.

Premise indicators:

The reason is that premises are indicated by keywords.
Because premises are indicated by keywords.
Since premises are indicated by keywords.
As premises are indicated by keywords.
On the basis of premises indicated by keywords.
It follows from premises indicated by keywords.
In view of premises indicated by keywords.
We may infer from premises indicated by keywords.

Conclusion indicators:

Accordingly, conclusions are easy to find.
Clearly, conclusions are easy to find.
Consequently, conclusions are easy to find.
This indicates that conclusions are easy to find.
Hence, conclusions are easy to find.
It follows that conclusions are easy to find.
So, conclusions are easy to find.
Therefore, conclusions are easy to find.
This indicates that conclusions are easy to find.
This shows that conclusions are easy to find.
Thus, conclusions are easy to find.
We may infer that conclusions are easy to find.

Putting Into Your Own Words

Now that you know how to break down arguments into premises, assumptions and conclusions, you are able to translate a passage into your own words. Usually the passage describes something very simple in a complicated manner, and putting it in your own words helps you to get a handle on what the passage means.

Apartment building owners argue that rent control should be abolished. Although they acknowledge that they would increase rents in the short term, owners argue that in the long term the rent increases would lead to greater profitability. Higher profits would lead to increased apartment construction. Increased apartment construction would then lead to a greater supply of residences and lower prices as the potential apartment residents have a better selection. Thus, abolishing rent control would ultimately reduce prices.

To make that complicated argument easy to understand, try breaking it down into your own words:

Premise #1: Abolishing rent control will increase the supply of housing.
Premise #2: Greater supply leads to lower prices.
Conclusion: Abolishing rent control leads to lower rents
Analysis: This is a supply/demand argument

Assumptions

  • That demand for new housing will remain constant and not outstrip supply.
  • The marketplace for housing is flexible.
  • New construction won’t raise the overall value of the area and raise prices as the market gentrifies.
  • etc…

More than simply “putting it in your own words,” you need to evaluate an argument’s persuasiveness. The more unstated assumptions or logical flaws, the weaker the argument will be.

LSAT arguments usually aren’t that sweeping. On the LSAT, arguments are short and have assumptions, so making sweeping statements isn’t likely to be correct.

All sweeping statements should be noticed.
Always notice sweeping statements.
Never ignore sweeping keywords.
None of these keywords should be ignored.
Only ignore sweeping statements at your peril.

The problem with these sweeping statements is that only one exception can disprove the argument.

All business school students want is just a higher salary!

Sounds like someone got a lousy score on the LSAT? But, if we use a qualifier, that sweeping generalization suddenly becomes plausible:

Some business school students just want a higher salary.

Try qualifiers like:

Some qualifiers help make arguments more sound.
Usually qualifiers help make arguments more sound.
Sometimes qualifiers help make arguments more sound.
Qualifiers probably help make arguments more sound.
Most qualifiers help make arguments more sound.
Often qualifiers help make arguments more sound.

These words soften your argument and make it less easy to refute because your argument can withstand some exceptions.

Get an idea of the right answer

When you finish reading the passage and the stem and you have analyzed everything using the techniques in the previous pages, you can usually come up with a pre-phrase of the right answer before even getting to the answer choices. With experience and good intuition, you’ll be able to tell what the question wants before getting to the answer choices.

Test takers should not be discouraged, however, if they cannot come up with a pre-phrase. Some questions are difficult and an immediate answer will not jump out at you. Often reading the answer choices will give you hints about what the argument is about — after all, one of those 5 choices must be right (but don’t fall for trap answer choices).

Eliminate the wrong answers

Coming up with the right pre-phrase of the answer is only half of the battle. You have to then pick the answer choice that most closely resembles your pre-phrased answer. As we discuss in the Reading Comprehension section, there is rarely “one true” answer on the hard LSAT questions. Instead, there are usually several answer choices that are “good”, with a small nuance distinguishing them.

If you jump at the first choice that looks “good”, you might get the question wrong because there could be other choices that are better. The best way to handle this is to narrow down answer choices using the process of elimination until you get the best choice.

Beware of trick question types!

Test writing is an extremely time-consuming task. One of the most difficult parts of test writing is generating the “junk” wrong answer choices. Here is an example of what the given choices for a question might look like:

  • If you misread the passage, this looks right.
  • Maybe right — close call with some subtle difference most students miss.
  • Correct answer!
  • The opposite of the correct answer.
  • Something completely off topic, but it sounds impressive.

Test writers have an easy way out. On nearly every question you will see wrong answers that they pull out of a bin of “typical” junk answers. These wrong answers do not do much to test ability; they are simply there to fool inexperienced and unskilled test takers. Test writers like to use them because they take a few seconds to write and fool most students, thereby making the question “harder.”

If you have gone as far as to be able to identify and assess an argument, don’t fall into a trap when picking an answer.

On the positive side, a skilled test taker can quickly identify trap answer types and then use process of elimination to increase the chances of getting the right answer.

Trick Question Type #1: The Sentimental Favorite

The LSAT will have answer choices that will appeal to our better angels. Remember that just because a LSAT choice is sweet-sounding, it doesn’t mean that it’s correct.

The level of diabetes in the United States among those over 50 has been attributed to high levels of sugar usage. In Zaire, however, diabetes rates among those over 50 are nearly as high and sugar consumption levels are much lower.

What is the most reasonable conclusion from the above passage?

  • If most people used sugar-replacement sweeteners instead of sugar, the rate of diabetes worldwide would drop rapidly.
  • There are other factors besides sugar usage cause diabetes levels.

Choice A sounds good, but answer choices that espouse highly idealistic expressions may not be correct.

Choice B is the correct answer because it gets to the flawed causal argument: sugar usage may not be the sole factor behind diabetes rates.

Trick Question Type #2: Scope Trap

If you’ve found the main point, you must also identify what is in the range of the argument. Scope is related to more than just the general topic being discussed, it is the narrowing of the topic. Is the article about graduate-school admissions, MBA admissions, or helping international students get into the business school program of their choice? Each step represents a narrowing of the scope.

Here is a critical reasoning question that illustrates scope.

Apartment building owners argue that rent control should be abolished. Although they acknowledge that they would increase rents in the short term, owners argue that in the long term the rent increases would lead to greater profitability. Higher profits would lead to increased apartment construction. Increased apartment construction would then lead to a greater supply of residences and lower prices as the potential apartment residents have a better selection. Thus, abolishing rent control would ultimately reduce prices.

Name an assumption made by the owners: (hint: this is a difficult question, but can eliminate 4 of the 5 answers as outside the scope of the argument).

  • Current residents of rent control apartments would be able to find new apartments once their rents increased.
  • The fundamental value of any society is to house its citizens.
  • Only current apartment owners would profit significantly from market deregulation.
  • New apartment construction will generate a great number of jobs.
  • The increase in the number of apartments available would exceed the number of new potential apartment residents.

Which possible answers are outside of the scope? The scope is the argument that deregulation will increase supply and lower prices. “Name an assumption” means find a direct assumption of the supply/demand argument.

Current residents of rent control apartments would be able to find new apartments once their rent increased. Is this outside of the scope? This sentence expresses a nice sentiment for the welfare of renters, but it has nothing to do with our argument, which is about a supply/demand dynamic.

The fundamental value of any society is to house its citizens. Is this outside of the scope? Again, nice sentiment, but this does not directly tie into the argument. This is a “Sentimental Favorite” trick answer choice.

Only current apartment owners would profit significantly from market deregulation. Is this outside of the scope? The problem is that profits made by “Only current owners” is not the issue at hand; it is the prices of apartments. Why wouldn’t future owners profit? Again, as previously mentioned, answer choices that use words such as “only” tend to be outside the scope of the question. “Only” is too restrictive.

New apartment construction will generate a great number of jobs. This is clearly outside of the scope.

The increase in the number of apartments available would exceed the number of new potential apartment residents. Aha! This is an argument about supply and demand and we are looking for an answer about supply and demand. This is clearly within the scope of the argument, and it is the correct answer. If demand rose with new apartment construction, then prices would not decline, invalidating their argument.

Trick Question Type #3: Trick Opposites

This trap involves contradicting the question stem. This trap is very common on Strengthen/Weaken questions where the answer choice does the opposite of what the stem wants:

Here are examples of these deliberate tricks intended to catch students who rush through questions:

  1. All of the following may be inferred from the passage EXCEPT: Then Mr. LSAT gives one answer that absolutely may be inferred from the passage (which someone picks automatically if they forget the “EXCEPT”).
  2. Ask for an assumption in an argument, and then give an answer choice that is a summary.
  3. Which of the following weakens the argument above, and then give an answer choice that obviously strengthens the argument.

On test day, expect to run into a stem that looks like this:

All of the following are true, EXCEPT.

The translation of “EXCEPT” is that of the five choices, all of them fit the condition EXCEPT one of them.

All of the following are reasons to go to business school EXCEPT:

  • Networking with future powerful executives
  • Eager to learn accounting
  • Increase your income
  • Impress your friends
  • Hone your poetry skills

Read a free excerpt of the PowerScore LSAT Logical Reasoning Bible™, the most comprehensive book available for the Logic Reasoning section of the LSAT. This book will provide you with an advanced system for attacking any Logical Reasoning question that you may encounter on the LSAT.