A Damn Good LSAT Tutor's Guide to Main Point Questions

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A Damn Good LSAT Tutor's Guide to Main Point Questions

Postby LSATWiz.com » Mon Nov 19, 2018 7:01 pm

I've been working on an LR book for all of my students - will post some of the chapters here. My goal in these chapters is to give all of my approaches to each question type succinctly with a dash of humor and personality. Although I'm not looking to use TLS to solicit business, I know TLS is a tough audience and think the free stuff I post will be uniformly useful regardless of your prep strategy. If anyone wants to repay me, please point out typos that I can fix before publishing. Thanks ya'll.

I. Main Point Questions

“Main Point” questions are not particularly common on logical reasoning. Odds are you will only see 3-4 of them spread across the 50 logical reasoning questions on a given LSAT. You would be right to question why any primer on the logical reasoning would begin here. After all, assumption and inference questions are far more common.

The answer is that although main point questions are uncommon, identifying the main point is a necessary step for approximately 35 of the 50 logical reasoning questions, including assumption, strengthen, weaken, flaw, role of statement, method of reasoning, parallel reasoning and some principle questions. They are also the most important skill on the reading comprehension section. In total, approximately 60% of your LSAT will revolve around the main point in some form or another. To consistently answer difficult assumption, strengthen, weaken or flaw questions correctly, it is insufficient to merely be able to find the conclusion. To crack a 170, you must be able to recognize the main point as soon as you see one with 100% certainty. For this reason, the Main Point section will be the longest of this book.

So, what is a main point, and when should you be looking for one? Quite simply, a main point is a conclusion. Naturally, any question stem on the LSAT that contains the word “conclusion” on the LSAT will require you to identify the conclusion whether it be a main point, strengthen/weaken, flaw question, etc. Aside from main point questions, however, most question stems rarely use the phrase question. Instead, these question stems typically use the phrase “the argument”.

On the LSAT, the words “conclusion” and “argument” are identical. This is something most rookie test takers don’t realize, and something that even test takers in the 160s may be unaware of, because we typically think of an argument as two people fighting or as an entire shpiel. For instance, the argument against Barry Bonds making the hall of fame is that there is some evidence he took steroids, and some evidence that steroids may have inflated his statistical output. For the purposes of the LSAT, the argument would simply be that Barry Bonds should not make the hall of fame (I personally believe he should have been a first-ballot hall of famer, but that’s not the purpose of this exercise). Consequently, the conclusion is the essence of any question types that features the phrase, “the argument”.

Now, let’s proceed into how to recognize a main point question, the purpose of these questions and how to solve them:

Typical prompt: “Which one of the following most accurately expresses the main idea/main point/conclusion?”

Why LSAC tests this: In law school, you will likely read many cases and law review articles. Unlike high school and collegiate reading, which largely revolves around objective facts, legal reading is chiefly comprised of a subjective conclusion or ruling that is supported by objective facts. To succeed, you will need to recognize why certain facts support a certain conclusion. The first step to accomplishing this will be recognizing the conclusion.

How to approach: Your task is to find the sentence or clause in the stimulus that is being supported by everything else. On many questions that revolve around a conclusion, the LSAC writers will make your life easier by utilizing words that trigger a conclusion such as “thus”, “therefore”, “consequently” or even “in conclusion”. In LSAT prep, these are typically referred to as conclusion keywords.

However, it would be a mistake to assume that conclusions must be prefaced by such keywords. LSAC writers frequently increase the difficulty of a question by not including a conclusion keyword, or worse yet by using a conclusion keyword to refer to something other than the argument’s conclusion. The latter is frequently the case in situations where the author is stating what others conclude but where the writer reaches a different conclusion. Thus, it is important to be able to recognize a conclusion without having to rely on keywords. Now, how do we do that?

Put simply, the conclusion is the statement that is supported by every other statement in a stimulus. I always tell my students that if the stimulus is a family, the conclusion is its baby. Just like a baby is supported by the entire family from its parents to its big brothers and sisters, the conclusion is supported by the entire stimulus from the facts to the background information to the supplemental conclusions. In other words, the conclusion is why the writer wrote the stimulus and the reason why s/he cites the facts that they cite.

Typically, a conclusion will be some sort of value judgment or prediction. Something like “the new tax has adversely effected economic growth”, “the home team will probably win” or “Tom should bring an umbrella tomorrow” are never facts, but statements of opinion that require factual support. As contrasted with statements like “the passage of the sales tax has corresponded with a ten-percent decrease in consumer spending” or “there is a 95% chance of rain tomorrow”, conclusion-like statements are distinctly subjective. There is no fact about whether something has had a positive or negative effect, or whether one should or should not do something. Such statements are conclusions that must be supported by facts.

Just like there are conclusion keywords, there are also fact keywords and the reason we care about them is because LSAC writers frequently use fact keywords to introduce the key fact(s) being used to support the conclusion. Such keywords tend to be factual keywords like “since” or “because”, reasoning phrases like “after all” or continuation words like “additionally”, “moreover”, “furthermore” that mean an additional fact is forthcoming. Rather than using a conclusion keyword, LSAC writers often include the conclusion in the same sentence as the key fact. A common structure employed by the test writers is “Since A has been ruled out, B is likely”. In this scenario, the conclusion is simply “B is likely” as it is a value judgment or prediction being supported by a key fact.

However, the conclusion need not be the only conclusion-like sentence expressed in a stimulus. Although there will always only be one conclusion, there can be multiple conclusion-like statements. Such statements will either be supplemental conclusions or conclusions reached by someone other than the writer, and that the writer takes issue with. A supplemental conclusion is an opinion that is used to support or supplement the conclusion. In other words, the writer treats the supplemental conclusion like a fact, and on the LSAT you are expected to also treat supplemental conclusions as facts. Consider the example below:

“When healthy, Mike Trout is the best baseball player, because he produces more wins above replacement than any other basketball player. Therefore, the Los Angeles Angels have the best baseball player”.

You might notice that although this example contains a fact (the reference to wins above replacement), it also contains two conclusion-like statements: Mike Trout being the best baseball player, and the Angels having the best baseball player. The question then becomes which of these two statements supports the other. Remember, the conclusion is the baby of the argument, the part of it that is being supported by everything else. So, does Mike Trout being the best baseball player support the Angels having the best player, or does the Angels having the best player support Mike Trout being the best baseball player? In this example, it’s clearly the former. Mike Trout being the best player supports the Angels having the best player. If it was the vice-versa, then one could argue that every player on the Angels is the best player. In this example, Mike Trout being the best player is a supplemental conclusion. It is a statement used to directly support a conclusion, and a statement which itself is directly supported by another statement (that indirectly supports the conclusion).

Often, the conclusion of a logical reasoning question will contrast with another conclusion-like statement. It will contain a statement like “Many hypothesize” or “some critics claim” followed by a contrast like but or however. The contrast will always be the conclusion unless it is followed by a subsequent contrast or is being used to support another subjective statement. Consider the example below:

“When healthy, Mike Trout is the best baseball player, because he produces more wins above replacement than any other basketball player. Therefore, the Los Angeles Angels have the best baseball player. However, the Angels have limited positional depth and pitching”.

Notice that unlike the previous example, this example contains a contrast word that changes the tone of the argument. Our conclusion is no longer, “the Los Angeles have the best baseball player”. It is now, “the Angels have limited positional depth and pitching.” If this statement were followed by “therefore, they will lose to the New York Yankees who have superior positional depth and pitching”, the conclusion would instead be that the Angels will lose to the Yankees.

Although this concept may seem confusing at first, it makes sense when you think about how you use contrast words in your day to day life. For example, if your love interest says, “I think you’re a great guy, but…”, you can rest assured that the conclusion is never that you are a great guy. It is whatever follows the “but” (sorry, bro!)

These are all the ways you can possibly see the conclusion presented on a main point question. Your approach on these questions should be to bracket the sentence or phrase that represents the conclusion, and then to pick the choice logically identical to the clause you bracketed. Remember, the right answer does not have to match the material you bracketed verbatim. In fact, on more difficult main point questions (ones you will see after question 15), the test writers may well have a tempting wrong answer choice that contains several of the same words from the main point but inverses the logic. Your job is simply to pick the choice that logically means the same thing as the sentence/clause you bracketed even if it uses different words.

So, to recap – your job on a main point question is to:

1. Identify the opinion being supported by everything else.
a. This will often be preceded by a contrast word
i. If there is a contrast, check to see whether there is a second contrast.
ii. If there is a contrast or multiple contrasts, check to see whether these contrasts are subsequently used to support another opinion. If so, that opinion is a conclusion.
b. Other times, there will be two opinionated statements. Here, check to see which one is supporting/being supported by the other one.
2. Bracket the conclusion (this will either be a sentence or part of a sentence).
3. Locate the choice that logically matches the part you bracketed.


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Re: A Damn Good LSAT Tutor's Guide to Main Point Questions

Postby Shredzeppelin240 » Tue Nov 20, 2018 12:18 pm

Wow! You are awesome! You have been posting some extremely helpful content, thank you!

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Re: A Damn Good LSAT Tutor's Guide to Main Point Questions

Postby LSATWiz.com » Tue Nov 20, 2018 3:55 pm

taylorharris24 wrote:Wow! You are awesome! You have been posting some extremely helpful content, thank you!

Thank you. Having gone through law school and practicing for a few years, I now get why LSAC tests what they test and how it actually does relate to the skills needed to succeed in law school and practice. Whether the test successfully predicts who has these skills and whether you need them before you start law school is for the suits in Washington (or ABA) to work out, but I've found that many people go through entire prep courses memorizing fancy gimmicks that might work 20% of the time without ever learning what a given question type is actually testing. Half the test is knowing what the hell LSAC wants you to do, and the other half is doing it.

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