A Damn Good LSAT Tutor's Guide to Flaw Questions

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A Damn Good LSAT Tutor's Guide to Flaw Questions

Postby LSATWiz.com » Mon Mar 11, 2019 12:21 pm

Below is a breakdown on flaw questions from the LR primer I am writing. As always, feel free to use and more than free to point out typos (this would help me a great deal). Thanks.

Flaw Questions

Flaw questions are nearly as common as assumption questions. Between the two logical reasoning sections, you should expect to see anywhere from 6-8 questions asking you to state why a given argument is flawed.

In my nearly decade of experience teaching the LSAT, I’ve found flaw questions to be disproportionately difficult for many test-takers. This is because unlike other question types, students always have a conceptual understanding of what they are supposed to do on flaw questions (i.e. say why an argument stinks) but are unsure about how to do so properly. Frequently, a student will become proficient with assumption question but go through a period during which they struggle with flaw questions.

The positive is that even though LSAC throws many distinct logical reasoning question types at you, they are only testing a very small number of core skills. One of these core skills is the ability to recognize assumptions, and flaw questions are very similar to assumption questions. In fact, I’d go so far as to argue that flaw questions are very similar to assumption questions, and I’d even argue they are more like a third-type of assumption question than a truly independent question type.

The reason for this is that even though LSAC will throw various types of flaws at you, fundamentally speaking, a flawed argument is always flawed for the same reason: its facts don’t beget its conclusion. In other words, it makes an unwarranted assumption. In truth, many assumption questions make unwarranted assumptions and could probably be categorized as flaw questions. The primary difference between assumption and flaw questions is there whereas the former tests you on your ability to identify the missing link between the facts and conclusion, the latter wants you to explicitly state why the conclusion is unwarranted.

Typical Prompt:

• “Which one of the following most accurately describes a flaw in the argument?”

• “The argument is most vulnerable to which one of the following criticisms?”

• “The argument is flawed because…”

• “The reasoning in the argument is faulty because”

Why LSAC tests this: As discussed supra, LSAC tests assumption recognition early and often and flaw questions are merely another means by which LSAC tests this skill. Being able to recognize argumentative flaws is critical to success in law school and legal practice not only because you will be expected to be recognize the flaws in the opposition’s argument, but because recognizing the potential flaws in your own argument allows you to make better arguments.

What LSAC is looking for: LSAC is looking for the test taker to identify why the facts presented in a given argument do not support that argument’s conclusion.

Approach: As with the previous questions, your first step is to identify the conclusion. I recommend glancing at the last sentence first to see if there is a conclusion trigger-word like “Thus” or “Therefore”. If so, I advise bracketing this sentence and reading it first. If not, read the passage from the beginning focusing on finding the conclusion. I recommend bracketing the conclusion not only because you may need to read it later, but also because the right answer choice must reference the conclusion.

After identifying the conclusion, breakdown the facts the writer uses to support the conclusion. Remember, every substantive word of the conclusion requires evidentiary support. In flaw questions, there will typically be a shift in tone or subject matter between the facts and conclusion. At this juncture, your approach to a flaw question is virtually identical to that of an assumption question – you’re simply supposed to isolate the facts from the conclusion and identify the gap between the two.

While spotting this gap is helpful on assumption questions, it is often critical on flaw questions because the answer choices on flaw questions are less likely to explicitly reference the conclusion. They will often just state the flaw as a matter of fact, which makes it more important to have a better grasp of the gap before reading the choices.

After you have identified why the writer’s facts do not necessarily beget their conclusion, scan the choices for one that matches your prediction. Often, two answer choices will pick up on the same gap but misconstrue the scope of the conclusion (i.e. whereas the flawed conclusion states something is likely, an answer choice may suggest the writer said it was certain) or inverse the relationship between the facts and conclusion. In addition to testing you on assumption recognition, flaw questions also allow LSAC to test you on argumentative structure.

While it is important to always critically analyze the argument on your own similarly to how you analyze assumption questions, flaw questions generally fall into one of seven categories. These include the following:

1.) Generally Unwarranted assumptions: On many flaw questions, particularly more difficult flaw questions, the argument is not necessarily weak but is vulnerable to potential criticism because it relies on an assumption. In fact, it’s very difficult to make an argument that is not vulnerable to any criticism and recognizing the assumption is the easiest way to identify the flaw. In fact, all of the subsequent flaw types in truth rely on assumptions but they simply rely on bad assumptions.

a. Takes for granted
i. This phrase frequently shows up in the choices on flaw questions. Don’t be confused by the terminology. We’re not referring to when your girlfriend says, “you take me for granted!” On the LSAT, “takes for granted” simply means to assume.
ii. In a flaw of this type, your approach is to approach it as an assumption question.

b. Confuses causation and correlation
i. As discussed supra, this is a very common assumption on the LSAT. Many flaw questions will feature a study or general observation of two congruously occurring phenomena, and conclude one causes the other.
1. The flaw here is that they are assuming that they are assuming the causal relationship does not run in the opposite direction and/or that they both are not merely symptoms of another unknown/unstated phenomena.

c. Fails to provide support for its position
i. In this sort of an argument, the writer supports their position solely by dismissing an opposing position. Unless there are only two possibilities, such an argument is flawed because despite convincingly disproving an opposing position, the writer has not provided any convincing evidence to support their position.
1. Example: Theologians date the biblical Exodus to a period known as the Late Bronze Age. However, archaeology provides conclusive evidence indicating that the event could not possibly have happened during the Late Bronze Age. Therefore, the event must not be historical.
a. This argument is flawed because the fact that the theologians’ position is invalidated does not mean that the event never happened. The arguer would also have to demonstrate that it only could have happened during the Late Bronze Age.

2.) Improper Reversal
a. Improper reversal flaws are flaw questions in which the writer’s argument is based on formal logic, but in which the conclusion is based on a confusion of the sufficient and necessary conditions.
i. For example, if it were established that the Tom was a basketball player and separately established that basketball players were tall, it would be logical to conclude that Tom was tall. It would, however, be flawed to conclude that someone tall must be Tom. A flaw question of this sort will typically reverse the logic chain.
b. On more difficult flaw questions (questions 15-25/26), LSAC may set up an argument based on formal logic but that applies formal logic correctly and is flawed for another reason. There will still always be a choice stating that the argument confuses the sufficient and necessary conclusions. In these cases, LSAC is using formal logic as a red herring and is specifically trying to penalize test takers who blindly assume that any flawed argument with formal logic must be flawed because of the formal logic.

3.) Overgeneralization/Appeal Based on an Unrepresentative Sample
a. On some flaw questions, the conclusion will be based on a sample unlikely to be representative.
i. Example 1: Using the fact that there were two racist events on a college campus to conclude the campus is racist.
ii. Example 2: Using the writings of Greek philosophers to deduce the perspective of the average Ancient Greek.

4.) Unwarranted appeal to authority
a. On some flaw questions, the conclusion will seem logically sound from the evidence put forth by a doctor, scholar or other type of expert but will be flawed because they are citing to the wrong type of expert. Whenever an argument in a flaw question is supported by an authority figure(s) or study(ies), make sure the support is topical for the type of argument being made.
i. Example: Supporting a conclusion about a medical condition with the testimony of a scholar who only holds a phD in a non-medical field.

5.) Compositional Errors
a. Equating a sum of parts with the whole
i. In such an argument, the writer concludes that because each part of something has a quality, the whole thing must have that quality.
1. Example: Each individual ingredient in this dish is delicious. Therefore, the dish must be delicious.
a. This is flawed, because we know nothing about how the parts fit together. What if the dish includes the best chocolate frosting and the best steak? Yes, it sounds delicious but gross gross gross!
b. Equating the whole with an individual part
i. In such an argument, the writer concludes that because something has a certain quality, each individual part of that thing must have the same quality.
1. Example: The Yankees are a great baseball team. Therefore, each player on the Yankees is great.
a. This is flawed because the argument presupposes that the team cannot have this quality without each player having this quality.

6.) Circular Reasoning
a. A circumlocution is an argument in which the writer begins with what they are trying to end with. This concept can be kind of tricky at first, because while the test-taker is always supposed to accept the facts presented as true and only analyze the gap between the facts and opinion, an argument can be flawed if the argument merely presents its conclusion as fact.
i. Example: Donald Trump is the worst president in United States history, because he is worse than every other president.
1. This argument is flawed because it bases its opinion on an opinion. An argument like the one above needs empirical or statistical support or at least an appeal to political scientists.

7.) Equivocation
a. On this type of flaw questions, the writer will equate two words or phrases that are linguistically identical but use them in different contexts such that they have two different meanings.
i. Example: Stating that someone saying is wrong to say that you have no right to cheat on your girlfriend because you have a legal right to do so.
1. In this case, the argument is equating a legal right with a moral right.

8.) Ad hominem
a. Ad hominem is Latin for attacking the arguer rather than the argument. We use this term here because LSAC writers will often use it.
b. An ad hominem attack will always feature an opposing argument that the writer disagrees with, and the writer will always disagree with the argument by attacking the character or behavior of the arguer but not the substance of the argument.
i. Example: My doctor tells me I should drink less in order to be healthy, but I shouldn’t listen to her because she smokes a pack a day.
1. In this case, my doctor’s personal shortcomings are irrelevant to her position.

To recap, your step by step approach on a flaw question should be as follows:

1.) Identify the conclusion
2.) Breakdown the evidence
3.) Analyze the flaw question as though it was an assumption question.
4.) Identify the assumption
5.) Diagnose why the assumption is unwarranted or which of the 8 flaw types it falls into.
6.) Choose the choice that matches the prediction.

Final tip: Make sure that the choice you pick references the conclusion either explicitly or implicitly.

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