A bit about "Strengthen" questions

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A bit about "Strengthen" questions

Postby Blueprint LSAT » Fri Mar 29, 2019 6:19 pm

One of the hardest things to perfect in LR is switching fluidly between question types. When you are doing 26 questions in 36 minutes it is easy to get a bit turned around. This can be extra problematic with questions that ask you to strengthen an argument.

You may have run into a situation like this: you get a run of prompts asking you to assume the stimulus is true and pick the answer that is most supported/must be true/must be false, etc... then you get a Strengthen question. You eliminate the correct answer because it sounds speculative. It is easy to read the answer and think "We can't know that!" But wait, this is a different question type! You aren't being asked to draw a conclusion. You don't need to judge the answer based on how likely it is, you just need to treat it as an additional fact and ask whether it is relevant.

Or what about the same situation, but this time you eliminate the correct Strengthen answer because it sounds like it would require too much outside context to be relevant. This is a trickier one. Remember that the new fact only needs to make it some amount more likely that the conclusion in the stimulus is supported by the evidence. That is a pretty low bar. You still can't take an extra step, but the standard is much lower than the analogous "Most Strongly Supported" or "Sufficient Assumption" question.

A good rule of thumb for whether an answer is relevant or not in a Strengthen question is to only allow direct implications to influence your thinking. Don't take an extra step.

Consider the following: Bob is currently poor, unemployed and unhappy. He goes to a psychic who predicts that the will soon be much happier. Does the additional fact that :"Bob has a winning lottery ticket in his pocket he doesn't know about yet" make it more likely the psychic is correct? Money doesn't necessarily make you happy and we don't know that Bob's poverty or unemployment is the reason for his unhappiness. But actually this answer would be fine in an analogous Strengthen question. Winning the lottery certainly CAN make you happy and I'd definitely be more likely to believe the psychic's prediction if I knew about the lottery ticket.

What you can't do is take an extra step.

If Bob is about to run a marathon and the argument is that he has trained well and has quality running shoes so he will finish in a good time. If I tell you Bob is rich it doesn't really strengthen that argument. If I tell you he is in good physical health it does, and yes, rich people might have access to better medical care and have better dietary options, which in turn might make them healthier, but that doesn't mean Bob has taken advantage of those things and maintained his health. He could be the richest man in the world and still drop dead of a heart attack 15 miles in.

So basically, Rich = maybe more happy is fine if "happy" is the conclusion you are trying to strengthen but you can't take two steps by saying Rich = maybe more healthy, more healthy = more likely to finish with a good time.

With enough practice it does get easier to switch between the question types fluidly, but you still need to pay close attention to avoid going on autopilot and falling into the LSAT's carefully laid traps.

-Andrew McDonald, Blueprint Instructor


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