Objection’s LSAT Tips – “Describe” Questions (LR)
Question Type: Describe
Section: Logical Reasoning
…most accurately describes the method of reasoning?
…John’s response functions in which of the following ways?
The argument proceeds by…
“Describe” questions provide you with an argument and ask you to summarize the logic and reasoning behind the argument. Most often, this is an argument from a single perspective. But on occasion, one party presents an argument and another party comments on that argument. Usually there is a point of disagreement between these two parties, but not always.
Please note that “describe” questions do not ask what the point of the argument is, but the way in which the argument proceeds (i.e., how the conclusion was reached).
Much like “main point” questions, there is no specific method of tackling “describe” questions. However, there are some general ways to approach them. First, and probably most important, is learning to paraphrase an argument. Some of the arguments put forth in these questions will be convoluted and tough to follow. If you can paraphrase it, you’ll have a much better shot at finding the answer. Make sure you understand what the premises are, how they relate to each other, and how they support the conclusion.
Second, strive to become familiar with common – correct and incorrect – answer choices. Understand why each is correct or incorrect.
Third, pay close attention to scope. Remain wary of answer choices that speak of only part of the argument. Stay focused on the underlying reasoning for the whole argument, not the individual premises.
Janice: In my room, I do what I want. By banning nudity in restaurants, the government has ignored the restaurants’ right to set clothing policies on their own property. Matt: Your bedroom is for your own use. Because a restaurant offers a service to the public, the sensibilities of the public must come first.
The basic step in Matt’s method of attacking Janice’s argument is to
A) draw a distinction.
B) offer a definition.
C) establish an analogy.
D) derive a contradiction from Janice’s argument.
E) question Janice’s motivation.
Analysis: Let’s paraphrase Janice’s argument: Essentially, Janice draws an analogy between what is allowable on her property and what is allowable on a restaurant’s property. Just as the government has no right to ban something (in this case nudity) that takes place in her room, so the government has no right to ban something (nudity) that would take place on the restaurant’s property.
Thankfully Matt is here to set Janice straight. But how does he do it? Let’s paraphrase his critique of Janice’s argument: Matt seems to be saying that the two things in question (restaurants and bedrooms) are categorically different things. Restaurants provide a service to the public, whereas a bedroom is for private use. The implication is, of course, that Janice’s analogy does not serve the purpose intended of supporting her conclusion.
Looking at the answer choices, we want to see something similar to our paraphrase of Matt’s critique.
A – Correct. Matt draws a crucial distinction between restaurants and bedrooms, as we just said.
B – Incorrect. Matt doesn’t define anything.
C – Incorrect. This is a trap answer choice to make sure you paid attention to exactly what was being asked. Matt doesn’t establish the analogy. Matt rips apart the analogy that Janice established. Remember: Always know what you’re being asked before you answer.
D – Incorrect. Matt pointed out the error in Janice’s analogy, not a contradiction in her argument.
E – Incorrect. This would be correct if Janice had said that she was planning to take over the world by being naked in a restaurant, and James had said, “the only reason you don’t like the ban is because you want to take over the world…naked…in a restaurant.” Alas, that did not happen. In what actually happened, Matt did not question her motivation.
The stray animals in this neighborhood probably will not be rounded up until Wednesday this week. Stray animals here are usually rounded up on Tuesdays, and the animal control officers are extremely reliable. However, Monday was a public holiday, and after a public holiday that falls on a Monday, animals throughout the city are supposed to be rounded up one day later than usual.
The argument proceeds by
A) treating several pieces of irrelevant evidence as though they provide support for the conclusion.
B) indirectly establishing that one thing is likely to occur by directly ruling out all of the alternative possibilities.
C) providing information that allows application of a general rule to a specific case.
D) generalizing about all actions of a certain kind on the basis of a description of one such action.
E) treating something that is probable as though it were inevitable.
Analysis: Let’s begin by restating the argument. The conclusion is the first sentence: “…stray animals … probably will not be rounded up until Wednesday….” What are the premises and how do they support that conclusion? The first premise is that stray animals are usually rounded up on Tuesdays (in this neighborhood). The second premise is that after public holidays that fall on a Monday, the day on which animals are rounded up is moved back one day (throughout the city). The third premise is that Monday was a public holiday. Therefore, the strays animals will be picked on Wednesday (one day after Tuesday).
Now that we feel we have a good handle on how the argument proceeds, we should be able to find the right answer.
A – Incorrect. The pieces of evidence used are entirely relevant. Hopefully you recognize this argument as logically valid.
B – Incorrect. He doesn’t rule out alternatives. He goes right for his conclusion using what I call “positive” premises (x leads to y), not “negative” premises (x can’t lead to z, so it must lead to y).
C – Correct. The only thing difficult about these types of answers is the abstract language. You should match up the abstractions to the specifics of the stimulus. What is the general rule? After public holidays that fall on a Monday, animals throughout the city are supposed to be rounded up one day later than usual. This is a general rule because it is city-wide, not specific to the neighborhood. What is the specific case? Monday was a public holiday, and Tuesdays are when the animals are usually picked up in this neighborhood. So applying that general rule to this specific case leads validly to the conclusion.
D – Incorrect. This has it backwards. We’re not generalizing; we’re talking about a specific case.
E – Incorrect. He never treats this as inevitable because his conclusion actually says “probably.”
----- For Harold to get to the dentist, he must take either the number 9 bus or else the subway. Everyone knows that the number 9 bus is not running this week; so although Harold generally avoids using the using the subway, he must have used it today since he was seen at the dentist this afternoon.
The method of the argument is to
A) assert that if something is true, it will be known to be true.
B) demonstrate that certain possibilities are not exclusive.
C) show that something is the case by ruling out the only alternative.
D) explain why an apparent exception to a general rule is not a real exception.
E) substitute a claim about what invariably occurs for a claim about what typically occurs.
Analysis: This is fairly straightforward. The author presents two ways Harold can get to the dentist: the number 9 bus and the subway. The author claims that the number 9 bus is not running this week, yet Harold was at the dentist, so he must have taken the subway. He takes the only two possibilities and rules one of them out to conclude the other.
A – Incorrect. This is never done.
B – Incorrect. Again, this is never done.
C – Correctly. This is exactly what our paraphrase says.
D – Incorrect. This is never done.
E – Incorrect. This is never done.
As you can see, “describe” questions are straightforward. After seeing these repeatedly, you will become familiar with the standard answer choices and what each one actually looks like in practice. Just as on the LSAT as a whole, repetition and practice are your best bet for improvement.
As always, visit the TLS forums for any questions or clarifications http://www.top-law-schools.com/forums/viewforum.php?f=6
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Conquering the LSAT
How I Scored a 180 - Article #1
How I Scored a 180 - Article #2
How I Scored a 180 - Article #3
Retaking the LSAT
Logic Fundamentals: A Lesson In Conditional Reasoning
Objection’s LSAT Tips – “Describe” Questions (LR)
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