I have a few questions about strengthen and weaken questions. In the LR Bible, it’s recommended that we focus mainly on the conclusions and how the author arrived at that conclusions rather than focusing exclusively on the premises. This makes sense, for as you mention, it would be extremely easy to simply invalidate a premise. As many LSAT preparers can probably attest to, there is a wide variety of information out there, and I came across some information which now just has me confused. Perhaps you can help me out.
There is some material out there that advises on strengthen and weaken questions, much like you do, to focus on the argument as a whole, as in isolate the premises and conclusion. They go on to say, however, to look out for incorrect answer choices that support or weaken the conclusion but are unrelated to the reasoning in the argument as a whole. To me, this seems to run counter to your idea of focusing on the conclusion, especially since it’s possible for new information to be brought up in the answers choices on a strengthen/weaken question. The advice seems more consistent with the idea of a shell game answer, in which details become confused, and what may look like an answer that supports/weakens a conclusion may in fact be supporting/weakening a slightly different conclusion. Thus, my questions is: Am I totally off-base here to be skeptical of this advice? Are there really wrong answer choices that support/undermine a conclusion but are unrelated to the rest of the argument? I know that our job is to focus on the conclusions, which therefore makes me wonder if there’s any credence to this advice. In other words, are there sometimes answer choices that don’t relate to the premises but do in fact support/weaken the conclusion?
Perhaps I’m over-analyzing these types of questions or thinking too hard about the situation. But, there are many people out there who proclaim to know a lot about this test and as consumers of that information perhaps it is our job to be critical of that advice when it just doesn’t sit right or reconcile with what other people are recommending. At the end of the day, I know the devil is in the details, and if I’ve learned nothing else, it’s that the details matter on the LSAT.
Thanks for any advice or resolution you can provide!
Question on Strengthen/Weaken Questions
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We recently received the following question from a student. An instructor will respond below. Thanks!
Thanks for the question! As written I don't agree with this advice at all, but let's talk about it for a bit.
First, let's separate the pieces we are talking about, which on the one hand is how we analyze a stimulus and the correct answers that are likely vs incorrect answers that might have very little connection to the stimulus at all. With wrong answers, most anything can happen, and so there are a lot of different "types" of wrong answers that could be present without conflicting at all with the advice in the PowerScore books.
The advice about focusing on the conclusion is given because most strengthen/weaken answers focus on the step that occurs as you go from the premises to the conclusion. That's a ripe area for exploitation, and advising students to keep a close eye on that section and the resulting conclusion is thus wise.
In the case of what you've referenced here, you mention that they are saying "look out for incorrect answer choices that support or weaken the conclusion but are unrelated to the reasoning in the argument as a whole." I don't actually understand this advice, and it makes no sense. Is there a piece missing there, perhaps? I feel like there has to be more to this comment because how would something strengthen/weaken a conclusion without affecting the reasoning? Even a straight contradiction of a conclusion in the answer would still affect the reasoning since it affects the end product of the argument.
More broadly, if you have a Weaken question, and an answer weakens the conclusion, that answer would fit the criteria of a Weaken question stem, and would stand as a valid answer. So, if this is the advice as a whole, something is wrong there. Any chance you could clarify because as written I don't agree with this at all. If it is indeed the case that this is the exact and entire advice being given, run for the hills. These people don't understand basic reasoning, let alone the LSAT.
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I feel like I know what the poster above was going for: with strengthen questions, correct answers can be answer choices that do not directly relate to the relationship between the premises and the conclusion, correct?
Bands that receive bad reviews usually don't play well live. XX band received a bad review yesterday. Therefore, XX band doesn't play well live.
If none of the answer choices were about bridging the gap between the one bad review and ability to play live well, if one of the answer choices was: "The lead singer gets terrible stage fright when he plays live." Would we consider that to be a possible credited response, given that the other answer choices (in this hypothetical world) don't relate to bridging the gap between the bad review and the band's ability to play well?
I ask this because that example answer choice doesn't appear to relate at all to the relationship between the band's getting bad reviews and the conclusion that the band doesn't play well live.
I think you're in agreement with Dave here, ksikanon, and that shows the problem with the advice OP got elsehwere. If an answer makes a conclusion more likely, then it strengthens; if it makes it less likely, it weakens. Most answers are about bolstering or weakening the link between the premises and conclusion, but they don't have to be, and they can do as your example did and bring in outside information that isn't directly related to the premises.
Beware, though, of arguments that ask you to strengthen or weaken the REASONING - those will have to deal with the gaps in the argument. That's not about the conclusion, per se, but about how the author got there.
Something like your example would likely not be found often on the LSAT, because it doesn't really test your logical reasoning skills in quite the way that the test is intended to do, but it does illustrate a good point that the correct answer can bring in new, outside info that impacts the argument in the required way.
Adam M. Tyson
PowerScore LSAT, GRE, ACT and SAT Instructor
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