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On page 92, Question 3--the answer is StrengthenX. Why is the answer not Justify the ConclusionX? On page 84, Question 12--similar wording is used "conclusion be properly drawn" and the answer is Justify the Conclusion.

Can you please clarify?

Thank you!
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 Jonathan Evans
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Hi, BTown,

Good question and actually a deeper subject than you may imagine! These are the best kinds of questions, though. :-)

On the subject of similar language, you are correct that this question stem does include language similar to that used in a Justify the Conclusion question. However (and this is the first big point), similar language by itself is insufficient to determine what kind of question you're dealing with. In fact, similar language can be quite deceptive. Words often used in one question type can be rephrased in such a manner to mean something else entirely.

For instance, consider the following two question stems:
  1. The statements above, if true, most strongly support which of the following conclusions?
  2. Which of the following statements most strongly supports the author's conclusion?
Remember the distinction between Family #1: Prove and Family #2: Help. In the Prove family, information moves from the stimulus towards the credited answer choice. In contrast, in the Help family, you must use information in the credited answer choice to support a conclusion present in the stimulus.

You may have noticed that my example (1) above is a Must Be True (Prove) question, and example (2) is a Strengthen (Help) question. These two questions require very different approaches in large part because of this differing flow of information. Thus, before you start to classify questions, make sure you are cognizant of the flow of information required. Do not let familiar language alone cause you to jump to conclusions.

My second point has to do with this specific example, in that even though this question stem requests for you to find what is "least helpful in establishing that the conclusion is properly drawn," it is indeed a Strengthen-X question instead of a Justify the Conclusion-X question (which incidentally I have never come across, though I'm sure someone more knowledgeable than I could jump in with a citation for an example, if there is one).

The way this works has to do with the degree of help required by a Strengthen question versus what is needed for a Justify the Conclusion question.

First, let's use this example to generate two other possible question stems:
  1. Original Stem Which of the following, if all of them are true, is least helpful in establishing that the conclusion above is properly drawn?
  2. Justify the Conclusion Which of the following, if all of them are true, allows the conclusion to be properly drawn?
  3. Strengthen Which of the following, if all of them are true, most helps the conclusion to be properly drawn?
A Justify the Conclusion question actually tests a rather rigid conditional structure, that is, a Justify question (as in [2] above) requires information that, when combined with the other premises, would be sufficient to establish a valid conclusion. In other words, the reasoning in a Justify question looks like this:
  • Info in Premises & Info in Credited Answer Choice :arrow: Valid Conclusion
Thus, you need something that erases any doubts that the conclusion is valid and sound.

In contrast, notice the phrase "most helps" in the Strenthen example [3] above. While "most" might sound emphatic, as though it's asking for even more, in reality "most" actually diminishes the power needed in a credited response. In this case, you are looking for what most helps the conclusion. The credited response needs to help out the conclusion more than the other options presented, but this information need not prove that you have a valid conclusion. There could be dozens of problems with the reasoning in the argument. All something needs to do to strengthen an argument is knock out one of these problems, even if the rest of them remain.

This brings us back to our original question [1] above. Now since we're looking for what is "LEAST" helpful, we are no longer looking for something that Strenthens the conclusion, even a little bit. The other, incorrect answer choices need not be strong enough to prove a valid conclusion; all they might do is help the argument by taking care of some problems it has.

You can think of it like this: The incorrect answer choices are MORE helpful than the correct answer choice in helping the conclusion. They might not (and likely do not) help it 100%, but they do something. The one credited response does less for our conclusion than any of the other options presented.

I'm going to make a spectrum of how helpful answer choices need to be for some question types, from more harmful to more helpful:

Weaken (most harmful) — Weaken-X (least harmful) — Strenthen-X (least helpful) — Strenthen (most helpful) — Justify the Conclusion (100% valid conclusion)

Notice I've left out Assumption because that would introduce some other considerations best left for another discussion. I hope this helps!
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  • Joined: Mar 01, 2017
Thank you! This is very helpful.

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