Reply To: Strengthen & Weaken Strategies

February 29, 2016 at 11:10 am #1542
Mike Kim

Hi Ali,

Hope you’ve been well too! I know you’ve already looked through the Trainer but here are some additional thoughts you might find helpful.

A lot of students find S/W problems to be a bit more difficult, and with good reason. They require a few more steps in your thinking process than certain other question types do, the nature of them is such that you cannot predict the right answer, and the nature of them is such that it’s very, very difficult to verify that right answer (as opposed to, say, inference questions or nec. assumption questions).

Here are a few thoughts that might be helpful —

1) Please humor me for a sec and picture a rickety bridge connecting the premise to the conclusion (like something out of Indiana Jones, if you’ve seen it) — if this bridge was secure, it would guarantee you passage from one side to the other, from premise to conclusion, but you can see that it’s not — either you see that the bridge has a giant hole in the middle of it, or you see that the entire thing is just so tattered all around that you can’t imagine it supporting passage from one side to the other.

2) A strengthen answer will address and help prop upweakness(es) you recognize in the bridge, though perhaps not in ways you might expect. A weaken answer will expose and make worse the weakness(es) you recognize in the bridge, though again perhaps not in ways you might expect. In either case, the answer might do a lot to address the flaw(s) in the bridge, or just a little bit.

3) The four wrong answers to a S or W answer will not address issues in the bridge in the way you are asked to address them. They may relate to the conclusion, or they may relate to the premises, or they may relate to the bridge that connects them in some secondary way, but again, they will not actually impact the reasoning in the way we need them to, and confirming that an answer “doesn’t strengthen” or “doesn’t weaken” is, per the way these q’s are designed, on average markedly easier and more absolute than confirming that an answer does strengthen or does weaken.

4) Per the above, my recommendation is to, before going into the answer choices, do your best to understand the argument gap(s) as clearly as possible, then go into the answers with the mindset that you are going to be eliminating all that do not address the gap or do not address it in the way you need to.

Ideally, the act of doing this helps confirm and strengthen your understanding of the argument — for example, maybe, in checking why one answer might not be relevant, you can notice the importance of a certain adjective used in the conclusion that perhaps you didn’t notice before. Again, the mental challenge is holding this (flawed) argument in your head and evaluating how answers relate to it, for the purpose of proving to yourself that 4 of these 5 answers are wrong, and, hopefully, the process helps you sharpen your view of the (flawed) argument and also helps you catch any mistakes you made if you didn’t read the argument correctly initially (for example, if you can’t eliminate any of the first 3 answers, it’s a pretty strong sign you may have missed the point in terms of how the argument is flawed) —

5) By the time you get to confirming an answer, the two main concerns are a) does this actually address the (flawed) argument? (which you can confirm by checking every single detail against the conclusion etc.) and does it actually strengthen the problems in this bridge or weaken them (per what the q asks for)?

6) The foolish debate you never want to get into is trying to figure out which of two answers strengthens more or weakens more. This is the most common mistake students make on s/w problems — there will not be a situation where two answers strengthen, but one strengthens more than the other, and the same goes for weaken q’s. So this sort of reasoning isn’t helpful.

7) So, when stuck between two, you need to recognize that one actually does not address the argument in the way the q asks for it to (that is, one actually does not strengthen or weaken) while the other does, and you need to differentiate and select based on those terms.

Again, all stuff already in the trainer, but thought it might be useful for you to hear it with slightly different wording — hth and good luck — MK