Hey Bryce —
Strengthen/Weaken Q’s are certainly some of the toughest of the bunch, and I’ve gotten a lot of similar q’s from other students over the years —
Here are some key factors that I think are important to consider —
1) The right answer is right a) because it addresses the given argument and b) because it performs the given task (strengthens / weakens).
2) There are countless ways to strengthen or weaken any given argument, and so you shouldn’t expect that you can predict how they will choose to strengthen or weaken an argument. Again, you should not expect (or try) to anticipate the right answer for a S or W q.
3) If you have two answers that strengthen or two answers that weaken, there is no objective way for you to determine which one strengthens or weakens more — thus, you should expect, and will only get, one answer that actually strengthens or weakens per the given task.
This is very important to know — it means that 4 answers will not play the role in the question.
4) The argument and the reasoning issue within it are intertwined — the argument is the relationship between support and conclusion, and the reasoning issue is the problem in that particular relationship.
You should always try to understand the argument and reasoning gap as clearly as possible before going into the answers.
5) The vast majority of answer choices will not relate to the argument or reasoning at all — and a huge key to mastering these q’s is to be really good at recognizing and eliminating these answers.
6) So, in general, the “first level” of assessment when it comes to answers for these q’s is whether they even relate to the given situation, and again, if your understanding/focus is right, you should expect to be able to get rid of the majority of answers based on this (and when you can’t, you should be able to use that as a sign that perhaps you haven’t understood/focused in on the argument as clearly as you need).
7) You should, ideally, only need to carefully assess a minority of answer choices in terms of the role they play — and whether they actually strengthen or weaken (per the given task).
8) And your assessment shouldn’t be based on a prephrase of what the right answer will say / involve (that is, don’t think that the right answer ought to be predictable) — instead, you want to see whether the answer does indeed impact the argument, and, if so, if it actually strengthens (addresses the gap in some way) or weakens (exposes the gap in some way).
So again, to summarize, you shouldn’t expect to know the substance of the right answer to an S/W q, but you should expect to have a clear understanding of the argument it needs to impact, and you want a clear understanding of the reasoning in order to correctly assess whether the answer actually strengthens that reasoning or not.
Hope that helps, and if you have any follow-up or need anything else just let me know —