February 3, 2016 at 12:46 pm #1483LSAT DanParticipant
Mike Kim and I have found that we each have a variety of oddball thoughts and observations about the LSAT. Stuff beyond (or at least apart from) the typical conventional wisdom that appears in most prep books. He suggested that this thread might be a good place to share some of my ideas in that regard, and I know he’s planning on starting a thread to kick around some of his own quirky notions. Students and other tutors are of course welcome to chime in.
The first thing I’d like to toss out there is an observation I made when I used to teach a class using “The Next 10 Actual, Official LSAT Preptests” (Preptests 29-38), and I don’t think I would have come up with it had I not been using that book, because what struck me was the proximity of what I noticed – it showed up twice in the first 5 questions. I started paying attention, and I noticed a wide variety of other instances.
Here’s what I noticed: When adverbs show up on the LSAT in the LR section, they often tend to be really important. Bear with me for a bit as I look at the Why and the How, and then we’ll look at a number of specific examples. First, the Why.
The short answer is, adverbs aren’t generally needed for arguments; adverbs are words of nuance and emphasis. Arguments tend to be meat and potatoes – nouns & verbs, with the occasional adjective.
P: All men are mortal
P: Socrates is a man
C: Therefore, Socrates is mortal.
Not an adverb in sight. So when adverbs DO show up in an argument on the LSAT, very often it’s there for examsmanship purposes – it can eliminate a wrong answer or point you at a right answer. Certainly not all the time; this isn’t a Magic Bullet theory – it’s just something to draw your attention. Let the adverb be a little red flag that slows you down a moment or two.
Let’s talk about how that typically happens. What I’ve found is that most often, there are two possibilities. The first is, the adverb gives a little extra emphasis to a relevant part of the passage. The second is, it carves out an important exception to a general rule. For example, compare the above argument about Socrates, which is 100% logically airtight, with the following:
Fluffy is a mammal.
Mammals usually can’t fly.
Therefore, Fluffy cannot fly.
Whoops! NOW it’s an LSAT question – What’s the flaw? Fails to consider that Fluffy may be a bat. What’s the assumption? Fluffy is not, in fact, a bat. What would strengthen the argument? Uhhh…I dunno. Fluffy lives at the North Pole, where bats are REALLY uncommon. You get the idea, though. Adverbs can create loopholes. Would you rather tell your boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife “I haven’t been with anyone else” or “I haven’t been with anyone else lately?
Let’s look at the actual questions that got me thinking about this, and then I’ll point you at a few others. It’s one of those things that once you’re aware of it, you’ll see it surprisingly often.
Preptest 29, Section 1, Question 1. Granted, the smoker’s reply has a couple of adverbs in it, but the one that jumps out at me is “manifestly.” When is the last time you actually heard someone use the word “manifestly”? Never, right? What’s the word “manifestly” doing there? It’s modifying (and emphasizing) the word “unreasonable.” It wouldn’t just be unreasonable; it would be manifestly unreasonable. Only two of the answers address “reasonableness.” This isn’t a particularly difficult question anyway, but it’s not surprising to me that the right answer is one of those two.
Here’s one where the adverb functions the other way – carving out the exception: Preptest 29, Section 1, Question 5. Simple tasks are normally assigned to new employees. “Normally” is our loophole adverb. When might a new employee NOT be assigned simple tasks? If the adverb wakes you up, you might think about the possible exception(s) that the adverb allows for – here’s an obvious one: When the new employee is experienced at the job. Maybe a 10-year lawyer switched firms, for instance; he or she is still “new,” but would certainly be working on complicated things. So what’s the assumption on this question? That the possible exception doesn’t apply, i.e. that the “new” employees aren’t nevertheless “experienced” employees.
Am I nuts here? Probably. But before we go, let’s look at Preptest 70, Section 4, Question 18…a question on which a high-scoring student of mine mistakenly selected answer choice C. What’s wrong with C? The policies increase job satisfaction and productivity, don’t they? Well, yes, but we don’t know that they substantially increase those things.
An adverb directs us to the most important part of the argument on Preptest 36, Section 3, Question 9: “…Hogan’s actions not be wholly condemned”; the right answer gives us a different word choice, but it’s a synonymous adverb – The actions of Hogan…are not completely blameworthy.”
The Role question Preptest 12, Section 1, Question 3 asks us about “the statement that adolescents and adults are not the same,” but if you look for that statement in the passage, you find it prefaced by an adverb – “Admittedly, adults and adolescents are not the same.” The right answer? “It concedes [i.e. ‘admits’] a point that is then used to support the conclusion.”
It’s not that I went looking through dozens of preptests and found these five examples; these are just a few that I made note of while working on something else. I’m telling you, they’re all over the place. More often than not, in the course of a 2-hour tutoring session, I’ll find an example of this. Again, for your (students’) purposes here, just plant the idea in the back of your mind, and do a little double-take as you read through the passages. It’s not the every single adverb leads to the right answer on every question that has one; it’s just that it’s one of those things that is a high-percentage use of your focus.
By the way, if you’re rusty or generally uncomfortable with your parts of speech, the great thing about adverbs is that a huge number of them end in the letters “LY,” making some of them, at least, fairly easy to spot.
February 3, 2016 at 6:57 pm #1485dannypearlbergParticipant
Very cool, I never thought of it like that 🙂 I especially like your disclaimer about this not being a magic bullet proposal. I can definitely envision suggesting to students that if they read a stimulus that contains an argument, and they’re not seeing what’s wrong with the argument, one good place to start checking would be with the adverbs.
July 8, 2016 at 1:24 pm #2233chosunieParticipant
That was super nifty. I just looked back at those three that you suggested in the PreTest book for 29-38; they def hint at it as we were discussing in our session. I’ll have to keep an eye out for it as a yellow flag during my other practice tests! Thanks Dan!
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