Pre-phasing Weaken and Strenthen Questions

    • July 25, 2016 at 12:52 pm #2302

      Hey Mike,
      I had a quick question for you. I am having a lot of trouble pin pointing the flaws in strengthen and weaken questions. I can pre-phase/know what’s wrong with a regular flaw question 99% of the time but I find myself having a lot of trouble on the strengthen/weaken questions. I usually can recognize the right answer when I focus on the relationship between the support and conclusion and then try to weaken it or strengthen it based off the answer choices, but I just can’t seem to pre-phase the answer before I get to the choices. How important would you say it is for me to have a really solid idea of a pre-phase before going into the answer choices if I have a really strong idea of the relationship between the support and conclusion? I am worried about the amount of time I have been using on these problem trying to pin point the flaw and pre-phase only to get into the answer choices and feel like I wasted my time when I could have found the answer much more quickly by focusing on the structure of the stimulus. Any thoughts are appreciated and welcome as always! Thank you so much!


      Bryce Imhoff

    • July 26, 2016 at 6:58 am #2305
      Mike Kim

      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 —


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