February 28, 2016 at 4:15 pm #1538
It’s been a while since I’ve been on here so I hope you’ve all been well! I was wondering if anyone had any advice on how to effectively tackle strengthen & weaken questions. These two have always been difficult for me in terms of approaching them & i usually find myself wasting a lot of time trying to justify my answers. Any help is greatly appreciated; thanks in advance!
February 29, 2016 at 11:10 am #1542Mike KimKeymaster
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
February 29, 2016 at 6:31 pm #1543
As always, thank you for giving me such detailed feedback so quickly. I took your advice and applied it to a mixed LR section I did & I got all but one +/- question type correct; the only one I missed was a weaken except question & that was my own silly mistake. Step #3 really helped me eliminate answer choices quickly. I’ll keep applying your advice & let you know how I progress. Thanks again for the advice!
March 1, 2016 at 1:09 pm #1546LSAT DanParticipant
Just to add on to Mike’s outstanding detailed explanation, there are a few specific ways in which strengthen and weaken questions often seem to function. These are just things to be on the lookout for:
- Weaken questions often provide, and Strengthen questions often eliminate alternate explanations for observed evidence. I don’t have tests in front of me, so I can’t reference the specific tests that the questions are from, but they may ring a bell. I might look them up and do them later. There’s a weaken question about camellia tea causing kidney damage, because of a correlation between higher than normal incidents of kidney damage found among people who drink it. The right answer is that people who drink camellia tea also tend to drink other things suspected of causing kidney damage – in other words, the right answer gives us another suspect: Maybe it’s not the tea; maybe it’s the other things that tea drinkers tend to drink. There’s a strengthen question that also asserts cause and effect. Actually, there are several, but the one I’m thinking of involves snoring and throat abnormalities. The conclusion is that snoring causes the throat abnormalities; the right answer is that the throat abnormalities don’t cause snoring. It eliminates a possible alternative explanation.
- A second common situation is that a strengthen question will often tell us that an asserted cause has been found to be paired with a certain effect OR the lack of the purported cause is found with a lack of the purported effect. In other words, if I claim that bananas cause cancer, it’s good for my argument if a bunch of people who eat bananas all the time get cancer; but it’s ALSO good for my argument if a bunch of people who never eat bananas don’t get cancer. In a weaken question, the right answer often shows the cause without the effect OR the effect without the cause. One example question is Preptest 33, Section 1, Question 25: Certain airplane equipment has been in wider use over the last two years, and certain information has disappeared from air traffic controllers’ screens over that time period. The argument concludes that the equipment causes the disappearance. The right answer says that the information started disappearing 3 months before the equipment came into use. In other words, we had the alleged effect WITHOUT the alleged cause. That weakens the argument.
- Finally, in S/W questions that are based on analogy, the right answer will typically be something that tells us either that it’s an appropriate comparison, or that it’s “apples to oranges.” In other words, the two things in question differ in some key respect that makes it a bad analogy. See, for instance, Preptest 30, Section 2, Question 8. The argument analogizes food production to oil drilling; the right answer points out a key difference between the two.
March 2, 2016 at 12:03 pm #1551
Thank you for explanation. At first I was a bit confused in regards to the provide/eliminate points you made, but your explanations really helped clear things up for me. I actually didn’t ever stop to think of the questions & answers in that way & I can see that it actually makes handling these questions a lot easier. I’m going to write down your advice & try them on some questions later today & follow up on the results. Thanks again!
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