LSAT LR: Solving the June 2007 exam, Section 3 Question 24

Posted by Jimmy B. on 8/3/16 7:00 PM

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In this blog post, I’m going to be giving a brief introduction to the Logical Reasoning section of the LSAT. While this lesson is geared toward the LSAT, the logic skills are useful in math, classical rhetoric and philosophy, and debate.

Today we’ll start with a little myth busting and a brief overview of the test. Then we’ll do a sample question: we’ll analyze the stimulus (the sentences before the actual question), the question itself (also known as the question stem), and the answer choices. We’ll conclude with some key takeaways.

Myths

When I was studying for the LSAT, I found that there were a lot of myths floating around about the test.

Myth #1: Natural Cap

A couple right off that bat – first, that everyone has a natural ‘cap’ on their LSAT score and that large improvement is impossible. That’s totally wrong – everyone can improve their score through hard work, careful planning, and strategic review 

Myth #2: One-Size-Fits-All

Another is that there is a one-size-fits all approach to the LSAT. There are a number of core strategies and tools that every test-taker should master. However, you will find that some question types come easier to you, and that some techniques are better for you than others.

Test Overview

We’re going to go in depth on a single problem to help you get your feet wet on the Logical Reasoning section of the test.

There are two graded LR sections on each LSAT, meaning that it comprises half of your total score. The full test is two graded LR sections, one graded Critical Reading and Logic Games, and an unscored experimental section.

2 Logical Reasoning + 1 Logical Games + 1 Critical Readings + 1 Unscored Experimental Section = LSAT

Unlike the SAT, there is no penalty for guessing, so it is very important to bubble in every question. Do not leave any bubbles blank!

Because today we are just getting our feet wet, I am going to use some LSAT terminology that may be unfamiliar to you. Don’t fret! The jargon will come to be second nature quickly and there will be ample time for review.

Sample Question Overview: How to Approach Logical Raesoning

The question we are going to be doing today is from the June 2007 exam, Section 3 Question 24.  

LR questions tend to get increasingly difficult as you move through the section, and this is one of the last questions from the section. I figured I’d throw you into the deep end.

Stimulus Analysis

Sociologist: Romantics who claim that people are not born evil but may be made evil by the imperfect institutions that they form cannot be right, for they misunderstand the causal relationship between people and their institutions. After all, institutions are merely collections of people.

What a mouthful, huh?!

There is a good amount of analysis to be done before moving to the answer choices. While this may seem cumbersome at the beginning, it will payoff, and makes finding the right answer a lot quicker.

This is called an argument question – the sociologist rejects the romantics’ argument in the first sentence of the stimulus: ‘Romantics who claim that people are not born evil but may be made evil by the imperfect institutions that they form cannot be right.’

The sociologist is rejecting the following causal relationship put forward by the romantics:

[SOCIOLOGIST REJECTS]: Imperfect institutions (cause) => Evil people (effect)

Implied is the sociologist’s argument that it is people causing imperfect institutions.

[SOCIOLOGIST ARGUES]: People (cause) => Imperfect institutions (effect)

Romantics think it is the other way around .

The sociologist gives her evidence in the second half of the first sentence and the second sentence. The word for signals that evidence is about to be presented: “for they misunderstand the causal relationship between people and their institutions. After all, institutions are merely collections of people.” The word for indicates that she is giving a reason for her argument.

1.  Identifying Question Type

Let’s move to the question stem – the actual question being asked.

Which one of the following principles, if valid, would most help to justify the sociologist’s argument?

You may have heard that you should ‘pre-phrase’ or ‘predict’ an answer before looking at the choices. However, the LSAT is tricky, and the writers can often predict our predictions! Working from wrong to right through process of elimination is usually a more effective strategy. Given that you are looking for the best answer, not necessarily the ideal answer, having a ‘perfect answer’ in your head can be limiting. It might seem challenging at the beginning but it will get easier over time, I promise.

The question asks which principle “most helps to justify” the sociologist’s argument – in other words, strengthen it. Therefore, when looking at the answer choices, we are looking for the one that most supports the sociologist’s argument that people are responsible for imperfect institutions.

With ‘if valid’ the LSAT writers are telling us that we are to take all of the answer choices as true. If each answer choice is true, which would most help to strengthen the sociologists argument. It does not matter if they are actually true, or what your opinion is on the truth of the answer choice.

Given what we know so far, let me ask you a question – do you see any weaknesses in the sociologist’s argument? Maybe something wrong with the evidence she presents?  

2. Find Hole in the Argument

The sociologist’s argument is not fool proof: Just because institutions are “merely collections of people” doesn't mean that they can't also affect the people in them. Therefore, we know that this is a weakness in the sociologist’s argument, and that we might be looking for an answer that helps overcome this weakness 

3. Narrow Down Your Answer Choices

Now we’re ready to look at the answer choices.

  1. People acting together in institutions can do more good or evil than can people acting individually.
  2. Institutions formed by people are inevitably imperfect.
  3. People should not be overly optimistic in their view of individual human beings.
  4. A society’s institutions are the surest gauge of that society’s values.
  5. The whole does not determine the properties of the things that compose it.

Let's look at our choices, one-by-one:

  • People acting together in institutions can do more good or evil than can people acting individually. 

This definitely does not strengthen the sociologist’s argument. If anything it might weaken their argument by endorsing the romantics’ institutions-make-people-evil claim. When we are clear on the argument we are trying to strengthen (here the sociologist’s), it becomes much easier to evaluate the answer choices in relation to that argument. Let’s move to B.

  • Institutions formed by people are inevitably imperfect.

B is a necessary/sufficient statement. If you are an institution formed by people, then you are inevitably imperfect. We don’t know if institutions formed by people are inevitably imperfect. We are looking for the cause of this imperfection, and B does not address that. Do people cause the imperfection or vice versa? The answer choice doesn’t answer this question. Therefore, B is out.

  • People should not be overly optimistic in their view of individual human beings.

C clearly does not strengthen the sociologist’s argument because it does not address the substance of the argument being made. C is irrelevant, and therefore out. Moving to D.

  • A society’s institutions are the surest gauge of that society’s values.

Again, this doesn’t get into the causal question. Is it the people causing the imperfect institutions or the institutions making people evil? This brings us through process of elimination to E.

  • The whole does not determine the properties of the things that compose it.

Remember, we are taking each answer choice as completely true. E eliminates the possibility that the institutions are the causes of people’s evilness: the whole does not determine the properties of the things (here, people) that compose it. This answer plugs the hole we identified after reading the question stimulus: if the whole does not determine the properties of the things that compose it, then the imperfect institutions cannot cause the people in them to become evil.

This therefore strengthens the sociologist’s argument that it is the people causing the imperfect institutions. E is our correct answer.

Conclusion

And there you have it. Getting straight on the argument we are trying to strengthen is essential for this type of question. Clarity on the precise nature of the argument being advanced is critical to success on the LSAT, especially LR, and I hope this is one of your main takeaways from this lesson. Determining the relationship of the argument in the stimulus to what the question is asking to the answer choices is key to success on the LSAT. This takes practice at first – getting into the nitty-gritty of arguments and causation is not how we are used to reading. I promise it will come in time with practice and patience.

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Interested in reading more on the LSAT?  Check out the blog posts below!

LSAT Tutor: The Best LSAT Resources, and How to Use Them

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