Answer Choice Elimination

Download a preview of

LR Perfection Free Preview: Chapter 8 Part IV

Before we conclude this chapter, I just wanted to dive a little deeper into tricky answer choices. As we have seen in the previous questions, getting a Flaw Question right not only depends on having a strong grasp of the logic and standard fallacies that we have encountered, but also being able to tactically navigate through vague and abstract answer choices. This is also the reason why we have placed the Flaw Questions chapter before all the other Assumption family questions. The skills we need to approach Flaw answer choices are similar to the ones we used in Role and Method questions. Use the habit of “keyword extraction” and comparing what is described in the answer choices with the stimulus just as we have learned in the previous chapters. 

We have already seen how important answer choices are to Flaw Questions. As we have seen in the Overlook and False Assumption type answer choices, sometimes getting the question right is not just about being able to decipher what fallacy lies behind the author’s argument, but also to correctly eliminate all the wrong answers presented to us. With these types of questions, it’s not as simple as finding the flaw in the stimulus and picking it out from the answer choices, we have to individually go through each answer choice, checking if “Overlook” answers attack the argument, and “False Assumption” answers are in fact assumed by the author in their reasoning. 

I personally spend just over half of my time per question on answer choices, figuring out what they are trying to say, comparing and contrasting them. When I started doing Flaw Questions, the majority of my time was spent on reading the stimulus and trying to match it up with a potential fallacy, but as I got more familiar with the process, I can now devote more time to the answers. This should be your ultimate goal as an advanced test taker. 

On the hardest Flaw Questions, expect the author to lay down all kinds of traps for you. Here are four questions that you should ask yourself whenever you are faced with difficult or hard-to-understand answer choices: 

The information presented in this answer choice, does it happen/appear in the stimulus? (focus on nouns and verbs)

Is the order correct structurally? If the stimulus is using A to support B, does the answer say something like using B to support A? (this would be wrong)

Is this answer choice out of scope?

Is this answer choice too strong or too weak? (focus on adjectives and adverbs)  

Let’s turn to some questions with tricky answer choices: I’ve deliberately only included the correct answer and a notoriously tricky wrong answer. 

PT18 S4 Q25

George: a well known educator claims that children who are read to when they are very young are more likely to enjoy reading when they grow up than are children who are not read to. But this claim is clearly false. My cousin Emory was regularly read to as a child and as an adult he seldomly reads for pleasure, whereas no one read to me and reading is now my favorite form of relaxation.

Which of the following describes a flaw in George’s reasoning?

A. He treats his own experience and the experiences of other members of his own family as though they have more weight as evidence than do the experiences of other people.

B. He attempts to refute a general claim by reference to nonconforming cases, although the claim is consistent with the occurrence of such cases.

I’ve only included the correct answer and the most selected wrong answer to this question. Statistically speaking, about half of all test takers chose the wrong answer. Let’s look at the stimulus first.

The first statement is a view held by the opponent (well known educator), who prescribes to the view that if you were read to as a child, you are more likely to enjoy reading as an adult.

The second statement is the conclusion of George’s argument. George denies the educator’s view, so George is saying that if you were read to as a child, you are NOT more likely to enjoy reading as an adult.

The last statement is the support provided by George, it’s the premise. He uses his cousin and himself as examples to support his conclusion.

What is the flaw with this question? There appears to be two, one quite clear and the other not so obvious. Let’s look at the obvious one first:

There appears to be a sampling flaw here. The flaw here is actually called an appeal to anecdotal evidence, where you support your conclusion with evidence that is atypical, personal, or cannot be verified. Both the appeal to anecdotal evidence and sampling bias fall into the same family of fallacies (hasty generalization), but it’s not a fallacy tested on the LSAT, and it’s closely related to the sample bias fallacy. So for the argument’s sake, we can categorize it as a sampling flaw.

Of course, there is no survey involved here, but one of the key issues that can arise with a sampling flaw, the problem of the unrepresentative sample, is also reflected in George’s argument. George attempts to refute the educator’s view using only himself and his brother. While we don’t know what evidence the educator bases his view on, deriving a conclusion from the experiences of two people is surely problematic.

The second flaw is somewhat harder to find. Remember at the beginning of the chapter we talked about getting into the habit of comparing the wording of the premises and the conclusion, looking for shifts? Let’s do that here:

George’s premise: Emory was read to as a child but he rarely reads, I was never read to as a child but reading is my favorite form of relaxation.

George’s conclusion: being read to as a child does not increase your likelihood of enjoying reading as an adult.

Increasing one’s likelihood of enjoying reading doesn’t necessarily mean you have to actually enjoy reading, right? It’s an issue of confusing the relative with the absolute here. Maybe if Emory wasn’t read to as a child, he would never even go near a book as an adult. Although he seldom reads now, perhaps he would have read even less if not for his parents reading to him as a child? Same with George: reading is his favorite form of relaxation. But if he was read to as a child, perhaps his passion for reading would have been even more intense?

In other words, even if we ignore the sampling issue, George’s evidence doesn’t really conflict with the educator’s claims. 

Let’s take a look at the first answer choice. Remember what we talked about in the previous chapters, trying to match up what the answer describes with the structure of the stimulus: 

Does George treat his own experience and the experiences of other members of his own family as though they have more weight? Yes, he believes his own experiences more than the view of the educator. The first half of the answer choice is ok. 

But does he think his experiences have more weight than the experiences of other people?

Who are these other people, and what are their experiences? We don’t really know. There’s the educator, but we only know what his view is, not their experiences. Perhaps this answer is talking about people who conform to the educator’s view, people who were read to as children and who actually do enjoy reading as adults. But this is only a guess, it’s never mentioned in the stimulus. Furthermore, the educator never uses the experiences of other people to back up their claim. 

If this answer had read “he treats his own experience and the experiences of other members of his own family as though they have more weight than the view of another”, then it would have been an okay answer. 

The second answer choice is the correct answer, simply because everything from it matches up with what happened in the stimulus. Does George attempt to refute a general claim? Yes, the educator’s point of view is a general claim (people read to as children are more likely to enjoy reading). Does George reference non-conforming cases? Yes, he provides himself and Emory as examples. Are these examples consistent with the educator’s claim? Yes, even though Emory dislikes reading now, he may have disliked it even more had he not been read to as a child. Even though George loves reading now, he may have loved it even more had he been read to as a child. As we mentioned earlier, George and Emory’s cases are not in contradiction to the educator’s view. 

Had George’s conclusion been “so it’s not guaranteed that adults read to as children will enjoy reading, nor adults not read to as children will dislike reading”, then his argument would have been flawless. 

PT26 S2 Q21

Attorney for Ziegler: my client continued to do consulting work between the time of his arrest for attempted murder and the start of this trial. But I contend that Ziegler was insane at the time that he fired the shot. This is the only reasonable conclusion to draw from the fact that the accusers have submitted no evidence that he was sane at the time he pulled the trigger, only that he was sane some time after he did so.

Which one of the following most accurately describes a flaw in the reasoning of Ziegler’s attorney?

A. It concludes on the basis of evidence against Ziegler’s being sane that there is a lack of evidence for Ziegler being sane.

B. It fails to consider the possibility that Ziegler’s being sane after the shooting is an indication that he was sane at the time of the shooting.

Again, we have included only the correct answer choice and the most commonly selected wrong choice here, having only two answer choices to select from will force the student to slow down and really think about the options available. Can you match up the keywords from this answer choice with what was described in the stimulus? Can you match up the structure of the argument described in the answer choice with the structure of the argument in the actual stimulus? 

What is the attorney’s conclusion? Ziegler was insane when he fired the shot.

What’s the premise the attorney offers for this conclusion? Accusers offered no evidence that he was sane when he pulled the trigger.

This is a very typical appeal to ignorance flaw (unproven vs. untrue). The opponent did not offer evidence for A, so A is false.

Let’s take a look at the answer choices:

A. It concludes on the basis of evidence against Ziegler’s being sane that there is a lack of evidence for Ziegler being sane.

What is this answer choice saying? What is the structure of the hypothetical argument this answer choice is describing? What is its premise and what is its conclusion?

Premise: existence of evidence against Ziegler being sane (in other words, we have evidence Ziegler is insane)

Conclusion: there is a lack of evidence for Ziegler being sane (so we have no evidence that Ziegler is sane)

Notice the subtle shift of this answer choice from the appeal to ignorance fallacy that we have identified in the stimulus argument?

The argument in the stimulus: we have no evidence Z was sane, so he must be insane.

The argument in this answer choice: we have evidence Z was insane, so there is no evidence he was sane.

Some students get confused by the differences between the two, so let’s try an example:

Author’s argument: we have no evidence that OJ was innocent, so he must be guilty.

Answer choice’s argument: we have evidence that OJ did it, so there can’t be evidence demonstrating his innocence.

This is a really tricky answer choice and trapped a lot of students. Because on the actual exam, we only have just over two minutes for even the hardest questions. We often end up reading the answer choices without truly delving into their structure, much less compare what they describe to what actually happens in the stimulus. This answer choice is even more tempting because we can figure out the flaw here is an appeal to ignorance, and this answer choice looks really close to being a description of that type of flaw.

So, like I mentioned before, your goal in Flaw Questions is to get as familiar as you can with the flaws, be able to quickly decipher the author’s argument and try to match up the flaws. Only when you can do this with relative ease and faster, will you be able to have enough time to actually examine the answer choices in greater detail.

If we changed this answer choice into “it concludes on the basis of a lack of evidence for Ziegler was sane that Ziegler was insane,” then it will be a good answer choice.

B. It fails to consider the possibility that Ziegler’s being sane after the shooting is an indication that he was sane at the time of the shooting.

This answer choice begins with “fail to consider”, so we check to see if what it’s describing damages the author’s argument and conclusion. What is the author’s conclusion? Ziegler was insane. But if we follow the reasoning in this answer choice we can argue that “if Ziegler was sane right after the shooting, then there is a high possibility that Ziegler was sane during the shooting.” This is in direct opposition to the author’s conclusion, and forms a direct challenge to it.

This is the correct answer.

Let’s look at another example, read the answer choices in detail and go back to the stimulus to try to match it up before you select it. 

PT47 S3 Q23

Television network executive: Some scientists have expressed concern about the numerous highly popular television programs that emphasize paranormal incidents, warning that these programs will encourage superstition and thereby impede the public’s scientific understanding. But these predictions are baseless. Throughout recorded history, dramatists have relied on ghosts and spirits to enliven their stories, and yet the scientific understanding of the populace has steadily advanced.

The television network executive’s argument is most vulnerable to criticism on which one of the following grounds?

A. It fails to consider that one phenomenon can steadily advance even when it is being impeded by another phenomenon.

B. It takes for granted that the contention that one phenomenon causes another must be baseless if the latter phenomenon has persisted despite steady increases in the pervasiveness of the former.

There are two potential flaws in this argument. The first one is a comparable fallacy. The author doesn’t think TV programs that portray paranormal incidents will impede the public’s scientific understanding, because dramas have portrayed ghosts and spirits while science still advanced. In other words, the author’s argument is basically this: “if dramas and plays had ghosts in them and people’s scientific understanding advanced, TV programs that have ghosts in them won’t impede people’s scientific understanding.” 

They are assuming that there is enough similarity between dramas and plays vs. TV programs so that what holds true with dramas will hold true with TV programs. 

To argue against this point we must point out that dramas and TV programs are actually not comparable. Perhaps when people see dramas or plays they are perfectly aware that what we are seeing are fictional depictions. Whereas a lot of TV programs such as documentaries or realistically shot horror movies can pull the audience in and blur the lines between fiction and reality. 

The second flaw, like we saw in one of the examples earlier, is again the fallacy of confusing the relative and the absolute. You see, in absolute terms, scientific understanding could have advanced, but relatively speaking, it could have been advancing at a slower pace, being impeded by the abundance of ghost stories and paranormal dramas. Just because scientific knowledge has been steadily advancing doesn’t mean it wasn’t impeded by some external force. Take the following absurd analogy for example: “John scored a 175 on his LSAT, 15 points more than his previous score, so he is surely lying when he said slow internet was an impediment on his test.” 

The answer choices, however, don’t give us the flaws in a straightforward manner. As soon as we realize that we can’t simply match up the flaws that we have detected in the stimulus with an answer choice, we go into keyword analysis mode and start nitpicking at all the little details in each answer choice. Are the answer choices Overlook or False Assumption types? Can we match up the keywords and order of the answer choice with what occurred in the stimulus?

Answer choice A is an Overlook type answer, and as such we check to see if it can damage the author’s argument and conclusion. If it contains vague and abstract terms we try to match that up with the stimulus as well. 

Which phenomenon can steadily advance even when it is being impeded by another phenomenon? 

If we said the first phenomenon referred to scientific understanding of the public, and the other phenomenon referred to TV programs featuring ghosts, does that make sense? If we replied “scientific understanding can advance even when it’s impeded by depictions of ghosts and spirits in the media” to the author, does that weaken his argument? Yes, in fact, this is an indirect way of saying advancement and impediments can coexist. 

Answer choice B is a False Assumption answer, let’s break it down and try to understand what it is saying before deciding if it passes the Assumption Negation test. 

It takes for granted that the contention that one phenomenon (X) causes another (Y) must be baseless…

What causal relationship does our author think is baseless? According to the author, the view that TV programs emphasizing paranormal activities impedes the public’s scientific understanding is baseless. So this is the causal relationship that the author rejects. 

X = TV programs with ghosts and spirits

Y = Impeded scientific understanding

…if the latter phenomenon has persisted despite steady increases in the pervasiveness of the former

The latter phenomenon refers to Y, while the former is referring to X, so in other words, “if impeded scientific understanding has persisted despite steady increases in the pervasiveness of ghost stories.” 

Does the author assume this? No, the author believes that TV programs emphasizing ghosts impedes the public’s scientific understanding is baseless if depictions of paranormal activities have continued through the ages despite a steady increase in scientific understanding. 

A is the correct answer.