Focusing on Answer Choices

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LR Perfection Free Preview: Chapter 8 Part III

But questions that can be solved simply by looking at the gap between premise and conclusion, or those that can be matched up with the 23 flaws mentioned above only form a majority of the Flaw Questions on the LSAT (approximately around 70%). In the remaining questions, the key to getting them right lies in careful analysis of the answer choices. In this sense Flaw Questions are similar to Role and Method Questions. A large portion of our attention should be focused on identifying and understanding the keywords presented in the answer choices and trying to match them up with the stimulus. 

Similarly, you will often read the stimulus but cannot definitively answer what exact fallacy the argument’s reasoning has committed. This is also when we turn to the answer choices and proceed via the process of elimination. Before we look at how to use the answer choices to guide us to success, let’s look at two commonly seen types of answer choices:

8.3.1 Two Specific Types of Answer Choices

Two types of Flaw Questions don’t really fit into the categories we have discussed above, they are Overlook and False assumption flaws. These flaws can always be identified via the wording of the answer choices. These flaws are hard to identify when we have just read the stimulus, so instead, we let the answer choices guide us in coming to the correct answer. 

8.3.1.1 Overlook Flaws

Whenever the answer choice contains the following,

the author has overlooked,

the author has failed to consider,

the author disregarded the possibility,

we look at the rest of the answer choice and ask ourselves, “Which one of the following, if true, would hurt the author’s argument and conclusion?” To see why, look at the example below:

Argument: John is a JD student, therefore he must have taken the LSAT. 

Question: what is the flaw in this argument? What has the author overlooked?

The answer to this question is simply that not all JD students have taken the LSAT in order to gain admissions to law school. Some may have taken the GRE, some schools allow for transfers from their LLM or LLB programs. So being a JD doesn’t automatically mean that you have taken the LSAT. 

By rephrasing the answer choice as the author has overlooked the fact that not all JD students take the LSAT, or the author failed to consider the possibility/disregarded the possibility that some JD students have not taken the LSAT, we are simply introducing a potential objection to the argument itself. In other words, the author’s flaw in such a question is that they have ignored a piece of evidence that may cast doubt on their argument.

So whenever we see the question or answer choices in a Flaw question beginning with “the author has overlooked/failed to consider/disregarded the possibility”, we ask ourselves whether the rest of the information in the answer choice is an objection to the author’s original argument. Does the rest of the answer choice attack the author’s argument, do they hurt the original conclusion? 

PT50 S4 Q19

Recent studies have demonstrated that smokers are more likely than non-smokers to develop heart disease. Other studies have established that smokers are more likely than others to drink caffeinated beverages. Therefore, even though drinking caffeinated beverages is not thought to be a cause of heart disease, there is a positive correlation between drinking caffeinated beverages and the development of heart disease.

The argument’s reasoning is most vulnerable to criticism on the grounds that the argument fails to take into account the possibility that

A. Smokers who drink caffeinated beverages are less likely to develop heart disease than are smokers who do not drink caffeinated beverages

B. Something else, such as dietary fat intake, may be a more important factor in the development of heart disease than are the factors cited in the argument

C. Drinking caffeinated beverages is more strongly correlated with the development of heart disease than is smoking

D. It is only among people who have a hereditary predisposition to heart disease that caffeine consumption is positively correlated with the development of heart disease

E. There is a common cause of both the development of heart disease and behaviors such as drinking caffeinated beverages and smoking

This question contains keywords with which we are no doubt familiar by now: words like “more likely”, “not thought to be a cause”, and “positive correlation” are seemingly pointing us towards a correlation – causation flaw. But be careful! Since we only look at the hardest LR questions in this book, you should know that often things are not what they appear to be. Let’s look at the argument in detail: 

Recent studies have demonstrated that smokers are more likely than non-smokers to develop heart disease. 

So there is a correlation between smokers and heart disease: smoking ~ heart disease. 

Other studies have established that smokers are more likely than others to drink caffeinated beverages. 

Another correlation, smoking ~ drink caffeinated beverages. 

We have two correlations so far, what will the author do next?

Therefore, even though drinking caffeinated beverages is not thought to be a cause of heart disease, 

The test makers put a “therefore” here to trap you, this is not the conclusion! The “even though” introduces a concession that is not essential to the argument, but let’s diagram it out anyway: 

Drinking caffeinated beverages does NOT cause heart disease

There is a positive correlation between drinking caffeinated beverages and the development of heart disease. 

This is the conclusion of the argument, the author concludes that drink caffeinated beverages ~ heart disease. 

What we are looking at is the author deriving an additional correlation from two original correlations. This argument contains no causal reasoning. Some students, after seeing the correlation, assume it’s a correlation – causation argument. Remember that in the hardest LR questions, always expect variations in the author’s reasoning! 

If we diagram the author’s argument out in abstract form, it yields:

A ~ B

A ~ C

Therefore B ~ C

This reasoning is problematic, take a look at the following analogy: 

Law students are more likely than non law students to have better reading skills. Law students are also more likely than non law students to be stressed out. So there is a positive correlation between better reading skills and stress. 

For anyone who has tried to do LSAT RC under timed conditions, we know that this correlation is absurd. Being stressed out doesn’t make you a better reader, quite the opposite. When given a correlation, we know that there is the potential for causation behind it. But to derive B ~ C from A ~ B and A ~ C is just another form of erroneous reasoning thrown at us by the test makers.

Now a new problem arises: this error doesn’t quite fit in with any of the flaws we have discussed above. So all that’s left to do is turn to the answer choices, hopefully they will give us a clue. 

The question asks us what the argument fails to take into account, that makes it fall into the Overlook Flaw category. So we look at the answer choices and ask ourselves, which one of the following attacks the original argument and conclusion?

A. Smokers who drink caffeinated beverages are less likely to develop heart disease than are smokers who do not drink caffeinated beverages

This is stating the opposite of what the author’s conclusion is suggesting. The author’s conclusion states that there is a positive correlation between drinking caffeinated beverages and the development of heart disease. In other words, a coffee drinker is more likely to develop heart disease than a non coffee drinker.

This answer, on the other hand, suggests that drinking coffee actually lessens your chances of developing heart disease. In other words, it’s attacking the author’s original conclusion.

B. Something else, such as dietary fat intake, may be a more important factor in the development of heart disease than are the factors cited in the argument

This answer itself suffers from the relative vs. absolute fallacy which we have talked about earlier. Does it matter if there are more important factors? Just because John runs faster than David doesn’t mean David isn’t fast. Similarly, just because dietary fat intake is a more important factor in the development of heart disease doesn’t mean drinking caffeinated beverages isn’t a factor. This answer is irrelevant to the author’s argument and conclusion.

However, if the author had concluded that drinking caffeinated beverages was the most important factor in the development of heart disease, then this answer could potentially be acceptable.

C. Drinking caffeinated beverages is more strongly correlated with the development of heart disease than is smoking

This answer basically repeats the author’s conclusion, but in a stronger manner. It’s the opposite of what we want.

D. It is only among people who have a hereditary predisposition to heart disease that caffeine consumption is positively correlated with the development of heart disease

This answer choice confirms the positive correlation between caffeine consumption and heart disease, albeit in a qualified way. Compared to answer choice A, it’s a much weaker way to attack the conclusion, if it does so at all.

E. There is a common cause of both the development of heart disease and behaviors such as drinking caffeinated beverages and smoking

This answer claims there is a common cause behind A, B, and C. It is irrelevant, remember, we are trying to find an answer that is attacking the author’s conclusion. So we are looking for an answer that suggests there is no correlation between drinking caffeinated beverages and the development of heart disease.

The correct answer is A.

8.3.1.2 False Assumption Flaws

Like Overlook Flaws, False Assumption Flaws are determined on a case by case basis when we look at answer choices. Unlike Overlook answer choices, where we look for the answer that is attacking the author’s argument/conclusion, False Assumption answers state an assumption that the author makes in coming to their conclusion. 

False Assumption Flaw answer choices will typically contain the phrases the author takes for granted, assumes without evidence, or fails to establish. What is the nature of the information introduced by these phrases? Let’s go back to our previous example: 

Argument: John is a JD student, therefore he must have taken the LSAT. 

Question: What is the flaw in this argument? What has the author taken for granted?

The author takes for granted that if you are a JD student, then you must have taken the LSAT. In other words, JD → LSAT. What’s the nature of this conditional statement to the author’s argument? It helps the author’s argument. So when we examine false assumption flaw answer choices, we are looking for something that is helping the author’s argument/conclusion. This is the opposite to what we do in Overlook type answer choices. 

Some students confuse “fail to consider” and “fail to establish” answer choices. The former is an Overlook type answer choice, and the latter is a False Assumption type answer choice. 

There is an additional step to consider when looking at False Assumption Flaw answer choices. We must make sure what the answer choice says the author has assumed is truly what the author has assumed. In other words, we approach False Assumption answers like we would Necessary Assumption answer choices. We use the Assumption Negation Technique to make sure that by negating the answer choice, it is hurting the author’s original conclusion. (The intermediate/advanced student should already have an understanding of the Assumption Negation Technique, we will take a deeper look at it in the chapter on Necessary Assumptions, including its rationale and usage.) Take a look at 59-2-20 Answer Choice B for an incorrect answer that satisfies step 1, but not step 2.

So there’s two steps involved when evaluating a false assumption type answer choice, we ask ourselves: 

  1. Does the answer choice help the author’s argument?
  2. Even if it helps the author’s argument, is it something really assumed by the author? (Does negating the answer choice hurt the validity of the author’s conclusion?) 

PT44 S4 Q20

Advertisement: Each of the Economic Merit Prize winners from the past 25 years is covered by the ACME retirement plan. Since the winners of the nation’s most prestigious award for economists have thus clearly recognized that the ACME plan offers them a financially secure future, it is probably a good plan for anyone with retirement needs similar to theirs.

The advertisement’s argumentation is most vulnerable to criticism on which one of the following grounds?

A. It ignores the possibility that the majority of Economic Merit Prize winners from previous years used a retirement plan other than the ACME plan

B. It fails to address adequately the possibility that any of several retirement plans would be good enough for, and offer a financially secure future to, Economic Prize winners

C. It appeals to the fact that supposed experts have endorsed the argument’s main conclusion, rather than appealing to direct evidence for that conclusion

D. It takes for granted that some winners of the Economic Merit Prize have deliberately selected the ACME retirement plan, rather than having had it chosen for them by their employers

E. It presumes, without providing justification, that each of the Economic Merit Prize winners has retirement plan needs that are identical to the advertisement’s intended audience’s retirement plan needs

The argument is not hard to understand, what is hard about this question is determining the fallacy that the author commits. Is it the comparable flaw, where the author makes an inappropriate comparison between the needs of Economic Prize winners and regular customers? Is it the appeal to authority fallacy, are these economists qualified to recommend retirement plans to regular people? Perhaps it is something else? 

The comparable fallacy is tempting but it’s not the case here. Does the author make an inappropriate comparison? Not really: the author qualifies his conclusion by making it applicable only to people with retirement needs similar to the economists. As a result, what the author is really comparing is the choice of economists and people with similar needs. 

Could it be an inappropriate appeal to authority fallacy? Potentially. Just because you are an accomplished academic in economics doesn’t mean you make sound financial planning decisions. Furthermore, the stimulus doesn’t really tell us if the economists actively chose the retirement plans, only that they are covered by it. 

To have a more detailed picture of where potential flaws can arise, let’s break down the argument structurally: 

Premise: Winners covered by ACME plan

Intermediate Conclusion: Winners recognize benefits of ACME plan

Conclusion: ACME plan good for those with similar needs 

What are the gaps in this argument, and what potential objections can we make to it? 

Well, for starters, is it possible to be covered by a retirement plan without actively recognizing its benefits? Certainly: perhaps it was a sponsorship offered by the awards committee, perhaps they were covered by their academic institutions, or perhaps there was only a limited number of plans available and they chose the less bad from two terrible options. In other words, being covered by the ACME plan doesn’t automatically mean the economists chose it due to its benefits.

Secondly, perhaps even though the needs of the winners and regular people are the same, the benefits are different? For example, if the winners receive royalties for subscribing to the ACME plan for being prize winners and celebrities, while regular people don’t receive such benefits, then the conclusion would also not make sense.

In short, after a detailed analysis of the author’s argument, we still only have a vague idea of the type of fallacy this question entails. As such, we now turn to the answer choices to see if it can be solved via the process of elimination.

A. It ignores the possibility that the majority of Economic Merit Prize winners from previous years used a retirement plan other than the ACME plan

This answer choice begins with “ignores the possibility,” so let’s see if it attacks the author’s argument and conclusion. If it turned out that the winners had multiple retirement plans, does it weaken the author’s argument? Not really, you can’t really argue that because they had multiple plans, they don’t recognize the benefits of the ACME plan. Also, the answer choice says a majority of winners used other plans, but we know every winner was covered by the ACME plan. So this answer is too vague for my liking. I will keep it for now and return for a closer look if I don’t find a better answer.

B. It fails to address adequately the possibility that any of several retirement plans would be good enough for, and offer a financially secure future to, Economic Merit Prize winners

Again, “fails to address” means it’s supposed to attack the argument/conclusion. This answer doesn’t really do that. What if there are multiple good plans? Does that make the ACME plan less suitable to our needs? No.

C. It appeals to the fact that supposed experts have endorsed the argument’s main conclusion, rather than appealing to direct evidence for that conclusion

What is the argument’s main conclusion? Namely that the ACME plan is good for regular people too. Have the experts endorsed this conclusion? No. In order to tackle this answer choice, we use the technique of “keyword extraction” that we practiced in Role and Method Questions. Does what is described in the answer choice match up with the stimulus?

D. It takes for granted that some winners of the Economic Merit Prize have deliberately selected the ACME retirement plan, rather than having had it chosen for them by their employers

A “takes for granted” answer choice, which means looking at it as a Necessary Assumption answer choice. First of all, does this help the author’s argument? Yes, if the winners deliberately chose ACME, that overcomes the first gap we identified in our analysis of the argument. Secondly, does the author really assume this? Yes, the author must have assumed this, because if he didn’t, and we negate the answer into “none of the winners deliberately selected ACME, it was chosen for all of them”, then there is no way to extrapolate that they actually recognize some benefits to ACME. This answer passes the two-pronged test for false assumption answer choices.

E. It presumes, without providing justification, that each of the Economic Merit Prize winners has retirement plan needs that are identical to the advertisement’s intended audience’s retirement plan needs

Another False Assumption answer choice here. Does it help the conclusion? Yes, it strengthens the idea that what is good for the winners is good for the audience. But is it something truly assumed by the author? No. The author states that the plan is good for people with retirement needs similar to the winners, not identical. So if we negate this answer choice, the conclusion still stands.

Answer choice E is a tricky one, so whenever faced with false assumption answer choices, always go the additional step to make sure it’s truly something that the author had assumed in their reasoning.

All that’s left are A and D. A leaves something to be desired. Just because the economists didn’t use ACME’s plan, it doesn’t imply that they don’t recognize its benefits, and we can’t therefore say that it isn’t good for those with similar needs. To use an example, you can very well recognize the benefits of one insurance plan but chose another due to more offices or friendlier customer service. Answer choice A leaves us with more uncertainties than I’d like.

Answer choice D has its own issue too though, it is actually addressing the gap between the premise and the intermediate conclusion, sidestepping the main conclusion. I know that we said in the beginning of the chapter that the correct answer will address the gap between the supporting information and the main conclusion, and I still believe that to be true. In all the Flaw Questions that I’ve encountered, this is one of the few that doesn’t directly address the gap between the main conclusion and the rest of the information.

I do not think one exception warrants a modification of our rules for tackling Flaw Questions, but be aware that freak accidents do occur from time to time on the LSAT.

There is another core habit, one which we will cover later on in the book, that involves the criteria for ranking answer choices. There will be times when we have multiple attractive answer choices available, and it is our job to find the most appropriate answer depending on the question type. For Strengthen, Weaken, and Most Strongly Supported Questions, as well as RC Infer questions, it’s an absolutely crucial skill. We will cover this core habit down the road.

In this question, D wins over A, albeit not by much.

The correct answer is D.

8.3.2 False Leads and Multiple Flaws in the Stimulus

As we have seen in the previous question, there will be times when we have trouble figuring out what fallacy the author has committed even when we have a strong grasp of the 23 fallacies listed above. This is because the test makers love to throw in tempting information to mislead us toward a fake flaw (remember how PT22 S2 Q25 was a conditional flaw question, even though the stimulus started off talking about a survey), or leave signs for multiple potential flaws in the stimulus. 

I call these red herrings, and they are quite common in the hardest Flaw Questions. Unfortunately, the only thing we can do to successfully navigate these questions is to have a strong grasp of the fallacies we have listed and practice until you have an instinctive knowledge of what these fallacies are and the similarities and differences between each of them. 

A good way to practice Flaw Questions is to try to find as many fallacies as you can in the stimulus before turning to the answer choices. Think about the potential flaws the argument contains, list them out, and gradually narrow it down by truly thinking about which fallacy fits and which one doesn’t. 

We also have to study the answer choices extra carefully. If we were able to identify a few potential flaws in the stimulus, we can simply turn to the answer choices to see which ones are represented. The questions will ALWAYS have only one correct answer, so if you find two fallacies which both appear in the stimulus and the answer choices, there’s usually something wrong with the wording of one of the answers. 

Lastly, there will be times when we are completely lost and will need to use the answer choices to guide us to the correct answer. This happens frequently in Overlook and False Assumption answer choices. So pay extra attention to the answers! 

Take a look at 9-2-22, 15-2-17, 22-2-25, 24-2-1, 44-4-20, 45-4-24, 47-3-23, 48-4-25, 49-2-18, 54-2-19, 56-3-10, 65-4-26, 68-3-21, 72-3-11, 81-2-20, and 84-3-22. See how many potential fallacies, real or imagined, you can identify in the stimulus before moving on to the answer choices.