Finding the Most Textual Support

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RC Perfection Preview: Chapter 16 Part I

We now approach perhaps what is the biggest obstacle in terms of attaining perfection in Reading Comprehension. The next two chapters will be entirely devoted to Stage 2 of our answer choice selection process, or Answer Choice Ranking.

Most of us, especially the advanced student, will probably have encountered the following scenario:

We are moving through the answer choices, being able to eliminate a few that are obviously wrong or completely out of place. We are eventually left with two answer choices and stuck. We look at both answer choices, both may sound reasonable, both may have support from the passage, and both may have issues that we don’t particularly like.

With time running out we end up picking one. The choice may have some justification, or maybe it was entirely arbitrary. But when we score the test, we realize that we have gotten the question wrong. This was probably not the first time that this happened, you are consistently making that same number of mistakes in RC, and with nearly every mistake, you are able to narrow it down to two answers, but nearly always pick the wrong one.

This experience is highly frustrating. Many students end up stuck in this purgatory and never end up seeing improvement until exam day. For others, their accuracy rate fluctuates wildly, but being unable to pick the right answer out of two attractive choices consistently remains one of the biggest obstacles to perfecting their RC.

For readers of LR Perfection, this situation reminds us of the hardest Strengthen, Weaken, and MSS Questions. The need to rank answer choices based on their respective merits and shortcomings, rather than simply eliminating four wrong answers and ending up with the right one, was the key to success in those question types. The need to rank answers and adopt a relative comparison framework was so important that we devoted an entire chapter to it, and Ranking formed the last building block of the SLAKR Method which we learned in LR Perfection.

After working with hundreds of students in the past few years and reworking through all the RC sections from PT 1 to PT 90 in preparation for this book, one of the key questions that always came to the forefront was this: “Is there a set of objective criteria that can be applied consistently to the remaining two or three answer choices to determine what the correct answer is?” In other words, when none of the answer choices are perfect, when none of them match up with what we really want, what is the standard that we apply to our answer choice selection process?

The answer to this question, unfortunately, is complicated. The ability to pick the correct answer is dependent on a multitude of factors including our understanding of the passage, our ability to locate hard to find details in the passage, our grasp of the Author’s Purpose and Main Point, our familiarity with the question type, and finally, our ability to discover the meaning behind the wording of the answer choices, and the gaps between what was said in the passage and what was stated in the answer choice.

In other words, there exists, in the LSAT RC universe, multiple ways to determine whether the answer choice you have your eyes on is in fact the most suitable. Some of these methods will be fairly straightforward, some other ones will be more troublesome to apply. Some of these methods will work on certain answer choices, but there is no one method fits all approach. It is only through encountering and practicing tricky questions that we become more at ease with the methods that I’m about to show you. So try to incorporate these skills and habits into your answer ranking repertoire, and try to apply them when you are stuck.

Finding the Most Textual Support

Since the majority of RC Questions are asking us to derive the correct answer via information from the passage, one of the most straightforward and intuitive things we can do when stuck on two answer choices is to go back to the passage and look at the support each of these answers have, respectively.

For Inference Questions and similar question types, this requires minimal effort but can still be quite effective. Instead of comparing the two prospective answer choices in isolation, we go back to the passage, identify their purported support, and ask ourselves this:

Based on the information in the passage, and based on each answer choice’s respective textual evidence, which has has more explicit backing from the passage?

For instance, if we were able to eliminate answer choices B, C, and E in a question, that would leave us with only A and D. Now we would read A and D, and go back to the passage to see if there is information supporting either answer choice.

Chances are that both would have partial support, otherwise we should have been able to solve this question during the first stage of the Answer Choice Selection process, the elimination stage. So our job now is to isolate the supporting evidence for both A and D, and to consider the relationship between each answer choice and their respective supporting material.

Let’s say that Answer Choice A seems to be supported by a sentence from the beginning of the second paragraph; and Answer Choice D seems to be supported by a statement from the end of the third paragraph; our job now is to look at the support, and look at the answer choices, and ask ourselves which answer choice is most strongly supported by their respective textual evidence?

This process can be tricky because sometimes we might miss the purported textual support for an AC entirely and thereby eliminating it. There might be multiple pieces of the text backing an AC but we did not find all of them and as a result deemed it lacking in support. If this is frequently happening to you, then the only thing to do really is to pay more attention to the details of a passage during the initial reading, and in order to do that we need to be fully comfortable with the reading habits developed in Part I of the book.

Let’s look at a few questions and see how this test operates in reality:

PT25 S1 Q10 (PT25 Passage 2)

While a new surge of critical interest in the ancient Greek poems conventionally ascribed to Homer has taken place in the last twenty years or so, it was nonspecialists rather than professional scholars who studied the poetic aspects of the Iliad and the Odyssey between, roughly, 1935 and 1970. During these years, while such nonacademic intellectuals as Simone Weil and Erich Auerbach were trying to define the qualities that made these epic accounts of the Trojan War and its aftermath great poetry, the questions that occupied the specialists were directed elsewhere: “Did the Trojan War really happen?” “Does the bard preserve Indo- European folk memories?” “How did the poems get written down?” Something was driving scholars away from the actual works to peripheral issues. Scholars produced books about archaeology, and gift exchange in ancient societies, about the development of oral poetry, about virtually anything except the Iliad and the Odyssey themselves as unique reflections or distillations of life itself—as, in short, great poetry. The observations of the English poet Alexander Pope seemed as applicable in 1970 as they had been when he wrote them in 1715: according to Pope, the remarks of critics “are rather Philosophical, Historical, Geographical . . . or rather anything than Critical and Poetical.”

Ironically, the modern manifestation of this “nonpoetical” emphasis can be traced to the profoundly influential work of Milman Parry, who attempted to demonstrate in detail how the Homeric poems, believed to have been recorded nearly three thousand years ago, were the products of a long and highly developed tradition of oral poetry about the Trojan War. Parry proposed that this tradition built up its diction and its content by a process of constant accumulation and refinement over many generations of storytellers. But after Parry’s death in 1935, his legacy was taken up by scholars who, unlike Parry, forsook intensive analysis of the poetry itself and focused instead on only one element of Parry’s work: the creative limitations and possibilities of oral composition, concentrating on fixed elements and inflexibilities, focusing on the things that oral poetry allegedly can and cannot do. The dryness of this kind of study drove many of the more inventive scholars away from the poems into the rapidly developing field of Homer’s archaeological and historical background.

Appropriately, Milman Parry’s son Adam was among those scholars responsible for a renewed interest in Homer’s poetry as literary art. Building on his father’s work, the younger Parry argued that the Homeric poems exist both within and against a tradition. The Iliad and the Odyssey were, Adam Parry thought, the beneficiaries of an inherited store of diction, scenes, and concepts, and at the same time highly individual works that surpassed these conventions. Adam Parry helped prepare the ground for the recent Homeric revival by affirming his father’s belief in a strong inherited tradition, but also by emphasizing Homer’s unique contributions within that tradition.

The passage suggests which one of the following about scholarship on Homer that has appeared since 1970?

A. It has dealt extensively with the Homeric poems as literary art

B. It is more incisive than the work of the Parrys

C. It has rejected as irrelevant the scholarship produced by specialists between 1935 and 1970

D. It has ignored the work of Simone Weil and Erich Auerbach

E. It has attempted to confirm that the Iliad and the Odyssey were written by Homer

We know from the passage that between 1935 and 1970, it was the non-specialists who studied the poetic aspects of the Homeric epics. Since the question is asking about developments post-1970, I think it’s safe to assume that the years since 1970 marked the return of the specialists to studying the literary qualities of the Iliad and the Odyssey.

Do we have any further evidence as to what happened since 1970? Well, now that we know the specialists returned to the literary tradition, we can take another look at the last paragraph. We know Milman’s son was one of the people responsible for this revival.

The passage seems to be supporting a potential answer that tells us there was a return to the literary tradition by specialists since 1970. Let’s see if such an answer exists.

A. It has dealt extensively with the Homeric poems as literary art

I didn’t like this answer very much, the language seemed a little strong for my preferences. We know that scholars returned to the literary tradition, does that mean they are “dealing extensively” with the Homeric poems as literary art?

B. It is more incisive than the work of the Parrys

Being incisive means to be clear and focused. Can we argue that a return to the literary traditions was more focused? Possibly.

But we also know that Parry Jr. was also part of the movement, so this answer is saying that “the analysis of the post 1970 group, of which Parry Jr. was a part of, was more incisive than the work of both Parry Sr. and Parry Jr.”

If the answer had said “it was more incisive than the work of scholars between 1935 and 1970,” then maybe it would have been a contender.

C. It has rejected as irrelevant the scholarship produced by specialists between 1935 and 1970

There is a return to the literary aspects of Homer, but does a change in research direction = rejection of past research?

This is a fairly big gap. But let’s keep it for now.

D. It has ignored the work of Simone Weil and Erich Auerbach

SW and EA were mentioned in the first paragraph. They were non-specialists who focused on the literary aspects of Homer. What this answer is saying is that the “specialists who focused on Homer as literature ignored the earlier non-specialists who did the same thing.”

Nowhere is this contention supported in the passage, I think it’s a safe elimination.

E. It has attempted to confirm that the Iliad and the Odyssey were written by Homer

Scholars returned to literary analysis of Homer, we don’t know if they examined the epics’ authorship.

We are now left with answer choices A and C. Let’s look at each of them in turn, and see which answer is more supported by the relevant evidence from the passage:

A: We know from the passage that scholars returned to literary analysis, can we infer that this means they are now dealing extensively with literary analysis?

B: The scholars returned to literary analysis, does this mean that they are rejecting past scholarship?

Let’s use an analogy to help us see the leap in reasoning in both answers:

Let’s say that you moved back home to live with your parents during COVID. What would be the more reasonable inference?

You are now dealing extensively with your parents?

Or

You are rejecting your friends?

Here, changing the focus of your research probably means that you are “dealing extensively” with the topic and scope of your new research. Answer choice A is stronger than the support from the passage, but I think it’s a reasonable inference.

Whereas for Answer C, we have no evidence to suggest that research on the literary aspects of Homer necessitates a wholesale rejection of the non-literary studies of Homer in the past.

The correct answer is A.

PT27 S3 Q11 (PT27 Passage 2)

Personal names are generally regarded by European thinkers in two major ways, both of which deny that names have any significant semantic content. In philosophy and linguistics, John Stuart Mill’s formulation that “proper names are meaningless marks set upon…persons to distinguish them from one another” retains currency; in anthropology, Claude Lévi-Strauss’s characterization of names as being primarily instruments of social classification has been very influential. Consequently, interpretation of personal names in societies were names have other functions and meanings has been neglected. Among the Hopi of the southwestern United States, names often refer to historical or ritual events in order both to place individuals within society and to confer an identity upon them. Furthermore, the images used to evoke these events suggest that Hopi names can be seen as a type of poetic composition.

Throughout life, Hopis receive several names in a sequence of ritual initiations. Birth, entry into one of the ritual societies during childhood, and puberty are among the name-giving occasions. Names are conferred by an adult member of a clan other than the child’s clan, and names refer to that name giver’s clan, sometimes combining characteristics of the clan’s totem animal with the child’s characteristics. Thus, a name might translate to something as simple as “little rabbit,” which reflects both the child’s size and the representative animal.

More often, though, the name giver has in mind a specific event that is not apparent in a name’s literal translation. One Lizard clan member from the village of Oraibi is named Lomayayva, “beautifully ascended.” This translation, however, tells nothing about either the event referred to—who or what ascended—or the name giver’s clan. The name giver in this case is from Badger clan. Badger clan is responsible for an annual ceremony featuring a procession in which masked representations of spirits climb the mesa on which Oraibi sits. Combining the name giver’s clan association with the receiver’s home village, “beautifully ascended” refers to the splendid colors and movements of the procession up the mesa. The condensed image this name evokes—a typical feature of Hopi personal names—displays the same quality of Western Apache place names that led one commentator to call them “tiny imagist poems.”

Hopi personal names do several things simultaneously. They indicate social relationships—but only indirectly—and they individuate persons. Equally important, though, is their poetic quality; in a sense they can be understood as oral texts that produce aesthetic delight. This view of Hopi names is thus opposed not only to Mill’s claim that personal names are without inherent meaning but also to Lévi-Strauss’s purely functional characterization. Interpreters must understand Hopi clan structures and linguistic practices in order to discern the beauty and significance of Hopi names.

The primary function of the second paragraph is to

A. Present reasons why Hopi personal names can be treated as poetic compositions

B. Support the claim that Hopi personal names make reference to events in the recipients life

C. Argue that the fact that Hopis receive many names throughout life refutes European theories about naming

D. Illustrate ways in which Hopi personal names may have semantic content

E. Demonstrate that the literal translation of Hopi personal names often obscures their true meaning

We know that the entire passage is a challenge towards European theories of naming conventions. JSM thinks that names are meaningless, while CLS thinks names to be tools of social classification. The author uses Hopi names as examples of exceptions to these theories. Hopi names not only confer an identity upon them, situate them in society, but can also be seen as poetic compositions.

The second paragraph describes how Hopi names confer an identity upon the named, (“little rabbit”) and situate them within society. (“names refer to the name giver’s clan”)

Let’s find an answer that tells us that.

A. Present reasons why Hopi personal names can be treated as poetic compositions

This is the subject matter of paragraph 3. We can eliminate it.

B. Support the claim that Hopi personal names make reference to events in the recipients life

We are told that Hopis receive names to mark events in their lives (birth, entry into society, puberty, etc.)

But do names refer to these events? Let’s keep this one for now.

C. Argue that the fact that Hopis receive many names throughout life refutes European theories about naming

I think the content in the second paragraph refutes JSM, who thinks names meaningless. But it’s not because that Hopis receive many names, but rather that names like “little rabbit” actually do have meaning.

I don’t think the information in the second paragraph refutes CLS though. Because Hopi names also refer to the child’s name giver’s clan, so there is a social aspect to Hopi naming conventions as well.

Too many issues with this answer, I think it can be eliminated.

D. Illustrate ways in which Hopi personal names may have semantic content

“Semantic content” just means words with meaning, I think. I suppose that by giving names that “refer to that name giver’s clan, the clan’s totem animal, and the child’s characteristics,” the paragraph is demonstrating that Hopi names have “semantic content.”

The answer I was looking for is a little more specific though, if the answer had said “conferred identity,” it would have been perfect. Let’s keep this one for now.

E. Demonstrate that the literal translation of Hopi personal names often obscures their true meaning

Paragraph 3 talks about Hopi names being imagist poems that may not be apparent in their literal translations. We are being asked about paragraph 2.

So again, we are left with two answer choices: B and D. Let’s see which one has more support from the text.

In order for answer choice B to stand, we must believe that receiving a new name on your thirteenth birthday is means that the name itself will refer to your thirteenth birthday.

This doesn’t sound right to me. If you had spent your 13th birthday with your family at Yosemite, then your new name would be Yosemite, or perhaps El Capitan. That’s what answer B is saying.

In paragraph 3, we know that names can refer to processions up the Mesa, but this procession doesn’t happen on the special day during which the child receives their name, either.

Let’s look at answer D.

Is having “semantic content” something that happens in paragraph 2? Yes, but is it too narrow in scope to be the purpose of the paragraph?

On a first glance, yes. Our anticipated purpose was to show that Hopi names have meaning, as well as fulfill a social purpose. This answer only covers the “meaning” part. Having “semantic content,” I think, is the same as having meaning. So it is rejecting JSM’s characterization of what names are, but leaving CLS’s views untouched. So the problem with this answer choice is that it’s incomplete.

But if you take a broad enough perspective on the term “semantic content,” then perhaps “social classification” also constitutes a part of the meaning of names.

But at the end of the day, even though D was not what we were looking for originally, it can be supported amply by the text of the passage. It’s not a perfect match with our anticipated answer choice, but there is a high level of overlap.

That’s more than what I can say for answer choice B.

The correct answer is D.