Anyone who has ever built, bought, or sold a home has come in contact with a home inspector. The inspector may work for the local government, the buyer, or the seller, but in every case the job is roughly the same: to inspect the home for defects. To be a good home inspector requires an eagle eye and the willingness to dig deep into the house to find whatever deficiencies there may be. On the LSAT, and especially in the Logical Reasoning section, the really successful students are those who put on their hard hats, roll up their sleeves, and snoop around looking for cracks in the foundation, insufficient supports, and shabby workmanship. Do you want to get better at Logical Reasoning? Then learn to be an LSAT inspector.
In our materials and courses, we talk about how an argument is like a house. The assumptions, or unstated premises, that underlay an argument are like the foundation. They aren't seen, but without them the argument will fall apart. Next, the premises are like the walls of the house. They provide support for the roof, which is like the conclusion.
No matter what kind of question you're dealing with in the Logical Reasoning section, so long as the stimulus contains an argument, you'll need to put on your inspector's hat in order to develop a great prephrase. Every time there's a conclusion, you'll start there and consider the support that's offered for it. Typically, you'll find that the support is weak. There's a structural deficiency.
What you'll do in your role as inspector depends on the question type:
Evaluate the Argument
For Evaluate the Argument questions, your job is just getting started. Your'e trying to figure out the best tool (i.e., answer choice) to help you decide whether the home is built well or not.
Method of Reasoning/Flaw in the Reasoning
Here, you're simply collecting information about the home to prepare your report. If there's nothing wrong with the home, then you're in the Method of Reasoning category. The answer choice here is just a description of how the home is constructed. You're not actually using the information to affect the home at all. You're simply in the observe and report mode.
In a Flaw in the Reasoning question, you're also in the observe and report mode. But in this case what you'll be reporting is the flaw you've uncovered.
For these questions, you aren't just inspecting the home to write a report. Instead, you're going to do something about what you find. If it's a Strengthen question, then you'll use what you've learned about the weakness in the argument to pick the right tool (i.e., answer choice) to shore it up. It's like discovering that a load bearing column in a home isn't the proper size to support the necessary load, and using that information to add the right material to the structure, in the right place, to make it stronger than it was before.
In a Weaken question, you're in the demolition business. You performed your inspection in order to find where the home was weakest, and now you're going to pick the tool best suited to the task of razing the building to the ground.
Parallel Reasoning/Parallel Flaw
When you encounter a Parallel Reasoning question, your job is get a good overall picture of how the home is put together and then find another home that's built just like it. In the context of the LSAT, you're finding an answer choice that has the same logical structure as the argument in the stimulus. For Parallel Flaw questions, you're looking for a home that has the same defect you found in the home you inspected in the stimulus.
As you can see, the home inspector analogy is pretty versatile. Whichever question type you're dealing with, the core concept behind the analogy is the active, engaged process you should use to develop your prephrase. Too many times we find that students aren't really connecting with the stimulus. Their eyes are passing over the words but they aren't truly accomplishing anything. There's no focus.
What you would think of a home inspector that rolled up to the curb, stuck his head out of the window, and said "looks good!" without even getting out of the car? You wouldn't be impressed. But that's the same thing that too many people taking the LSAT do on every single question! If you aren't rolling up your sleeves, getting out your flashlight, and crawling into every nook and cranny of the "house," then you aren't doing your job as an LSAT inspector. If this description of a shabby prephrase process hits a little too close to home, never fear. You can fix it. Just roll up your sleeves and get busy.
Image: "Unitled" by USACE Europe District