Right about this time in their LSAT prep, people who have already done a great deal of study start to look at some of the less frequently tested subjects. The least of the least in this regard for the Logical Reasoning section is the Evaluate the Argument question type. When students finally discover Evaluate the Argument questions, they panic a little, because at first it seems quite different. It’s not a Weaken or a Strengthen question, but what exactly is it?
Never fear. Although – as with all things – it's easy to make this question type harder than it needs to be, it can also be very, very simple to approach. In fact, the Evaluate the Argument question task is something we do nearly every day. Just recently, I actually lived out an example I use in class to help teach Evaluate the Argument: I bought a used car.
But Dad, It's a Classic!
Let’s say that you’re a teenager and you’ve decided that it’s time to buy yourself a car. Short on funds, you’re in the market for a (very) used car. After a little research, you’ve settled on just the right one and you bring up the subject with your folks at dinner. You say, “I’ve decided that it would be a good idea for me to buy this used car I found online.”
Imagine the reaction. Naturally, your parents have a ton of questions. Who’s selling the car? What kind of car is it? How many miles does it have on it? Has it ever been in an accident? How much will it cost? Did it belong to a drug cartel before it was seized by police, and now the cartel’s muscle is on its way to recover the hidden cash that the police never found? What are the chances the car will explode if it gets into even the tiniest of fender benders? You know, the basics.
The answers to these questions will go a long way to help your folks decide for themselves whether you’re right that it’s a good decision to buy the car. In other words, they’re going to use these questions to Evaluate your Argument that you should buy it.
The tough call for your parents will be if all of the information is middle of the road, neither good nor bad. For example, maybe the car has decent miles on it and is reasonably priced. Neither of those facts makes the car a sure thing or a no go. But, if the car has a few hundred thousand miles on it, or if it is super expensive, then it won’t take your folks long to decide you must be crazy thinking you’re going to buy it.
Same thing goes with the other questions they’ll ask, too. If there is a normal chance of the car exploding on impact, then that doesn’t help your parents decide either way. If there’s a zero percent chance or if there’s a 100 percent chance, then the choice is a whole lot clearer.
This focus on the extremes is our Variance TestTM method. You supply the questions used to test the conclusion with polar opposite results, maximizing the impact the question will have on the conclusion. At one of the poles the answer choice strengthens the conclusion, in this case that you should buy the car. At the other pole, however, the result weakens the conclusion. In this case that would mean you’re stuck with your bike for a little while longer because the car is a no go.
How it Works on the LSAT
On the LSAT, this approach translates into reading the stimulus and finding the conclusion. Then, see if you can find a weakness or logical gap in the argument, some question that needs to be answered. In the car example, it was a used car you found on the internet, a combination that may raise some red flags for your parents. What red flags or questionable logic can you find in the stimulus? Then, look in the answer choices for an option that addresses that logical gap, that red flag. Use the Variance TestTM to test the answer choice by supplying polar opposite responses to the issue it raises. If the answer choice is correct, one response will strengthen the conclusion while the other response will weaken it.
Hopefully, you’re not worried about Evaluate the Argument questions anymore. But if you are, let’s test whether your worry is justified. If you think the question type is hard, then a good question to ask to decide whether you should be worried about it is “how often does it appear on the LSAT?” If it appears all the time (100%), then you would be right to worry. However, since this question type only makes up about .05% of all Logical Reasoning questions given in the modern era of the LSAT (June 1991 to present), then you really have no reason to worry.
Unless, of course, you actually did buy a car stuffed with hidden drug cartel cash. You didn’t, did you?
Image: "Resting Place" by Don LaVange.