In a number of LSAT Logical Reasoning questions, the first thing you see is an identifier of the type of speaker making the argument that follows. For example, you might see “Archaeologist,” or “Researcher,” or “Expert,” to name three examples from a recent LSAT. Most students fly right by these speaker identifiers without further thought, but should they? Probably not, so let’s talk about why that is the case.
To address one big question, knowing the type of LSAT speaker making an argument doesn’t tell you anything about the specific level of logical difficulty in a question. For example, an argument made by a Mayor isn’t necessarily easier or harder than an argument made by a Journalist. And the questions and answers that accompany them aren’t of any predictable difference in difficulty, either; you can’t just take a quick glance, see a title like “Dentist,” and make a determination that you are about to see an easy or difficult question. That is not surprising at all—the makers of the LSAT are smart enough to avoid a pattern where every question preceded by something like “Researcher” is automatically difficult. However, just because difficulty isn’t correlated with the type of speaker doesn’t mean there aren’t other things of value we can learn as we encounter these identifiers.
First, certain speaker identifiers are strongly indicative of the topic of the argument. For example, arguments preceded by names such as Researcher or Scientist tend to be more science-oriented than other arguments (which isn’t all that surprising—the “Scientist” identifier is there to tell you that this is someone with knowledge of science, and a Scientist is more likely to talk about science!). So, as you read, take note of those identifiers because in many cases they can provide clues about the topic that is about to follow. And since being forewarned helps you to be forearmed, this gives you a small advantage as you attack the questions. Here are a few common category examples with related identifiers that appeared on recent LSATs:
The scope of topics each typically introduces is what you’d expect based on their titles, and that logic follows for the other groupings you encounter. Side note: what happens when someone has a compound title, such as Science Teacher? Normally, the topic broadens to include topical issues from both identifiers. For example, on the December 2013 LSAT, LR section 2, #17, the argument preceded by “Science Teacher” was about getting young people excited about science, a discussion combining both science and education.
Ultimately, while the type of speaker won’t tell you the specifics of what will be discussed, any extra insight into what the general topic is can give you a slight advantage as you begin to decode the argument.
Of course, not all identifiers give us a strong sense of what will follow. Personal names such as Brad or Ana don’t give us any idea of what the topic of the stimulus will be, and even more specific terms aren’t always helpful. For example, a Columnist could write about a wide variety of topics, from local politics to wildlife to a restaurant opening. This doesn’t mean such a prefacing indicator is useless: columnists typically write columns with opinions, and so you know they will usually explain an issue or situation and then take a certain position. And, even some seemingly broad identifiers can tell you more than you might initially expect. For example, a Novelist may write about any topic, but it is almost certainly going to be linked to books; an Economist is typically going to discuss something related to money, taxes, or economic policies. The key is to not just gloss over the identifier—instead, become used to seeing what the identifier is and relating that to what follows. Over time you will develop a better sense of which identifiers tip you off to what you are about to read, and which ones don’t.
Second, although many identifiers don’t give you a specific expectation of what argument will follow, there are a few types that do. For years, if you saw the term Advertisement in front of a stimulus it meant that the stimulus would contain flawed reasoning. This continues today (see December 2013, LR1, #1 or June 2014, LR 2, #14 for recent examples) and it occurs because advertising is an easy target (because who really likes it after all?). Arguments made by Politicians (or politically related persons) also often contain poor reasoning, and that’s probably because they are such easy targets as well (because who, other than their families, really loves politicians?).
The important takeaway here is that you shouldn’t just skip over that speaker identifier—sometimes it can give you valuable advance warning of what will follow, and sometimes it can even warn you to be on the lookout for a flawed argument.
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Image courtesy of NIST.