Playing with a Full Deck

Countless successful students prove that people can see significant and sustained improvement on the LSAT over time. That’s great for them, but how can you get such results? Here is how I use index cards and the “blind review” process to help my students get the score they want.

There are lots of LSAT prep materials (PowerScore, Kaplan, Princeton Review, etc.). which range from “brief but useless” to “overlong and overwhelming.” You can buy a 900 page book that is “guaranteed” to raise your score, but the book won’t actually help you until something in that book enables you to eliminate a wrong answer or choose a right answer. If you’re lucky, those 900 pages might contain thirty concrete and specific insights or techniques that consistently affect your score.

I never require my students to buy any specific prep materials. I want them to make the most of whatever they start with, whether they come to me with the LSAC “SuperPrep” or the entire PowerScore LSAT Bible Trilogy. Instead, I help them figure out generally-applicable techniques that enable them to eliminate a particular wrong answer or identify a particular right answer, and write it out on my tutoring whiteboard in a format that would fit on an index card. At the end of each session, I expect them to save those whiteboards and copy out any new cards and add them to their personal card deck.

Once you have some cards in your personal deck, I will ask you to do one logical reasoning section under time pressure. For students who are already scoring at or above the national average (152), that means under 35 minutes. I don’t put a specific time limit on students who are still scoring under 152, but I do have them time each individual question with a stopwatch.

Once you complete that logical reasoning section under time pressure, don’t score it! You have completed the “testing” phase of the process, but you haven’t even started the “learning” phase. The next step is to “blind review” each question, using your personal card deck. Let’s walk through that process, using Section 2 of the  June 2007 LSAT (which is the only test that the LSAC makes generally available).

Question 1: Which one of the following most accurately expresses
the main conclusion of the economist’s argument?

Process: Do I have an index card for this? No, I don’t, because I usually get main point questions right. Looking at my test paper, I see that I originally underlined the phrase “not all efforts to increase productivity are beneficial” because it looked like the conclusion to me. I know that the conclusion is the phrase that everything else in the paragraph supports, and that’s true here. The answer I chose was B, which says,”Some measures to increase productivity fail to be beneficial.” I’m pretty sure that “Not all are” is logically identical to “Some are not,” so I’ll stick with my original answer. Since I double-checked my reasoning, I’m going to take my ball-point pen and draw a blue circle around the black pencil circle I started with. 

Question 2: Which one of the following uses flawed reasoning that
most closely resembles the flawed reasoning used in
the argument above?

Process: Parallel flaw–let’s see, I do have an index card for this one.

Parallel flaw: read the stimulus and see if you can spot the flaw.
If you can see it now, you can do it now.
If you can’t see the flaw, this will take longer than any other question and you’re still likely to get it wrong. Save it for last!
If you still haven’t seen the flaw, read the answers CAREFULLY. One of them has the hint you need.

Well, that’s good–because I couldn’t see the flaw with the clock ticking and I still can’t see it. Let’s look at the answers for hints. Nothing in A… B is interesting. If I mix something extremely toxic (like arsenic) with something non-toxic (like water), I’ll bet it’s still extremely toxic, not “moderately toxic.” That’s sort of like the stimulus–breeding a dog that barks a lot with a dog that doesn’t bark won’t necessarily give you a moderate barker. Let’s circle B with the blue pen. Since this card seems to have actually helped me here, let’s put a little tick mark in the top right corner of the card. 

Question 3: Which one of the following most logically completes
the argument?

Process: This looks like some kind of inference. I have a card for that.

“CAN’T BE FALSE” FAMILY:
1. Pick an answer.
2. Could the opposite of that answer ever happen?
3. Reread the stimulus–if the answer you picked CAN’T BE FALSE, you’re right!
4. Avoid answers that COULD BE TRUE, answers which reference something you have no information about, and answers which are EXPLANATIONS of the stimulus rather than DEDUCTIONS from it.

I picked answer A, “people at a century’s end reminisce about their own lives.” Could that ever be false? Maybe. I mean, some people may look back on their own lives but others wouldn’t. A might be wrong. Let me look at the others. B looks wrong–no information about fearing. C talks about looking forward to the next century. That COULD be true, but it doesn’t have to be true. D talks about the history of the century just ending. Could that be false? People don’t care about the century just ending, but the stimulus says that people behave toward the century much as a person behaves towards his or her own life. If we look back at our lives at the end of a century, I guess people at the end of a century must look back on the century. OK, let’s circle D in blue, and add a tick mark to the card. (Hmmm– that’s the fifth tick mark on this card. I guess I should be thinking about this while the clock is running–I want to  get this question right the first time, not just on blind review!)

Question 5: The reasoning in the consumer’s argument is most
vulnerable to criticism on the grounds that the
argument…

Process: Flaw! OK, there’s a card for every different answer to a flaw question. Let’s look at these answers. A talks about  bias. I have a card on this.

Flaw: Bias.
This is a specific form of the more general ad hominem fallacy, which attacks the person rather than the argument.
Bias may show that a witness is unreliable, but it does not prove that the witness is lying.
Any conclusion that says the opposite of what the biased witness says is flawed.

Let’s see–answer choice A starts with the phrase, “treats evidence that there is an apparent bias.” Yes, the stimulus does do that. It goes on “as evidence that the Connorly Report’s claims are false.  Yes, it does that, too. Looks like a perfect example of an ad hominem fallacy, which is what I though the first time. Keep the pencil circle around A–I’m so sure of this one that I’m not going to put a blue circle around it.

Question 6: The argument’s conclusion follows logically if which
one of the following is assumed?

Process: I hate these! OK, I know it’s an assumption question of some kind, but what kind? I have a card here somewhere…

NECESSARY ASSUMPTIONS v SUFFICIENT ASSUMPTIONS
C->A                                                   A->C
Does the question include the word “if”? Probably “sufficient.”
Does the question include words like “rely,” “depends”? Necessary.

OK, it does say “if” in the question. “If I assume, the conclusion follows.” Looks like it’s a sufficient assumption. (Add a tick mark to this card.) Now, I know I have another card about that.

SUFFICIENT ASSUMPTIONS: POWERSCORE’S “MECHANISTIC APPROACH (TM)”
1. Find the conclusion. Look for a new term. It MUST BE in the correct answer.
2. Find any term that appears both in the conclusion and a premise. It should not be in the correct answer.
3. There should not be any brand new term in the correct answer–only something that has already appeared in at least one premise.

Right. So the conclusion here is “Murray cannot be accepted for the position of Executive Administrator. Good–Executive Administrator is a new term. Knock off all the answers that don’t include that term. Oh–that’s answer A, which is what I picked! Well, put a tick mark on this card–if I had remembered this I wouldn’t have chosen that. Moving on to step 2; “Murray” appears in the conclusion and the premises, so I guess I can knock out D and E. Rule 3 doesn’t help me choose between B and C, so I guess I’ve gone as far as the “Mechanistic Approach (TM)” will get me. Good thing I have another card here…

“CONCLUSION CAN’T BE FALSE” FAMILY
(MBT, MSS, MBF*, SA, PSA)
With MBT, MSS, MBF: the ANSWER can’t be false.
With SA, PSA: the CONCLUSION can’t be false if  you pick the right answer.

So–the conclusion here is still, “Murray cannot be accepted for the position of Executive Administrator.” With answer choice B, Murray can’t be on the executive board (because he  has a felony conviction), which means he can’t be Executive Administrator. That looks pretty good. With C, there’s nothing to keep Murray from being Executive Administrator. OK, C is out and B is in. Put a blue circle around B and add a tick mark to this card. (Hmm. That’s the first time this card has actually helped me!)

Questions 7-25… repeat this process until you finish the section.

When you (finally!) finish blind reviewing that last question, you’re ready to score the section. I encourage all my students to set up a free account at 7Sage.com (which may well be the single most fabulous LSAT resource on the Internet). 7Sage makes it easy to bubble in your blind review results–there’s a black bubble for your initial answer, and then, if you click on the question number, another line of blue bubbles pops up so that you can add your blind review result. When you save and score your answers, you’ll see your score for that section (and the test as a whole). In addition. 7Sage will sort the questions into “very low priority,” “low priority,” “high priority,” and “very high priority” questions.

The “very low priority” questions are those you got right the  first time. For self-study purposes, these “very low” questions are unimportant. Since you already got it right, there’s nothing new to learn!

The “low priority” questions, by contrast, are very important. You got this question wrong under time pressure, but got it right when you worked through it with your card deck. Go over these “low priority” questions and take another look at the card that helped you get it right. Ask yourself, “What could I do different next time so that I get this right while the clock is running?” You already know how to get this question right–now you need to get it right the first time.

The “high priority” questions are also very important. If you have a card for this situation, it isn’t helping you yet. If you don’t have a card that helps you here, it’s time to get one!  I ask my students to look over these high priority questions and flag the question on 7Sage if they can’t figure it out on their own. At our next tutoring session, we’ll use those flagged questions to figure out which generally-applicable insight or technique would help you get it right.

Over time, we will build up an index card deck that enables you to get a blind review score that is consistently ten or fifteen points higher than your target score. At that point, you’re officially “playing with a full deck.” Then you’ll keep doing practice tests, using those cards over and over again until they’re second nature to you. You won’t be shuffling through your card deck on test day–it will be second nature to you.

Can you see sustained and significant progress on the LSAT? Yes, you can!

“Some People Say” in “Find the Conclusion” Questions

I have previously noted the value of spotting the “some people say” formula [hereafter, “SPS”] in an LSAT Logical Reasoning stimulus here and here. In this post, I document how frequently and consistently the SPS formula appears in just one type of question.

There are 27 “Main Point” questions in 10 Actual, Official LSAT Preptests, Volume V [hereafter, “Volume V”], and 14 of them have an SPS.

Note: I consider stimuli with a blank line at the end and a question stem that reads, “Which one of the following most logically concludes the argument” to be “inference-like” questions, not “Main Point” questions. None of these questions in Volume V include an SPS.

Here is the breakdown:

  • PT 62, Section 4, Q1. The SPS is, “One suggestion is that….” Answer C states, “The suggestion that… is mistaken.”
  • PT 62, Section 4, Q12. The SPS is followed by, “Such criticism, however, is never sincere.” Answer D states, “A politician criticizing… is being insincere.”
  • PT 63, Section 1, Q8. This is a double-decker SPS. “Your article was unjustified in criticizing environmentalists for claiming….” Answer E says the evidence “does not warrant the article’s criticism of the environmentalists’ claim.”
  • PT 63, Section 3, Q10: The SPS is followed by, “However, this accusation rests on a fuzzy distinction.” Answer A is “the claim… rests on a fuzzy distinction.”
  • PT 65, Section 1, Q9: Answer C is “the claim… is likely to be incorrect.”
  • PT 65, Section 4, Q14: The SPS is global warming “would cause more frequent and intense tropical storms.” Answer E is “Global warming probably will not produce more frequent and intense tropical storms.”
  • PT 66, Section 4, Q5: The SPS is “A famous artist once claimed that all great art imitates nature.” Answer B is “Either the artist’s claim is incorrect, or most great music is not art.”
  • PT 66, Section 4, Q9: The SPS is followed by, “Surely he is mistaken.” Answer A is “Terrence Gurney is mistaken when he suggests…”
  • PT 66, Section 4, Q26: The SPS takes up two long  sentences, and is followed by “This general line of argument may be reasonable, but… humans did not evolve from chimpanzees.” Answer B is “The assumption that something like human language must exist in some species from which humans evolved has no clearcut linguistic implications for chimpanzees.”
  • PT 68, Section 3, Q8: The SPS is followed by “However, there is little evidence to support this belief.” Answer B says, “There is as yet little reason to accept….”
  • PT 68, Section 3, Q11: The SPS is, “Many people assume that personal conflicts are inevitable.” Answer D is “Personal conflicts are not inevitable.”
  • PT 69, Section 4, Q1: The SPS is followed by a clause that says, “but they need to reassess that view.” Answer E is “Scientists need to reconsider the  belief that….”
  • PT 70, Section 4, Q16: The SPS is “Some heartburn-medication advertisements imply that unrelieved heartburn is likely to cause  esophageal cancer.” This is followed by “This is simply false.” Answer C is “Unrelieved heartburn is not likely to cause esophageal cancer.”
  • PT 71, Section 1, Q7: The SPS is followed by “Gillette’s argument is not persuasive, however, because  he fails to consider…” Answer E is “Gillette’s argument is unconvincing because it ignores…”

While I have yet to research this pattern in older tests, the most recent tests demonstrate that the SPS pattern is well worth recognizing. SPS appeared in just over half the “Main Point” questions in Volume V and was a reliable indicator of the correct answer in every case.

Symbols and Synonyms

An LSAT logical reasoning stimulus always contains most of the major components of a logical argument. A complete argument always has at least three “statements”: one conclusion and at least two premises. All but the most trivial logical argument have at least two “terms.” After looking through a large number of published LSAT stimuli, I have yet to find any stimulus that does not include at least two of these “statements” and at least two “terms.” I have previously written about how to find a conclusion, and it is relatively simple to find a premise. In this post, I want to help students discover the terms in the argument.

We need to know what a “term” is before we can find one, however. A “term,” in a logical context, means any concept that can be precisely expressed in words. A term could be “the best third baseman in the 1960 World Series,” “the true meaning of life,” or “yellow.”

In a complete LSAT question (which consists of the stimulus as well as the correct answer), all key terms must appear at least twice.  The reason for this is that an argument must connect the concepts to form a conclusion. A term that only appears once is not really necessary to the argument, and is therefore not a “key” term.

Here are the most common argument structures in LSAT stimuli:

  • Modus Ponens: A→B, A, ∴B
  • Modus Tollens: A→B, ~B, ∴~A
  • Hypothetical Syllogism: A→B, B→C, ∴A→C
  • Disjunctive Syllogism: A v B, ~A, ∴ B
  • Conditional Counterexample: A, ~B, ∴ ~(A→B)

Note that each argument uses each term exactly twice. While it is possible to construct more elaborate arguments that use terms even more often, it is not possible to construct an argument that uses a key term less than twice. Even the simplest possible argument uses its one term twice:

  • Double Negative: A, ∴~(~A)

This means that every complete LSAT question (stimulus plus correct answer) must use each key term at least twice. Every published LSAT question has at least two key terms. Finding these terms is a foundational skill for LSAT success.

The English language makes this difficult. The LSAT writers intentionally use different words to express these key terms. They exploit negatives, double negatives, and contrapositives to make it hard to match up concepts.

Here is an example from the June 2007 PrepTest, the only test that LSAC has made freely available to all:

Although video game sales have increased steadily over
the past 3 years, we can expect a reversal of this trend
in the very near future. Historically, over three quarters
of video games sold have been purchased by people
from 13 to 16 years of age, and the number of people
in this age group is expected to decline steadily over
the next 10 years.

Which one of the following, if true, would most
seriously weaken the argument?

(E) Most of the people who have purchased video
games over the past 3 years are over the age
of 16.

The conclusion of the argument is “we can expect a reversal of this trend in the very near future.” That conclusion must contain at least one key term, but the presence of the word “this” means we are going to have to look  back  into the stimulus to figure out  what “this” refers to.

The phrases “video game sales,” “video games sold,” and “purchased video games” all refer to the same concept. The phrases “people from 13 to 16 years of age” and “people in this age group” refer to a different concept, and “over the age of 16” negates that term. The word “increase” provides us with a third term, while “decline” and “reversal of this  trend” are its negation. (Since two out of three of these instances are “decreasing,” let us call this key term “decrease” and treat “increase” as the negation.)

Since the key terms are expressed in different English words, we need some way to show that they mean the same thing. The easiest way to do this is with symbols. I will use “S” for “video game sales,” “D” for decline, and “T” for “teenager” (by which I mean the 13-16 year old customer). With these symbols, we can rewrite the argument as follows:

S→T (sales are to teenagers)
T→D (teenagers are decreasing)
∴ S→D (sales are decreasing)

The correct answer to this question is “Most of the people who have purchased video games over the past 3 years are over the age of 16.” Converting this into our symbols, we get “S→~T.” This doesn’t just weaken the above argument, it destroys it.

Learning how to spot these synonyms (and antonyms, like “increase” and “decrease”) takes work, but it is essential. If you don’t recognize the repeated terms in a stimulus, you don’t really understand the argument. If you don’t really understand the argument, you’re just guessing at the answers. If you’re guessing at the answers, your score is going to be a whole lot lower than you want it to be. So let’s start spotting synonyms!

Exploiting Antitheses

I have previously identified the “some people say” principle in an LSAT logical reasoning stimulus, and have engaged in some discussion of this phenomenon at 7Sage.com.  After some further thought and research, I have decided to revise and extend my earlier remarks.

The “some people say” formulation occurs anytime an LSAT logical reasoning stimulus refers to the words, thoughts, or beliefs of persons other than the author of the stimulus. This usually takes the form of indirect discourse (i.e., “critics insist” or “paleontologists hypothesize”) but it can be more subtle. The functional test that I apply is, “Can I put somebody else’s claim in quotes?” If so, we can label it a “some people say” claim.

In my original post, I argued that every “some people say” claim is the negation of the conclusion. That goes too far. There are a handful of cases where “some people say” something that directly supports the conclusion. I think of this as “expert testimony.” There are other cases where “some people say” what they will do in the future (campaign promises, for example). Logicians distinguish “promises” from “logical statements” (for good reason). There are some other cases where “some people say” things that are not simply the negation of the conclusion–but not many.

Instead of insisting that every “some people say” statement is the negation of the conclusion, it is more accurate and helpful to say that most “some people say” statements have this characteristic. I use the term “antithesis” for such statements, and define it as follows:

An antithesis is a claim which an LSAT logical reasoning stimulus rejects.

There are significant advantages to identifying an antithesis. The first is that it makes complex stimuli simpler. “Some people say” statements can be involved, and arguments involving them can get complicated. If you extract the antithesis, what remains is often short and simple.

The second advantage is in identifying the conclusion. While this is second nature for some students, it is very hard work for others. Since an antithesis is (by definition) a claim which the stimulus rejects, it is easy to look for a part of the stimulus that says so. If there is such a statement, that is usually the conclusion.

The third advantage is in understanding the argument as a whole. If you see a “some people say” statement and suspect that it is an antithesis, you know where the argument is going before you read it. There are only so many ways to deny a  claim, and a person who is thoroughly familiar with basic argument types can anticipate them.

Thus, for example, if the antithesis is a conditional statement (“A->B”), then the simplest argument to refute it is a counterexample (“A and ~B”). If the antithesis is an affirmation (“A”), the simplest refutation is a modus tollens (“A→B, ~B, ∴ ~A”). If the antithesis is a denial (“~B”), the simplest refutation is a modus ponens (“A→B, A, ∴ B”). While these aren’t the only ways to reject such claims, they are the most common–and a person who is actively looking for such argument patterns will be able to find them faster if they really are present.

The bottom line is this: identifying an antithesis can cut a complicated stimulus in half, expose its conclusion, and reveal the argument structure quickly and accurately. While not every “some people say” statement is an antithesis, the large majority are.

How to Find the Conclusion

The first thing I teach new LSAT students to do is “find the conclusion.” That’s because every logical reasoning question on the LSAT is about a logical argument, and every logical argument combines premises into a conclusion.  The conclusion of an LSAT stimulus is what the whole paragraph is about.

Every word, clause, and sentence in a stimulus relates to the conclusion in some way. Typical sentences may introduce the topic to be discussed, provide evidence supporting the conclusion, acknowledge weak points, or describe competing views, but they all contribute to the argument in some way. Once you locate the conclusion, the rest of the paragraph generally falls into place.

So–how does one find this conclusion? More specifically, how does someone who is brand new to the LSAT and completely unfamiliar with logic find the conclusion? This post provides a toolbox of “find the conclusion” tips and techniques.

  1. The “why” test. This is the least useful technique for beginners, but the most useful technique for advanced students. The conclusion is the statement in the stimulus that requires explanation. That makes sense, because every other word in the stimulus provides the explanation that is required.
  2. Conclusion Keywords. The easiest technique is to look for keywords like “therefore,” “thus,” “hence,” “so,” “it follow that,” “and so we see,” “clearly,” and so forth. Most LSAT prep materials provide a comprehensive list of typical conclusion keywords. Be careful about relying too heavily on these keywords, however, especially in a “main point” question where your only job is to find the conclusion. There can be more than one conclusion in an argument, and “main point” questions are notorious for packing them in!
  3. Eliminate the Evidence. Evidence is generally easier to spot than the conclusion. There are evidence keywords (“because,” “for,” “for example,” “since,” etc.) that always introduce a reason for something. (Remember: the conclusion is what makes you ask “why,” so the evidence provides the reasons.) Even without an evidence keyword, you can usually tell evidence because it seems non-controversial. Nobody asks “why” two plus two equals four. It just does. If something is presented as a given, it’s evidence. Once you exclude all the evidence in a stimulus, it’s much easier to pick the conclusion out of what is left.
  4. The position principle. The average writer either starts a paragraph with the point he or she is trying to make, or ends with it. The first and last sentences are emphatic, and most writers want to emphasize the point they are trying to make. Unless someone is trying to bury the conclusion (which LSAT writers often do!), it will typically come first or last.
  5. Sentence type. Kaplan Publishing notes that almost all LSAT conclusions fall into the following six categories: predictions, comparisons, recommendations, judgments, affirmations, or if/then statements. Affirmations (“the sky is blue”), comparisons (“Bob is taller than Sue”) and if/then statements (“If it rains, I get wet”) appear frequently in logical arguments, but the other three categories are rare. If you see a prediction, recommendation, or judgment in a stimulus, it is likely to be the conclusion.
  6. The “some people say” principle. I have written elsewhere about the fact that other people’s statements in an LSAT stimulus almost always point at the conclusion. The conclusion, in almost every case, denies what “some people say.” The conclusion may be as short as “But they are wrong” or as complex as “Romantics who claim that people are not born evil but may be made evil by the imperfect institutions that they form cannot be right.”

The “Should” Principle

The first skill I teach new students is to “find the conclusion.” This is essential but not easy. Until they develop an intuitive sense of what a conclusion is and how it relates to the argument as a whole, students need external cues to help them find the conclusion. One of those cues is what I call the “should” principle.

The “Should” Principle: if the word “should” appears in a stimulus, it will probably appear in the conclusion.

This is a “principle,” not a “rule, because it is not always and necessarily reliable. I haven’t gone through every PrepTest yet. I’m eager to find some counterexamples so that I can refine the principle a little. As of now, however, I have not found a single stimulus with the word “should” in it that doesn’t have “should” in the conclusion. (If you can find a counterexample, please identify it in the comments!)

There are two different reasons for this principle. The word “should” appears in moral arguments but not in factual arguments. One would expect the word “should” throughout a moral argument, especially in the conclusion.

We should obey the law.
The law says we should not drive faster than the speed limit.
THEREFORE, we should not drive faster than the speed limit.

Explicitly moral arguments are relatively rare, however. Arguments about facts are much more common. In real life and on the LSAT, however, a argument about the facts usually has a higher purpose. People may debate whether it will rain this afternoon, but not because they’re abstractly interested in the weather. What they really want to know is whether to cancel the picnic.

Kaplan’s LSAT Premier Chapter 9 lists six types of conclusions: value judgments, if/then conditionals, predictions, comparisons, assertions, and recommendations. When an argument about facts leads to a prediction, judgment, or recommendation, it may easily result in “should.”

The word “should” appears in six stimuli in the June 2007 PrepTest (the only test that is publicly accessible). All instances obey the “should” principle.

  • Section II, Question 10: “should” appears twice in this moral argument.
  • Section II, Question 16: “should” in the conclusion of “Sandra’s” short argument.
  • Section II, Question 17: “should” is the recommendation after a factual argument.
  • Section II, Question 20: “One should not assume” is the conclusion.
  • Section III, Question 14: “should” only appears  once  in this moral argument, in the conclusion.
  • Section III, Question 20: “should” is a recommendation.

A word of caution is in order–the “should” principle is a fast way to find the conclusion, but it is not a reliable indicator of the right answer. The LSAT is full of synonyms for “should.” For example, Section II, Question 10 is a “Main Point” question where the conclusion in the stimulus is “Double-blind techniques should be used whenever possible in scientific experiments.” The correct answer is, “It is advisable for scientists to use double-blind techniques in as high a proportion of their experiments as they can.”

Summing this up in LSAT terminology, “should” is a sufficient condition for a conclusion, but not a necessary condition.

That still doesn’t mean that every sentence with a “should” in it is a conclusion–the principle is narrower and more specific. If the word “should” only appears once in a stimulus, then it is in the conclusion. If “should” appears twice (or more) in a stimulus, then it will be in the conclusion as well as in a premise.

The “Some People Say” Principle

I teach my students to “find the conclusion” as their top priority in answering any LSAT logical reasoning question. That means sifting through the “evidence” in a stimulus to find the main point of the paragraph. In doing so, they often run across sentences that are neither evidence nor the conclusion.  One recurring pattern is a sentence near the start of the stimulus that presents some other person’s position on the topic at hand. I call these the “some people say” statements. Here is an example:

It is now a common complaint that the electronic media have corroded the intellectual skills required and fostered by the literary media. But several centuries ago the complaint was that certain intellectual skills, such as the powerful memory and extemporaneous eloquence that were intrinsic to oral culture, were being destroyed by the spread of literacy. So, what awaits us is probably a mere alteration of the human mind rather than its devolution. [June 2007 PrepTest, Section II, Question 11, emphasis supplied.]

The “common complaint” in this stimulus is not the author’s own view, so it isn’t the conclusion.  It’s more like the opposite. After reviewing many LSAT questions, I have found that the actual conclusion of the paragraph usually rejects or revises what “some people say.” In fact, the fastest way  to find the conclusion may to underline what “some people say” and then negate it.

Let’s test this with all the “some people say” questions on the only publicly available LSAT test (June 2007), beginning with Section II, Question 11 which I quoted above.

Some people say: “electronic media have corroded the intellectual skills required and fostered by the literary media.”

Negation: electronic media have not corroded these intellectual skills.

Conclusion: “what awaits us is probably a mere alteration of the human mind rather than its devolution.”

Section II, Question 16 is a “point of disagreement” question. Taylor, the first speaker, quotes “researchers at a local university.”

Researchers at a university say: “61 percent of information is communicated through nonverbal signals.”

Negation: It is not true that 61 percent of information is communicated through nonverbal signals.

Conclusion: “This claim, like all such mathematically precise claims, is suspect.”

Section II, Question 17 quotes “several computer experts,” but their words are used to support the main argument. This is “evidence,” not what I call “some people say” statements.

Section II, Question 20:

Muñoz says: “the Southwest Hopeville Neighbors Association overwhelmingly opposes the new water system, citing this as evidence of citywide opposition.”

Negation: The SHNA does not overwhelmingly oppose the new system.

Conclusion: “One should not assume that so few votes represent the view of the majority of Hopeville’s residents.”

Section II, Question 21:

My friends say: “I will one day have an accident because I drive my sports car recklessly.”

Negation: I will not have an accident because I drive my sports car recklessly.

Conclusion: “trading my sports car in for a minivan would lower my risk of having an accident.”

Note: this is the only example in this PrepTest where the conclusion is not logically identical to the negation of what “some people say.”

Section III, Question 5:

An early entomologist says: “ants were bringing food to their neighbors.”

Negation: ants were not bringing food to their neighbors.

Conclusion: “the early entomologist was wrong.”

Section III, Question 9:

Recent claims: “the Tasmanian tiger is not extinct.”

Negation: the Tasmanian tiger is extinct.

Conclusion: “recent claims that the Tasmanian tiger is not extinct are false.”

Repeated conclusion: “the Tasmanian tiger no longer exists.”

Section III, Question 19 begins with “Many candidates say that if elected they will reduce governmental intrusion into voters’ lives.” This is a promise of future action, not a statement that can be negated. As a result, this is not an example of the “some people say” rule.

Section III, Question 24:

Romantics claim: “people are not born evil but may be made evil by the imperfect institutions that they form.”

Negation: people are born evil or people are not made evil by the imperfect institutions that they form.

Conclusion: “Romantics who claim that people are not born evil but may be made evil by the imperfect institutions that they form cannot be right.”

Section III, Question 25:

Some anthropologists claim: “the human species could not have survived prehistoric times if the species had not evolved the ability to cope with diverse natural environments.”

Negation: the human species could have survived prehistoric times if the species had not evolved the ability to cope with diverse natural environments.

Conclusion: “the anthropologists’ claim is false.”

The bottom line: the vast majority of “some people say” statements point right towards the conclusion.  You need to exercise a little caution with this–the “some people say” phenomenon is not some rule of logic that is always necessarily true. Think of it as a principle, not a rule. But if finding the conclusion is still hard for you, the “some people say” principle may help you find it faster!