Some Notes on Principle Questions from an LSAT tutor and practicing attorney

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Some Notes on Principle Questions from an LSAT tutor and practicing attorney

Postby » Wed Nov 14, 2018 11:57 am

"Principle" questions have become increasingly common in recent years. I put "principle" in parenthesis because although many test-takers and test prep companies treat principle questions as a unique question type, they are really three different questions that are themselves each sub-categories of three other question types. This is to say that unlike assumption or weaken questions where the test-taker is always assigned the same task, different principle questions assign different tasks.

Many who struggle to achieve consistency on principle questions struggle, because they group all principle questions together as one distinct type of question and thus approach these questions in a fundamentally incorrect way. We will quickly outline the three different types of principle questions, what LSAC is looking for and what LSAC is really testing for.

1.) Justify the principle questions

Typical prompt: "Which one of the following principles, if valid, would most strongly justify the argument above?"

What LSAC is looking for: LSAC is looking for the test-taker to select, which principle/rule/law would make the conclusion in the stimulus most likely to be right.

Approach: Your approach to these questions should be identical to your approach on a strengthen question. On a strengthen question, you treat the answer choices as five additional facts and select the fact that would best support the author's conclusion. On a justify the principle question, your job is to select the rule that would best support the author's conclusion.

In my experience, test-takers are more likely to be confused why the right answer is correct on these questions than on any other question type, because they do not see how the stimulus supports the correct answer choice. Such a perspective inverses the job that LSAC is giving them. The test taker's job is not to select something that seems most likely based on the information in the stimulus but to select something that would make the stimulus most likely to be correct.

Why LSAC tests this: LSAC tests this, because in law school and in practice, there will often be a difference between common and statutory law or between the laws of two different states or judicial circuits.

For example, in antitrust law, New York law ascribes indirect purchasers standing to bring a class action lawsuit whereas Texas law does not. If an indirect purchaser believed they had a right to bring an antitrust case against a monopoly, their position would be more strongly supported if they purchased the product in New York than if they purchased it in Texas. If I couldn't recognize that, I would be a shitty lawyer.

LSAC is quite simply testing to see if you have the capacity to break down an argument, and identify which law would best support a given conclusion. The choices are simply laws/rules, and the right choice will support the conclusion in the stimulus.

2.) Conform to the principle.

Typical prompt: "The statements above most strongly conform to which one of the following principles"

What LSAC is looking for: LSAC is looking for a statement or idea/moral/concept that can be inferred from the statements above.

Approach: You should approach these just like you approach most strongly supported questions. The statements in the stimulus are all facts, and your job is to identify which statement is most likely to be correct based on those facts. Frequently, the right answer choice will just be something 99% likely to be true if the statements above are true.

All the approaches you use on most strongly supported questions generally are in play here. You should be suspect of questions that have a high degree of certainty "always, must, never, etc.", but don't necessarily avoid such choices if you have direct textual support above. As a practicing Jew, I approach these questions like how Talmudic writers crafted Talmudic law. For a Talmudic law to be valid, it needs to have direct textual support from Pentateuchal law. Most strongly supported questions are no different. The test-taker's task is to identify which of five statements has the most textual support from the stimulus.

Why LSAC is testing this: In law school and in litigation practice, you will read a shit ton of cases and your task is always to extract a principle from the information you are given above.

3.) Apply the principle questions

Typical prompt: "The principle above, if valid, most strongly supports which one of the following arguments?"

What LSAC is looking for: LSAC is looking for you to break down a law/rule, and identify which situation 100% complies with or violates the law/rule.

Your approach: You should approach these like a must be true questions, but with a slight caveat. Like must be true questions, the stimulus is typically reducible to a formal logic statement(s). You cannot flip it without negating it, and you cannot infer a degree of certainty greater than that which statement provides. Like on must be true questions, the test-taker should never have to guess here. If broken down properly, the law/rule is a simple equation and the right answer choice, regardless of the question's difficulty, should always be obvious.

The difference between these and must be true questions is that you will often have five mini-arguments here in the choices, and there will always be a choice that either flips the rule without negating it or negates it without flipping. For instance, if the stimulus says, "If the glove doesn't fit, you must acquit", there will always be a choice that says something along the lines of "Simpson Thacher's glove fits, therefore he must be found guilty" and another that is contextually irrelevant such as "Simpson Thacher's shirt doesn't fit. Therefore you must acquit". The correct answer choice will often be the contrapositive of the rule. In this example, LSAC will normally make you pick up on the fact that not acquitting requires the glove to fit.

Why LSAC is testing this: LSAC is testing this because in law school and in practice, your job is first and foremost to apply law to fact. Apply the principle questions simply give you a law or rule that you then apply to facts.

I'm happy to answer any questions, but my availability may be inconsistent.

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