A Damn Good LSAT Tutor's Guide to Weaken Question

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A Damn Good LSAT Tutor's Guide to Weaken Question

Postby LSATWiz.com » Tue Mar 12, 2019 4:40 pm

As always, feel free to help by pointing out typos.

VIII. Weaken

Strengthen and weaken questions are among the most common question types on the LSAT. Collectively, you should expect to see approximately 7-10 strengthen and weaken questions on a given LSAT. The approaches for strengthen and weaken questions are very similar. We will start with weaken questions, because I prefer to teach justify the principle questions right after teaching strengthen questions.

Both strengthen and weaken questions ask the test taker to select a fact that, if true, would impact the author’s conclusion either positively or negatively. In my experience, students enter their LSAT prep with some idea of how to approach these questions but lack a solid grasp of what precisely it is that they are looking for. This is amplified because students sometimes rely on bumper-sticker techniques they learned from a mediocre course or tutor that can be useful on question types we will see later, but are counterproductive on strengthen and weaken questions.

Typical Prompt:

• Which one of the following, if true, would weaken the argument?
• Which one of the following statements, if true, most seriously undermines the argument?
• Which one of the following, if true, would make the argument most vulnerable to criticism?

Note that weaken questions are sometimes worded similarly to flaw questions. The difference is that in a weaken prompt, you will be asked to make the argument more vulnerable to criticism whereas in a flaw question you will be asked why an argument is already vulnerable to criticism.

Why LSAC tests this: As discussed supra, LSAC tests prospective law students’ ability to recognize assumptions early and often. Weaken questions are closely related to assumption questions but require the test taker to take the additional step of identifying a fact that would either make the argument’s assumption less likely to be true or that attacks the conclusion directly. This ability is critical to success on both law school exams and in legal practice. On law school exams, you will be presented with a fact pattern and tasked with applying the laws you’ve learned to those facts. To succeed, you must be able to recognize which facts strengthen and weaken a case or applicability of a given law. The really successful law student will be able to take the additional step of discussing hypothetical facts that, if true, would strengthen or weaken a particular argument. This skill is even more critical for practicing attorneys, particularly litigators who must be able to recognize facts that support and detract from their argument.

What LSAC is looking for: LSAC is looking for the test taker to identify a fact that, if true, would make the author’s conclusion less likely to be true.

Approach: Your first few steps should be identical to your first few steps in an assumption question. While the question stem in a weaken question will typically ask you to weaken the argument, as discussed supra, on the LSAT, the argument simply means “the conclusion”. As with the previous question types, your first step is to identify the conclusion in the stimulus. I recommend glancing at the last sentence first to see if there is a conclusion trigger-word like “Thus” or “Therefore”. If so, I advise bracketing this sentence and reading it first. If not, read the passage from the beginning focusing on finding the conclusion. I recommend bracketing the conclusion not only because you may need to read it later, but also because the right answer choice must reference the conclusion.

After identifying the conclusion, breakdown the facts the writer uses to support the conclusion. Remember, every substantive word of the conclusion requires evidentiary support. In weaken questions, there will typically be a shift in tone or subject matter between the facts and conclusion. At this juncture, your approach to a flaw question is virtually identical to that of an assumption question – you’re simply supposed to isolate the facts from the conclusion and identify the gap between the two.

Often, the most affective way to weaken a conclusion will be to make its assumption less likely – i.e. to show that its facts do not necessarily beget its conclusion. However, you can also weaken a conclusion by attacking it directly; that is, by identifying another fact that, if true, would simply make the conclusion less likely to be accurate. While you should identify the assumption before proceeding to the choices, you should never forget that your only task is to make the conclusion less likely to be accurate. Consequently, you should go into the choices with an open mind.

On a weaken question, it is imperative to remember to treat the choices as facts. Indeed, your task is specifically to identify a fact that would best support the argument. Misguided test-takers will often dismiss a choice because it seems “too strong”. This is indicative of a fundamental misunderstanding about the nature of a weaken question.

As long as a fact is within the scope of the conclusion, the stronger the fact the better! After all, your job is to identify the fact that will have the most negative impact on the conclusion. If we take the O.J. Simpson case, for example, we are all familiar with the famous “if the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit argument”. Now, if we wanted to weaken that argument, we’d benefit from expert testimony discussing that a fully-grown adult can do exercises to increase the size of their hands. However, we’d benefit far more from a fact stating that the killer intentionally wore gloves that did not fit. The latter would have a much more direct and profound impact on our conclusion as it would call the very link between the opposing argument’s premises and conclusion into question.

On any weaken question, this is precisely what you are looking to do – you are trying to make the conclusion less likely to be valid, and more often than not, you are going to accomplish this by diminishing the likelihood that the facts in the stimulus beget the conclusion. That being said, there are four things to keep in mind:

a) The correct fact/choice must impact the conclusion as stated.
i. Example: If the argument’s conclusion states that pollution is a contributing cause to many cancers, then a fact stating that most cancers are primarily a result of genetic factors would not weaken the argument. Because the conclusion only states that pollution is a not contributing factor and not that it is a sole factor, the fact there are other contributing factors has no impact on the validity of the conclusion.

b) The correct fact/choice does not need to destroy the conclusion.
i. Rookie test-takers typically assume that the right answer choice must destroy the conclusion like how a necessary assumption when removed must destroy the conclusion. On some weaken questions, there will be a choice that utterly obliterates the conclusion, but on many there will not be. The correct answer fact/choice just has to make the conclusion less likely to be true.

c) There can be two facts/choices that weaken the conclusion, but one that weakens them more.
i. In most instances, only one of the five choices will feature a fact that negatively impacts the conclusion. As a caveat to (b), however, there can be multiple facts/choices that negatively impact the conclusion. In such instances, one fact/choice will make the conclusion only mildly less likely to be correct and another that makes it substantially less likely to be correct. Obviously, the second one is right here. You always want to pick the choice/fact that has the most adverse impact on the conclusion. This is why the question stem in weaken questions will ask you to select the choice that “most” weakens the argument. This is why unless you identify a choice that utterly obliterates the conclusion, it is best to read all of the choices on a weaken question.

d) On more difficult weaken questions, the right answer choice may only have a very small impact on the conclusion.
i. On more difficult weaken questions (those you see between questions 16-25), there is a greater likelihood that the correct fact/choice will only have a mildly negative impact on the conclusion. Here, the choice would be correct because the other facts either strengthen the conclusion or have no impact on it. In these questions, it is common for LSAC to include a tempting wrong answer choice that seemingly obliterates the conclusion but that is outside the scope of the conclusion. While I am not trying to psych you out of picking the right answer choice, on questions 16-25, it is prudent to look at the exact wording of the conclusion and be sure the fact/choice you pick impacts the conclusion as stated.

To recap, this is your step by step approach.

1.) Identify the conclusion.
2.) Identify the key fact(s).
3.) Distinguish the key fact(s) from the conclusion as if it were an assumption question.
4.) Treat each of the choices as facts.
5.) Select the one that has the greatest negative impact on the conclusion (either by attacking its assumption or the conclusion directly).

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