Law school is even harder.
If you didn’t already know this, now you do. If you already knew this, then you’re in better shape than most prospective law students out there. High five! If you didn’t get a high five but want a high five, just reread this paragraph until you get one.
I will often remind you that this test is hard, simply to remind you that you need to study to do well. If the idea of a hard test you might have to study for is very scary for you, you may want to rethink going to law school. One more time: The LSAT is hard. You still here? Let’s move on.
The LSAT is formidable for two distinct reasons:
- The comprehension of logic and grammar required is foreign to most students.
- The LSAT imposes a strict time constraint. On average you have 1 minute and 24 seconds to complete each of the 100 scored multiple choice questions on the exam.
So what do we do?
When Julius Caesar led the Roman armies against the Gauls, they were too numerous to face all at once. On a related note, one time I was trying to eat an entire quadruple fudge ice cream cake by myself, but I found I couldn’t fit the whole thing into my mouth at once. To overcome these seemingly overwhelming challenges, it is often best to use a strategy of “divide and conquer.” It worked for Caesar and it works on cakes. Guess what? It works for the LSAT.
The LSAT is hard. It’s hard because (1) the logic and grammar are difficult and (2) you don’t have much time. We are going to “divide and conquer,” dealing first with the logic and grammar and then with the time constraint. Lastly, I ate a whole ice cream cake one time.
I WANT TO BE EXPLICIT ABOUT A CERTAIN FEATURE OF THIS COURSE.
I will define terms clearly and precisely and I will use those defined terms consistently. I will also make an effort to be accurate and exact with how I use most words. If I take the effort to define a word, please understand that every time I use that word, I mean exactly what I defined and nothing else. Why am I so uptight about this?
Because it’s good for you.
Being clear, precise, and consistent with how you use your words is fundamental to having a clear, precise, and consistent mind. That’s the kind of mind that will break the LSAT.
Please humor me and consider this extreme example:
Let’s pretend that the word “cheeseburger” shall henceforth be defined as "human baby." Then I say, “Boy, I’m famished – I’d love to munch down a cheeseburger with a side of fries.” Using the terms as we’ve defined them, here are three possible reactions:
- You are appalled that I’d want to eat a human baby.
- You are appalled that I think french fries are a suitable side for a human baby entree.
- You are also hungry for some human baby.
All three are acceptable because in all three, the word “cheeseburger” is understood to mean “human baby.” You should not be thinking about cheese or ground beef or burger buns.
Besides the reason stated above, this is also extremely important because I want to make sure I am communicating clearly with you. When I say a word, I can’t have you thinking one definition when I mean another. Everyone has slightly different ideas for what words or phrases mean. As lawyers, the tools of your trade are words. You have to know what it means to be precise with words. Other people can only understand what you mean by reading or hearing your words, so it is paramount to select those words carefully. You must say and write the words that best represent what you mean. Nothing more, nothing less. If that weren’t the case, you’d end up as an unwitting accomplice to my lunchtime baby feasting.
The flip side of this is that you have to take words at face value. The LSAT writers are great at saying exactly what they mean. Of course, this doesn’t imply that what they mean is ever clear from a first reading. Actually, they don’t care to make it particularly easy for you to understand what they’re saying. What do we call it when an author doesn’t care to make his writing easy for a reader to understand? I think we call it bad writing. Yup, the LSAT is poorly written. But, it’s not the usual kind of bad. Most bad writing derives from the author being confused about what they want to say. The LSAT is not that kind of bad – they know exactly what they want to say. It’s bad because of its overly complex and convoluted sentence structures riddled with multiple subjunctive clauses, often one embedded in another, without warning or even purpose, as it may sometimes seem, the frequent use of pronouns whose referents are obscured by said convolution, and the highly detail-oriented descriptions of logical relationships. Kind of like the sentence you just read. All this contributes to the difficulty. But, once you wade through the words and structure - we'll teach you how - you’ll find that the meaning is exactingly clear.
Definitions are very important because as a lawyer you will need to use words with surgical precision. I try to be consistent with words. I try extra hard to be consistent with words that I bother to define. So does the LSAT. You ought to also.
WHEN ALL IS SAID AND DONE, THE LSAT TESTS YOUR UNDERSTANDING OF RELATIONSHIPS.
If the relationships in your life are anything like mine, then they are usually difficult, painful, and short. Of course, the LSAT is not concerned with inter-personal romantic relationships. It’s concerned with the very concept of a relationship in the most abstract way.
Let’s consider what relationships are by looking at some examples that we’re all familiar with. Consider the relationship “mother of.” That phrase describes a relationship between, say, you and your mom. Simple enough, right? Let’s try another. How about “earlier than?” Last Saturday night was “earlier than” last Sunday morning. One more? The “greater than” relationship. That’s a relationship between the numbers 10 and 7 or, to use another example, the number of “your mama” jokes possible and the number of “your mama” jokes that are appropriate for an LSAT lesson.
These examples should illustrate what relationships are. A relationship is something abstract that exists between two or more things. In “mother of” the two things were you and your mother, for “earlier than” the two things were last Saturday night and last Sunday morning, and in “greater than” the two things were 10 and 7. But “thing” is such a callous word. I’d get upset if someone called your mother a “thing” – she is a lady and quite a lady, at that! Let’s instead use a less incendiary (read: boring) term: how about “relata?” So, a relationship is something that exists between two relata. Things, people, ideas, events, categories, groups can all be relata.
The two circles represent the two relata. The dotted yellow line represents the relationship. That’s what a relationship is: something abstract that exists between two ideas. I hope by now I’m beating a dead horse, but it’s very important that you see that a relationship cannot exist without its (at least) two relata. It may help you to think of relationships as derivative entities. Derivative in the sense that it derives its existence from that of other entities. The number 7 is one such “primary” entity. Its existence is in no way dependent upon the relationship between it and the number 10. The relationship “greater than,” on the other hand, cannot exist without two relata to give rise to its existence. Capisce?
Relationships are important. Relationships cannot exist without its two (or more) relata. Did we mention that relationships are important?
THE LSAT CARES ABOUT A VERY PARTICULAR TYPE OF RELATIONSHIP.
The relationship is called support and the relata are called premise(s) and conclusion.
So what exactly do the words “support,” “premise,” and “conclusion” mean?
Well, let's consider “premise” and “conclusion” first. They’re statements. That’s what they are and that’s where they’re similar. Where they’re different is that the premise(s) supports the conclusion. Or, in other words, the conclusion is supported by the premise(s). That’s it. What do you get when you have a premise in addition to a conclusion? You have an argument!
Definition of an argument:
two or more statements where one statement is being supported by the others.
Awkward definition? Let’s just say that an argument is a premise plus a conclusion. Of course, this relies on your understanding of the definitions for “premise” and “conclusion.”
I know this is not what we colloquially mean by “argument.” What do you think of when you think of an “argument?” Probably of heated, vociferous “debates” with your significant other over who left those little specks of toothpaste residue on the bathroom mirror? (Probably you.) Or who started the argument in the first place? (Probably them, but why do you have to be so gross?!). Or, perhaps, you think of politicians and they're loudly talking over one another on TV. Well, whatever associations you make with this word “argument,” the LSAT defines “argument” very specifically and the LSAT is stubborn. You have to bend to its definition. Luckily for you, it’s not a hard definition!
So, remember: premises are supporting statements and conclusions are supported statements.
Let’s turn to an example to elucidate these concepts.
Consider the following argument, i.e., statements where one statement is supported by the others.
1. The state of Qari is hostile to our national interests.
2. The state of Qari harbors many rare and desired natural resources.
3. Therefore, we should invade and occupy the state of Qari.
Ponder this question for a minute or two. Are statements (1), (2) and (3), taken as a whole, an argument? Now that you know what the definition of an argument is, let’s reference it. Is it the case that we’re looking at two or more statements where one statement is being supported by the others? What do you think? Yes, right? Statement (3) is supported by statements (1) and (2). So, there you have it then, an argument.
Now, let’s use our new terminology: premises and conclusions. Which are which? (1) and (2) are the premises and (3) is the conclusion. Congratulations! Go celebrate with a big juicy cheeseburger.
Here’s the simple restated definition of an argument: premise(s) plus conclusion. So that’s all an argument is. Premise(s) plus a conclusion, where the premises are the sentences that do the supporting and the conclusion is the sentence that gets supported. It’s a piece of cake. At the bottom of it all, the LSAT is primarily concerned with testing your understanding of the support relationship between statements. That’s it.
This is one of the big three ideas of the LSAT.
What is an "argument?" With this word most people think raised voices, flared nostrils, people shouting at each other and really an all together unpleasant affair. But, that’s not what "arguments" on the LSAT are. On the LSAT, "arguments" are very cerebral, intellectual, and abstract. So, just forget all that stuff you thought you knew about "arguments."
We’re going to define what "arguments" are and from now on, we’re going to use that definition every time we encounter the word "argument."
Outside the LSAT you can think whatever you want. But, on the LSAT, this is what you’re going to think.
- Persuasion is the aim of an argument.
- Premise plus conclusion is the definition of an argument.
- Support is the internal structure of an argument.
Let’s take these in turn.
1. The aim: persuasion
Isn’t it germane that one of the biggest ideas on the LSAT is arguments? After all, you’re studying to be a lawyer and what do you think you'll be doing? You will be persuading. You will try to persuade the judge, the jury, the public, and even opposing counsel of your point of view, of your way of seeing things. You are going to do that with arguments. That's what arguments do. That's the aim, that’s the objective, that's the goal: to persuade.
2. The definition: premise plus conclusion
The definition is simple. It’s just premise plus conclusion. Whenever anyone asks you - and I’m going to ask you a lot - "What is the definition of an argument?" you respond, "premise plus conclusion." Just mechanically say "premise plus conclusion." That's the definition.
In a later lesson, we’re going to drill into your mind what the definitions of "premise" and "conclusion" are so that way those words actually mean something to you. But for now, just remember "premise plus conclusion" is the definition of an argument.
3. The internal structure: support
The internal structure of an argument is support. Support is the stuff that tells you how good an argument is. I have to qualify what I mean by "good." Some arguments are incredibly persuasive but they are none the less not "good" arguments. That's because persuasion is a subjective thing. A lot of people can be easily persuaded by some really bad arguments. So, I suppose in a sense, if you think "good" means persuasive, then it's "good." But, what I mean and what the LSAT means by the word "good" is the strength of the support existing internally in an argument. How much does the premise support the conclusion? That determines whether an argument is "good" or "bad."
Premise & Conclusion
They are the constitutive elements of an argument. They are also the definition of an argument. An argument is nothing more than just a premise plus a conclusion.
So, let’s take a closer look at what "premise" and "conclusion" actually entail.
These are the four things you really need to remember about premise and conclusion.
1. How to recognize them
First of all you have to know how to recognize them. This is tactically very important. When you’re actually doing the LSAT and you have to figure out whether the argument is good or bad, you better be able to tell premises apart from conclusions fast. Otherwise you won't even know what the argument is. We'll cover this in a later lesson.
2. Support is the relationship
We've covered this in a previous lesson, but remember that support is the relationship between the premise and the conclusion.
3. Definition of premise
The definition of premise is "a sentence that supports another sentence." It's not hard to remember, but, in order for you to internalize the definition, in order for these words to mean something to you, that might take some time. For some of you, I’m sure this is all very old news, but for others, it might take some time. It’s not hard. A sentence that supports another sentence. But, what’s this mysterious “other sentence?”
4. Definition of conclusion
It's the conclusion. The definition of conclusion is “a sentence that is supported by another sentence." Similarly here, what’s the “other sentence?” It’s the premise!
Is it all coming together now? A premise is a premise only in so far as it supports another sentence. A conclusion is a conclusion only in so far as it is supported by another sentence. So really, they define each other. The definitions are dependent on each other. That shouldn't be surprising because after all, these two ideas – premise and conclusion – they exist in a relationship where one supports the other and the other is supported by the first.
As you get more and more advanced with evaluating arguments, you'll come to see that all the weakening questions, all the strengthening questions and all the Logical Reasoning questions on the LSAT really just gets to the root of the idea of "support." Do you really know what it means for one idea to support another idea?
Let’s take a look at a real argument.
All dogs are adorable. Fluffers is a dog. Therefore, Fluffers is adorable.
How do we know this is an argument? Because it has all the elements of an argument. It’s got a premise and it’s got a conclusion, which is the definition of an argument.
The next question is how do we know that it’s got a premise and a conclusion? By appealing to the definitions of premise and conclusion.
Premise: gives support
Conclusion: receives support
Here we have three sentences:
- All dogs are adorable.
- Fluffers is a dog
- Therefore, Fluffers is adorable.
Sentences (1) and (2) are separately premise 1 and premise 2. Sentence (3) is the conclusion. Sentences 1 and 2 support the conclusion.
How do we know this? Well, at bottom, I have to appeal to your intuition. I have to say something like, “Why would you believe that Fluffers is adorable?"
You: Well, I know Fluffers is a dog.
Me: Okay, but how’s that relevant?
You: Well, it’s relevant because all dogs are adorable.
So you see, statements (1) and (2) give you the reason to believe that statement (3) is true. Now we’re starting to unpack the definition of the word “support.” Reason to believe that something is true.
On the LSAT, you should expect sentences and arguments that are much more complicated, convoluted, longer, and less clearly delineated by the use of periods and line breaks than these three sentences or this argument here. However, the fundamental theory of it all doesn’t change. What a premise is, what it does. What a conclusion is, what it does. That doesn’t change.
I cannot over-stress the importance of being able to identify premises and conclusions on the LSAT. Not only that, but to do it fast. But, we gotta start somewhere so slow is better than not being able to do it at all. Here are three distinctive slow ways that students have found very effective.
As a learning device, this is good. You can rely on these. But, take this caveat to heart. You can’t consciously rely on these three devices. At the end of the day, you have to internalize all of it. It has to be very, very quick. Intuitive. You read the passage and you just know that this is the premise and this is the conclusion. Somewhere in the back of your mind, one of these three devices is operating subconsciously and telling you what the premise is and what the conclusion is.
So, let’s get acquainted with these three methods.
The first method is to ask yourself, “What does the author really want me to believe?” I know he’s saying all this stuff to me. But, if I told him to shut up and get to the point, then, what would he say? What is it that he really cares about? What is it that he really wants to persuade me of? The answer to all those questions should be the same, i.e., it should be the conclusion. Now, of course, this method relies on your intuition. You have to intuitively know what’s being supported, what’s giving support and generally understand what the passage is saying.
2. Why should I believe this sentence?
The second method involves trial and error. Take the sentence that you think may be the conclusion (or at random) and ask yourself, “Why should I believe it?” What reasons has the passage provided to accept the supposed conclusion? Try to answer that question by referring to the other sentences in the passage. If those sentences give you a satisfactory answer to why you should believe what the conclusion sentence says, then you may have found the conclusion. Or, you could also be just very easily satisfied.
The third method is a very mechanical method which utilizes your understanding of conclusion or premise indicators. These are words whose role in the English language is to indicate support structure. Even if the above two methods work well for you, you should still familiarize yourself with these words.
Words or phrases usually followed by the conclusion:
3. as a result
6. it follows that
8. we may conclude
9. it entails
12. we may infer that
13. it must be that
14. it implies that
15. that is why
Words or phrases usually followed by premise(s):
1. given that
2. seeing that
3. for the reason that
4. owing to
5. as indicated by
6. after all
7. on the grounds that
Words or phrases that are usually followed by premise(s) but contain the conclusion:
There are three methods to identify premises and conclusions. Become familiar with and use them all – especially the third method.
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Quiz Instructions: Identify and bracket premises and conclusions for the following arguments.
When you reveal the answers, conclusions are in this color, premises are in this color.
People who are red/green color blind cannot distinguish between green and brown. Gerald cannot distinguish between green and brown. Therefore Gerald is red/green color blind.
If Max were guilty, he would not ask the police to investigate. Therefore, his asking the police to investigate shows that he is not guilty.
Train service suffers when a railroad combines. By dividing its attention between its freight and commuter customers, a railroad serves neither particularly well. Therefore, if railroad is going to be a successful business, then it must concentrate exclusively on one of these two markets.
Cars drive faster on long city blocks than on short city blocks. Long blocks are thus more dangerous for pedestrians than short blocks.
The store's competitors claim that the store, in selling off the shirts at those prices, neither made any profit nor broke even. Consequently, the store's customers must have been able to buy shirts there at less than the store's cost.
Quiz Instructions: Identify and bracket premises and conclusions for the following arguments.
When you reveal the answers, conclusions are in this color, premises are in this color.
The teeth of some mammals show "growth rings" that result from the constant depositing of layers of cementum as opaque bands in summer and translucent bands in winter. Cross sections of pigs' teeth found in an excavated Stone Age trash pit revealed bands of remarkably constant width except that the band deposited last, which was invariably translucent, was only about half the normal width. [No conclusion]
The true annual rate of earnings on an interest bearing account is the annual rate of interest less the annual rate of inflation. Consequently, if the rate of inflation drops, the rate of interest can be reduced by an equal amount without there being a change in the true rate of earnings.
Not all operational tracking studies are conducted to illustrate exact corporate returns on investment. Hence, some of these studies are not reliable.
Before the banks raised their interest rates, people on average incomes could almost afford a mortgage for an amount twice their salary, hence the rate increase has now put mortgages beyond their reach.
No fizzing occurred when some of the liquid in this bottle labeled "vinegar" was added to powder from this box labeled "baking soda." When an acidic liquid such as vinegar is added to baking soda the resulting mixture fizzes, so this bottle clearly has been mislabeled.