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Updated RC strategy for curve-breaker Qs

TheoryandPracticeTheoryandPractice Alum Member
edited April 2017 in Reading Comprehension 1008 karma

Hi! Here is an updated strategy from the below post

What I've found helpful in addition to the original post is thinking about the range of what the central theme CAN and CANNOT do based on what is known and not known about the central theme. This is especially helpful for those difficult curve-breaker Qs (inference Qs, analogy Qs) , because curve-breaker Qs usually test the MEANING of the passage, rather than what's explicitly stated. You can only draw the meaning of the overall passage/ key theme when you understand the range of what is known and then going one step further, inferring what a certain thing can/ cannot do.

How do we figure out what something can/ cannot do? Let's make a very quick example. Say that the passage says that frogs only swim in the water. This is what we know about the frogs. Then we can infer /water -> frog don't swim. Thinking about this range really helps to understand the key features of the central theme and its importance. (When it fails the requirements it needs, it cannot do its job (contrapositive of S-> N) But obviously, when the sufficient condition is met, we don't know anything about whether necessary condition was/is/will be met (but I think it is less relevant in RC. What's more relevant is thinking about the range of necessary conditions and understanding what would happen when those conditions fail)

Here's the bad news: in the RC section, the LSAT doesn't get this explicit about sufficient and necessary conditions. The curve-breaker Qs are difficult for a reason. If everyone can identify the conditions easily, then it wouldn't be a curve-breaker Q. I repeat, the LSAT doesn't usually give you the typical "conditional indicators" (if, when, any, only when, requires, etc) to figure out the sufficient/necessary conditions easily. Sometimes they do. But most of the time, we have to really infer about the necessary conditions based on what the passage says. The passages only HINT at these necessary conditions by omitting something, or by only stating 1 necessary condition (which, by default, would mean that other conditions won't work without this condition)

The good news: Here's the typical way the LSAT presents a necessary condition.

For example, let's take PT62 passage 1. No worries, I won't spoil too specific details for you.

What we do know about lichenometry is
1) its location - where it is useful
2) how it is used
3) its advantages
4) requirements.

Think about what's known about lichenometry. From there, infer what it CAN and CANNOT do. According to the passage, lichenometry only does certain things within a specific location only using certain materials. It cannot function when something falls outside that location (not specifically the LOCATION, but certain geographical features necessary; if the certain geographic location is missing the material required, then the necessary condition fails and lichenometry cannot do its job.

But you also have to be extremely careful and identify precisely what the necessary condition is. If you generalize too much, then you might also be susceptible to trap answer choices. What lichenometry needs is a certain material. From this, we can only infer that if it misses the material as a whole, it won't be able to do its job. However, if it has certain qualifying conditions that affects the material, then it might still be able to do its job. We must carefully distinguish what must be true from what can be true)

Again, this is what's hard about the LSAT RC passages: the necessary conditions are nowhere explicitly stated. The LSAT does not explicitly say what lichenometry can or cannot do.You have to combine all those info above (what we know/ don't know about lichenometry) ; it is our job to infer the range of function based on what's known, and IDENTIFY PRECISELY what the necessary condition is.

You can also go backwards. Ask the question what CAN it do to backtrack; asking that question helps to summarize what we do know and what we don't)

Also, this strategy applies when the subject (central theme) involves a human being. It is because a human being is usually a central theme in a diversity passage, and the diversity passages are all about what someone/ some social group couldn't do before and how the social structures/ individual consciousness evolved for them to be able to do something.

For example, PT 63, passage 2. (don't worry, i won't spoil the deets)
It is about Kate Chopin. She is compared to other groups of writers. The key to the passage is all about what those groups did/ didn't do and from that inferring what they could/ couldn't do given the social structures and conventions at the time. Pretty much the same thing with PT 62 passage 4 on Jewett.

(I am using PTs 62 and 63 as examples because they are in Superprep II)

Obviously this strategy can be applied to science/ law passages as well.
Law passages- what the law can/ cannot do, theory can/ cannot do, a material can/ cannot do
Science passages- conditions under which a hypothesis would work, conditions under which the central theme (subject being experimented etc) can function

My theory is that knowing what a subject can/cannot do is especially central to understanding the LSAT passages BECAUSE as lawyers we would be basically doing the same thing. What can we do based on this law? What can't we do? What can this law do for us? What can't it do? It is all about inferring about our agency and the range of usefulness/ restrictiveness of the law based on what's known/ not known about the law.

To summarize:

  1. Think about what is known/ not known about a central theme and infer what it can/ cannot do by thinking in terms of the necessary conditions for it to do something
  2. Be precise in identifying exactly what that that necessary condition is. Distinguish what MUST BE TRUE as opposed to WHAT CAN BE TRUE to identify the necessary condition. If something is merely important, but not necessary, then it is not a necessary condition. Don't fall under the trap of what "seems" necessary, or what "seems" right.
    Important /= necessary. Also, /important and still necessary.
    Think about LR necessary assumption Qs. Some assumptions are important, but not necessary. Some assumptions are not important, but necessary.
  3. If you want to take another step further, think about what the author thinks about the range of what something can/cannot do as well. What does the author think about the central theme X? What does s/he think X can/cannot do? (This can also be inferred.) AND What is the author's attitude toward the fact that something can/cannot do something? Does s/he view the limitations negatively? positively? neutrally? etc.

Hope this helps

Oh yeah PLEASE DO NOT SHARE THIS WITH OTHER COMMUNITIES. I want this info to be limited to 7Sage. Thanks


  • LsatChicLsatChic Legacy Member
    191 karma

    Thanks this is excellent insight for me to use in attacking RC. Awesome

  • JustDoItJustDoIt Alum Member
    3112 karma

    Immensely helpful. I still use your last post for RC. Thanks so much for sharing again!

  • TakamineTakamine Alum Member
    154 karma

    I wish I had read this before I took my LSAT. Really helpful. Thanks for sharing @TheoryandPractice

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