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Assumptions Are Not Clicking

Live Member
12 karma

Hi everyone! I need some advice/hacks on identifying necessary assumptions for weakening and strengthening questions. I have been stuck on these two sections for a few weeks now. I got so frustrated that I had to go to a different section because they have been holding up my progress. I am really struggling to come up with the assumptions myself. It's like when I ask myself what is the assumption, my brain freezes. Is there something that you've done to help make it click for you? Or could someone explain it to me like I'm 5? haha

help

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• Live Member Sage 7Sage Tutor
170 karma

Hey there,

Great question! The best way to improve at any portion of conditional reasoning is to begin exercises that integrate practice into your daily life. I have many of my students run through these exercises daily:

1. Identify 3 sufficient-necessary relationships in your life
2. Identify what is not required for the 3 sufficient conditions
3. Identify what you could do to make the sufficient condition necessary (flipping the term we used for the sufficient conditions from the left to the right of the arrow).

This practice is great because it takes very little time and has real world application. Try these and your own sufficient-necessary exercises! Once you force yourself to see these relationships in your life their application on the LSAT seems much easier.

• Member
417 karma

If you’re just beginning your learning try not to torture yourself too much on mastering this yet perhaps. It will come. Do your best with something in your head and go to the answer choices and focus on the conclusion or to weaken anti conclusion

• Live Member Sage 🍌 7Sage Tutor
27710 karma

“What is the assumption?” is not a very good question. First, “the” implies that there is only one right answer to the question. That is rarely the case. While each LSAT question will have one right answer, that answer is almost always one of many possibilities, particularly with NA, Strengthen, and Weaken questions.

A much better process is to direct your questioning at the answer choices rather than the stimulus. You have to understand the stimulus, but the work of answering the question is more effectively done in considering the answer choices. There, you can ask the much more specific and direct question, “Is this an assumption?” The more specific the question the better, and the answer choices serve as prompts for us to be able to ask very precise questions. Of course, doing this successfully requires its own skills that must be developed, but it’s generally a much more adaptable process because you’ll always have something concrete to go on where questioning the stimulus is often quite abstract for the harder questions.

One of the most common argument structures on the LSAT is “A therefore B.” It’s just a single premise and a conclusion. Structurally, this is as simple as it gets. But conceptually, these are incredibly hard. I call them “therefore aliens” arguments because they can sometimes read with a level of absurdity like arguments that conclude with aliens building the Pyramids or something.

So to take that as an example, let’s say we have the argument:

The Great Pyramid of Giza is aligned within 1/15th of one degree to perfect alignment with due north. Therefore, aliens built it.

So, what is the assumption?

Best of luck to anyone who thinks that’s the right question. This argument— and others using this very common structure—is built on so many assumptions that I can choose from a multitude of assumptions in forming a correct answer here. Even if you correctly ID an assumption, you have absolutely no reason to believe that it is “the” assumption I will use to craft the correct answer.

But let’s try some prompts:

(A) The ancient Egyptians did not have the technology to perfectly identify due north.

(B) No geological process exists which might have caused the original alignment of the Pyramid to have shifted.

(C) At the time it was built, there existed an alien species with sufficient technological means to have built the Pyramid.

(A) looks really attractive. It raises some interesting points. Let’s explore it and subject it to scrutiny:
One possible problem is that, I suppose, the alignment could be coincidence. I’m not 100% sure on this math, but I think there is a 1 in 1350 chance that a randomly built pyramid would be exactly 1/15th a degree from due north. Whatever the odds, it’s a long shot but it’s not nothing.
Looking closer, the word “perfectly” is also a problem here. Since the Pyramid is not perfectly aligned, they wouldn’t have needed perfect technology to accomplish what they did.
Furthermore, this is specifying that Egyptians didn’t have the technology. Maybe the Assyrians did and a visiting engineer assisted them with the alignment without giving away the secret. Assyrians were humans.
So I think this actually is not necessary. It initially looked promising (and likely aligned with many prephrases), but when following through and exerting it to a little scrutiny, we encounter a number of problems.

With (B) I’m not entirely sure what’s going on. Would a possible geological force tend to move the Pyramid towards due north? It doesn’t say that, so I’m not sure how this would introduce an alternative. Also, how much would this shift be? A 1/15th a degree shift could have budged it off perfect due north which may make our conclusion more likely. And even if this process exists, did it actually work in Giza to shift the alignment of the Pyramid? And in any case what does this have to do with who built it? I don’t really know what this does, tbh, so I’m just going to move on.

(C) Well that’s interesting. We don’t know if alien life exists at all. And if it does exist, we don’t know if it would be technologically advanced. So what if no alien species exists which could have built the pyramids at all, much less in near perfect alignment? Do we need for such a species to exist to conclude that such a species built the Pyramid? Yes. I can’t think of any workarounds to this one. It holds up. For aliens to have built the Great Pyramid of Giza, there must have existed aliens who were capable of having built the Great Pyramid of Giza at the time it was built.

I went way further into this than I started out intending to go, haha. The tl;dr point is that if you can’t come with “the” assumption, that’s not necessarily a problem. The problem may be more with the question you’re asking. The test gives you five options in the form of answer choices. Using the answers as prompts directs your work with much greater precision than just trying to find the assumption. Precise work is better than vague, general work. If the test writers give you tools, use them!