Monday, March 1, 2010

Logical Reasoning Zen Task Standard: Example for Principle

As we mentioned, during the spring we'll be going through the 22 different Zen task standards on the logical reasoning section of the LSAT. We feel that this LSAT classification system is more comprehensive than other methods of categorizing the section, as it not only breaks down the section by question stem, but how to perform the task to receive credit.

For today we'll explain how we approach one of the tasks, example of a principle, which is where the LSAT asks you to take a general framework and see which specific situation maps onto it the best.

While this task is prompted by several different question stems, the keywords judgments, examples, and situations can stand in for the example, while principle can be as varied as analysis, philosophy, or a general statement from someone in an argument. On modern LSATs, the most common question stem is:
Which one of the following judgments most closely conforms to the principle stated [above]?
Many test-prep companies group this task together with principle for an example, which requires you to do the opposite: zoom out of the specifics into a general statement. Most of our clients are better at one or the other task, often with discrepancies of 30% in accuracy. Clearly then, these tasks can often draw on different skills and should be treated not as pure opposites.

The key to correctly answering an example for principle question is to clearly define the relevant portions of the principle and how they interact with each other. Once these relationships are outlined, each distractor can be eliminated because it does not map on to the stimulus. All components of the principle must be present in the answer, and their relationship must be maintained.

This task is an example of where being able to translate into and out of LSAT speak is a necessary skill. While many of our clients are able to clearly define the relationships in the principle, they are still tripped up by distractors that have similar content to the stimulus but conflate the relationships. The similar interactions between the components of the answers is all that matters, not similar content.

The example we chose for this task is taken from the Sample Questions with Explanations document on LSAC's website. You should be actively reading the stimulus and marking it with both highlighter and pencil, focusing on identifying the components of the principle and their relationships. As you can see in the example below, oftentimes much of the stimulus is filler material that is a set-up for another speaker to offer the principle.
The orange highlighted text of the question stem shows how difficult it can be to identify this task on older PrepTests. Essentially, you are asked to take the principle in the stimulus and see where it fits best among the answers.

We marked the relevant portions of the stimulus with various colors to show the components and their relationships with each other. The correct answer has one issue, which if more successful, will negatively affect a second issue. Note that the second issue is distinct and separate from the first issue, a point that the LSAT expects testtakers to miss in several of the distractors.
Answer choice E is correct because it has two different issues--motorists using another route versus building a new bridge--where the success of the first will reduce the funds available for the second. Not only does this map on to the principle statement in the stimulus, it is also strikingly similar to the example provided in the stimulus. However, these superficial similarities have no bearing on whether or not the answer is correct; it merely makes this question somewhat easier.

Distractor choice A does not have two distinct issues, but rather a single issue which is being affected from multiple entry points. Returning the books and reducing overdue books in general both accomplish the same goal of having more books on the shelves.

Distractor choice B does not introduce a second issue which is negatively impacted by the first, as the extra expenses are completely covered by the surcharge. This is a neutral feedback loop that is part of a closed system, not at all similar to the two unrelated goals described in the stimulus.

Distractor choice C introduces two new issues which seem to be inherently at odds: charging admission and keeping admission fees low. However, this is also a neutral feedback loop, as the answer informs us that the funds are not used to create new projects that would require more upkeep.

Distractor choice D has two issues--sparing customers hassle and augmenting servers' wages--however an increase in the first charge will only add to, not detract from, the workers' common tip pool.

Below is the frequency that this task has been asked on modern LSATs and the percentage change in frequency from pre-2007 LSATs. It averages 3.5% of the points on a modern LSAT, and you can reasonably expect that two points will be devoted to finding examples of principles.

13 times
on LSATs since 2007
3.5% of LR
(~2 per LSAT, range 1-2)
0.9% growth from pre-2007
According to LSAC:
This was classified as a “difficult” item, with 33 percent of examinees correctly answering it when it appeared on the LSAT.