Friday, March 9, 2012

Logical Reasoning: Point at Issue

This is the last post describing the classification system Zen of 180 uses for the logical reasoning section; if you're not sure how to approach studying for the LSAT, our 88 standards and 23 logical reasoning standards break it down into manageable chunks.

For today we'll explain how we approach one of the tasks, point at issue, which is where the LSAT asks you to cleanly restate the finite disagreement between the two speakers from the stimulus. As I'm sure you've encountered when arguing with your friends, sometimes it takes several rounds before you realize, "I'm not arguing that with you Harry!"

Joe Versus the Volcano, probably the least known of the rom-coms with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.

Lawyers are notorious for picking arguments and fighting tenaciously over the smallest issue. Thus, this task is utilized quite extensively in law school; and it's better to only focus your energy on the issue(s) most germane to your argument. You'll certainly be expected to clearly describe points of agreement and disagreement with various points of view, so this detail-minded task maps on to law school much better than many other tasks.

While point at issue questions are prompted by several different question stems, the stimuli almost always have two different speakers followed by colons that visually distinguish the task. On modern LSATs, the most common versions of this question stems are:
[Speaker 1]'s and [Speaker 2]'s statements commit them to disagreeing on whether

The point at issue between [Speaker 1] and [Speaker 2] is
The key to correctly answering a point at issue question is to remember that this is a detail task: 95% of the questions can be answered by simply comparing the two speaker's statements and cleanly restating what they both explicitly mention. While it might sound deceptively simple, it really is that simple. The two speakers do what normal humans do, they talk past each other and often have only a single point of contention.

Take an example argument:

Gary says that most successful sheep dogs have been trained by gently but purposefully guiding their natural instincts. Thus, trainers should only exert a minimal influence on sheep dogs and not force dogs to learn any specific commands.
Larry disagrees, saying that sheep dogs should acquire the fundamental commands that are necessary for all trained dogs, as this learning can make even a poor sheep dog perform at an average level. Thus, trainers should use accredited methods to provide their sheep dogs with disciplined and systematic instruction, which is the only way to learn these fundamentals.
The correct answer will zoom in on what both speakers explicitly mention: what kind of training that sheep dogs should receive.

The most common distractors will emphasize the pieces of information mentioned by only one of the speakers, or pieces that they agree on, or pieces that neither mention such as:
  • Larry's point that disciplined and systematic training is the only way to learn fundamentals; we don't know what Gary thinks about fundamentals.
  • The import of a trainer in developing sheep dogs; both speakers mention the important role played by a trainer.
  • The best type of sheep and field layout to use during training; neither speaker mentions these aspects of training.
The most difficult distractors will introduce extraneous information that could be erroneously inferred from the speakers' statements, such as:
  • how excited the sheep dogs are about training and herding sheep
This distractor introduces a completely extraneous element--the dogs' affective reaction to their lot--but it's possible to imagine that Gary and Larry fundamentally disagree based on the differences between Gary's naturalistic and Larry's strict approach

Remember, however, that point at issue is not an extrapolation strand task, so hew closely to the argument's details and the questions will be much easier.