Thursday, March 22, 2012

Reading Comprehension: Meaning of or Referring to

This is another post describing the classification system Zen of 180 uses for the reading comprehension section; if you're not sure how to approach studying for the LSAT, our 19 reading comprehension standards break it down into manageable chunks; also, our free online LSAT analyzer will let you know which types of passage structures give you the most trouble.
We'll be starting with a new passage today, one questioning whether the Netherland's tulip bulb craze could be characterized as a speculative bubble.

Meaning of or referring to questions are almost easy to identify, and oftentimes will have specific line references (e.g., "lines 30–36"), as does the example question we pulled from the sample questions LSAC provides on its website. For those questions, we suggest pausing after reading those lines, answering the question, and then return to reading the passage. It's easy to identify the "line reference" questions by just skimming through the question stems, as the numbers and/or parenthesis should jump out at you. We'll write another post about the other advantages to this strategy, but you can't always apply it to meaning of or referring to questions.

The concept behind this Canadian game show is pretty close to the LSAT's task of restating exactly what the author's evidence means.
Some sample question stems from modern LSATs are:
In using the phrase “[phrase]” (line 25), the author of passage A most clearly means to refer to [the actor's

The author most likely intends to include which one of the following [meanings] among the “[phrase]” referred to in line 50?
Which one of the following assertions from passage A most clearly exemplifies what the author of passage B means in calling [topic] a “[phrase]” (lines 30–33)?
This explicit evidence task most often requires the examinee to consider the question stem's highlighted text within the somewhat narrow context of the lines surrounding it; rarely, however, the question will require the reader to orient the highlighted text within the passage's overall argument. As such, it's often quite helpful to actively read the passage and highlight changes in topic and structure, as meaning of or referring to questions will necessarily be explicit pieces of evidence that the author uses to build his or her argument.

The question stem for today's sample provides some helpful focusing issues for the reader.
6. The phrase “standard pricing pattern“ as used in line 38 most
    nearly means a pricing pattern
Before we can even get to the sample question today, though, we of course need to go over the passage. As a reminder, the Zen system suggests skimming the question stems for the entire passage, taking note of the ones with line references, and then notating the passage with the question numbers along the the passage's margins. In this case, you should actively read the passage up until about about line 40, then move on to answer the question before continuing:
       In economics, the term “speculative bubble
       refers to a large upward move in an asset’s price
       driven not by the asset’s fundamentals—that is, by
       the earnings derivable from the asset—but rather by
(5)   mere speculation that someone else will be willing to
       pay a higher price for it. The price increase is then
       followed by a dramatic decline in price, due to a loss
       in confidence that the price will continue to rise, and
       the “bubble“ is said to have burst. According to
(10) Charles Mackay’s classic nineteenth-century account,
       the seventeenth-century Dutch tulip market provides
       an example of a speculative bubble. But the
       economist Peter Garber challenges Mackay’s view,
       arguing that there is no evidence that the Dutch tulip
(15) market really involved a speculative bubble.
       By the seventeenth century, the Netherlands had
       become a center of cultivation and development of
       new tulip varieties, and a market had developed in
       which rare varieties of bulbs sold at high prices. For
(20) example, a Semper Augustus bulb sold in 1625 for an
       amount of gold worth about U.S. $11,000 in 1999.
       Common bulb varieties, on the other hand, sold for
       very low prices. According to Mackay, by 1636 rapid
       price rises attracted speculators, and prices of many
(25) varieties surged upward from November 1636 through
       January 1637. Mackay further states that in February
       1637 prices suddenly collapsed; bulbs could not be
       sold at 10 percent of their peak values. By 1739, the
       prices of all the most prized kinds of bulbs had fallen
(30) to no more than one two-hundredth of 1 percent of
       Semper Augustus’s peak price.
       Garber acknowledges that bulb prices increased
       dramatically from 1636 to 1637 and eventually
       reached very low levels. But he argues that this
(35) episode should not be described as a speculative
       bubble, for the increase and eventual decline in bulb
       prices can be explained in terms of the fundamentals.
6.    Garber argues that a standard pricing pattern occurs
       for new varieties of flowers. When a particularly
(40) prized variety is developed, its original bulb sells for
       a high price. Thus, the dramatic rise in the price of
       some original tulip bulbs could have resulted as tulips
       in general, and certain varieties in particular, became
The passage clearly sets up a debate between Mackay and Garber on whether Tulip Mania was a speculative bubble. However, for our purposes today, we're only interested in what the author and Garber meant by describing the tulip's market as a "standard pricing pattern."
6. The phrase “standard pricing pattern“ as used in line 38 most
    nearly means a pricing pattern
(A) against which other pricing patterns are to be measured
(B) that conforms to a commonly agreed-upon criterion
(C) that is merely acceptable
(D) that regularly recurs in certain types of cases
(E) that serves as an exemplar
Answer choice D nicely restates the author's and Garbar's meaning of "standard" with regularly recurs, and "certain types of cases" maps on to the "for a new variety of flowers" in the passage. Note that Garbar is refuting Mackay's stance by saying that Tulip Mania actually conforms to normal, rational economic behavior within the wider flower market

Answer choice E is an excellent distractor: however, "exemplar" implies that some actor was actively trying to create the standard market conditions. Garbar is not arguing that the market was following an exemplar, but rather that it was an example of the expected operations. 

Answer choice A follows this same erroneous reasoning, but the language is much more clearly out of the scope of what Garbar's argument is meaning: we're only talking about the tulip market and not measuring other markets against any standard.

Answer choice B falsely implies that the argument used only one criterion to define the standard, as well implied that others have settled on this after deliberation. We're not told how or why this standard was defined, and thus the answer choice can't impute things that are not present in the passage text.

Answer choice C incorrectly brings a value judgment component to the "standard," which much more closely tracks the "normal" meaning of the word rather than the evaluative meaning.