Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Reading Comprehension: Passage or Author Implies

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.

If you missed the previous post on how to read a passage and mark its structural elements, be sure to read through the main idea explanation before going through our example question.

While it might not be helpful to do so on a first-read through of the passage, be sure to adopt this attitude for passage or author implies questions.
Recognizing a passage or author implies question, is, however, much more difficult than it would at first appear. This task is essentially asking you to identify a point of view--that is, an opinion--that the author would likely hold. Although the question stem sometimes will provide the topic to be opined upon, often the answer choices will present differing opinions on differing topics. Thus, in order to accurately answer answer this task, you should be prepared to evaluate each answer choice; prephrasing is only possible if the stem provides the topic.

That said, here are a few common question stem examples that prompt passage or author implies:
The passage indicates which one of the following about [passage piece]?
The passage most strongly suggests that the author holds which one of the following views?
Which one of the following is most strongly supported by information given in the passage?
Note how the final question stem seems to fit better into an extrapolation standard; LSAC is unfortunately not consistent in separating the question stems for inferring an opinion from identifying a logical extension of presented evidence. Note that today's task is about inferring the author's opinion on a topic, and sometimes the lines between the two can be blurred. Thankfully, as with the distinction between definition and fails to consider assumptions, the general approach to passage or author implies will also help you answer most supported by passage questions.

When presented with a question stem that focuses on a given topic, the first task is to refresh your understanding of the passage's treatment of the topic; then you can cleanly prephrase the starting point and use that prephrase to compare against the answer choices.

However, if the the question is open ended--as our example is--then you should re-read the answer to the main idea or title question to reframe back to what the LSAT considers as the author's primary considerations. The following example comes from a RC passage you can access for free on LSAC's website. LSAC helpfully identified this passage as being written in 1980, and you can see how we suggest you "read" the passage here.
        The struggle to obtain legal recognition of
        aboriginal rights is a difficult one, and even if a right
        is written into the law there is no guarantee that the
        future will not bring changes to the law that
(5)   undermine the right. For this reason, the federal
        government of Canada in 1982 extended
        constitutional protection to those aboriginal rights
        already recognized under the law. This protection was
        extended to the Indian, Inuit, and Métis peoples, the
(10) three groups generally thought to comprise the
        aboriginal population in Canada. But this decision has
        placed on provincial courts the enormous burden of
        interpreting and translating the necessarily general
        constitutional language into specific rulings. The
(15) result has been inconsistent recognition and
        establishment of aboriginal rights, despite the
        continued efforts of aboriginal peoples to raise issues
        concerning their rights.
        Aboriginal rights in Canada are defined by the
(20) constitution as aboriginal peoples’ rights to ownership
        of land and its resources, the inherent right of
        aboriginal societies to self-government, and the right
        to legal recognition of indigenous customs. But
        difficulties arise in applying these broadly conceived
(25) rights. For example, while it might appear
        straightforward to affirm legal recognition of
        indigenous customs, the exact legal meaning of
        “indigenous“ is extremely difficult to interpret. The
        intent of the constitutional protection is to recognize
(30) only long-standing traditional customs, not those of
        recent origin; provincial courts therefore require
        aboriginal peoples to provide legal documentation
        that any customs they seek to protect were practiced
        sufficiently long ago—a criterion defined in practice
(35) to mean prior to the establishment of British
        sovereignty over the specific territory. However, this
        requirement makes it difficult for aboriginal societies,
        which often relied on oral tradition rather than written
        records, to support their claims.
(40) Furthermore, even if aboriginal peoples are
        successful in convincing the courts that specific rights
        should be recognized, it is frequently difficult to
        determine exactly what these rights amount to.
        Consider aboriginal land claims. Even when
(45) aboriginal ownership of specific lands is fully
        established, there remains the problem of interpreting
        the meaning of that "ownership." In a 1984 case in
        Ontario, an aboriginal group claimed that its property
        rights should be interpreted as full ownership in the
(50)contemporary sense of private property, which allows
        for the sale of the land or its resources. But the
        provincial court instead ruled that the law had
        previously recognized only the aboriginal right to use
        the land and therefore granted property rights so
(55) minimal as to allow only the bare survival of the
        community. Here, the provincial court’s ruling was
        excessively conservative in its assessment of the
        current law. Regrettably, it appears that this group
        will not be successful unless it is able to move its
(60) case from the provincial courts into the Supreme
        Court of Canada, which will be, one hopes, more
        insistent upon a satisfactory application of theconstitutional
The question we'll be going over today has the following question stem:
The passage provides evidence to suggest that the author would be most likely to assent to which one of the following proposals?
Once again, when presented with this open-ended question stem, you should return to the passage's main idea as a prephrase to help you eliminate answer choices. The main idea question and correct answer choice for this passage was:
Which one of the following most accurately states the main
point of the passage?

(C) Constitutional language aimed at protecting
       aboriginal rights in Canada has so far left the
       protection of these rights uncertain due to the
       difficult task of interpreting this language.
Taking that basic summary of this answer choice, we are reminded that the author wants to help protect aboriginal rights through the Canadian Constitution, specifically by overcoming the court's barriers of interpreting the Constitution and the procedural issues that aboriginal societies have in asserting their rights. Below is the fulle question:
The passage provides evidence to suggest that the author would be most likely to assent to which one of the following proposals?

(A) Aboriginal peoples in Canada should not be
       answerable to the federal laws of Canada.
(B) Oral tradition should sometimes be considered legal
       documentation of certain indigenous customs.
(C) Aboriginal communities should be granted full
       protection of all of their customs.
(D) Provincial courts should be given no authority to
       decide cases involving questions of aboriginal rights.
(E) The language of the Canadian constitution should
       more carefully delineate the instances to which
       reforms apply.
Most of the distractors exhibit a common flaw: their degree of certainty is far too strong. For instance, answer choice A turns the author's stated "aboriginal people should be able to protect their rights" opinion into "Canada should never affect aboriginal peoples' rights." Be on the lookout for absolute and extreme keywords, as they will often allow you to eliminate 3 or even 4 distractors.

Answer choice B is correct--not only because it avoids too-strong language--but because it addresses one of the problems facing aboriginal socities that the author specifically mentions in lines 36-39. Because the author wants these plaintiffs to be able to assert their rights, it is easily inferred that he or she would want to remove this beaurocratic barrier to that assertion. Note, however, that even this fairly non-controversial inference is qualified by the keywords "sometimes" and "certain." This helps eliminate an improper over-generalization of the author's POV, and thus it ensures that B is the correct answer.
Answer choice C is a tempting distractor, but it does not have the limiting language present in B. While we do know that the author wants aboriginal societies to be able to assert their rights, we do not know for sure that he or she thinks that all of the customs should be protected.

Answer choice D is similarly extreme, in that it turns the author's stated opinion--that the 1984 case described in the final paragraph was wrongly decided by the provincial court--into a blanket ban on provincial court's power to hear aboriginal rights' cases.

Answer choice E is another tempting distractor--it even avoids the absolute language that easily eliminated C--as it plays along well with the passage's main idea that the barriers to aboriginal societies' assertions of their rights should be removed. However, the passage indicates in lines 58-63 that the Supreme Court should be the lever to clarify the language, not that the constitution itself should be modified.