Monday, March 26, 2012

Reading Comprehension: Passage or Author Says

This is another post in our series 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.

Today's task, passage or author says, sounds straightforward: which of the answer choices did the author explicitly state in the passage? Although these questions are often inverted to choose the answer that the author didn't state, they can still be difficult even in their positive form.

There's some strong language in this video, but that's often what makes memorable movie quotes. Unfortunately, it's much harder to parse out explicit evidence on an LSAT RC passage.
The biggest problem with author or passage says is that they invite the examinee to spend a few minutes double- and triple-checking the passage to ensure that their answer is, in fact, not mentioned in the text. While some distractors will be easy to eliminate because they were clearly not mentioned in the text, most will be minor mischaracterizations or inferences that can be drawn from the text (as opposed to explicitly stated).

Thus, the manner of creating structural signposts as you read through the passage will help to quickly find where a given answer choice is located, or, if you're eliminating distractors, where the author mentioned the topic of the answer choice. You can read through our discussion of main idea or title and primary purpose to review these highlighting techniques.

The question stems for passage or author says questions are normally easy to spot, often containing the keywords "mentions/offers/states" or "according to the passage/author" to show that the task is to restate the passage's explicit evidence. However, be careful to distinguish between this task and expert says and the various explicit and evaluating evidence standards that also use "mention" with a meaning or purpose task added on. 

Some examples of passage or author says question stems from modern LSATs:
According to passage B, which one of the following is an example of a [phenomenon] for which [scientists] propose a questionable explanation?

According to the passage, which one of the following was a motivating factor in certain Latina authors’ decisions regarding the structure of their autobiographical writings? 
The passage offers which one of the following as an
explanation for why [phenomenon]?
You can find this passage and the others we'll be using to describe the RC section on LSAC's website. We'll be diving into a new passage today, a comparative passage where two authors in the 1990s discuss anthropomorphic climate change.
       Passage A
            In January 1995 a vast section of ice broke off the
       Larsen ice shelf in Antarctica. While this occurrence,
       the direct result of a regional warming trend that began
       in the 1940s, may be the most spectacular
(5)   manifestation yet of serious climate changes
       occurring on the planet as a consequence of
       atmospheric heating, other symptomsmore intense
       storms, prolonged droughts, extended heat waves, and
       record flooding—have been emerging around the
(10) world for several years.
            According to scientific estimates, furthermore,
       sea-level rise resulting from global warming will
       reach 3 feet (1 meter) within the next century. Such a
       rise could submerge vast coastal areas, with
(15) potentially irreversible consequences. 
            Late in 1995 the Intergovernmental Panel on
       Climate Change (IPCC) reported that it had detected
       the “fingerprint“ of human activity as a contributor to
       the warming of the earth’s atmosphere. Furthermore,
(20) panel scientists attributed such warming directly to
       the increasing quantities of carbon dioxide released
       by our burning of fossil fuels. The IPCC report thus
       clearly identifies a pattern of climatic response to
       human activities in the climatological record, thereby
(25) establishing without doubt that global warming can
       no longer be attributed solely to natural climate        
This passage introduces the topic of global warming and the IPCC's findings that humans are contributing to the phenomenon. From these findings, the author jumps to their clearly stated opinion on the topic (pink highlights), which conclude the final paragraph.
       Passage B
            Over the past two decades, an extreme view of
       global warming has developed. While it contains
(30) some facts, this view also contains exaggerations and
       misstatements, and has sometimes resulted in
       unreasonable environmental policies.
            According to this view, global warming will cause the
       polar ice to melt, raising global sea levels,
(35) flooding entire regions, destroying crops, and
       displacing millions of people. However, there is still a
       great deal of uncertainty regarding a potential rise in
       sea levels. Certainly, if the earth warms, sea levels
       will rise as the water heats up and expands. If the
(40) polar ice caps melt, more water will be added to the
       oceans, raising sea levels even further. There is some
       evidence that melting has occurred; however, there is
       also evidence that the Antarctic ice sheets are
       growing. In fact, it is possible that a warmer sea-
(45) surface temperature will cause more water to
       evaporate, and when wind carries the moisture-laden
       air over the land, it will precipitate out as snow,
       causing the ice sheets to grow. Certainly, we need to
       have better knowledge about the hydrological cycle
(50) before predicting dire consequences as a result of
       recent increases in global temperatures.
            This view also exaggerates the impact that human
       activity has on the planet. While human activity may
       be a factor in global warming, natural events appear
(55) to be far more important. The 1991 eruption of Mount
       Pinatubo in the Philippines, for example, caused a
       decrease in the average global temperature, while El
       Niño, a periodic perturbation in the ocean’s
       temperature and circulation, causes extreme global
(60) climatic events, including droughts and major
       flooding. Of even greater importance to the earth’s
       climate are variations in the sun’s radiation and in the
       earth’s orbit. Climate variability has always existed and
       will continue to do so, regardless of human
(65) intervention.
This second passage clearly tries to downplay the evidence introduced in Passage A, as well as present several countervailing factors and natural examples that outweigh humanity's impact on global warming. The signposts for each point of view (pink), the examples and counterexamples each author uses (blues and cyans, respectively), as well as the more structural elements (green and red), will help us find and reference back for any passage or author says questions. 
Which one of the following is mentioned in passage B but not
in passage A as a possible consequence of global warming?
This question stem is one of the most complicated for this task, as it requires comparing the two passages to each other and filtering out commonalities. However, the correct answer should jump out because of its interplay on the two passage's central dispute: whether humans are significantly contributing to global warming and whether we understand the phenomenon enough to design environmental policy against anthropomorphic carbon emissions.

(A) an increase in the size of the Antarctic ice sheet
(B) a decrease in the amount of snowfall
(C) a falling of ocean sea levels
(D) an increase in the severity of heat waves
(E) an increase in the frequency of major flooding
Answer choice A is clearly correct, as Passage B mentions the ice sheets growing as a possible, unexpected outcome based on warming sea water and its concomitant increase in snowfall. With the right signposts (mental or physically drawn), the good examinee will reference Passage B, starting with the "however" in line 42, and Passage A, starting with line 1. Passage B mentions growing ice sheets, while A mentions their crumbling; a savvy examinee will mark A and move on without checking the rest of the answer choices. 

Answer choice B is not mentioned by Passage B at all; it only references snowfall at all in line 47, implying that it could increase rather than decrease.

Answer choice C similarly inverts the evidence, as both passages mention rising sea levels (lines 12, and 34).

Answer choice D at least correctly states the change in frequency of heat waves, but only Passage A specifically mentions them (line 8).

Answer choice E is by far the most attractive of the distractors, as both passages explicitly mention flooding (lines 9, 35, 61). However, Passage B never acknowledges that frequency of flooding will increase as a result of global warming, as it only discusses flooding from the point of view of the "extremist" position of anthropomorphic global warming or as a consequence of naturalistic causes. The structural signposts in line 33 ("According to this view,") and line 55 (example of Mount Pinatubo leading to floods) will help the great examinee eliminate answer choice E.