Thursday, March 29, 2012

Reading Comprehension: Would Agree About

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, would agree about, is another extrapolation strand that requires the examinee to combine information presented in the passage and derive a new statement from it. Unlike reading comprehension tasks in the opinion strand that pick up on non-evidentiary keywords, would agree about is more of a blend of the most strongly supported by [stimulus] and justify logical reasoning task. It thus benefits from cleanly prestating the topic's actors, relationships, and degrees of certainty for each, but injects a tiny bit of affective judgement from the point of view of the author. Thus, you are extrapolating from the author's stated evidence and inferred point of view, not from his or her opinion.

Rachel Maddow breaks down the evidence that Mitt Romney and Ron Paul would agree about what should happen to a person without health insurance who develops a fatal health condition.
Because of the need to prephrase the actors, relationships, and degrees of certainty, marking the passage's structural signposts that clearly assign examples and counterexamples to their actors will help to quickly eliminate distractors. You can read through our discussion of main idea or title and primary purpose to review these highlighting techniques. Additionally, it's important to review those tasks because the answers to maid idea and primary purpose questions will help frame the author's POV for would agree about questions.

The question stems for would agree about questions are easy to spot, as the sample question we'll be using from LSAC's website exemplifies. Here are some examples of the question stems from modern LSATs:
The passage suggests that the author would be likely to
agree with each of the following statements:

The passage most strongly suggests that the author holds which one of the following views? 
Based on what can be inferred from the passages, which
one of the following acts would have been [treated negatively] under [system], but would not be [treated negatively] under [another system]?
Note that the second example above explicitly instructs the examinee to consider the author's viewpoint; whether this task would be a would agree about or an opinion strand task would depend on whether the correct answer choice hinged on the author's evidence or opinion. Today, we'll be using the same passage we introduced in the passage or author says explanation, 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.
As with many tasks in reading comprehension, the Zen system suggests that you reframe back to the main idea and/or primary purpose answers to ensure that you are starting from the correct vantage point on a new question. This is especially important in both the extrapolation and opinion strands, and will often make today's task of would agree about much easier. The actual process of this strategy is to read the passage and then answer the questions in order; often, the main idea or primary purpose questions will be in the first 1 or 2 for a given passage. Then, when you continue on to a question in the extrapolation or opinion strands, you re-read the answer choice to the main idea or primary purpose question to ensure that your head is cleared from any intervening questions.
For this passage, we won't fully discuss the main idea or primary purpose, but below is the flowchart for applying this strategy with the correct primary purpose answer for this passage.
After reading the passage the primary purpose task:
Which one of the following most accurately describes the relationship between the argument made in passage A and the
argument made in passage B?
and correctly answering it with:
(C) Passage A warns about the effects of certain recent
      phenomena, while passage B argues that some
      inferences based on those phenomena are unfounded.
With this prephrase in mind, the would agree about task should be much easier to answer, even if it is inverted to be about what the authors would disagree about. Passage A's author predicts dire consequences from global warming, and Passage B's author disputes the strength of the evidence linking global warming to human actions.
The authors of the two passages would be most likely to
disagree over
(A) whether or not any melting of the polar ice caps
      has occurred
(B) whether natural events can cause changes in
      global climate conditions
(C) whether warmer air temperatures will be likely to
      raise oceanic water temperatures
(D) the extent to which natural climate variability is
      responsible for global warming
(E) the extent to which global temperatures have risen
      in recent decades
Answer choice D is a extrapolated causality statement from Passage A's and Passage B's evidentiary statements about the role (or lack thereof) that humans have played in global warming. The only non-human causes mentioned by either passage are the naturalistic examples in Passage B (volcanoes, El Nino, and variations in sun radiation), and answer choice D picks up on the clash between those examples and the evidence from IPCC that Passage A invokes in lines 20-27. Based on their cited evidence and implied POV, these two authors would disagree about the relative weight that human activities and natural climate variability have played in global warming.

Answer choice A ignores lines 41-42, where Passage B's author clearly admits that "some" polar ice cap melting has occurred. Although Passage A's author would clearly argue that melting has occurred, the absolute language --"any"--in answer choice A makes it too extreme for Passage B's author to disagree about.

Answer choice B makes a similar mistake, except with Passage A's stated evidence. Although the IPCC evidence in lines 20-27 emphasize that human activity is significant enough to increase global warming, it does not deny natural climate variability's role in global warming.

Answer choice C repeats B's mistake, taking Passage A's lack of evidence about air temperature to mean that its author doesn't see a causal connection to water temperature. As with the logical reasoning extrapolation strands, be sure to keep a sharp look out for answer choices that are simply too strong or introduce a new actor/relationship that the passage does not present enough information about. In this case, Passage B mentions air temperature in lines 38-39, but we don't have enough information from Passage A to determine if its author would disagree.

Finally, answer choice E is doubly incorrect because neither author mentions any evidence about the amount of warming; they merely present evidence about its causes and their relative contributions.