Arguing With a Purpose – Getting Ready for Logical Reasoning

March 4, 2013
Adele Shapiro

Former NYC Mayor, Ed Koch died several weeks ago and his funeral was a who’s who of power and politics on both the New York and national levels. Koch was eulogized by many prominent leaders including President Bill Clinton, but for me the most moving eulogy was delivered by Koch’s nephew. Uncle Ed, as he was affectionately referred to by his nephew, was an uncle who loved his nieces and nephews; in addition to loving these children, Koch would engage them in debate but demanded that no matter the subject, the argument made be cogent, logical and supported by evidence.

Regardless of your political leanings take a minute to listen to some of the debate going on in Washington – you will see too many arguments lack the elements that Ed Koch demanded of his family.  This however, can be good news for LSAT test takers!  The LSAT will require you to take apart an argument and identify key components and then find the missing piece: the assumption.  Assumption family questions account for roughly 50% total of the two scored logical reasoning sections, and about 25% of the LSAT overall. Understanding the structure of arguments is key to LSAT success.

LSAT arguments are incomplete arguments. The test makers will create an argument with a conclusion and evidence to support the conclusion.  However, there will be something missing – the author assumes something and does not inform the reader of what the assumption is. Scoring well on the LSAT requires the test taker to identify the assumption, strengthen or weaken it, or find the flaw in the assumption.

LSAT success will be greatly aided by looking at actual LSAT questions and recognizing the patterns that the test takers use in both questions and answers. But as you prepare for the LSAT and ultimately law school, now is the time to start thinking like a lawyer and developing the skills necessary to create good arguments.  Over the next weeks and months look at the positions you are taking on any topic and ask yourself how are you making your argument? This can be anything from deciding who you think will be the ultimate victor in March Madness or how the government should handle the latest fiscal crisis.  Think carefully – what is the position you are advocating?  How are you supporting this position? Too often arguments turn into screaming matches, with each side telling the other that they are wrong; be careful here – what is the evidence for your position?  Often, particularly on issues that are deeply felt, arguments will turn on overstatements – “that’s the way it’s always been”, “the Bible/Constitution/my family says so”. But is that really evidence? Take time to look at and analyze arguments going on in Washington on both sides of the aisle, and how the pundits will advance these arguments. 

As you go forward advancing your point of view, try to form your arguments as clearly as possible. Be sure to cite all the information needed to support your view. For a real exercise, try to argue the position with which you would not normally agree. Remember, it’s about trying to think critically. Not only will this make you better able to handle the LSAT, it will help you effectively advocate for your side. “Uncle Ed” would be proud!

Adele Shapiro

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