You’ve seen how the central assumption is the key to weakening and strengthening on the LSAT test. Now let’s see how to work with strengthen LSAT questions by analyzing one.

This is the second in a series of articles on Weakening and Strengthening questions on the LSAT Test. The series includes the following articles:

Strengthen LSAT Questions

We’ve seen how an argument is like a table with three legs, the premises, conclusion, and assumptions. Since the assumption is the weakest leg, If you want to weaken the argument, attack the assumption and hope the table falls down. If you want to strengthen the argument, strengthen the assumption so that when your opponents start kicking at your table, it will stay standing.

Strengthen LSAT Question Practice

Now let’s take a look at an argument you’ve already seen and throw in a strengthen question. Try your hand at using the TestSherpa process before moving on to the analysis.

  1. Read question stem
  2. Read and paraphrase the stimulus
  3. Prephrase your answer
  4. Eliminate wrong answers

Smart track coaches know better than to force rigid training programs on marathon runners. Running the marathon is an individual accomplishment; what works for one runner may not work for another. A marathon runner needs encouragement to find a unique path and set individual goals. Only marathon runners with groundbreaking ideas about technique can truly succeed.

Which of the following statements, if true, would most significantly strengthen the argument above?

(A) Most runners who are not given training programs succeed in the marathon.
(B) Coaches with too many runners to instruct cannot afford to teach each runner as an individual.
(C) A runner who is given a rigid training program cannot succeed in the marathon.
(D) Many respected coaches do not use a rigid training program for their marathon runners.
(E) Many marathon runners would prefer a tried and true training program than to have to learn by their own mistakes.

This question is an exact duplicate of a question you answered in the article series about LSAT assumption questions, except for the question stimulus, which now asks you to strengthen the assumption instead of identifying it. Think about it—isn’t strengthening an argument basically the same task as identifying its central assumption? Most of the LSAT test is asking you to perform similar tasks over and over, so don’t be thrown by new question types. By practicing the TestSherpa method, you will be more than prepared for anything they can throw at you on test day.

Now let’s review this question again according to the TestSherpa four-step method. First, by reading the question stem, you know this is an strengthen question. If this were in a test booklet and not online, you would circle the word “strengthen” to reinforce that in your mind. Since this is a strengthen question, we know before we even read the stimulus that we’re looking for a gap in the reasoning, or the central assumption, and then we need to support it. In other words, here comes a red flag.

Second, you need to read and paraphrase the stimulus. Paraphrasing is the key. It’s easier to understand your words than it is the test maker’s words. You might have come up with a paraphrase like this:

Don’t use rigid programs — encourage individuality to win

+

(some assumption we’re supposed to figure out)

=

Only runners with groundbreaking ideas win

The third step is to form a prephrase of what you think the answer would sound like-in this case, the central assumption. This is where intuition and bridge building come in. As you read the argument, a red flag might pop up. In this case, you might have asked, “don’t most runners do a combination of both in some sort of training program that considers their individual needs?” That leads you to a big red flag. What about runner’s whose individual plan would pretty much match the training program anyway? Wouldn’t they win too?

You might have also been bothered by the new terms brought up in the conclusion, “groundbreaking ideas.” What is the connection between individuality and groundbreaking ideas? The author doesn’t say.

So, to form a bridge, take a look at what is similar and dissimilar in the premises and conclusion. You don’t need to bridge runner to runner. You don’t need to bridge winning to winning. You need to bridge rigid programs to winning with groundbreaking ideas. A good prephrased assumption would sound something like this: you cannot win with groundbreaking ideas if you are given a rigid training plan.

The fourth and final step of the TestSherpa four-step method is to consider the answer choices. With some luck, you the right answer will jump out at you because it matches your prephrase: you cannot win with groundbreaking ideas if you are given a rigid training plan. The test maker can throw you a curve, however, and you might need to eliminate wrong answer choices. You should scan the answers for your prephrase rather than reading each answer; however, let’s consider the answer choices one-by-one for convenience in your review.

(A) Most runners who are not given training programs succeed in the marathon.

This answer distorts the author’s viewpoint. As you will see in the formal logic lesson, this is a confusion of necessary and sufficient. The argument says that in order to succeed as a runner, you need to stay away from rigid training programs and encourage individuality; however, that doesn’t guarantee success. There are probably lots of other things you need to do to succeed as well, like running many miles.

Now, just for kicks, try the denial test: Most runners who are not given training programs do not succeed in the marathon. So what? That’s probably true, since the majority of runners don’t succeed in the marathon anyway. It has no effect on the argument, so it must not pertain to the central assumption.

(B) Coaches with too many runners to instruct cannot afford to teach each runner as an individual.

This is out of scope. It doesn’t matter what kind of resources busy coaches have. Maybe some coaches can only afford to use rigid training methods. The author would say, “So what, those runners won’t succeed, but it doesn’t hurt my argument.” Likewise, the denial test doesn’t affect the argument either: Coaches with too many runners to instruct can afford to teach each runner as an individual. The author would say, “Great, those people have a chance to succeed.” But it doesn’t say anything about the argument. I cannot help the central assumption.

(C) A runner who is given a rigid training program cannot succeed in the marathon.

Remember our prephrase: you cannot win with groundbreaking ideas if you are given a rigid training plan. This is pretty close, it is a central assumption to the argument, and therefore is in fact the right answer. It doesn’t mention groundbreaking ideas, but it expresses the same idea. You cannot win with a rigid training plan. Try the denial: A runner who is given a rigid training program can succeed in the marathon. That would destroy the argument if true, so this must be the right answer.

(D) Many respected coaches do not use a rigid training program for their marathon runners.

This is out of scope in the same way that (B) is. Given what we know from the argument, who knows and who cares what respected coaches do? Try the denial. Even if respected coaches do use a rigid training program, it doesn’t hurt the argument. The author would just say that those coaches are doing the wrong thing.

(E) Many marathon runners would prefer a tried and true training program than to have to learn by their own mistakes.

Again, this is out of scope. Who cares what marathon runners want? The author is arguing that a certain kind of program works, regardless of what the runners prefer.

Next, let’s learn how to tackle Weaken LSAT Questions.

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