LSAT Question Analysis #4

A couple of weeks ago I did an LSAT reading comprehension passage, but I threw my timing off by taking notes for my blog post as I worked. I’m going to try it again with a new passage, but this time I’m going to treat it exactly as I would on the actual LSAT — and skip the notes. We’ll see if my time improves — and whether I maintain accuracy in the process.

Alright, let’s get to it! I’m doing PrepTest 60, Section 4, Questions 1-7 (10 New LSAT, page 316-317). There are 7 questions here, so our target time is around 9 minutes. See you in 9 minutes!

Okay, that was much better. Without the notes, I was definitely slightly less confident in a couple of answers, but my time dropped from over 15 minutes last time to just over 8 minutes for this attempt, putting me almost a full minute ahead on time instead of over 6 minutes behind. Even missing an extra question or two is better than blowing 6-7 minutes and having no shot to get to the fourth passage — or even to get through the third.

I spent two minutes on this passage. As a social science passage, it was arguably easier than the interdisciplinary humanities passage from before, but even so, a 2+ minute improvement is highly significant.


My takeaways about the big picture proved to be very important to several questions later on.

The passage related the views of a group of thinkers known as New Urbanists about suburban sprawl as it affects social interaction and community-formation. These theorists argued that the sprawling, car-dependent, economically homogenous nature of suburban neighborhoods had a variety of negative social impacts. Such impacts (and I had to look back for specifics) include loss of community, antisocial interaction, lack of preparation for diverse societal interaction, and so forth.

In terms of organization, the first two paragraphs laid out the primary argument of the New Urbanists, whereas the third paragraph introduced a counterargument by opponents of these thinkers followed by a response in defense of the New Urbanist view. I noted the key indicator word “however” midway through this paragraph. During my reading of the passage, and even now, I found the subsequent New Urbanist response a bit confusing — but that level of detail wasn’t necessary on my primary read of the passage, so I tried not to stress over it.

The author’s tone didn’t play a big role in this passage, since the New Urbanists, and not the author, did most of the talking, but I did recognize that the author seemed generally supportive of the New Urbanist position. The New Urbanists’ tone was, obviously, negative towards modern suburban sprawl.


Question 1, as usual, is the main idea question for the passage. With a good reading of the passage, this should be pretty quick and straightforward, so I only spent about 40 seconds here.

Answer A is both too narrow (focusing, as it does, only on the third paragraph) and very wrong on tone (since the author ultimately seemed to be in favor of the New Urbanists’ position). Furthermore, though I didn’t look so deeply at the time, A is also factually wrong. The New Urbanists are in fact concerned about the “values of those who prefer suburban lifestyles”; they may not agree with those values, but certainly concern indicates that these values were at least considered. B starts out well, although it’s a bit narrow. But B goes off the rails in its second half. “Specific reforms of zoning laws” were never discussed in the passage. C is a bit off in focus. The topic isn’t so much about urban-versus-suburban as it is about particular types of development, wherever they’re found. Certainly, urban neighborhoods are held up as models in like 38, but in fact that’s all they are — models. The New Urbanists want development merely to be “based on” urban neighborhoods. C also misses the point in talking about what people find “gratifying”; this word choice comes into conflict with the New Urbanist response to the criticism leveled in paragraph three, and it fails to address the more-diverse concerns expressed throughout paragraph two.

Answer D more broadly describes the New Urbanists’ concerns and accurately describe the alternative based on urban neighborhoods as what it is — a model.

Finally, E is about traffic policies, which just aren’t the focus of this passage. So D is correct.


Question 2 is an according to the passage question. For questions of this type, it’s important to go back to the passage to get confirmation of the correct answer, and in fact I did exactly that in this case.

A is very wrong, discussing financial burdens — way outside of the scope of the passage — and mentioning the “advantages of modern life” — very wrong on tone for the New Urbanists. B is similarly off-topic; we’re just not focused on issues like “productive employment” here.

C is the correct answer. Take a look at the passage between lines 30 and 35: “times [that would have been used otherwise] … is now spent inside the automobile … often acting antisocially.”

We can take just a cursory glance at D and E before choosing C and moving ahead. Air pollution, discussed in D, has nothing to do with this passage. E focuses of parenting interactions and time availability, which are off topic as well. I spent about 50 seconds here, largely to confirm the correct answer.


Question 3, at first blush, implicates the New Urbanists’ tone. Ultimately, though, it’s also very much about the scope of their concerns. As previously noted, issues like time receive little attention in this passage, so Answer A is certainly wrong. B also misses the point. The New Urbanists mention zoning, but it’s not their focus in this passage, and they even seem to concede that citizens’ values do influence zoning; lines 53-55 describe “these values and the sprawl-conducive zoning and subdivision policies that reflect them.” Answer C is both far off topic and completely wrong on tone.

Answer D is correct. See the quote from lines 53-55 for the idea that people’s attitudes influence “the spatial configuration of suburban neighborhoods.” For the other half, pretty much all of paragraph two will suffice — describing, as it does, antisocial behavior, lack of mutual respect, and so forth.

Finally, answer E is sneaky and definitely gave me pause, but it’s just too strong. New Urbanists never argue that “personal values should not affect” neighborhood design (emphasis added) — only that such values must be weighed against their social costs and impacts (see lines 55-59). I spent a bit over 30 seconds here.


Question 4 is a function question, and it’s a long one given its twist of asking for a compare-and-contrast of two different usages of”community” — the word in question. To solve a question like this, the key is going back to the passage and reading for context. Start with the sentence(s) containing the word(s) in question, but then, if necessary, move outward from those sentences, reading adjacent sentences until the needed context is found. Generally, no more than a sentence or two in either direction should be needed. Here, very little additional reading is required to locate the needed context.

In line two, the word seems to be describing, in a very literal way, subdivisions. No judgments are made about the nature of social interactions required for those grouping to qualify as “communities.” In line 15 and in the sentence that precedes it, however, the “concept of community” involves “communal space,” “interaction,” “getting to know one another,” and so forth. Certainly the answer is not A; these usages are striking in their contrast.

B, however, does correctly describe the relationship as one of physical proximity versus a more abstract sense of belonging.

C, D, and E all fail badly to describe even just the first usage of community to describe a group of people located close together. So answer B is correct. Because of the reading required, I spent a minute and fifteen seconds here.


Question 5 references the position of the critics of New Urbanism. A good understanding of the organization of the passage lets us go directly to the start of paragraph 3. There, the critics argue that suburban sprawl is simply an expression of people’s own choices to pursue values that favor sprawl and the automobile culture.

Even as I read this claim the first time, I remember having doubts about the cause-and-effect relationship that it sets out. Even if people have these values, do the values cause the lifestyle, or does the lifestyle cause the values? Or, perhaps, does something else cause both the lifestyle choice and the values, separately? It’s even possible that the lifestyle choice and the values are unrelated and coincidental, and that the lifestyle choice has some unrelated cause. Any of these alternative explanations would weaken the critics’ position.

With those alternatives in mind, the answer choices become simple. A cuts the wrong way, strengthening the case in favor of suburban lifestyles. B has the exact same problem. C cuts the right way, at least, as it weakens the argument that people move to sprawling suburbs as a lifestyle choice. However, C doesn’t address the lifestyle motivations in question — “the enjoyment and personal mobility provided by the automobile and the lifestyle that it makes possible.” Furthermore, C is subject to a comparison error, because it fails to account for the fact that most people, period, may not live in suburbs. As such, it says little that most people who have easy access to shopping do not live in suburbs.

Answer D may, to some readers, seem out-of-scope, but, viewed through the correlation-causation lens described above, it’s exactly what we want. D provides an alternative explanation of people’s choices to move to sprawling suburbs — an explanation that, notably, has nothing to do with car-loving lifestyle preferences. Why do people move to suburban sprawl? Perhaps because they cannot afford comparable housing in other sorts of neighborhoods. If so, then the critics’ defense of personal values choices is irrelevant and flawed. So D is correct.

Finally, E is far off topic. The critics’ argument is not that people live in sprawl because they vote for sprawl; the argument is that people live in sprawl because they move to sprawl. Because I knew what I wanted, I only needed about 35 seconds here.


Question 6 is an inference question. It’s a bit tricky, but all of the wrong answers are fairly easy to eliminate. A is about traffic flow, so we should already be very skeptical — it’s just not the point of the passage. Worse, the claim that zoning laws could be eliminated is both entirely unsubstantiated and far too strong for comfort. B cuts the wrong way; New Urbanists favor higher-density housing. C also cuts the wrong way; New Urbanists favor closely clumped live/work/play communities that would require shorter commutes. D is far too focused on zoning and far too strong. Even if fewer people needed to commute from suburbs to cities to work or shop, and even if as a result the need for suburb-city coordination were decreased as a result, it is difficult to imagine that the need for zoning coordination would be entirely eliminated. D is the best wrong answer, but the best wrong answer is still just a wrong answer.

E seems sketchy at first, but the ending saves  it. Would there be more grocery stores and schools in a NewUrbanist world? No, probably not. But in New Urbanist suburban communities, sure there would. Currently, we’ve been told, suburban communities are widely separated from stores and businesses and the like. In the New Urbanist world, these businesses would be in the communities, making E correct. I spent a minute here.


Question 7 is even trickier. I spent a minute and 15 seconds here, but I easily could have taken a bit more time and felt a bit more comfortable with the last two questions. Part of the problem is that the question refers broadly to “the second paragraph” without providing any guidance about where in that rather large paragraph we’re meant to look. Oh well, let’s turn to the answer choices and see if they provide any more guidance.

A seems to be addressing the very first sentence of the second paragraph — the statement that suburban developments contain houses “identical not only in appearance but also in price” and that economic segregation is the result. And actually, answer A makes a lot of sense in this context. If A were not true, and if people generally bought houses much cheaper than the maximum they could afford, then home prices would presumably not be the primary determinant of the incomes of the residents of those homes. In turn, there would be no reason to believe that economic homogeneity would result. So without A,the New Urbanists’ conclusion in paragraph 2 would not follow. This, A is a necessary assumption and is the correct answer.

B is a statement that New Urbanists would strongly disagree with; these planners instead argued that zoning was a cause of economic uniformity. C mistakes the direction of hostility described in the paragraph. According to New Urbanists, motorists are the hostile ones — not pedestrians. D is simply nowhere discussed in the entire passage. Finally, E might be tempting if we didn’t already have A, but it’s not quite good enough in any event. The only reason that New Urbanists suggest for the homogeneity of the suburbs is price. Preference is never mentioned in paragraph 2 (and the critics’ mention of people’s desires in paragraph 3 doesn’t help given the conditions set by this question). Even if people didn’t prefer to live in near-identical houses, all of the New Urbanists’ conclusions in the second paragraph would still stand. So E isn’t a necessary assumption, and it’s not the correct answer. A is correct.


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