Here’s an easy way to pick up an extra point or two on your LSAT score (or 10 or 20 on your GMAT score): When you’re reading logical reading questions, pay close attention to the qualifiers attached to the statements they make.
Simple little words like “some,” “many,” “most,” “few,” “all,” “maybe,” “probably,” “often,” “usually,” and so forth may seem interchangeable and are easily overlooked, but in fact any qualifier can critically change the meaning of a statement in which it appears. Furthermore, because the test writers know that these little words are so often overlooked, qualifiers are a favorite trick to lead unwary test-takers astray.
Consider LSAT PrepTest 30, Section 4, Question 20 (Next 10 LSAT, page 75).
There are two popular answers on this question… the right answer, and B.
What makes B so very tempting and yet so very wrong?
I think most students correctly realize that the connection between the new drugs and a poor understanding of social impact is missing — and that this connection must be drawn in order to justify the conclusion about reducing the pace of bringing these drugs to market. Answer B seems all too happy to oblige.
But the problem with B isn’t its thrust. The problem with B is its strength, or lack thereof. The qualifier, “some,” is so easily overlooked — especially when every other answer choice seems so unappealing — and yet it does so much violence to this answer choice. Remember, the argument’s conclusion calls for “a general reduction” in the introduction of new drugs. And “a general reduction” surely implies that many or most, and not just one or two, of the new drugs should be withheld.
If it were otherwise, and the withholding of only “some” new drugs would suffice, the conclusion would already be established. After all, “some” just means “one or more,” and we already have enough basis to conclude that the “newly marketed antihistamine” ought to be withheld.
So answer B, while on point, is killed by its too-weak qualifier. Is there any other answer choice that offers the same thrust but features a stronger qualifier, like “many” or “most”? Perhaps not at first blush, but if we hunt a little bit harder, we’ll find that in fact we’re in luck.
We might ask why the argument bothered to mention the new antihistamine at all. It isn’t directly relevant to the conclusion about withholding the new drugs. But maybe it’s there to enable a comparative premise. The new antihistamine is not well understood. So, if the new drugs are worse understood than the new antihistamine, then they, too, must be poorly understood. As a final twist to our thinking, note that “the new drugs are worse understood than the new antihistamine” is equivalent to “the new antihistamine is better understood than the new drugs.” So either of these statements would work to establish the poor understanding of the new drugs.
Now season liberally with a stronger qualifier like “many” or “most,” and you have your general reduction. You also have the correct answer, which is A. It turns out that A, though better camouflaged, says pretty much exactly the same thing that B says, except that where B says “some,” A says “most” — and those two little, easily overlooked qualifiers determine the outcome of this challenging LSAT question.
As suggested above, there’s something of a hierarchy of qualifier words here: “Some,” which means “more than one,” is weaker than “many,” which means “significantly more than one,” which, in turn, is weaker than “most,” which means “more than half.”
Other groups of qualifiers follow similar patterns: “Maybe” means “a more than 0% chance” and is extremely weak; “probably” means “a more than 50% chance” and is far stronger. “Sometimes” means not never, whereas the stronger “often” means many times, and the even stronger “usually” means most of the time.
It’s always okay to go “down” one of these hierarchies; something that’s true of “most” is certainly true of “many” or “some.” However, attempts to go “up” are perilous and often involve faulty speculation. Something that’s true “often” isn’t necessarily true “usually.”
Paying attention to these little words, making sure they match the needs of the argument, and respecting their one-way implications can save precious points on any test featuring a logical reasoning section.
We’ll close with another example.
LSAT PrepTest 38, Section 1, Question 15 (Next 10 LSAT, page 326) features two answer choices that utilize qualifiers in opposite ways — one right, and the other wrong. See if you can spot the trap as well as the right answer.
Did you pick answer A? I hope you didn’t; it’s a trap! Answer A is almost too good to be true here; it virtually quotes the first sentence of the argument. There’s just one problem — answer A changes the argument’s qualifier “often” (meaning “many times”) to the stronger, and thus unacceptable, qualifier “most.” Many (but perhaps not “most”!) students pick answer A anyway, but we’re better than that now.
Consider, instead, answer C. The argument provides that mystery stories “often” present clues from which the correct solution is deduced, “giving readers a chance to solve the mystery.” From “often,” we cannot go up the hierarchy to “most,” but we certainly can step down to the weaker “some.” This is the entirely permissible step taken by answer C, so answer C is correct.
For more practice with these issues, check out the following questions:
- LSAT PrepTest 56, Section 3, Question 14 (10 New LSAT, page 167)
LSAT PrepTest 60, Section 3, Question 12 (10 New LSAT, page 311)
Tags: GMAT, GRE, Logical Reasoning, LSAT, Qualifiers