LSAT Test Prep: Knowing the Role Played by a Claim

The LSAT will ask you questions about claims made in arguments. If you make a statement in an argument, you have a reason for doing it. You may want to provide an example to illustrate your point, you may want to respond to your opponent’s conclusion, or you may want to provide evidence to back up your conclusion.

Law students have to not only be able to form arguments but also analyze their opponents’ arguments. A large part of that analysis lies in understanding why their opponents say particular things.

Almost all the logical reasoning questions that test your ability to determine the purpose of a certain sentence or claim in an argument use the word role, as in, “What role does this statement play in the argument?” Glance at some of the following examples:

  • The claim that people have positive or negative responses to many nonsense words plays which one of the following roles in the argument?

  • Which one of the following most accurately describes the role played in the teacher’s argument by the assertion that participating in organized competitive athletics may increase a child’s strength and coordination?

  • Which one of the following most accurately describes the role played in the psychologist’s argument by the claim that the obligation to express gratitude cannot be fulfilled anonymously?

  • The claim that humans are still biologically adapted to a diet of wild foods plays which one of the following roles in the nutritionist’s argument?

  • Which one of the following most accurately describes the role played in the scientist’s argument by the claim that recent scientific research can often be described only in language that seems esoteric to most contemporary readers?

  • The statement that inventors sometimes serve as their own engineers plays which one of the following roles in the argument?

When you encounter one of these questions, remember an argument’s elements. The claim may supply evidence to support a conclusion or it may be a premise used to attack someone else’s conclusion. It may be the conclusion of the argument or something else particular to that argument’s structure.

Before you look at the answers, formulate your own idea regarding the purpose of the claim in questions. The correct answer is more likely to jump out at you if you know what you’re looking for.

Look at this example of a role-played-by-a-claim question:

When selecting a horseback-riding vacation, it is important to be honest about your actual riding ability. Some vacations require riders to handle spirited horses in open terrain or to spend six hours a day in the saddle, which for a beginner would be uncomfortable at best and dangerous at worst.

Even for novice-level vacations, you should be able to post a trot, control a slow canter, and care for your horse’s tack. Most people can learn to ride a horse well, provided they are willing to put in the effort, but it is never wise to overestimate your ability.

The claim that some vacations require riders to handle spirited horses in open terrain plays which one of the following roles in the argument?

  • (A)It is the main conclusion of the argument.

  • (B)It undermines the argument’s main conclusion.

  • (C)It is evidence that supports the argument’s conclusion.

  • (D)It summarizes the evidence in support of the conclusion.

  • (E)It is an assumption on which the argument’s conclusion depends.

Read the question first. Note the words “plays which one of the following roles.” That means you have to figure out why the author included the point about handling spirited horses in open terrain.

Now read the argument, looking for where the author mentions the spirited horses. If you find underlining helpful, underline those words when you see them. You can find this tidbit in the second sentence. Now, what is this argument trying to do?

The author’s conclusion, stated at the beginning and the end of the paragraph, is that anyone going on a horseback-riding vacation should evaluate his or her riding ability honestly. Why? Because taking a riding vacation may require more skill than a rider has and could be dangerous or unpleasant.

So why does the author mention the need to handle spirited horses in open terrain? In this case, she’s using this information as an example of something a rider on a horseback-riding vacation may have to do and telling you that it’s something a beginner shouldn’t attempt. In effect, the “handle spirited horses” statement is evidence that the author uses to support the conclusion.

Now go through the answer choices and look for a response that matches this. Choice (A) is wrong because the argument’s conclusion is that people shouldn’t overestimate their riding ability. Choice (B) is wrong because that factoid doesn’t undermine the conclusion; instead it supports it.

Choice (C) looks good; the author is using the fact that riders must be able to handle spirited horses in open terrain as an example of something that beginners shouldn’t attempt, which supports her conclusion. Choice (D) is wrong because that fact doesn’t summarize the evidence at all. Choice (E) is wrong because it’s not an assumption but a stated fact. Choice (C) is the only answer that works.

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