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Watch Out for Passage Wording

Posted in Test Prep on September 10, 2009 by

blackChris Black is a Content Developer at Knewton, helping students with their LSAT prep. He’s also into barbecue.

Many answer choices on the LSAT are written to be tempting. Some answers will be blatantly wrong, but most will only be slightly wrong.

That’s why you have to pay close attention to passage wording in Reading Comp and Logical Reasoning. Both sections make you read huge chunks of text closely but quickly, so when you’re scanning the questions for a passage the words start to run together. Take this snippet, from a very scientific passage about cats:

Historically, cats have been excellent self-cleaners. Housecats, more than other cats in the animal kingdom, rely on their tongues for bathing and fur maintenance. While their self-cleaning methods are effective, they also sometimes result in challenges like hairballs.

This is a shorter (and weirder) passage than one you’ll find on the LSAT, but you can use the same strategies in addressing it. Say the first question asks us for a statement that is true according to the author and gives us four possible answer choices. The first choice might be easy to eliminate.

(A) Cats are excellent space travelers.

A gimme. Space travel is completely off-topic, so we can scratch this one. Let’s look at the rest.

(B) Housecats have proven throughout history to be some of the best self-cleaners in the animal kingdom.

Immediately we remember reading a lot of these words. “History,” “self-cleaners,” and “the animal kingdom” are all mentioned, and the self-cleaning skills of housecats are compared favorably to those of other cats. However, while the passage tells us that cats are “excellent” self-cleaners, the author doesn’t establish that housecats would rank highly among all self-cleaning creatures in the animal kingdom. This might be true in real life (and it almost sounds true in the passage) but we can’t infer it from what the author tells us.

OK, how about this one?

(C) In a way, self-cleaning methods are dangerous because they lead to hairballs.

This statement sounds familiar, and it certainly seems possible that hairballs could be a danger. It’s not true according to the passage, though. The author says that self-cleaning sometimes leads to hairballs, and while this can be a challenge for a cat, it’s not necessarily dangerous. The wording here is slightly too definitive, and the characterization is extreme.

And finally:

(D) Cats such as lions rely less on their tongues for bathing than do housecats.

The middle statement in the passage implies this. Then again, we already knew it was correct: since we paid attention to extreme, errant, and misleading wording, we were able to eliminate the other answer choices.

We can rest comfortably knowing we’ve arrived at the right answer. Plus, we learned something about cats.