This is probably the simplest question type (not to say it’s always easy). You are presented with an argument, and you must identify the conclusion or main point of the argument.
The conclusion is the “bottom line”, the thing that ultimately is being argued. It is always something written in the paragraph, that is supported by other information in the paragraph. It could be at the beginning, the middle, or the end of the paragraph.
A common mistake is thinking of the conclusion as a summary or synopsis of the argument. Think of it more like the tip of the iceberg – the single solitary point that is being argued and supported by the rest of the paragraph.
For example, if I said:
“The meteorologist is predicting rain for today. Therefore, you should take an umbrella with you to work.”
The conclusion would be: “you should take an umbrella with you to work”.
The first sentence (the meteorologist’s prediction) was just brought as supporting evidence for my conclusion, and was not itself part of the conclusion.
However, if I said:
“The meteorologist is predicting rain for today. Therefore, you should take an umbrella with you to work. Therefore, since you don’t have an umbrella, you should borrow my umbrella.”
The conclusion would be: “you should borrow my umbrella”.
Here, the first sentence was still used as evidence to support a conclusion in the second sentence. But then, the conclusion in the second sentence was itself used as evidence to support a final conclusion in the third sentence. The final conclusion can never be something that’s used as support for something else, since there can only be one conclusion to an argument.
Back to my first example, the sequence of the sentence doesn’t affect which sentence was the support and which was the conclusion. In other words, if I had reversed the order and said:
“You should take an umbrella with you to work. After all, the meteorologist is predicting rain for today.”
The conclusion would still be: “you should take an umbrella with you to work”. The meteorologist’s prediction was still only brought as evidence to support the umbrella recommendation, which was the conclusion of the argument.
You’ll notice I had to substitute out the word therefore for after all. That’s because therefore is a word that introduces a conclusion, while after all introduces a premise/piece of evidence.
Noticing word cues like this can help to identify exactly what is supporting what. Here is a list of a few words that introduce a conclusion:
- Support; therefore, conclusion.
- Support; thus, conclusion.
- Support; consequently, conclusion.
- Support; hence, conclusion.
- Support; as a result, conclusion.
Conversely, here are some words or phrases that introduce a premise/piece of evidence:
- Conclusion; after all, support.
- Conclusion, since support.
- Conclusion, because support.
Note: On the LSAT, when one sentence is support and the other is a conclusion and there’s no transitional word between them, the conclusion is generally the first sentence.
In other words,
…rather than the other way around.
For example, if my first statement example above was an argument on the LSAT, with no transitional word being used, it would read:
“You should take an umbrella with you to work. The meteorologist is predicting rain for today.”
“The meteorologist is predicting rain for today. You should take an umbrella with you to work.”
This is all a very mechanical way of thinking about these questions, but intuitively you should just ask yourself, what is being argued and supported by other points? Is the argument saying that you should bring your umbrella as evidence that therefore the meteorologist predicted rain? No, that doesn’t make sense; rather, the argument is saying that the meteorologist predicted rain as evidence that therefore you should bring your umbrella.
Your strategy for conclusion questions should always be the following two steps:
- Identify the exact phrase or sentence in the paragraph that is the conclusion (you can even underline it or bracket it off).
- Find that phrase or sentence in the answer choices (usually paraphrased slightly).
Here’s an example from the June 2007 LSAT:
Before you read ahead, ask yourself: what is the main point the economist is trying to argue, that is being supported by other information in the paragraph?
You were right if you guessed:
Every business strives to increase its productivity, for this increases profits for the owners and the likelihood that the business will survive. But not all efforts to increase productivity are beneficial to the business as a whole. Often, attempts to increase productivity decrease the number of employees, which clearly harms the dismissed employees as well as the sense of security of the retained employees.
Sentence 1 is just background info: businesses strive to be productive.
Sentence 2, however, argues that this is not always beneficial.
Why is is not always beneficial?
Because, sentence 3 – often, striving to be productive can decrease number of employees, which has harmful effects.
In other words, sentence 3 is brought as a reason why sentence 2 is true. It is therefore supporting sentence 2.
(This “Background info…but, conclusion…since, evidence” paragraph structure is common on the LSAT.)
Yes, sentence 1 was presenting a point (businesses try to be productive) and a reason for that point (productivity increases profits), but this supported point was not the argument’s main conclusion for two reasons.
First of all, it’s followed by the word “but”. The main conclusion is the bottom line of what’s being argued, and in this case we are arguing that something is true in spite of sentence 1.
Second, it’s not an argument that this person is making, but rather a fact taken for granted, simply brought as background info. The person isn’t proposing that businesses try to be productive, and bringing as evidence that productivity increases profitability. Rather, we are told this as a backdrop for the argument the person is making about productivity having a potential downside in the next sentence.
So, now you just need to find an answer choice that paraphrases “not all efforts to increase productivity are beneficial to the business as a whole”.
Here, that looks exactly like (B).
I’ve got time, so let’s look at another one:
This is one that many people get wrong. First, before you move on, try to identify exactly what the conclusion being argued is.
You were right if you guessed:
Double-blind techniques should be used whenever possible in scientific experiments. They help prevent the misinterpretations that often arise due to expectations and opinions that scientists already hold, and clearly scientists should be extremely diligent in trying to avoid such misinterpretations.
There were three points made here:
- Double-blind techniques should be used as much as possible
- Double-blind techniques prevent misinterpretations
- Scientists should do all they can to prevent misinterpretations
Points 2 and 3 were brought as supporting premises for arguing that, therefore, point 1 is true.
It wouldn’t make sense here to say:
“Double-blind techniques should be used as much as possible. Therefore, scientists should do all they can to prevent misinterpretations.”
Rather, this would make sense:
“Scientists should do all they can to prevent misinterpretations. Therefore, double-blind techniques should be used as much as possible.”
This “therefore test” can be helpful when you have two statements, and you’re trying to figure out which one is supporting the other. The one being supported will be the conclusion between the two, rather than the supporting one, and will be the one that makes sense after the word “therefore”.
(Also, it’s worth noting that this argument followed the structure mentioned above of “Conclusion. Premise/evidence.” There were no transitional words in the paragraph, and the first of the two sentences was the conclusion.)
Now, all you have to do is find which answer choice paraphrases point 1.
Here, that looks exactly like (B).
Many, many people picked (E) on this question, but the fact that double-blind techniques are objective wasn’t the main point being argued here. Rather, it was brought as a supporting point for arguing that therefore double-blind techniques should always be used whenever possible.
- The conclusion is the single main point of what’s being argued in the paragraph, and it’s always supported by other points in the paragraph
- You should start by marking off the exact words in the paragraph that represent the conclusion, and then simply find the answer choice that paraphrases those words
- Word cues like therefore, after all, and since can be helpful in distinguishing the conclusion from the supporting points
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