These questions present you with a seemingly paradoxical situation, and you must find the answer choice that, if true, would help to resolve the apparent paradox.
For example, let’s say that Stephanie and Lisa are both studying for the LSAT. On average, Stephanie studies for 10 hours per week, and Lisa only studies for 3 hours per week. However, Lisa improves her score by 20 points, while Stephanie only improves her score by 10.
At face value, this seems like a discrepancy – if Stephanie studies for more hours per week, why did her score go up less? There are quite a few possible things that, if true, could explain this discrepancy. First see if you can think of a few, and then look at the ones I came up with:
- Lisa uses much more effective study methods than does Stephanie
- Even though Stephanie studies more per week, she only studies for two weeks in total, whereas Lisa studies for a year
- Lisa is more focused during her study time, while Stephanie gets distracted very easily
- Stephanie gets much less sleep than does Lisa, and so is unable to integrate material nearly as well
- Stephanie was already scoring 170 when she began studying, so it was only possible to improve her score by 10 points at most (bet you didn’t think of this one)
- Lisa is a quicker learner than Stephanie
…and so on.
As you can see, there are many things that could help to resolve the discrepancy. Anything that can remotely help to explain why Lisa improved more despite having studied less per week would suffice, and would have to be the correct answer on a question like this.
It’s not always possible to predict the answer on a question like this since there are often several possible answers, but nonetheless, as you’re reading the paragraph, try to at least think of a couple of general things that would explain it (for example, Lisa’s study time is more efficient, Lisa studies for more weeks…), and having your mind working towards possible resolutions will help you spot them in the answers.
Here are a few trick answers that would not resolve this discrepancy:
- Lisa uses effective study methods
- Stephanie studies for two weeks in total
- Lisa is focused in her study time
Notice how all of these things are similar to examples above, but only tell you half of the story. In the first one, how do I know that Stephanie doesn’t also use effective study methods, or perhaps even more effective study methods than does Lisa? In the second one, how do I know that Lisa doesn’t also study for two weeks, or perhaps even less? In the third one, how do I know that Stephanie isn’t also just as focused in her study time, or perhaps even more focused?
You need to look for something that doesn’t just explain why Lisa would do well or why Stephanie would do poorly – it needs to explain specifically why Lisa would do better than Stephanie. Always hone in on exactly what the discrepancy is, and make sure the answer you pick addresses it in its entirety. The answer would have to show some kind of difference between Lisa and Stephanie, not just a fact about one of them.
Here’s an example from June 2007 in “EXCEPT” form:
In “EXCEPT” questions, you are looking for the wrong answer, which means four of these things resolve the discrepancy and one of them does not.
What exactly is the discrepancy?
One the one hand, Jimmy’s new gas water heater is rated just as efficient as the old one.
But on the other hand, Jimmy’s gas bills went up after he switched the old one for the new one.
Anything that explains how these two things can both be true would have to be a correct resolution (which in this case would make it a wrong answer). As you’re reading the paragraph you might think of reasons why: perhaps Jimmy starts using more gas after he buys the new heater – maybe it’s right at the start of winter when he will need the heater more. Or, perhaps he didn’t install it properly, so it’s not working at full efficiency.
Let’s look at the answers:
(A) says that the new heater uses less of the house’s gas than did the old one. If anything, this would make me think the new gas bills should be lower rather than higher, so this certainly doesn’t explain the discrepancy – rather, it amplifies it! Therefore, this is the right answer. Arguably, the more important part here is seeing how the other four answers do help resolve it.
(B) through (E) all tell me other things that changed after Jimmy replaced the heater, which would all help to explain why Jimmy would spend more on gas. (B), (C), and (E) all give reasons why his household would use more gas, while (D) explains why he would spend more on gas, even if he used the same amount. All of these things explain how both of the above two contradicting facts can be true. In other words, even if the gas heater is just as efficient, if Jimmy is using more gas, or spending more per unit of gas, of course his bill will increase!
Most discrepancies can be phrased the way we phrased this one above – “on the one hand, _____, but on the other hand, _____”. Pretend you are Reb Tevye. This can be a great way to identify and organize the discrepancy in your head so you see exactly what you have to resolve.
For example, the first discrepancy I gave you above could be phrased thus:
On the one hand, Stephanie studied more per week than Lisa did.
But on the other hand, Lisa improved her score more than Stephanie did.
Beware of answers that only explain one of the two contradicting facts as these are often the most commonly picked wrong answers. For example: “Unlike Stephanie, Lisa has a full-time job and is only able to afford 3 hours per week of study time.” This would be incorrect as it only explains why the first fact would be true, rather than how they can both be true simultaneously.
Let’s look at a trickier one from June 2007:
One the one hand, the French academy’s sponsorship of art in the 19th century caused there to be little innovation in sculpture, since the academy disliked innovation.
But on the other hand, this effect did not extend to painting, which showed a lot of innovation.
We need to find a reason why the academy’s desires were reflected in sculpture but not in paintings. As such, the right answer will have to be a difference between sculpture and painting.
Hence, (E) can be eliminated quickly since it says something that is true of both sculptors and painters. The fact that the two of them together received less sponsorship money than they had prior to the 19th century cannot explain a difference between them – namely, why the academy had a greater effect on innovation in one than in the other.
(D) is another answer that doesn’t really give me a qualitative difference between sculpture and painting in the 19th century. It just tells me that there was little overlap; some people did one and different people did the other. I’m still left wondering why the academy affected innovation in one more so than in the other.
The remaining three answers all provide differences between sculptors and painters. But which is the one that actually explains this discrepancy?
(A) actually amplifies the discrepancy! If the academy gave more of its money to painting than to sculpture, then wouldn’t we expect its effect to be greater on painting, rather than the opposite? This cannot be the answer.
(B) is tricky. It says that more sculptors received academy support, but that each painter got more money on average than did each sculptor. This doesn’t appear to explain why the painters would be more immune from the academy’s effects than sculptors. Even though less painters were academy-sponsored, each person got more money, so maybe they were more afraid to innovate than the sculptors, who got a smaller amount per person? Furthermore, maybe there were simply less painters to sponsor than there were sculptors, and therefore even though a smaller number of painters were academy-sponsored, maybe that smaller number still represented 100% of the painters. Also, maybe painters are more prolific than sculptors, and each painter creates 100 paintings, whereas each sculptor creates only 3 sculptures. If this were true, the academy would have to sponsor far fewer painters in order to have the same effect on painting than it would on sculpture. (Notice how the paragraph says that painting experienced a lot of innovation, not that many painters innovated.) In order to explain why painting was able to have innovations, I’d need to know that there were some paintings who were immune from the academy’s effect.
(C) tells me this indeed. It says that even though the academy was sponsoring more art overall, there were many more unsponsored paintings than there were unsponsored sculptures. This explains why there would have been more paintings that were been unaffected by the academy’s dislike of innovation than sculptures. After reading this answer choice, I understand perfectly why there would have been more innovation in painting than in sculpture in the 19th century. After reading (B), however, I’m still unclear on it.
- As you’re reading the paragraph, identify what the apparent discrepancy is, and think ahead to a few general things that could help to explain it
- It can help to identify exactly what the two contradictory facts are (on the one hand, _____, but on the other hand, _____)
- Make sure to find the answer that explains the entire discrepancy, not the answer that only explains half of the story
For full clarity on very tough logical reasoning questions, check out my very inexpensive LSAT course.
Oh, and if you haven’t already, download your Free MasterLSAT Study Guide, which will tell you exactly what you need to do to reach a 99th-percentile score on the LSAT.