Why Scope Matters in CR Assumption

Let’s look at this CR Assumption question (it’s actually an LSAT question, but let’s give it a whirl):

In considering the fact that many people believe that promotions are often given to undeserving employees because the employees successfully flatter their supervisors, a psychologist argued that although many people who flatter their supervisors are subsequently promoted, flattery generally is not the reason for their success, because almost all flattery is so blatant that it is obvious even to those toward whom it is directed.

Which one of the following, if assumed, enables the psychologist’s conclusion to be properly drawn?

-Belief that flatterers get undeserving P
-Many who flatter get P

Notice here the 2nd sentence is split between evidence and conclusion. The “real conclusion” doesn’t start until “because almost all…” This happens quite often and can be confusing to students who often wonder which clause is the conclusion.

As with all Assumption questions, we have to look for the brand-new, sparkly keywords in the Conclusion — the “concept-shift,” or the new idea that appears in the conclusion that appears to “come out of nowhere.” Here it is this new idea about it being “blatant” or “obvious.”

Concept Shift: “flattery…obvious”

Why does it matter if the flattery is obvious to the supervisors? There is clearly an assumption made here that whether the supervisors KNOW they are being flattered has an impact.

The scope of the correct answer needs to be on the awareness of the supervisors.

Prediction: If supervisors know they are being flattered, they wouldn’t promote undeserving employees b/c of it.

Let’s look at the scope of each answer choice:

(A) People in positions of responsibility expect to be flattered. (scope: Expectations of Supervisors)
(B) Official guidelines for granting promotion tend to focus on merit. (scope: Official guidelines)
(C) Flattery that is not noticed by the person being flattered is ineffective. (scope: Effectiveness of Flattery)
(D) Many people interpret insincere flattery as sincere admiration. (scope: Misinterpretation of Flattery)
(E) Supervisors are almost never influenced by flattery when they notice it. (scope: Supervisors and Flatter)

At this point, because of our prediction, it should be very clear the answer is (E), with (D) as our second-best (but still wrong). Identifying that “concept shift” and getting crystal-clear on what kind of scope you expect the correct answer to focus on will REALLY help your Assumption-spotting abilities.

Just because we’re here, let’s look in more detail at the answer choices:

(A) Whether supervisors EXPECT to be flattered has no bearing on whether promotions occur as a result of it.

(B) What official guidelines DO or DON’T say has zero stated relationship in the passage to the ACTIONS of supervisors.

(C) This is trickier. It basically says that Unnoticed Flatter is Ineffective. Okay…but we cannot assume that Flatter that is noticed IS effective. And even if we could, that would Weaken the argument, not be its Assumption.

(D) Just because MANY people think flatter is sincere, doesn’t mean SUPERVISORS do, and it doesn’t follow therefore that the supervisors would promote flatterers just because they think they are sincere. This choice essentially just says, “Some people are dumb.” Well…okay, but what does that have to do with the idea of supervisors and promotions?

(E) If we negate this choice, we can see even more why it is correct.

Negation of (E): Supervisors ARE influenced by flattery when they notice it.

Well, if they ARE, then the author’s entire conclusion that flattery is not the reason for the success kind of falls apart!


CR Weaken: Why We Need to be Flexible

With Weaken questions, we need some flexibility with the answer choices, since there are several ways to weaken an argument:

-Provide an explanation
-Prove the assumption is wrong
-Undermine a piece of evidence

I find the easiest “default” for a Weaken prediction is to identify the Evidence, Conclusion, and Assumption of the argument, and then simply reverse the assumption.

The hard part is trying to do all of this in your head, so I HIGHLY suggest you do all CR work on your scratch pad. No need to write the entire argument down. You can easily summarize it with abbreviations and symbols. Let’s examine a question:

Microbiologist: A lethal strain of salmonella recently showed up in a European country, causing an outbreak of illness that killed two people and infected twenty-seven others. Investigators blame the severity of the outbreak on the overuse of antibiotics, since the salmonella bacteria tested were shown to be drug-resistant. But this is unlikely because patients in the country where the outbreak occurred cannot obtain antibiotics to treat illness without a prescription, and the country’s doctors prescribe antibiotics less readily than do doctors in any other European country.

Which of the following, if true, would most weaken the microbiologist’s reasoning?

A) Physicians in the country where the outbreak occurred have become hesitant to prescribe antibiotics since they are frequently in short supply.
B) People in the country where the outbreak occurred often consume foods produced from animals that eat antibiotics-laden livestock feed.
C) Use of antibiotics in two countries that neighbor the country where the outbreak occurred has risen over the past decade.
D) Drug-resistant strains of salmonella have not been found in countries in which antibiotics are not generally available.
E) Salmonella has been shown to spread easily along the distribution chains of certain vegetables, such as raw tomatoes.

Here, the evidence tells us a prescription is hard to get, so antibiotics aren’t to blame for the salmonella, even though the salmonella were drug-resistant.

The bad logic here is that the author is assuming there isn’t ANOTHER way that antibiotics could have caused the salmonella, just because doctors don’t give out prescriptions.

So, to weaken, let’s reverse the assumption: what if there was ANOTHER way that the antibiotics contributed to the salmonella that didn’t involve doctors???

Notice that once we’re crystal-clear on the argument, the correct answer is much easier to spot.

B) is saying the salmonella could have come from people eating animals who eat antibiotics. Maybe it transferred?

This is a solid option, and a good reversal of the assumption.

Many students, however, will eliminate (B) right off the bat, because they will think, “huh, I didn’t read anything about “animals that eat antibiotics-laden livestock feed.” But remember, Weaken questions can be exceptionally difficult, and since there is more than one way to weaken, we have to be open to the idea that the correct answer may introduce a detail that at first seems totally irrelevant, but after a few seconds reveals itself as something that destroys the conclusion.

The author said it is “unlikely” that antibiotics could be blamed BECAUSE of the doctors not giving prescriptions.

BUT, if the people are getting antibiotics from a totally different source, then yes, the antibiotics could still be blamed.

Here is how our analysis could have looked for this question on our scratch pad:


Remember to make a prediction for a “Weaken” question on your scratch pad, but ALSO be open to the idea that the correct answer might weaken the argument in an unexpected way!