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Boil Down the Content of an Argument

When you boil down an argument you attempt to simplify it without changing the meaning. Simplifying has two advantages:

  1. The act of simplifying forces you to critically engage with the argument, and thus deepens your understanding.
  2. The product of simplifying, your simplification, will be easier to remember after you start reading the confusing answers.

To boil down an argument you...

  1. Find the verbs
  2. Fill in pronouns
  3. Combine synonyms
  4. Turn negatives into positives

Don't change the meaning

When you boil down an argument, you risk changing the meaning. Avoiding changing meaning is easier said than done.

Extracting > paraphrasing

Try to keep the argument's own words whenever possible.

As you practice, you may notice there are some types of words that are important to not leave out. Here are some categories of words that matter to the LSAT:

Category of important word Examples
Modifiers not, some, most, can, may, must
Normative claims should
Conditional logic if, all, none, only, unless
Causation clues effects, leads to, contributes to, benefits from
Conjunctions and, nor, or

How to know if you changed the meaning?

If the correct answer included ideas that you left out, then those ideas were likely important.

Note 1: the words don't have to be the same, the ideas do.

Note 2: the incorrect answers are not a useful guide. Wrong answers are likely to mix up ideas and emphasize unimportant points.


Verbs are crucial. Verbs are, literally, the action of a sentence.

Annie Dillard (as repeated by Alexander Chee) on verbs

You want vivid writing. How do we get vivid writing? Verbs, first. Precise verbs. All of the action on the page, everything that happens, happens in the verbs. The passive voice needs gerunds to make anything happen. But too many gerunds together on the page makes for tinnitus: Running, sitting, speaking, laughing, inginginginging. No. Don’t do it. The verbs tell a reader whether something happened once or continually, what is in motion, what is at rest. Gerunds are lazy, you don’t have to make a decision and soon, everything is happening at the same time, pell-mell, chaos. Don’t do that. Also, bad verb choices mean adverbs. More often than not, you don’t need them. Did he run quickly or did he sprint? Did he walk slowly or did he stroll or saunter?

The LSAT hides verbs to obscure who is doing what. When you rephrase sentences so that they include a clear subject and verb, you help yourself make sense of the LSAT.

Law School Relevance

It's not just the LSAT, judges and legal academics also love to hide verbs. Learning to spot verbs will help you see through legal writing. And learning to use verbs will improve your own writing, which is how you'll be graded in law school.

Verbs hide in two related ways:

  1. passive voice and
  2. nominalizations.

Passive Voice

You may have heard of the evils of passive voice. In a passive sentence, the subject and object of a sentence are switched.


Y is loved by X.

This is passive. Y, the object of X's love, is made into the subject of the sentence. The sentence uses is to make Y into the subject of the sentence. But Y is the object of the real verb, love.

Notice, in the passive construction, the subject X could be left out, hiding/erasing them entirely:

Y is loved.

Contrast with this active sentence, in which X acts on, loves, the object Y:

X loves Y

Passive voice obscures who does what.


Compare this passive sentence:

Verbs are often hidden on the LSAT.

Versus this active sentence:

The LSAT hides verbs.

Notice how the first (passive) version minimizes the LSAT's responsibility.

Passive voice isn't always bad

Passive voice can be justified when it moves familiar ideas to the beginning of a sentence. When sentences begin with familiar ideas, readers don't need to work as hard. So sometimes it is kind to use the passive voice.


Of lawyers' many bad writing habits, nominalizations are the worst.

Acronyms are a close 2nd. Latin is 3rd.

A nominalization is a verb that has been turned into a noun. Nominalizations often end in "-ion" or "-ing." Nominalization are typically replaced by "to be" or another empty verb.


Obtain a view of Spot while they are performing the activity of running.


See Spot run.

Defeat nominalizations by rewriting the sentence with a meaningful verb.

Practice Tip: Revise some academic writing

Find an academic article or book chapter. Rewrite the first page so that every sentence begins with a clear subject and a precise verb.

  • Level 1: start with a book or article you've already read and understood.
  • Level 2: pick something new or challenging in your field of study.
  • Level 3: translate something outside your expertise.
  • Level 4: fix your own writing.


You may need to build up an argument before you boil it down.

Pronouns refer to something else. To understand what a pronoun means, you must find that reference. Words like "it", "this" and "their argument" are blanks that you need to fill in.


She was going to go see it, but then Lee heard the movie was bad.

Pronouns: she, it

Filled in:

Lee was going to go see the movie, but then Lee heard the movie was bad.

Try it yourself:

A group of running coaches claim that it degrades muscle strength. This claim must be incorrect. They fail to point to any empirical data that shows such degradation after extended periods of Zone 2 training.

Pronouns: it, this claim, such degradation

Boiled version:

Some coaches incorrectly claim that Zone 2 training degrades muscle strength. These coaches have no empirical data showing muscle degradation after Zone 2 training.


Figuring out what phrases mean the same thing is a critical skill on the LSAT.

Combining synonyms can be risky. When you assume two different words have the same meaning, you risk closing a gap in a bad argument.

But not combining synonyms will prevent you from seeing the connections between sentences. And looking for the same exact words may blind you to a correct answer.

Try to find all the synonyms here:

Section 7(b)(2) of the insurance policy pertains to collisions of the covered vehicle that do not involve another driver. The policy-holder shall be presumed at fault for all damages to the insured vehicle under this clause. The agreement states that at-fault drivers shall be responsible for any such expenses as may arise from said incidents.


  • Section 7(b)(2) \ this clause
  • The insurance policy \ The agreement
  • said incidents \ collisions that do not involve another driver
  • policy-holder \ at-fault driver (unless someone else was driving your car?!)
  • covered vehicle \ insured vehicle
  • all damages \ any expenses

Boiled version:

If you crash your car, and no one else was involved, then we will presume you were at fault. If you're at fault, you'll have to pay for the damages.


Positives are easier to think about than negatives.


Never don't resolve a double negative.


Always resolve double negatives

Try to turn these negatives into positives:

One would not be well advised to avoid not failing to attend one's lectures.

Boiled version:

Go to class.

More Examples

Try boiling down these arguments:

Speeding is against the law, but no one doesn't do it. Still, it's not safe. They shouldn't expect to not get pulled over when they're doing it.

Boiled version:

Speeding is illegal, but everyone speeds. Speeding is dangerous. So speeders should expect to get pulled over.

Breakfast, compared to dinner and lunch, isn't likely to possess a considerable degree of nutritional value. It is worse to consume something without nutritional value than it is to not consume it. Ergo, most people would be no worse off if they failed to consume breakfast.

Boiled version:

Breakfast is less nutritious than dinner or lunch. It's better to eat nothing than to eat something with 0 nutrition. Therefore, you can skip breakfast.

There is a moral imperative for the establishment of a juridical equality that encompasses non-human beings' legal rights. Yet their ability to bring cases before the court, in the storied tradition of American jurisprudence, are never not denied under the doctrine of standing. It is obvious, then, that reforms to the doctrine of standing must be undertaken without delay.

Boiled version:

We should grant non-human beings equal legal rights. Non-humans cannot bring cases because of standing. Therefore, we should reform standing.