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Break Down the Structure of an Argument

This page describes how to break down the structure of arguments in the Reasoning section.

Anatomy of an argument

Arguments have two essential parts: the facts and the conclusion. Every argument on the LSAT includes some statements that are facts and a single conclusion. The facts are intended to support the conclusion.

But arguments don't only consist of facts and a conclusion. Some statements in an argument may be context and/or an antithesis, which aren't strictly necessary to understand but can provide useful clues about the argument. An anti-thesis is a point the argument is against. Or, rather, an anti-thesis is a point of departure for a nuanced distinction. Context may help define terms used by the facts or conclusion, or it may limit the argument to a specific situation.

name function synonym(s)
fact basis of the argument premise, support
conclusion claim of the argument opinion, holding, point
context defines the argument's terms or scope background
antithesis what the argument is against opposing point

And there are also two types of implicit statements, aka statements missing from the argument: assumptions, which are missing facts, and inferences, which are missing conclusions.

Distinguishing fact from conclusion

You can use 3 methods to identify which statements are facts and which is the conclusion:

Method meaning how the LSAT uses it to trick you
Feel Conclusions tend to seem more opinionated while facts tend to be neutral. Making the conclusion boring and/or the facts strong.
Flow All arguments have a logical direction: the facts support the conclusion. Changing the order of the words to put the conclusion first.
Structure words Key words that indicate whether something is a fact, conclusion, pivot, or context Using conclusion keywords to introduce a "sub-conclusion", which is really just a fact.

Looking for structural words may feel less intuitive, at first. But ultimately structure words require the least brain-power and are the most reliable way to distinguish fact from conclusion.

Structure word top examples
Conclusion words Thus, therefore, so, hence
Fact words For, after all, because, since
Pivot words But, however, although, yet
Context clues parentheses, double commas, or em-dashes

Common structures:

  • Antithesis. But fact. So conclusion.
  • Although antithesis, conclusion. After all fact.
  • Because fact, conclusion.
  • Conclusion since fact.
  • Fact (context) fact continued. Conclusion, context, conclusion continued.
Study tip

Make flashcards to memorize these common structure words and structures

Then practice spotting structure words in the wild, either on the LSAT itself or the real world.

  • Easy mode: news sources you typically disagree with.
  • Hard mode: news sources you typically agree with.

Use structure words to break down the following examples:

Bananas are the worst fruit. After all, every other fruit is better.

The fact word after all shows that the second sentence is a fact, so the first must be the conclusion.

Conclusion: Bananas are the worst.

Fact: Every other fruit is better.

Note: This is a circular argument. The fact and the conclusion sentences both mean the same thing.

Software companies argue that strong intellectual property protections are necessary to promote innovation. But there's plenty of innovation in clothing fashions even though fashion designs can't be patented or copyrighted. We don't need patent and copyright protections for software.

The pivot word but typically comes after the antithesis. Since but is at the beginning of the second sentence that indicates that the first sentence is an antithesis.

As soon as you read that but, you can guess that the conclusion will be the opposite of whatever the software companies believe. The last sentence is opposite of the first, so that's our conclusion.

Conclusion: We don't need patent or copyright for software.

Reading for flow, you might also also notice that the second sentence supports the last.

Although my client is a convicted thief, they didn't kill anyone.

The pivot word although typically comes before the antithesis. In this case, the antithesis is less of an argument than an inconvenient fact. The lawyer is using the word although to shift our attention away from that fact that their client has stolen in the past, and towards what they care about proving, that their client isn't a murderer.

Conclusion: They didn't kill anyone.

Note: This isn't really an argument because there's no facts. It's more like an assertion.

If you spend $100 at our store, we'll give you a $20 gift card.

This was a trick, sorry!

On the LSAT if X, then Y is a conditional statement not an argument.

Learn more about conditional logic.

If you care about freedom, which is a core American value, then you'll vote for Fred. You didn't vote for Fred, so you don't care about freedom.

The conclusion word so indicates that the very last phrase is the conclusion.

Conclusion: You do not care about freedom

Fact 1: Care about freedom → vote Fred

Fact 2: You did not vote Fred

Context: Freedom = core American value

Note: Conditional statements can be either facts or conclusions.