Skip to content

Step 2: Understand the Argument

This page outlines the 2nd step of solving Reasoning questions: understanding the argument.

There are two aspects to understanding:

  1. Break down the argument to distinguish the facts from the conclusion.
  2. Boil down the argument to the essential point, without changing it.

Breaking down an argument reveals its fundamental structure, then boiling it down helps you grasp what it actually means.

Break it down

Every argument on the LSAT has two essential parts:

  • some facts, aka the basis/support; and
  • one conclusion, aka the point/claim.
Exception: INFER family questions only give you facts

In the Infer family, the "argument" will not have a conclusion. The "argument" will only include facts. Often your job is to fill in an allowable conclusion.

You break down the argument by distinguishing the facts from the conclusion. Breaking down the argument is crucial because, on the LSAT, you must accept that the facts are true. You do not, however, have to accept that the facts support the conclusion.

Context and Antithesis

In addition to the facts and conclusion, an argument might contain other statements, most often context or an antithesis.

The context and antithesis are not essential to understanding, but they provide useful clues.

Context statements defines the argument's terms and scope.

An antithesis is what the argument is against. Knowing what the argument is against can help you anticipate what it will argue for.


Dr. Martin Luther King often preached about agape -- a greek word meaning love. In contrast to eros, romantic love, or philia, brotherly love, Dr. King argued that agape was a higher form of love because it demands that we love our enemies who we cannot expect to love us back.

Conclusion: Agape is a higher form of love.

Fact: Agape demands that we love our enemies.

Fact: Loving your enemies means loving someone who wont love you back.

Context: Agape means love. Eros means romantic love. Philia means brotherly love.

Antithesis: Eros and philia are different and lesser than agape.

There are three methods you can use to distinguish the facts from the conclusion:

Method How it works
Feeling Facts may feel more objective or modest. Conclusions may feel bigger or more subjective.
Flow Facts logically lead to the conclusion.
Structure words Conclusion words ("so", "thus", "therefore") point to the conclusion. Fact words ("for", "because", "since") point to facts. Pivot words ("but") point to the antithesis. And context clues (double commas, em-dashes, or parentheses) point to context.

Of these three methods, structure words are the most efficient and reliable strategy. Using your feelings or the flow of the argument may feel more intuitive, at first, but feelings and flow require more mental energy and give the LSAT more opportunities to trick you.

Try using each of these three methods to separate fact from conclusion in this short argument:

Read my book for I am the greatest writer of all time.

Fact: I am the greatest writer of all time

Conclusion: Read my book

Disadvantage of using feeling: "greatest of all time" is a big claim, that makes the second half of the sentence feel like a conclusion.

Disadvantage of using flow: In the order of the words, the conclusion comes first.

Structure word: for, as a fact word it indicates that the second half is the fact.

Boil it down

The LSAT uses bad writing to confuse you. To understand this bad writing, you may need to both translate and simplify the LSAT's sentences.

You boil down arguments to clarify their essential meaning.

Law school relevance

In general, lawyers, judges, and legal academics are bad writers. Learning to boil down arguments will be useful for law school.

Boiling down an argument has two advantages:

  1. The act of boiling down an argument forces you to think critically about the words on the page.
  2. The result, the boiled-down argument, will be easier to remember after you start reading the confusing answers.

Boiling down arguments is risky

While boiling, you can easily change the meaning of the argument.

4 useful techniques for translating bad writing:

  • Find the verb
  • Fill in pronouns
  • Combine synonyms
  • Turn negatives into positives
Translating a bad sentence

Original (from Foucault):

Basically, it has to intervene on society so that competitive mechanisms can play a regulatory role at every moment and every point in society and by intervening in this way the neo-liberal government's objective will become possible, that is to say, a general regulation of society by the market.

Verbs: intervene on, play a regulatory role, intervening in, will become possible, a general regulation of

Pronouns: it, in this way

Synonyms: competitive mechanisms / the market, objective / a general regulation of society by the market, every moment / every point in society / general society

Negatives: n/a


Neo-liberal governments want competitive market mechanisms to regulate every aspect of society. To achieve this objective, neo-liberal government must intervene in every aspect of society.


Primary Skill Secondary Skills
Break down arguments Spot fact, conclusion, and pivot words. Extract clues from the context and antithesis. Don't fight the facts.
Boil down arguments Translate bad writing. Reduce to essentials. Preserve meaning.