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Approaching Resolve and Explain Questions Like a Riddle

Is the LSAT trying to troll you with these questions?

It’s a chance to prove to others how smart you are … but usually it ends with you feeling annoyed at the person testing you. No, I’m not talking about the LSAT. I’m talking about riddles! But as it turns out, the Resolve and Explain questions on the Logical Reasoning section of the LSAT look an awful lot like riddles, and by giving you an effective strategy for tackling Resolve/Explain questions, you will also be equipped to reason through the next riddle that gets thrown your way.

To start, give yourself a moment to puzzle through this classic riddle on your own: A father and son are in a horrible car crash that kills the dad. The son is rushed to the hospital. Just as he’s about to go under the knife, the surgeon says, “I can’t operate–that boy is my son!” Explain.

The riddle sounds much lot like a Resolve or Explain question from the LSAT because — unlike most of the other Logical Reasoning question types that require you to manipulate or analyze an argument in the stimulus — Resolve and Explain questions are all about dealing with discrepancies and surprising phenomena. The Resolve question type presents you with two parts of a paradox and asks you for the correct piece of information to resolve the discrepancy between them. Similarly, an Explain question presents an unexpected phenomenon and the correct answer will do the best job of explaining why that phenomenon might not be as strange or surprising as it initially seemed.

The riddle works most like an Explain question, in that it presents the surprising development: father dies, but then doctor says “that boy is my son.” You want to start a Explain question by reading the stimulus and identify why the phenomenon is unexpected (zombie-surgeon father?). You want to do your best to clearly and succinctly frame the issue you identify in the stimulus as a question: If the boy’s father died in the car crash, how could the doctor be the boy’s parent?

If you haven’t figured it out, the answer to the riddle is (pause for dramatic effect): the surgeon is the boy’s mother. Most people who just hear this riddle for the first time are stumped because they picture a man when they get to the point in the story about the surgeon. And while there’s been a whole study of gender bias using this riddle, the point to take away for the LSAT is that you should NOT make any of your own assumptions based on the information provided to you in a Logical Reasoning stimulus. While many people are tripped up by the riddle because they make an assumption that surgeon=male, your LSAT questions will provide similar traps where students restrict the possible answer choices based on assumptions which aren’t necessarily true based on the information provided in the stimulus.

And if your response to the riddle was that the boy could have had two dads who were married, then you’ve taken the next step of a Resolve/Explain question: trying to anticipate all the plausible explanations. Remember that the correct answer choice may not be restricted to those explanations you’ve predicted and you don’t know which explanation the LSAT is going to use as the correct answer choice.

And in the case of Resolve/Explain questions, you have the chance to review those five possible answer choices to find which one does remedy the apparent issue in the stimulus, while allowing the information in the stimulus to be true.

To recap, your steps on Resolve/Explain questions are:

Read and identify the discrepancy/unexpected phenomenon → try to frame the issue as a clear question → anticipate any information that would resolve the discrepancy/explain the phenomenon → find the answer choice which supplies the info you need to resolve/explain, while allowing the stimulus to be true

Now go forth and use these steps to outsmart your next LSAT.