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Bad Analogies Are a Lot Like Questions About Dinosaurs

… They’re both all over the LSAT.

If you were training to run a race, it wouldn’t be a good idea to work out like crazy one day a week and loaf the rest. Studying for the LSAT, like training for a race, involves building up skills over time. So you shouldn’t cram your LSAT studying on the weekends but instead spread it out over time.

There, I just made an analogy.

But the LSAT often makes analogies that are far more suspect. Let’s take an example:

Prime Minister Crumpf is under fire for having received campaign assistance from the Prussian government. But those who criticize Crumpf but not his opponent, Flindon, fail to acknowledge that Flindon’s campaign paid a former spy from the Norman Empire to collect intelligence on Crumpf. If Crumpf is to be condemned, then surely Flindon is, too.

The Problem with Analogies

The problem with arguments by analogy or by comparison is that the things being compared might not be a similar as the person making the argument thinks. The premises in such an argument typically point out some similarities between the things being compared, but there might be important differences, too. That makes strengthening or weakening such an argument a relatively predictable task. To strengthen, point out a further relevant similarity. To weaken, point out a relevant difference.

So, we could strengthen the argument above if we said that anyone who accepts intelligence from any foreign source is similarly compromised. Maybe the Norman Empire was indeed trying to compromise the Flindon campaign just as Prussia was trying to compromise Crumpf’s; that would strengthen the argument, too. Or we could weaken the argument. Oh, boy, could we weaken the argument.

We could say that whereas the Crumpf campaign simply accepted the assistance when offered and therefore is perhaps beholden to the Prussian government, Flindon’s campaign paid for the opposition research and therefore doesn’t owe anything to a foreign power. We could also point out that whatever Flindon may have done, she doesn’t currently hold any public office and therefore her fitness for office is now irrelevant. We could go on, but we won’t.

How to Spot an Analogy

To spot an argument by analogy or by comparison, look out for premises about one thing being used to draw a conclusion about another thing. Typically, there will also be a premise identifying a similarity between the two things. Start thinking about the differences. If you know about some differences already, why might those be a problem? For example, in the argument above, it’s known that Flindon paid for the opposition research.

Then think about what other differences there might be between the two cases. What might be important that you don’t know about? Brainstorm a little.

Then, if it’s a Flaw question, expect the answer to describe the known differences between the two cases. If it’s a Strengthen question, play up the similarities. If it’s a Weaken question, point out the differences. That’s it.

So don’t let anyone argue to you that because writing is one of the most important things on law school exams, the writing sample must be one of the most important parts of the LSAT.