Find the Flaw questions are the least common of the five Assumption family question types. The question stems will almost always contain some form of the word “flaw”, but be careful: Weaken the Argument questions also might contain the word “flaw” in the question stem.
If you have familiarised yourself with the “Weaken the Argument” questions, you will know that those questions also use language pointing to the hypothetical, i.e. the predominant use of “if true”. Find the Flaw questions will never contain this kind of language.
As with other Assumption family questions, Find the Flaw questions will contain an argument core that you must break down, and it will certainly help if you can pin-point any assumptions that the author makes.
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The correct answer for this question type will be the opposite of the correct answer on a Find the Assumption question. So, essentially, you’re looking for the anti-assumption; a flaw in the logical flow of the argument that stems in a flawed assumption. Here, you need to look for wording in the answer choices that indicates why it is flawed thinking to believe that the given assumption is true.
Let’s have a look at an example:
Physician: The hormone melatonin has shown promise as a medication for sleep disorders when taken in synthesized form. Because the long-term side effects of synthetic melatonin are unknown, however, I cannot recommend its use at this time.
Patient: Your position is inconsistent with your usual practice. You prescribe many medications that you know have serious side effects, so concern about side effects cannot be the real reason you will not prescribe melatonin.
The patient’s argument is flawed because it fails to consider that
(A) the side effects of synthetic melatonin might be different from those of naturally produced melatonin
(B) it is possible that the physician does not believe that melatonin has been conclusively shown to be effective
(C) sleep disorders, if left untreated, might lead to serious medical complications
(D) the side effects of a medication can take some time to manifest themselves
(E) known risks can be weighed against known benefits, but unknown risks cannot
Let’s break down the patient’s argument to its core:
Conclusion: “so concern about side effects cannot be the real reason you will not prescribe melatonin.”
Premise: “Your position is inconsistent with your usual practice. You prescribe many medications that you know have serious side effects.”
We can understand the following from the above argument:
Our task is to find the flaw in the reasoning that flows from the above assumption. Clearly, the patient has construed an implicit negative connotation in the physician’s aversion to prescribing melatonin. However, what we need to look into here, is why this aversion has made the patient conclude what he has concluded. He has reached his understanding of why the doctor is avoiding the prescription based on the premise that he always prescribes medications that have serious side effects. His reasoning is flawed because he has overlooked the fact that the side effects the doctor mentioned were unknown, rather than serious, particularly so because the melatonin is synthetic and not natural.
Option A might seem like a tempting answer choice, but is incorrect because the argument is related to the physician’s inconsistent prescription, and not the difference in side effects between synthetic and natural melatonin. Remember, your task is to find the flaw in the author’s argument, which here is based entirely on the prescription of medication. Thus, option A is not the answer. In case of option B, if the doctor did not believe in the effectiveness of melatonin, it wouldn’t be flawed on the patient’s part to consider that a reason to avoid prescription. In fact, that sounds like a reasonable reason to keep a medicine off the prescription. However, the physician, in the very first line has mentioned that melatonin in its synthetic form is quite effective. So, this option can be eliminated. Option C talks about the consequences of sleep disorders. For the patient, being aware of this can certainly be advantageous, but it certainly not flawed in the context of the present argument. How much time the side effects from a medication can take to manifest is irrelevant to the argument. So, option D is also incorrect.
Option E clearly weighs out known risks v/s unknown risks and directly attacks the faulty assumption that the patient had based his argument on. Hence, this is the correct answer.