What’s the toughest part of the LSAT? While each test-taker has his or her own strengths and weaknesses, there’s a general concensus that most people find the Logic Games section the most intimidating part of the test. The good news? It’s also the section where, with preparation, test-takers also see the biggest score increase. We’ve gathered our test prep experts to offer you their strategies to helping you beat this challenging section and achieve your highest score possible.
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Welcome to Law School Podcaster, your source for inside information and advice on the law school application process. I’m Diana Jordan.
For applicants who want to be accepted at a top law school, the LSAT score can make or break your candidacy. And the section of the test that most frequently throws test takers for a loop is analytical reasoning, otherwise known as logic games. For many, mastering this section is no easy task, but it can be done, and experts say that this is the section where test takers can see the biggest increase in scores. But it also takes knowing the rules. And then it takes practice. There are those who even say that logic games can actually become fun. A lot of these people are test prep experts, and we’ve gathered some of the elite test prep providers here today, representatives from Knewton, Kaplan, and Manhattan LSAT, to give you tips to help you prepare and practice.
Like Glen Stohr of Kaplan. “There’s logic games. That’s actually a little less than a quarter of your score. But it is far and away, for most students, the most intimidating thing because it’s the most unusual when they first encounter the LSAT.”
We also have a Manhattan LSAT student, who drove her test score from a 166 to 176. Sarah Streit will explain how she overcame the intimidation factor with logic games and increased her scores enough to be accepted into a Top 14 law school. The goal is really to take the LSAT once or maybe twice, if you absolutely have to, which means that for most people, the LSAT will feel all new. And, which makes the wisdom of our three experts, all the more, valuable.
First, let’s look at what the LSAT covers. Brad McIlquham is Director of Academics at Knewton. He says there are six sections on the LSAT. Each is 35 minutes long, five are multiple choice, and four of those are scored. Those four sections are: two logical reasoning sections, one reading comprehension, and the analytical reasoning section, best known as the “logic games.” The fifth section is experimental. It is unscored because the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) is testing the section for a future scored LSAT.
“The sixth section, also a 35-minute section, is the writing sample. It is also unscored but it is sent along with your application and your score to every school to which you applied. And trust me, schools read that. I served on a panel a few years back with the dean of admissions at the South Carolina School of Law, and he just took over the Charleston School Law, and he said, you know what, one of the biggest mistakes students make is treating the writing sample like it’s unimportant, but it is. So, you can really disqualify yourself if you don’t take each one of these six sections seriously on the test.”
Noah Teitelbaum is the Managing Director of Manhattan LSAT. He says there is a silver lining to logic games. They may be the most feared. But once past the fear, most students can improve their scores. “Logic games get a bad rap because people are often the least exposed to that who are going to take the LSAT. Unless you happen to be logic geek and play Sudoku and you get those books of logic puzzles, a lot of people find them really unfamiliar. The flip side of this is it’s probably the easiest section to improve upon if you’re doing really badly at first. Because generally learning a system of diagrams and learning how to approach these games can increase people’s scores quite a bit. For most people who are doing really badly on logic games, if they have a good approach, they can make significant gains.”
Knewton’s McIlquham says the logic games are difficult because of exposure and intimidation. ”There aren’t a lot of philosophy or math majors in law school or taking the LSAT. So, most students have never seen this type of logical puzzle before. And even if they have seen it, there’s that intimidation factor there that everyone says it’s the toughest thing. They don’t understand that the skills that you use everyday, we just internalize those skills, whether it’s making team selections at work, you’re putting people into different groups, you’re organizing weddings or you’re attending weddings or even for students doing something as simple as a Fantasy Football Draft. That’s all conditional logic. If this person is available, then I’m going to take him then. So, once you get over the exposure and the intimidation factor, it really just becomes an idea of practice. And you can make very big strives very early on in your logic games practice, and so that’s where you’re going to see a lot of your improvement take place in logic games.”
Logic games are intimidating at first but then, Glen Stohr of Kaplan says, they become fun. “They give you a scenario where seven students, they’re Anna, Betty, Carl, Dave, ABCDEFG kind of names. They’re going to get on a van with seven seats, seat number 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. And then they start posing these seemingly very abstract rules to you. Anna has to sit next to Dave, although she might sit on either side of him, and Bob can’t sit next to Carl or Bob must sit directly behind Carl, things like this. And then they ask you this plethora of questions, a lot of which start with a new, what I would refer to as a new “if,” a hypothetical situation. If Carl is in seat 3, which of the following must be true? If Carl is not in seat 3, which of the following could be false? And so there’s this sense, I think, for students when they first encounter them that this sort of this blur of rules, this sort of soup of conditions. And students that first encounter them, they don’t have a sense of sort of being able to pull those threads apart and actually see this is a very concrete task that I’m being posed and the rules are actually there to guide me. They’re going to make this huge variety of possible solutions come down and focus into, maybe just a half dozen possible solutions. But they need to be able to recognize what those are, and that’s the crux of getting from, ‘ah, logic games are terrifying,’ to ‘actually logic games are fun, concrete, specific manageable things to do.’ That’s my pleasure in teaching someone how to get better at them.”
The number one skill that logic games test is your ability to make deductions and to derive what must, can, or cannot be true, based on the series of conditions that fit together. “What you do is you take a series of rules, synthesize them, and say, if one and three are applicable, this is always the result. If one and four are applicable, this can never be the result. And that’s so similar, in fact, to what you’re doing with the rules of law as you encounter them in case law in law school, for example, which seems frankly to a lot of first year law students, I remember the first year, there was often periods where just as people do with logic games, we were looking at one another like, why did we get assigned this case and this case and this case. But of course, that’s the brain teaser. Get the rules, synthesize them and then, you just step into class and your professor says, ‘Now, Mr. Stohr, what if the plaintiff had filed the motion after the 21st instead of before the 21st?’ And you’ve got to sort of take the rules and synthesize them and go ‘aha, then the motion would have denied or then the motion would have been accepted if,’ and you kick in the hypothetical situation and so on. So, the fact is that the ability to take rules, combine them and extract the possible or necessary results of them is something that has a very strong analog in law school.”
Stohr notes that many people see big improvement in the logic games. “You can improve on every section of the test. I think the logic games show such dramatic improvement because people are so scared of it at first and have that ability to make it very concrete and manageable.”
The LSAT scores range from 120 on the low end to 180 on the other end of the scale, with the median being 151. But Stohr says that could be 59 right answers, or 60 or 61. The LSAT is standardized. McIlquham of Knewton says the LSAT in December 2010 was tough. But it was, like all LSATs, graded on a curve, which means you could miss three questions and still get a perfect score on the test. “You don’t really have to worry about how difficult the test is overall because essentially if it’s difficult for you, it’s probably difficult for everyone else and you’re judged against everyone else who takes that test, that administration.”
Teitelbaum of Manhattan LSAT says you may get an easy test or a hard test, but you get graded in comparison to everyone else who took the same test. The LSATs do differ in their difficulty. The thing is when they score the LSAT, they scale the score. So, you get a raw score which is just the number of questions you answered correctly, so it’s up to 99 to 101 points. And then that is translated into a scaled score and the psychometricians, the testing geeks, have already figured out that this raw score means you’ve done better than this percent of people who would have taken that test. And that takes into account how difficult the test is. So, if it’s a difficult LSAT, you’re going to see a higher curve. You’re going to get bumped up, so to speak. So, it’s not something you really need to worry about because it’s a percent or ranked score. It’s not just how well did you do on 1 out of 100 questions.”
Kaplan’s Glen Stohr says the tasks are practical, and the games, you put these in chronological order, schedule these appointments, you group objects. He advises you to first lower the intimidation factor. Second, he tells students the restrictions and the rules are your greatest allies. “I’ll ask them. We’ll just take a very simple logic games test. Seven students seven seats one through seven. I’ll ask students how many arrangements can you make of seven students with seven seats putting one student per seat, and they’ll say is it 49 thinking 7 x 7, something like that. And I’ll make them stop and consider it. It’s actually 7 factorial. It’s 7 x 6 x 5 x 4 x 3 x 2 x 1, its thousands of possible arrangements. But then you take just a couple of rules. Alice always sits in the lower numbered seat than Dave. Dave sits in the seat immediately to the right of Carl, and all of a sudden, you’re able to take these thousands of possible arrangements and realize, no, there are maybe eight or ten possible arrangements because Alice will always be to the left of Dave and Dave is to the left of Carl, well, all of a sudden you’re realizing Alice can only sit in seats 1, 2, 3 or what have you. So, it’s coming to understand that the rules are your allies and then you move into the very practical task. What kind of situations am I presented with? What kinds of rules come up over and over again? How do I learn to diagram, map, and control those rules? And then it’s really just a matter of practicing and putting all of those restrictions and patterns into play for yourself consistently, quickly, accurately. Then you’ll be able to master that section.”
Teitelbaum says sure enough, some geeks will just naturally get logic games. “But for the rest of us mortals, we need to get a basic strategy. So whether it’s the Manhattan LSAT book or some other book, it really behooves everyone to get some book or course on the game, so that you have some system you’re using and some system that you’re improving upon. It’s hard to just improve by trial and error or at least not very efficient. So, the first step is to get a basic approach down, and you apply the basic diagram to standard versions of a game. And there are a few different families of games, and you want to get a diagram and apply it to standard examples of those games. Then you expose yourself to unusual versions of the game. Some people call them hybrids or miscellaneous, whatever it is. And that’s because you want to build in your flexibility. Anyone who claims that they can prepare you for any game, whatsoever, is being a little misleading because the LSAT is always going to throw some unexpected twist into at least one of the games that you’re going to see. And it’s impossible to have a sort of memorized set of steps that you’re going to say, oh, they’ve thrown to me whatever it is, a Greek twist. I know what to do now. You can’t do that. You need to be flexible and think on the fly in certain situations. So, it’s important to get used to uncertainty and have moves that take you out of a panic situation into a productive one.”
Knewton’s McIlquham says you have to be able to organize and diagram information, but it doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s notes. “Your diagram or your sketch doesn’t need to be the same as my diagram or my sketch. You really need to find out what works for you as a test taker and really master that and organize that. And again, that’s sort of a great thing that Knewton brings along because you have access to all of the different structures here. You can see how my boss does it. You can see how other teachers do it. And we all do them a little bit differently. We’re doing the exact same thing, sort of functionally or logically, but we represent the diagrams a little bit differently. Some of them really resonate with different types of students. So, it really it’s critical to do it but it doesn’t need to be the same as everyone else.”
And he notes there is some common wording. “The more comfortable you are with the logic that when you see a complete and accurate list in logic games, you know that means everything and anything that could do that or when you see acceptable questions, you know that that’s just an acceptability question. It’s just asking you what could be true, what’s a possible solution to this game. So, you’re really cutting down on sort of the anxiety that comes with reading the test question because you’re comfortable and you know exactly what those things are asking you for when you get there on test day.”
Timing is another critical place where you will win or lose in logic games. Teitelbaum has a few tips. “The first way to address timing issues is to master your basic moves. So, master drawing your diagram, master making the basic inferences. For example, if I said that Diana has to come after Noah in line, at first it takes people a few seconds to go, oh, that that means that Noah can’t be last. But you want to speed that up. That should be an immediate inference. If someone comes after Noah, Noah can’t be last. You want to secondly work on moving away from trial and error. I’d say this is the number one reason people can’t finish the LSAT, other than they didn’t learn a system. They look at a question. They’re not sure what to do and they just start testing out answers. This is what allows good test takers to do so much better than the mediocre ones or even average ones. We all have to use trial and error at some point, but you want to minimize the number of times you’re using trial and error during the test. And instead, what you want to do is follow the inference chain. So, if a problem, if a question gives you a new fact, you want to do your homework, so to speak. You want to think, well, what does that mean? What do I now know? And do the thinking that the LSAT is hoping or testing you to do, and then look at the answer choices. The third thing I’m going to say is laziness. The LSAT should be written in a way that when you get to the right answer, you’re going to go, oh yeah, that’s right. I see that. And, giving yourself the room to skip over complex answers, like, I don’t know about that, to see if there’s some easy ‘duh,’ answer can help you speed up a lot. And then the last thing I would say is to set realistic goals of improvement. It can be really demeaning to beat yourself up. ‘Oh, I didn’t finish the whole test again or the whole section.’ If you’re only finishing 15 questions, then set your goal to finish 17 next time, and set these realistic improvement markers and start knocking them down.”
And Stohr says the timing element is critical and that test takers often confuse speed and efficiency on the LSAT. Don’t read faster he says, just read fewer times. “People respond to the pressure of timing by wanting to go faster, and all that really does is make them less efficient. It makes them sloppier so they get wrong answers, and it makes it so that they’re bouncing back and forth between answer choices, and text and question stem, and answer choices, and text and question stem — instead of taking it in a very linear, very strategic line. What’s the question asking? What’s the information I need to answer it? Which answer matches that information? You do that and you actually can – you can’t be slow not deliberately slow but you can be precise, thorough, rigorous and accurate and still complete the section much faster than your competition can.”
Teitelbaum says it comes down to families of questions. “One is unconditional and that would be something like, which of the following could be true or which of the following must be true or can’t be true or each of the following could be true except. In that type of question, there’s no new information and you’re just working off the information you were given in the scenario and the rules. And this is the situation where laziness comes into play a lot because there’s nothing to figure out before you look at the answer choices. It’s something you’ve already figured out because you’ve done maybe some thinking before you started all of the questions. That’s one group. The other group are conditional questions and this is where you can get a new fact like, if Jane is third, which of the following could be true? And this is a situation where your big chance to lap the competition because most people are going to dive into the trial and error and go, okay, I’ll put Jane third. Now, let me see what’s A. Could that be true? Instead what you want to do is look at what it means if Jane is third. What are the consequences? What are the inferences you can make from that? And once you figure that out, you can sometimes even just go look for the answer because you can start just to feel what the LSAT is going to put the answers for that. There are some other smaller categories. A new type of question that’s emerged in the last few LSATs is a rule equivalency where the LSAT asks you which of the following replacements would have the same affect on the game as a certain rule that they mention. And that’s a fun new question type. There are some other smaller types but in general, those two categories are the big ones; conditional and unconditional.”
It might seem obvious, but there’s no substitute for practice on this section of the test. McIlquham says you should track your practice across pacing, your overall score, and the mastery of the concepts. There are three ways to practice. “They’re working on your time management by doing those 35-minute sections. They’re working on your endurance or your stamina by taking full-length tests. You’re getting exposure. You’re getting a good nice score at the end of the day, so you can track your progress. The most important practice early on is just mastery of the concepts or the question types on the LSAT, which means you’re working on those questions or those games individually, making sure you understand the logic behind them, the concepts that are being tested, the way that the LSAT tends to put distracter answers up or your common wrong answers on the test. And once you get the sort of, again, basics or the fundamental concepts down, then you can start tying them all together working on mastery, working on pacing and score.”
He says you need to work at it from three months to a year. Kaplan offers the test day experience. Stohr says it is a practice test officially administered just as the real test day is. “If you can’t do the test day experience event itself, actually the whole dress rehearsal which is what it really is. It’s like, okay, we’re running the play today exactly as we will a week from now, step by step and line by line. If you can’t do that, then you got to at least do your practice tests in very, very test-like environments, carve out about four uninterrupted hours of your day, quiet place, turn the phone off. You give yourself a 10-minute break after section three, and you don’t allow that to sort of drift into a 20-minute break because, oh well, you’ll finish it later. You hold yourself to that rigorous standard of practicing the test because you really need to know what the stamina-endurance factor is for performing well throughout the entire test.”
Is there such a thing as too much practice? Manhattan LSAT’s Teitelbaum says when all your friends have left you and you’re mumbling logic games in your sleep, then you’ve hit the wall. But until then, practice. “We really want to see people replaying those games, so they can do it like a ballet dancer. But you also need to put a lot of games under your belt. So practice, practice, practice is key. In terms of when you hit the wall, it’s a very personal issue. I think most people who start with a pretty low logic game score have an initial increase and then kind of plateau, and then it takes some deeper work to get to the next level. And I think that’s the exciting part is when you sort of figure out the basics, and now you get into the Jedi issue of predicting answers and being lazy, as I mentioned earlier.”
LSAT prep student Sarah Streit says the big lesson for her in addressing the logic games was to be relaxed. “On the logic games, I went into it really relaxed and I ran out of time at the end, so I missed the last one. But it was still fine because I made – I got every other one correct. So, you can make mistakes and still get 176, and that’s one of the things that Manhattan LSAT really helped me with.”
Teitelbaum advocates writing your own logic games to get underneath the games. He has some tips. “In terms of studying, rinse and repeat. So, repeating games over and over again. In terms of approach, laziness and flexibility. On game day when you’re taking LSAT to be forgiving of yourself. I can do very well in the LSAT. I can score in the top percentile, but it’s definitely not uncommon that I’ll see a question and just say, you know what, you got me on this one. I can’t answer this and I’m just going to let it go.”
Student Sarah Streit, has some logic games test tips. “The first test day tip is actually before the test day and that’s just to really learn a good system of organization because that’s really what it is. It’s just a way to organize your thoughts when you see a prompt on the page, how am I going to set this up, how am I going to address this because when you go into the test, it’s going to be something you’ve never seen before and it’s not necessarily going to match up to something you’ve studied. So, you really just have to have this good basic way of approaching these problems that you can apply to a bunch of different situations. And to just trust that you have that system, so don’t let anything throw you for a loop. If you’ve done all your preparation and you’ve developed these skills, you’ll be fine and anything that they throw at you, you can address.”
McIlquham has five tips for this section. “Number one, master conditional logic. Know how to translate if-then statements, only-if statements, not-X-unless-Y statements, the language of the conditional logic on the test and how they all relate to each other are incredibly important to doing well on the LSAT. Number two, create good sketches. Diagramming is such a critical component of the LSAT. You need to be able to have all those rules, have all that information organized so that you can quickly refer back to it and you can visualize the spacing and the movement in the game. Third, know how to make and know where to find deductions. Those things that require you to combine rules that you’re given. Manage your sections. Fourth, knowing that you only have 35 minutes to get through it. You’re going to get four games. It’s going to be about 22, 23 questions. That’s really not going to change for you. Know your strengths. Know that you don’t have to take those games in order. You could simply start with the second game or the third game if that game’s sort of more up your alley than the other games. And at the end of the day, know which games is going to give you the most trouble and stay away from it until you absolutely have to do it. My final tip would be to work with others to have fun.”
It’s test day. Teitelbaum says get good sleep for the previous week. Stay clean and sober. Get a great breakfast so you can stay focused. “Then on your way to your testing center, I would bring a warm-up game, some tough game that you’ve done many times, you’ve mastered it, and you just run through it to get your brain going. You don’t want the first section of the LSAT or the first logic game to be your warm up. You want the warm up to be done outside the testing center, and then I recommend that you take that piece of paper, crumple it up dramatically and throw it into garbage or recycling bin. So now, the test hasn’t begun, you want to coach yourself, remind yourself of all the things you’ve learned. How are you going to take this test? Olympic athletes talk about this a lot — that they walk through how the dive is going to go before they even get up on the diving board. So, you want to remind yourself that these are the things I’m going to do, this is how I’m going to take this test and then go in and act it. When the section begins, remember to be lazy, not to dive in to every answer choice, look for that easy, obvious answer, and then be easy on yourself. If there’s a question that you’re struggling with, let it go, come back to it if there’s time. Getting sucked into one game is one of the most common problems that people says that doesn’t show up in their practice test but doesn’t show up in the real thing because they’re so much more nervous.”
What to do if you begin to panic? McIlquham shares this. “If you find something that it’s really difficult for you, it’s not clicking with you for whatever reason, just skip it. Move on to the next game, find a game or in case you know that game and it’s just a question that’s tripping you up, find something within that game, the question, or another game that you’re much more comfortable with. To give you a brief example, when I took my LSAT, my third section of my LSAT was the logic game section and third section is right before the break, and I’m pretty good at logic games. I very rarely get anything wrong. And I took that logic game section and I didn’t get any of the games in that section, and the break hit and people were freaking out in my test center. I mean, people were crying, people were throwing up in the bathroom. And luckily, I just sort of said, well, if these guys are having these bad of a reaction to it, then obviously I’m not alone in struggling with this test. And lo and behold, I came back in the second half of the test I got another logic game section which I was able to just nail perfectly. And ultimately, the first section I took was that experimental section. It was unscored. So, it didn’t really matter. But because I had sort of kept my composure, I was able to translate that into success on the second half.”
For more information, a transcript of this show, or to sign up to receive more law school podcasts, visit www.lawschoolpodcaster.com. Look for us on Facebook and Twitter to get the latest news and insight into the world of law school. I’m Diana Jordan with Law School Podcaster. Thanks for listening. Stay tuned for more shows as we explore another topic of interest to help you succeed in the law school application process and beyond.