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Podcast Episode Mastering Logical Reasoning on the LSAT

Mastering LSAT Logical Reasoning

Strategies to Ace the Most Important Part of the Test

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It’s no exaggeration to say that the logical reasoning section is the most important part of the  LSAT.  Since two of the four scored sections consist of logical reasoning questions, it accounts for half your scaled score on the test.  So, mastering the questions in these sections is twice as important to as any other single portion of the test.  With that in mind, we asked our experts to break down the types of questions you’ll encounter, how best to prepare yourself and what you need to know on test day to achieve your highest possible score.

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Guests:

  • Noah Teitelbaum, Manhattan LSAT, Managing Director
  • Glen Stohr, Kaplan Test Prep & Admissions, Senior Product Developer
  • Matt Riley, Blueprint Test Prep, Founder & Instructor
  • Ranika Morales, LSAT test-taker and student

Transcript:

Welcome to Law School Podcaster, your source for inside information and advice on the law school application process. I’m Diana Jordan.  You may have heard that the logical reasoning section of the LSAT is the most important part of the test.  That’s because there are four scored sections of the LSAT and two of them are logical reasoning.  Since these questions constitute half the test, you’ll need to excel in these sections to get a high score.

This is the collection of questions that has a bigger effect on your overall LSAT score than anything else.”  That’s Glen Stohr, Senior Project Developer for Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions.  You’ll also hear from Noah Teitelbaum, the Managing Director of Manhattan LSAT and Matt Riley, owner and LSAT instructor with Blueprint Test Prep, as well as our guest, LSAT student Ranika Morales, who is a paralegal with a large law firm in L.A. and wants to go to law school to build a career in corporate law.  In this show, you’ll learn why there are no short cuts in studying for this part of the test, why it’s worth your investment to begin practicing these questions at least two to three months before your test and what key strategies can help you master the material.

Logical reasoning is designed to test whether you can critically analyze a body of evidence or an argument very quickly.  There are 25 individual questions in each logical reasoning section, says Blueprint’s Matt Riley.  “The logical reasoning questions give you a quick little story about a vast array of different topics, anything from the weather to polar bears to politics, and then it asks you one question about that information and then you pick your favorite answer, A through E, and you have to finish 25 of them in 35 minutes.  The idea behind logical reasoning is essentially they’re testing your critical thinking skills.  What you need to be able to do is actually break down arguments, see the different flaws, different weaknesses and arguments, the assumptions that are made in different arguments, and clearly that has an analog in law school and beyond because that’s what you’re doing as lawyers — fighting and trying to take down or undermine other people’s arguments and so, logical reasoning is their version of that for the LSAT.”

It seems like you’re being presented with 50 different challenges, but Riley says, it’s not about the substance of the questions.  It’s just about the structure.  “One question might be about the museum and the next question might be about using a different computer program but the structure of the question is the exact same.  The challenge of it for students, after you do the same thing over and over and over and over again, so with practice, you realize that you’re doing the same thing over and over and over again, and you can get better, more accurate, and quicker at spotting those things.  In terms of the difficulty and challenge for students, what students need to do in logical reasoning is they really have to understand not why they get one particular question right or wrong but what the point of question is in general. For instance, every LSAT will take a concept, so it’s a common fallacy on the LSAT to think that a correlation implies causation.  So, that just because two things happening together, it doesn’t necessarily mean that one causes the other and that concept will be tested five or six times in logical reasoning on every LSAT so what you have to be able to do as a student is  recognize the times when they’re testing that concept.  And so, when you’re practicing, it’s really important not just to figure out right or wrong answer choices, but rather get the real point of the question, why it was included on the LSAT in the first place, and if you can recognize those patterns then really, the sky is the limit.”

LSAT student Ranika Morales encourages others to study everything equally and to be diligent in the prep.  “One of the biggest hang ups that people have with respect to the LSAT is that it really challenges you to learn a different method of thinking and it’s entirely learnable.”

Kaplan’s Glen Stohr says logical reasoning comes down to one aspect.  “You have to be able to say, ‘ah, the relevant question, the issue turns on, this factor, that fact.’  All of that other stuff is suggestive of good character or bad character, or something like that, but it’s irrelevant to determining this issue of law and in a subtle way that is at the heart of almost every logical reasoning question that’s presented on the test.”

The logical reasoning sections test your ability to evaluate arguments and identify assumptions, to understand the logic of arguments and to make inferences from facts, skills which are crucial to being a successful law student.  Manhattan LSAT’s Managing Director, Noah Teitelbaum says most people lose points because they don’t know what the LSAT is expecting of them.  “They don’t know the general question types and what the LSAT’s really trying to get them to do, which is often evaluate an argument and identify an assumption.  And the other place that people are losing points is an improper use of time.  There are some pretty easy questions.  There are some challenging questions and there are some impossible questions.  And people often spend way too much time on the impossible questions and maybe too much time on the easy questions and not enough time on the tough ones that are doable, so proper allocation of time is pretty important.”

Kaplan’s Glen Stohr says some people lose points because they don’t focus on what the question stem is actually for.  “Instead, they sort of read what is this argument about without saying, aha! I must read this in order to be able to weaken the link between this evidence and this conclusion or strengthen it or describe the flaw.  The more targeted your understanding of the question stem, the more strategic your reading of the argument and the easier for you to predict the right answer to the question.” And they lose points because of timing issues.  “I think this most often happens because students will over invest in one or two difficult or lengthy questions.  One thing that you have to be able to do, I refer to it as triage.”

Blueprint’s Matt Riley agrees that most students lose points in timing.  “Also just in terms of section management, the questions at the beginning of a section tend to be harder than the questions at the end of the section and they do that purposely, so that people start to run out of time when they’re running into the more difficult questions.  So, I think that it does require good time management skills to make sure that you’re spending the appropriate amount of time on different questions.  Students also lose points just because you’re moving really quickly and if you don’t go through all of the steps that you’re supposed to when approaching these questions, if you don’t actually underline the conclusion or if you don’t diagram conditional statement, if you don’t anticipate answer choices, if you don’t spot the assumption that are present in an argument, if you just kind of glaze over those things and run into the answer choices, then you’re really just falling prey to exactly what they want you to do, because the answer choices, if you don’t take time trying to anticipate and know what you’re looking for, can be very, very confusing.  The answer choices are made, of course, for people who haven’t spent the time diagnosing what the correct answer choice is actually  going to look like, so for students there are issues of just the right approach and actually being able to practice it when you’re under the time condition.”

The third way people lose points Stohr says is that they get sloppy.  “They are asked for the assumption necessary to the argument.  They choose an answer that says something that the argument suggests perhaps or that is tangentially related but not the answer that fits that exact criteria of an assumption necessary to the argument.  There’s no magic pill to make you not sloppy but what there is, is a very, very effective method of attacking the questions in the same way time after time after time that will keep you focused on ‘here is the relevant material and you can discard the irrelevant material.’  Do that and you can get right at what the correct answer means.  But, you need to discipline yourself to do that, and that takes practice.”

Manhattan LSAT’s Teitelbaum says sometimes the answer isn’t found simply in fancy diagrams.  “You do need to know your formal logic which I’m going to call the geeky stuff.  And, you need to know how to diagram arguments.  There are some questions that most students really need to do that way but for many questions, you can use your common sense if your common sense has been trained.  Success on this test for many people is the wedding of your debate skills, the skills you use around the Thanksgiving table.  When someone says something that you disagree with you, you come up with a counter example.  Tell them why their argument is flawed.  That set of skills and then your formal geeky skills informing that.  That’s really a sophisticated approach.  Fancy diagrams do not mean that you’re not necessary very good at this test.  Often, people who have a very dogmatic or formulaic approach are the most easily fooled.”

Teitelbaum suggests you skim the question stem before you read the stimulus which is the argument or passage.  “I don’t recommend you read it thoroughly, but I do think it’s useful to get a sense of what you’re being asked to do because of those large categories.  Are you being asked to evaluate the argument and find an assumption? Or, are you asked to accept the argument and do something with it?  It’s good to know basically what your job is but then you’re going to have to re-read it to make sure you get specifically what you’re being asked to do.  The wording of the questions is pretty consistent.  Once in awhile there’s kind of strange question that asks you to take specific angle towards the approach or asks you to identify what role or specific part of the argument plays in the overall argument.  But generally, if you do the right practice, very few questions are going to throw you a curve in terms of what they’re asking.”

And, Kaplan’s Stohr says, analyze the question methodically first, that will make you faster.  “The way to read strategically in logical reasoning is to start with the question stem, is it an assumption, strengthener, weakener, is it asking for the flaw?  Is it asking you to identify parallel reasoning?  Find out what your task is. That determines which part of the factor is relevant and irrelevant.  And, if you’ve got that clear, you can actually predict what the right answer will say before you even look at the answer twice.”

Practice with a system, Blueprint’s Matt Riley says, and don’t just randomly do a strengthen question, then a parallel question then a flaw question and then a resolve question.  “If you want to practice 50 strengthen questions in a row, and if you do 50 strengthen questions in a row, then all of a sudden you’ll start to see the similarity between them, be able to spot that a little bit faster.  So, what you’re going to start off by doing is practicing same question type a lot, repetitively and slowly, and then, of course, once you feel comfortable with each of the different question types, then you can start doing more timed sections and then your goal at that point is to remember, even though now you’re not doing 50 strengthen questions in a row, you’re just doing, say six strengthen questions sprinkled throughout two sections of logical reasoning.  You have to train your brain to still be able to flip through the different question types.  So, when you see a strengthen question, you still go back in that same mindset that you had when you were practicing 50 of them in a row.  So, the first stage is really just practicing each question type individually and then second stage should be the put that all together and then the third stage is actually put yourself on a clock and try to do it quickly.”

Begin your practice with assumption questions, as Kaplan’s Glen Stohr suggest.  “What you want to do is take the fundamental questions, the question types, like say, the assumption type, which is going to reward you for analyzing the argument, identifying the author’s conclusion, evidence, understanding, or determining what the logical premises that he’s taking for granted or she’s assuming in order for that evidence to lead to that conclusion.  By starting there, you’re learning those really sort of foundational skills that will then help you with strengthen and weaken arguments.  That’s another important question type, usually 8 or 10 of those questions on the test that will also help you build to where you can identify the logical flaws.  There are six or eight classic logical flaws that the test will use again and again.  There really is a terrific approach to saying, I’m going to start with the fundamental skills and then I’m going to see these other question types that build on or add a second step to that fundamental skill of analyzing argument.”

Analyze every question, suggests Riley.  Find the concept that’s driving the question.  What flaw did they commit?  What assumptions were there?  He says if you learn the lesson during your practice, you’ll minimize the mistakes you’ll make during the LSAT itself and you don’t have to be perfect.  “In logical reasoning, you don’t have to get every single question correct.  It’s very hard to do a section where you go 25 for 25.  But, I don’t think it’s as hard to do a section where you go 22 for 25.  And, if you can get to a point where you got three or four questions wrong in a logical reasoning section, that’s going to total up to a really good LSAT score and I think most people, almost everybody, with the right type of practice, and really breaking down the questions, analyzing all of the ones you get wrong, as well as lot of questions they get right, should be able to get that kind of level of proficiency, maybe not where you’re getting 100% of the questions right, but shooting at 80% or 90%, even without any background in this stuff, with a good couple of months practice, most people can get to that point.”

There is a strategy in timing, says Teitelbaum.  “There are questions that you’re going to get wrong, so the key is to get the hardest questions wrong and get them wrong quickly.  There’s nothing worse than getting something wrong and spending three minutes on it.  Overall, you have about a minute and 20 per question.  If you are facing a question that’s super difficult and you can get done with it in 30 seconds or 40 seconds, you’ve now put another 30 or 40 seconds into your bank that you could use on different question.  There’s nothing worse than getting a question wrong and taking a long time to do it.  You might as well get it wrong and do it fast.  You want to spend your time on the questions that are within your range.”

Don’t get bogged down on a questionnaire, too says Riley.  “Worse thing you could ever do in logical reasoning is spend five minutes on a question and get it wrong.  But, the second worst thing you can ever do in logical reasoning is spend five minutes on a question and get it right because in that five minutes where you were agonizing and breaking down this question or reading it eight times, you could have answered three other questions.  So, it’s a hard thing to do.  But, you have to realize that you don’t have to get every question right in the logical reasoning section.  What you need to do is give yourself the best chance that you can, to get to as many of them as possible.  But normally for students what I’ll tell them is, you get to read it twice.  You read it once.  If you don’t get it, go ahead and read it again, but if still after reading the question twice, you’re just not getting it, you’re just not seeing the right answer, time to cut your losses and move on to the next one.  Because burning that five to six minutes on question number 16 just means that you’re going to be really rushed at the end, then you’re going to have to end up skipping couple of questions and that’s where your score for the whole section will really suffer.”

Ranika Morales figured out her timing when she took the LSAT and then developed a strategy that worked uniquely for her.  “In some instances, if I come across a parallel question, it’s so long and arduous that it will mentally trip me up, so what I like to do is mark an answer, circle it on my answer sheet and then come back to it at the end and in that sense, learning when to skip a question, when to move on, and knowing that you’re spending too much time on one question is essential to being able to master time.  You have to tailor the timing portion to your individual test taking skills.”

Teitelbaum says you can’t just hammer away at it, test after test.  You have to learn strategies and aim judiciously at the next higher score.  “Letting some questions go is often the wall between just below 170 and a few points above 170.  You can’t get a 180 until you’ve scored a 178.  So, if you’re scoring 167, aim to get 168.  So, tell yourself, I can get this many wrong and go and get those wrong.  Get your 168 and then get your 169, build it up,  You can’t suddenly miraculously get 180.”

Watch out for what Glen Stohr says, test ego.  You’ve always been one of the brightest but sometimes you have to let go of an impossible question.  “The important thing is don’t over invest in just one or two questions.  There will be a run of them at some point in that section where you can fly through three or four very quickly and then you’ll hit that one that’s tough or long or confusing.  You’re far better off to just circle that in the test booklet and say, I’m going to come back to it but I’m going to get to that next round of questions that I can do efficiently.  The test makes no differentiation at all between easier and harder questions.  If you can rack up all the easy points quickly, do it.  It’s an eat dessert first test.”

And have precise timing goals, advises Riley.  “You need to know how much time should have elapsed when you’re at question number 5, question number 10, question number 15 so that you’re kind of cognizant of the idea that you might be slowing down a little bit on the actual test day.  You control for that, it shouldn’t be terrible.”

Riley says, just circle the questions you don’t get and go back if you have time left.  Resist the urge to use the answer twice he says because they’re written to confuse you.  “So, what I urge students to do is read very carefully, very slowly.  Also you have to develop a new vocab that they use on the LSAT.  There’s a lot of little words that we use in our everyday life that you wouldn’t think are very important.  Words like can, must, only, some, those types of words where you think of those were very easy words so it doesn’t make any difference.  But, a lot of times, the difference in the logical reasoning question right answer choice versus wrong answer choice is just realizing that it didn’t say must, it just said could and that will be the entire difference. What you need to realize is there’s just this list of  say 50 vocab words that come up all the time, where they’ll indicate different problems and arguments or different strengths of claims, stuff like that, and if you learn to be able to always spot those words, that’s normally the reason why people get the question is wrong if they just missed those words or they misinterpret the meaning of those words.”

And Teitelbaum says on test day, focus.  “Test anxiety happens to everyone, probably most everyone, to some degree and what I do is I talk to myself silently.  I start a dialog with, okay what’s this question asking?  Was it conclusion or argument?  Why are they concluding that?  And, I talk to myself into the arguments or into the question and start writing on the test, bring myself back in and focus again on what you’re doing.”

You can also do what Morales did.  She had prepped in difficult conditions.  “Lots of noise in the background, banging, sometimes little brother or cousin is interrupting my studying and I guess the fact that I was in a quiet atmosphere, it really helps and I would be able to focus.”

Doing lots and lots and lots of practice test is necessary, but not sufficient.  You also have to learn strategy, according to Manhattan LSAT’s Teitelbaum.  “Don’t go and just do lots and lots of tests, and try to just think harder.  While you do want to expose yourself, you really need to go and learn some strategies about these questions, to learn tendencies of the answer choices.  My second tip would be to move on.  If a question is killing you, star it and move on.  You’ve got to learn that skill – this is going out to all the type A people listening.  My third tip would be to work wrong to right on the answer choices for all but the easiest of questions.  The LSAT is really, really good at writing really, really tempting wrong answers.  To go look for wrong answers and see who’s standing, it’s easy to get fooled by a good looking answer.  You don’t want to fall in love too quickly.  I would then say, for my fourth tip, aim for your last score plus 1 point.  That really should be your goal and often that aim ends up giving a much larger increase.  And finally, I would say, to put formal logic in its place.  Learn to integrate your formal logic with your common sense.  Don’t see them as two separate rules.  Learn to understand what your diagrams mean, for instance, if you’re saying, ‘Oh, this is mixing up necessary and sufficient.’  There’s a common sense way of saying that which is, ‘This hasn’t have to be the only way.’  Learn both sides of formal logic.”

Kaplan’s Stohr has five good tips to consider.  Determine the characteristics of the question types then ask, what is my task here?  So, you know what to read for.  Tip 3 is to consider what you need to do with this information then predict what the right answer will mean.  “And then, my fifth tip is, use that prediction to evaluate the choices.  A, do you match my prediction?  B, do you match my prediction?  Do you have the characteristics of the correct answer here?  Don’t compare the answer choices to one another.  Don’t go, ‘I kind of like D and I kind of like B.’  No, one of them has the characteristics that are an exact fit for the correct answer to this question, this task, based on this passage.  The other four do not and I think that’s something that students have – when that light bulb comes on, when they start to look at answer choices in that way and say, one right, four rotten.  The wrong answers here are demonstrably incorrect.  When they have that insight, sort of take life, their orientation to this test changes dramatically.”

Blueprint’s Riley also has five good tips for the section of the test.  “Number 1, learn to diagram.  There’s a little bit of formal logic on the LSAT and being able to diagram and understand conditional relationships is a huge, it’s kind of the basis for a lot of logical reasoning that you’re going to have to do, so understanding sufficiency and necessity is huge.  That will be number 1.  Number 2 is focus on flaws.  Flaw questions are the common types of questions in logical reasoning, but the common fallacies that you find, the invalid forms of reasoning, really drive a lot of logical reasoning because even if you’re doing say, a strengthen or a weaken question, they’re not asking you to identify the fallacy, but if you can figure out what fallacy is, it’s always going to be a lot easier to strengthen or weaken an argument, that will be number 2.  Number 3 would be to make a list of the different mistakes that you’re making and little words that have tripped you up from time to time, the difference between some and most.  The difference between one way of doing something and the only way of doing something, those are little mistakes that you can definitely avoid, that would be number 3.  Number 4, in terms of tips for logical reasoning would be to practice all the different question types.  Just doing big sections or doing huge mixes of questions isn’t going to help you out of much but doing 30, ‘must be true’  questions or 30 ‘parallel questions’  back to back will really help you because, you’ll start to see the patterns of the questions.  And then number 5, sounds weird, but don’t take the questions too seriously.  The LSAT is not a knowledge-based test, so they’re not testing whether you actually understand the big words, the convoluted concepts that they’ve thrown in to these questions.  What logical reasoning at it’s very heart does is, they take a lot of times, a simple concept, even something that you understand in your daily life and then they beef up the vocabulary, try to make it sound a little bit more complicated.  But, if you can actually relate to the things they’re talking about, understand them, even make analogies to other things that happen in your real life, you’ll always have a much better understanding of the concepts that are beneath things, don’t overestimate the material because with a little practice, you’ll understand the concepts aren’t too bad.”

Stohr says your practice for logical reasoning will be rewarded.  “You’re absolutely guaranteed to see a number of assumption, strengthen, weaken, flaw in the inference questions in the logical reasoning section.  Don’t overlook that and don’t underestimate the impact it can have on your score.”

With two logical reasoning sections on the LSAT, half your LSAT score depends on your mastery of these question types.  Timing is critical.  Eat dessert first — that is, do all the easy questions right away to garner as many points as possible then circle back to the tough ones.  Don’t read the question more than twice and skim it the first time.  Learn the structure the questions in the logical reasoning section and formulate what the answer would like before you check the multiple choice answers.  And, one more bit of encouragement from Teitelbaum.  “If you’re studying for logical reasoning, dig in there, get geeky with this stuff, start to appreciate how well written the LSAT is.”

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.

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