If you’ve spent much time with Logical Reasoning on the LSAT, one thing you’ve no doubt recognized is that the answer choices, right and wrong, are masterfully crafted. The test makers are unbelievably skilled at disguising correct answers, and making the incorrect options look extremely attractive. Fortunately there’s a step in the question-attack process designed specifically to help you navigate through the answers: Prephrasing.
Prephrasing is the intermediate step that you should take as you move from the question stem to the answer choices, where you essentially verbalize exactly what you expect to find within the correct answer. So you’re predicting what you know to be true about the correct answer choice before you begin to actually examine the five options presented. Let’s examine what I feel is the key element of that statement: predicting what you know to be true about the correct answer.
What is most critical about your prephrase is that it is accurate with respect to the correct answer. Remember, your prephrase is designed to provide you with a lens through which the correct answer choice will be more easily recognizable. Literally the credited choice will stand apart from the other options based on its proximity/relationship to what it is that you have predicted about it. So I want to discuss two situations, both of which are quite common on the test, where your approach to prephrasing would differ based upon the nature of the stimulus and question stem and what they allow you to know about the correct answer choice.
Prephrase Scenario I: Precise Prephrase
There are certain times on the LSAT when you have the ability to literally “know,” with tremendous accuracy, exactly what the correct answer choice is going to say. This may be the result of a particular question type, like Justify the Conclusion, where the task given is so exacting that predictive precision is possible (“this new element in the conclusion about X must be connected to this premise idea about Y”), or it may be the consequence of a particular set of circumstances, such as Must Be True with conditional reasoning (“the inference from A → B and B → C is that A → C”). The point is that you will occasionally encounter situations where you can know what the correct answer choice will look like with a high degree of certainty, and you should capitalize on the moments when that certainty is possible.
Prephrase Scenario II: Generalized Prephrase
The majority of the time, however, you will not be able to prephrase with that degree of specificity. Consider a Weaken question with a conclusion, “Thus, we should vote for the mayor’s proposal.” Clearly, the correct answer choice that attacks this conclusion will provide a reason that we should not vote for the mayor’s proposal…but what will that exact reason be? Chances are you won’t know the exact reason the test makers give prior to actually reading it in the correct answer choice. But that does not mean that prephrasing is impossible or should be skipped!
The key in a case like this is that the “truth” of your prephrase encompasses not what the correct answer choice will say, but rather what the correct answer choice will do. So a good prephrase to weaken the conclusion, “Thus, we should vote for the mayor’s proposal,” would be something like, “the correct answer will give a reason why we should not vote for the mayor’s proposal.” Then simply process each answer choice through that filter until you find the choice that satisfies your prediction (“Does answer choice A provide a reason to not vote for the proposal? No. Does answer choice B provide a reason to not vote for the proposal?…etc.).
So often test takers encounter situations like the one described above—“I have no idea what the right answer’s going to say!”—and respond, sadly, by simply moving on to the answer choices without any consideration of the element that can still be predicted: the nature of the correct choice in terms of what it will accomplish. Prephrasing is an absolute necessity if you’re looking to reach your full potential on the LSAT; the good news is that regardless of the question type or context, a prephrase is ALWAYS possible.
In Prephrasing Part II I’ll describe a practice drill I used to use to improve my prephrasing and that I think will help you gain a real mastery of this crucial skill.