A common question most students ask themselves when deciding to take on the LSAT concerns the vocabulary the LSAT requires you to know to do well. Do you need an especially large vocabulary? Or perhaps a working knowledge of legal or logical terms? With this in mind, let’s take a closer look and discover what you need to know before you take the LSAT.
The good news is that most of the words you’ll encounter on the LSAT are of the simple, everyday variety. This includes a wide range of words such as “city,” “witness,” or “fuel.” Most native speakers won’t find these terms challenging, and fortunately they make up the majority of words you’ll see on the test. Of course, it’s not the simple words that worry most people. It’s the unexpected words, or terms we’ve never seen that cause the most concern. These types of challenging LSAT vocabulary terms fall into three distinct categories:
- Advanced words
- Scientific or technical jargon
- Logical terminology
Let’s look at each group in more detail.
By “advanced words,” we’re talking about high-level vocabulary words you rarely encounter in daily life. Examples include “tenebrous”1 or “recondite.”2 Chances of those words coming up in general conversations with friends is slim. Fortunately, high-level words like these are extremely rare on the LSAT. Even the hardest vocab words that appear on the test are more on par with words like “eschew” or “flouted,” both of which have been on an LSAT.
When considering the vocab level a strong LSAT performance requires of you, let’s consider what test-makers have to say on the subject.
Generally, the selections are densely written, use high-level vocabulary, and contain sophisticated argument or complex rhetorical structure… These questions assess the ability to analyze, critically evaluate, and complete arguments as they occur in ordinary language.
So, there is an expectation of high-level vocabulary, but no precise definition of what that means. Unfortunately, there’s also no list of words that constitute “high-level vocabulary.”
So, should you study a list of difficult vocab words to prep for the LSAT? No. Firstly, that’s likely a huge waste of time preparing for words you most likely won’t see on the test. Second, there’s a silver lining when the test uses challenging vocabulary. In practice, LSAT authors generally define the word or provide sufficient context in the passage to determine what the word means. For example, an LSAT question about scientific discoveries used “serendipity” and immediately followed it with a definition of that word as “the chance discovery of valuable finding.” Thus, even without knowing the meaning of serendipity, you could easily assertation it’s meaning and complete the question. The bottom line is that the LSAT will give you context to help understand the meaning of higher-level words.
Scientific, Technical, & Legal Jargon (Oh My!)
Specialized terminology can be among the scariest vocabulary you encounter on the LSAT. Seeing terms such as “amygdala,” “thermovoltaic generators,” or “tangible-object theory” will cause most test-takers to pause for a moment. However, these types of terms are beyond the general vocabulary of almost every LSAT taker, thus, LSAC does not presume you’ll know the meaning of such terms. In each instance, they will provide you with a definition in the passage. While this definition is often in the immediate vicinity of the first appearance of the word, in some cases (notably in Reading Comprehension) the definition comes a number of lines later. Regardless, when you see terms of this type, relax because you won’t have to guess the meaning of the word. Just start looking for the definition.
Note that one of the common tricks of the test-makers is to place an ominous looking word before a more commonly understood concept. For example, when the phrase “Streptococcus bacteria” appeared on the LSAT, no definition was given. Of course, the test-makers expect everyone to understand the basic ideas behind bacteria, and the question itself did not hinge on any specific knowledge relating to Streptococcus. Thus, there was no need for a specific discussion of that particular type of bacteria.
This same concept goes for legal jargon. Though the LSAT is your first step into a legal career-path, it doesn’t expect you to know all the specialized legal terms you’ll eventually learn in Law School.
So to recap, the LSAT does not require you to understand specific terms from the scientific, medical, technical or legal worlds. However, many LSAT questions hinge on your knowledge of certain words or phrases that are part of the logical canon of the test. Most of the words that present problems are not specialized logic terms, though. As LSAC notes:
The questions do not presuppose specialized knowledge of logical terminology. You will not be expected to know the meaning of specialized terms such as ‘ad hominem’ or ‘syllogism.’
Instead, the words and phrases that cause problems on the LSAT tend to be ones that have definitions that differ from more common, “real world” definitions. These words, such as “some,” “few,” “several,” or, “many” may appear innocent but can cause serious problems if you misinterpret them during the exam. Why? Even a single wrong answer can drop your LSAT score by one point. You must know the exact definitions of the logical terms that LSAC uses frequently. To that end, we offer a free LSAT vocabulary quiz in our Free Help Area. Within the PowerScore LSAT courses and our LSAT Bible series we discuss these terms and many others, so take the quiz and see how you rate!
The bottom line is that the although the LSAT is not a direct test of your vocabulary, there is an expectation that you have at least a solid vocabulary. You must understand the usage of certain common terms such as “conclusion” or “correlation.” You don’t have to worry about knowing very specialized terminology including legal terms, and the definitions of high-level words you do encounter will often be easy to deduce based on context. So, put away that vocab list and instead spend your time studying argumentation and Logic Games!
- Tenebrous: gloomy or dark
- Recondite: beyond ordinary understanding