A while back, I received an interesting question from a student:
“Hi, I have your Logic Games Bible and have a question. Another book recommends answering local “if” questions first then doing what you call global questions. I don’t believe the Bible makes any recommendations about which questions to answer first. Do you have a question ordering strategy or you simply recommend answering them in the order they appear on the test?”
Strategies such as the one referenced above (which I will call the Local First strategy), and others (such as a Global First strategy) are initially appealing because everyone would love a strategy that solves the questions in the optimal order. But, do such extreme strategies really work? Unfortunately, the answer is, “sometimes but not always,” primarily because there are so many variations in Logic Games and how the questions are presented. While in the older versions of the LSAT Logic Games Bible I didn’t address this question, in the new edition I do discuss question approaches. As a reflection of that discusion, let’s first look at some examples where such strategies would fail, and then look at the best overall answer strategy.
As described in the question above, a Local First strategy dictates that you answer every single Local question first (the questions starting with “if”) and then move on to all the Global questions (the questions that do not specify that a variable is placed in a particular space). The idea behind this strategy is that by working out the questions that require you to manipulate the variables and form partial and complete solutions you will learn about the fundamental operation of the game and find inferences that might be otherwise hard to see. It sounds interesting and has a catchy name, so what could be the possible downside? Here are two classic examples from real LSAT Logic Games in the new edition of the LSAT Bible where this strategy would cause issues:
1. Page 223 of the Logic Games Bible, the Yamata game. The first question, #8, is a Global Must Be True question that tests the inference that Yamata must always Lecture on Tuesday afternoon. The inference tested here is critical, and if you do not identify it early in the game, your ability to successfully solve the remainder of the game is severely hampered. If you skip directly to Question #11, the Local question in the game, you waste time and are likely frustrated in your attempt to answer #11.
2. Page 297 of the Logic Games Bible, the Library Budget Reductions game. The first question in this game (#6) is a Global question that can be used to help solve question #10, which is probably the hardest Local question in the game. Skipping question #6 would not stop you from solving the game, but it would slow you down on question #10, and create unnecessary frustration.
Those are just two quick examples from the games in the Logic Games Bible, and there are numerous other examples from the many other LSATs available to the public. The bottom line is that in some cases a Local First strategy would be great but in other cases it would create serious problems. Unfortunately, there is no way to tell at the outset of a game when the strategy would work and when it would create issues.
Let’s take a look at the opposite strategy.
In a Global First strategy, you answer all of the Global questions first and then move on to solving all of the Local questions. The theory is that by attacking the Global questions first you will learn about the absolute truths of the game and discover and global constants within the game. Then, armed with that information, you can more comfortably attack the Local questions which will require you to manipulate the variables.
Just as with the Local First strategy, a Global First strategy can work, but it can also fail. Here’s a classic example where it would cause issues, using one of the games referenced above:
1. Page 297 of the Logic Games Bible, the Library Budget Reductions game. Using the Global First strategy on this game, you would solve question #6 first, and then question #12. Completing question #6 is helpful (but you would have done it first anyway), but try to do question #12 without having seen how this game really operates. To solve question #12 before attacking Local question #7 wastes time, especially because the solution to question #7—a solution that is easy to identify—helps solve question #12.
Local questions have the advantage of making you work with the variables and create hypotheticals, so the Local questions actually produce information that can then help answer the Global questions. In a game that contains an extremely deep inference, like the Library Budget Reductions, a Global first strategy usually slows you down and then causes frustration.
There are other considerations that are problematic as well. For example, a number of Suspension questions are Global, and doing them adds little to no value to your understanding of the Local questions. Suspension questions also tend to be time-consuming, meaning that you are doing longer questions earlier in the game, meaning that you will naturally feel pressured to move even faster as you approach the 8 minute and 45 second time horizon.
There are many other games (and better examples too) that show this strategy failing, so when you see them, post them in the comments section so others can check out those examples.
The Optimal Strategy
So, if looking for Global questions first or Local questions first isn’t consistently helpful, what is the best strategy? It’s one I call the Modified Order strategy, and it works like this (the question designations below are covered in Chapter Three of the LSAT Logic Games Bible):
1. In general, do the questions in the order given. The first question is usually a List question, and that type of question provides you valuable information about the game and almost everyone gets those questions correct.
2. Be smart and know when to skip certain questions in order to return to them later. Global Could Be True questions are often wise to skip until the end of the game. Or, for example, imagine that the second question in a game asks you for all the possible spaces where P could appear. A question like that is much more easily answered after you have seen different solutions to the game, so skip that question and return to it later.
3. If you encounter any “5 if” questions, which are almost always quite time-consuming, skip them and return to them at the end of the game. Same for any Maximum/Minimum questions.
4. If the game contains any Suspension or Rule Substitution questions, they are normally last in the game. But, if you skipped any prior questions, return to those questions before attacking the Suspension or Rule Substitution question.
There are, of course, exceptions to the general order above. For example, in a Pattern game, if you cannot deduce what the pattern is, the best strategy is to immediately go to the Local questions and attack those first.
If anyone has any other strategies for answering questions they’d like to see debated or analyzed, post them in the comments section and I’ll make an analysis.