A great way to learn about what’s important to someone is to see how they spend limited resources. This is just as true about the LSAT test makers as anyone else. But we’re so accustomed to answering the questions they ask us that we don’t stop to listen to what they have to say about the test.
We know that LSAC puts a lot of time and money into creating each test. Those are limited resources. It’s reasonable, then, for us to assume that each question on every LSAT is included only because the test makers decided after great thought that it was a good way to acheive the purpose of the test, ” to measure skills that are considered essential for success in law school.” Those skills are defined as: “the reading and comprehension of complex texts with accuracy and insight; the organization and management of information and the ability to draw reasonable inferences from it; the ability to think critically; and the analysis and evaluation of the reasoning and arguments of others.”
So, each released LSAT is like a 100 question interview with the test makers about how they prefer to test your ability in those areas. This may seem like a particularly nebulous and unhelpful concept, but there are very practical, reliable, and substantial applications of it.
For example, we know from more than twenty years of the modern LSAT that the test makers consider conditional reasoning to be a particularly helpful way of testing your ability to draw inferences from a set of facts. We know this because when we see a Must Be True question that contains conditional reasoning in the stimulus, an often tested correct answer choice is the contrapositive of the conditional statement. A frequent incorrect answer choice in those questions is an inappropriate reversal of that relationship, something that merely could be true. E.g., June 1991, Section III, Question (Q) 14; June 2005, Section I, Q 7.
Another example, this time from the Logic Games section, is that the test makers apparently find that an effective way to sort among test takers in games with a comprehensive set of global inferences is to use question stems framed in terms of falsity (e.g., not necessarily false), as opposed to the more typical pattern of asking questions in terms of truth (e.g., could be true). E.g., October 2001, Game 1 and September 2006, Game 3.
These are just two examples of the insights the test makers are willing to share with you. But first you have to ask them what concepts they consider to be important. Since you likely won’t have the ability to sit down with any of them in person, you’ll have to seek out the information some other way. The key is to spend at least as much time reviewing the practice tests you take as you do taking them.
Spending more time reviewing each test than taking it is the reverse of the process used by most LSAT students. But only through that commitment of resources can you fully learn about yourself, by assessing your performance, AND learn about the test, by reverse engineering the questions.
For example, if the test makers chose to ask about a certain inference in the third question of a logic game, why did they test that inference then? Even if you got the correct answer, was there a more efficient way to get there? Did the game, or even that particular question, share a particular characteristic also present in another game on another test that could have clued you in to what they were asking?
One of the great things about the LSAT is its remarkable consistency from administration to administration. But that only benefits you if you take the time to listen to the test makers about what they consider to be important and then add that knowledge to your toolkit. This process of “interviewing” the test makers is a strategic line of communication worth developing.
Photo: “see_no_evil_web” courtesy of Jan Fredrik Frantzen.