Logical Reasoning is half of your LSAT score. Half! That’s huge… And yet, ask any test-taker whether LR keeps them up at night, and they would probably think you’re insane. Wait, did you mean games? Because, uhm, yeah: I just dreamed of mauve dinosaurs doing naughty things behind stained glass windows. What I’ve seen, it cannot be unseen. And trust me, Reading Comp is no better: the night before, I dreamed that my my bed was infested by cyclamen mites, and the !Kung people were out to get me. Heavy stuff. But LR… eh, piece of cake. Right?
Wrong! Yes, it’s true that if you bomb a LR question, you only lose one point; not six or seven points (as you would in LG or RC). Unfortunately, test-makers know you underestimate Logical Reasoning. They know your comfort zone, and will punish you for flying on autopilot. Here’s what we’ve learned from deconstructing the Logical Reasoning questions in the October 2013 LSAT:
Both sections were dominated by questions in the Help family. Strengthen (and especially Strengthen–PR) questions were especially common. This is hardly surprising: lately, there has been surge in questions designed to test your ability to apply broad principles in a specific manner, either to the answer choices (as in Must Be True questions), or to the stimulus (as in Strengthen and Justify questions). Must be True questions were also heavily represented, and there was an predictably high number of stimuli involving complex causation.
What was unusual about the October 2013 LR involved the manner in which the questions were asked, and the order in which they were asked. Even the very first question in LR1, often presumed to be one of the easiest questions on a test, was a Justify-type with a Fill-in-the-Blank twist: quite bizarre, and enough to throw you off-balance if you expected a predictable wording in the stem. Similarly, the first question in LR2 was an unusually difficult Strengthen-PR question, where the stimulus contained a compound necessary condition, while the answer choices implied nested conditional relationships. In fact, the difficulty in many of the questions resulted not from the stimulus, but from the cleverly worded answer choices.
Just as uncommon was the design of Q. 6 in LR1, where the stimulus contained a problem followed by a principle, and the question asked us to use the principle to justify a judgment concerning the problem. Convoluted question stems continued to be the norm throughout the first section: Q. 10 was a long-winded Parallel Flaw, while Q. 11 – an exceedingly rare Evaluate-EXCEPT. In the annals of twisted question stems, the dubious prize goes to Q. 25 in LR1 – perhaps the only Strengthen question in the history of the LSAT where the stimulus did not contain an argument. Instead, the question stem selected one particular fact from the stimulus (a legal requirement), turned it into a conclusion of sorts, and then asked us to support it. Ultimately, it was a garden-variety Strengthen question, but the wording of the stem was especially cruel to encounter with the clock ticking at the end.
The second LR section was no better, with many of the questions involving structurally complicated stimuli (e.g. Q. 24 – a Method-AP question with 4 premises, 2 sub-conclusions, and a main conclusion). Contrary to what you might expect, we found the teen questions in the second section to be less difficult than normal, while the section began and ended more harshly.
What lessons can be drawn from this?
- Do not read the question stems first! It makes no sense to do it without knowing what the question is referring to, and even less so when the stem is a convoluted jumble of words. In such questions, the stem can only be understood in the context of the stimulus, and the relationship between the two is closer than ever.
- Read the stem carefully and understand precisely what it is asking you to do. If you’re like most test-takers, you probably put a lot of thought into deciphering the stimulus. This is great, but you need to maintain the same level of focus when it comes to the stem.
- Finally, remember that every question in LR ultimately conforms to a question type you’ve already studied in class or in our LR Bible. Test-makers have been trying (for years) to defeat attempts to systematically categorize their questions, in part because such categorization ultimately helps you develop a reliable method of approach to each question type. Do not let them fool you: language is their weapon! In the end of the day, there are no “new” question types: just new ways of asking the same old questions.