December 2016 LSAT Logical Reasoning Recap

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     Trends in Logical Reasoning: What's In? What's Out? What's Next? Hey good looking! Raphael's Plato and Aristotle - CC Public Domain via Wikimedia

    The LSAC Winter Collection is out! It's a hot one, and we're not just talking leather and fur.   

    It is hard to make Logical Reasoning glamorous, but it's not an overstatement to say if you succeed on LR, you'll likely succeed on the LSAT. If you struggle with LR, you're going to be playing catch-up everywhere else, and not just because LR is half your score. 

    Logical Reasoning questions illustrate the principles tested throughout the LSAT, so if you master arguments, you're on your way to succeeding both with games and reading comprehension. Argument sections are not as neat and tidy as logic games sections or reading comp, in which you can categorize everything by game or passage, but LR sections do reveal trends in what the LSAC considers important, so they bear analysis.

    So how did the December LR sections stack up?

    I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends:

    If we follow the PowerScore rubric and group questions by task, the Help Questions (Strengthen, Assumption, Justify the Conclusion, and Resolve the Paradox) were over-represented at 41 percent of all problems compared to an average of 35% on all modern LSATs. An increase in Strengthen questions and Resolve the Paradox questions accounts for these Help-heavy sections. This trend is consistent with Jon Denning's 2015 observation that "Strengthen questions appear nearly twice as often as Weaken!"

    In fact, they do better than that: on this test Strengthen questions were four times as common as Weaken questions, and this discrepancy accounts for the shift in the breakdown. Why is the LSAT so Strengthen-heavy? Part of the emphasis on Strengthen may have to do with the ease with which test developers can create deceptively challenging scenarios, as occurred on a causal reasoning Strengthen question late in the first LR section. It's hard to anticipate all the possible methods of addressing weaknesses in arguments.

    As with the September 2016 LSAT, Resolve the Paradox questions continue to be a mainstay of the generally-less-difficult first third of LR sections, and they were disproportionately represented here. 

    In contrast, Assumption questions were underrepresented, but one threw a wrench early in the first LR section, presenting a challenge with two attractive wrong answers. In addition, the credited response presented a clever, uncommonly strong necessary condition that may have caught many test-takers off guard.

    Likewise, the credited response to an early Justify the Conclusion question involved an unusually qualified statement, not what students may have expected when looking for information sufficient to make a conclusion valid.

    Clearly the LSAC continues to try to defy attempts to make LSAT preparation a rote-affair of memorizing rules. 

    Par For the Course, With a Few Twists:

    Elsewhere, the breakdown was pretty unremarkable, with Point at Issue/Point of Agreement questions perhaps one of the other noteworthy areas of innovation. Long a minor question type and not frequently among the most difficult problems, Point at Issue questions did appear to ratchet up the difficulty once or twice on the December test, perhaps also surprising some students. 

    Questions that incorporate "principles" also continue to be common, heavily represented among Strengthen questions. There was one gimmicky Must Be True/Justify hybrid question that placed the principle and conclusion in the stimulus and asked for a scenario that would justify the conclusion.

    As an off-the-cuff observation, there did appear to be a couple other instances of the LSAC challenging students by making shifts in words or syntax that DO NOT change the meaning of concept discussed. Students who tend to hang too much on every word without adequate understanding of meaning in context might have encountered challenges. 

    While the difficulty gradient more-or-less mirrored established precedent, in my estimation there were a few dead-easy problems in the final third of each section and perhaps a couple harder-than-usual problems towards the beginning of each section.

    And no LSAT would be complete without at least a couple eye-roll-worthy moments of LSAC humor thrown in. 

    The  Takeaway:

    On balance, these LR sections are consistent with the tighter Scoring Scale that was more forgiving towards the median and very demanding at the top end of scores. Some questions that were in fact reasonably straightforward used syntax or structures that may have unnerved students, holding many at or near the median. At the upper end, there were just enough very-difficult questions to make a flawless performance a legitimate challenge.

    If you're taking the February LSAT and want to know what to watch out for, consider the following:

    1. Don't take anything for granted. It's just an impression, but the difficulty level seemed to be flatter on these LR sections than the norm. In other words, be prepared to deal with a challenge (or save it for later) early in the section.
    2. Don't fall for the easy tricks (the attractive wrong answer right before the right answer, the credited response on the Parallel question that changes the order of the statements, etc.). You don't want to be a cheap date for some LSAC developers setting up a trap.
    3. Do remember to read for meaning. It's right in the section directions but bears repeating: "You should not make assumptions that are by commonsense standards implausible, superfluous, or incompatible with the passage." However, there was at least one question that required just such a use of "commonsense standards" to get the credited response. Don't be a robot!

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