All right, the time is upon us. We are T-minus 2 days until the September 2017 LSAT is unveiled to a nation of law school hopefuls and, in the case of the fine people who contribute to this blog, LSAT instructors.
If you’re reading this, you’ve probably been studying for this moment for months on end. You’ve used past exams to guide your study. You’ve seen that, while there are only a few different kinds of Logical Reasoning questions, Logic Games, and Reading Comprehension passages that the LSAT returns to again and again, you never quite know which combination of those you’re going get on a given exam. The malevolent sorcerers who write this test can be quite unpredictable in that way.
So I’m going to put my LSAT knowledge and experience to the test and try to make some predictions about this upcoming exam. To try to divine, by means of reason and experience, what the logicians-who-use-their-powers-for-evil will include on the test this Saturday.
A major caveat before we begin: I’m wrong all the time. I thought this forgotten single would be Beyoncé’s biggest, most beloved song. I root for the
San Diego Los Angeles Chargers, and before most seasons sincerely believe they will win the AFC West. For years, I thought the lyrics to Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumping” were, “He drinks a whiskey drink, he drinks a vodka drink. He drinks a vodka drink, he drinks a vodka drink.” I use it a bunch, but I still don’t know how to pronounce “eschew.” I know a lot about the LSAT, but maybe take what I say with a grain of salt.
With that said, let’s get to speculating!
The typical Logical Reasoning section always goes the same way. You start out with some easy to mild questions. Then, by question 14 or 15, you start to get some more difficult and time-consuming questions and, then by the question 18 or 19, you’re given tough after tough question.
What does vary from section to section is what kind of questions you’re going to get. So let’s make some semi-educated guesses about that.
The first question on the first Logical Reasoning section of the last three exams has been a Resolve or Explain question. In fact, on most recent sections, you get a lot of these two question types at the beginning of the section. I’d expect this trend to continue on this exam. So get ready to start with the ‘splaining, and ease into the section with some of the easier types of question types on the LSAT.
I wouldn’t expect to see many Soft Must Be True questions on this exam. There are usually about five of these in a given exam, but on the June 2017 exam, there were ten. I’d be willing to wager that LSAC Soft Must Be Blew through its reserve of these questions on the last exam and won’t have many to use for this one.
I do predict that there will be a lot of Strengthen questions on this exam though. There are an average of eight of those on a given exam. But on the last one, there were a grand total of three. Expect this question type to reassert its dominance in a big way. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were as many as ten on this exam.
Finally, a trend I’ve noticed on recent exams is “hidden” conditional language. Most questions that involve diagramming haven’t used the super obvious “If A, then B; but only Cs are Bs” conditional language from tests of yore. Rather, there have been a lot of instances of less overt conditional statements. Statements like “Birthday clowns are alcoholics” and “Alcoholics cannot be trusted with children.” These can be diagrammed to “Birthday Clown → Alcoholic” and “Alcoholic → Not Trusted with Children,” allowing you to conclude that “Birthday Clowns → Not Trusted with Children.” Be on the lookout for these — identifying and diagramming them will make your job a lot easier on many Must Be True, Flaw, Parallel, Parallel Flaw, Sufficient, and Necessary questions you get.
But remember, some things never change on Logical Reasoning. You’ll get somewhere between four and eight Flaw questions. You will get exactly two Parallel questions and exactly two Parallel Flaw questions. You’ll get a handful of questions that involve understanding the structure of an argument — these being a few Main Point, a few Describe, and a few Role questions strewn about the exam. Be ready for these too.
One prediction I can make with confidence — and I say this with proverbial hat in hand — is that Reading Comp is going to be tough. As an LSAT instructor, I sometimes feel like a parent forcing a recalcitrant child to eat his vegetables when reviewing Reading Comp with my students. Everyone hates reading these dry passages on obscure topics, but doing so is ultimately very healthful. Because it makes you a better reader — which is obviously an important skill for law school — but also because it helps prepare you for the section that has only gotten harder over the years. It’s also the longest section, based on the number of questions, so you have the most opportunity to earn (or fail to earn, if you didn’t have a diet of vegetables during your studies) points.
For Reading Comp, there’s really no such thing as an “easy” passage anymore. Our company has a rating system, from 1 (easy) to 5 (brutal), that we use to rate every LR question, RC passage, and logic game. And over the past six published LSATs, there have been zero passages we’ve classified as a “1” and only two passages we’ve classified as a “2” (or “mild”). Compare that to the five passages we’ve classified as a “4” (tough) and the six passages we’ve classified as a “5” (brutal), and you start to get the picture of the horrors LSAC is putting students through on this section.
My guess is that you’ll get one or two passages of “medium” difficulty to start it off. Then the third and fourth passages will be tough and brutal. The comparative passage is usually either among the easier passages of the section or the most difficult of the bunch. On most of the recent exams, it’s been among the easier — and in the last LSAT, it was one of the toughest — so I’m going to guess the comparative passage will be one of the easier passages in this section, and will probably be first or second.
As far as the topics, the LSAT is pretty much always good for one on the law and one on science. The other two cycle through topics like the arts (almost always an obscure artist doing something unconventional), history (often having to do with indigenous people in the pre-Columbus Americas), philosophy (which is when things get really weird — think the weird passage about meta-thoughts from the last LSAT), and the social sciences. My best guess is that you’re going to get a passage on arts — they’ve done music and interior design recently, so let’s say it’s going to be on literature — and a social sciences passage on some protest movement that seems somewhat similar to the current resistance movement — the LSAT loves to be somewhat topical.
A little recent history on the Logic Games section: In late 2014, after many years of really only including games that involved ordering and games that involved grouping, the test writers decided to start getting weird. On tests between 2014 and 2016, they started including super weird games that didn’t quite fit within the paradigms of ordering and grouping games. Think the worksite trading game of June 2014. Or the computer virus game of September 2016. Or the trading building game of December 2016. And let me just say, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for this, LSAC. It’s been a real pleasure to, days before the big test day, console the nerves of hundreds of anxious law school hopefuls about the possibility of getting an unconventional game on their exam.
BUT … then the test writers sort of stopped doing that. On the last two exams, the games sections have been straightforward. Everything’s been an ordering game or a grouping game. Nothing has been especially difficult, provided you have the basics of logic games down.
I would expect this to continue on the recent exam. And — this is probably the point at which my conjecture becomes irresponsible, but hear me out — I think this has more to do with external pressures facing LSAC than anything else. It’s no secret that the LSAT is losing ground to the GRE, as big-name schools like Harvard, Georgetown, and Northwestern have started to accept the GRE in lieu of the LSAT. For years, LSAC had a monopoly on the test people had to take to get into law school. When LSAC lacked competition, it could do annoying things that would anger a bunch of test takers. “Who cares what the students think? They have to take our exam and pay us a hefty application fee to do so!” these fat cats would scoff. Now that they have competition, my guess is they’re less inclined to do stuff that will sour large swaths of test takers on the exam. And — take it from me — nothing sours a bunch of people on the LSAT like a logic game that people view as unfair or overly difficult.
The LSAT is already doing things to try to make the test seem more ~chill~ than it used to. You can take it as many times as you want now. It’ll be offered more times throughout the year. It’s going digital. And I don’t see any reason why this trend wouldn’t manifest in the types of games that appear on the exam ether.
As far as the types of games, I think we’re going to see one basic, or 1:1, ordering game, since there’s almost always at least one of those. There hasn’t been an In & Out game in a few exams, so I imagine they’re going to dust off one of those for this exam. Unstable grouping games are another very common game, so I bet we’ll see one of those. And I think the hardest game of the lot will likely be a tiered ordering game. But, in all, I wouldn’t expect anything too tough or crazy on this one.
That said …
Finally, with all that said … don’t take these predictions too seriously. There’s a reason why we’re making them at the last possible moment, at a point at which you should no longer be studying and instead just relaxing and recharging before the big day.
Honestly, no matter what they put on this test, you’ll have the skills and strategies to answer it. There are fundamental concepts that translate across question types and sections of the LSAT, and if you’ve mastered those, you’ll be fine, no matter what they put on the exam. Do you know how to diagram conditional statements and use them to make transitive deductions? Do you have the common fallacies down pat? Are you able to recognize causal statements, and do you know how to strengthen and weaken them? Do you know how to identify the author’s role in a Reading Comprehension passage? Can you set up both ordering and grouping games, and do you know when to make scenarios in each of those?
If so, I will make one last prediction, one I can make with absolute confidence: You’re going to do great.