This post originally ran on January 15, 2013 – but as it turns out, LSAC is still up to the same tricks. Avoid wording-related confusion on the LSAT by brushing up on these commonly-confused phrases.
The skills that the LSAT tests are complicated and difficult to learn. Whether it’s diagramming conditional statements, assembling the setup to a game, or knowing what to pay attention to in reading comp, this stuff ain’t easy. But what can make things even harder is when the LSAT buries these already-confusing concepts in perplexing linguistic phrasings.
Luckily, we’re here to help.
When you read something on the LSAT that you don’t understand, the worst thing you can possibly do is just move on, hoping the exam won’t ask about it; it will. Often times, understanding a confusing phrase just involves rereading it a few times and rolling it around in your head. But there are a few phrases that the LSAT uses again and again that students regularly get tripped up on. I’ve compiled a few for you here:
Tricky LSAT Phrases I: Latter and former
I know, I know, you already know these. But sometimes, in the heat of the moment, it can be easy to forget exactly which is which. Or perhaps it’s just that the public education system failed you. At any rate, the LSAT uses these phrases all the time, so they’re worth reviewing. “Former” refers to the first of two things, “latter” refers to the second. So if I said, “Both broccoli and steak are available; the former is healthier, but the latter is tastier,” then I’m saying that broccoli is what’s healthy, and steak is what’s tasty. Got it? Good.
Tricky LSAT Phrases II: If and only if
This phrasing isn’t all over the LSAT, but it does show up fairly regularly. What’s tricky about it is that it indicates both sufficiency and necessity. So if I said, “You work at Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory if and only if you’re an Oompa Loompa,” I’m actually saying two things – first, that if you’re an Oompa Loompa, then you work at the chocolate factory; but also only if you’re an Oompa Loompa do you work there. So that would allow you to diagram two separate conditional statements:
OL → CF
CF → OL
As a side note, “if and only if” is the same thing as “if but only if.”
Tricky LSAT Phrases III: X, or else Y
On the LSAT, all “or” statements are inclusive, unless they say otherwise. But for whatever reason, when we see things phrased in this way, our brains have a tendency to make them exclusive. But they’re not. For example, if I said, “You can go to law school, or else you can go to medical school,” I’m actually giving you three options – you can go to law school, you can go to medical school, or you can go to both. This is a problem that shows up in LSAT logic games a lot, but all you have to remember is that unless it says otherwise, “or” statements are always inclusive, and you could always have both.
You’ll find more confusing phrases as you study for the LSAT, but as long as you stay diligent in taking the time to understand them, and make sure to not skim past strange phrasings, you’ll be good to go.