Lessons Learned From the October 2015 LSAT

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October LSAT scores came out last week. That means the October LSAT was released into the wild. I was perhaps a little bit too excited to sit down with a timer and take it — it had been a little while since I last took a full test timed. Here’s my overall impression.

Logical Reasoning:

After test day, students reported that one section of Logical Reasoning in particular was quite difficult. I’m usually skeptical of such claims — it’s very hard to judge difficulty as you take the LSAT. This time, I think people were right. Logical Reasoning was hard. It’s my strongest section, and usually I can count on a perfect score with no sweat. And on the rare occasion that I miss a question, I can usually see immediately why I was wrong.

This time, I missed two questions. One, I got right away (and kicked myself for), but I’m still debating the other one. That’s unusual for me. A few other questions were notably tricky or slightly unusual. This was balanced out by the usual run of relatively easy questions at the beginning of each section — it’s not that everything was miserably hard. Most questions were perfectly normal.

The distribution of question types was also a little bit farther than usual from the average distribution. As students reported, there were lots and lots and lots of Necessary Assumption questions, and correspondingly fewer Strengthen, Weaken, Flaw and Main Point questions. There were as many Necessary Assumption questions as there were Strengthen and Weaken questions combined.

Though that’s unusual, many of the same skills go into solving different kinds of questions. It’s important to know how to solve each kind of question, but it’s also important that your fundamentals be sound, for example spotting flaws and assumptions in arguments. Also, as you study, keep in mind that a question that’s less common on average might be more common on the particular LSAT you take. You can’t overlook anything.

Finally, this year’s October LSAT reinforces that it’s important to read the prompt or question stem carefully. There have been some questions lately that you risk misidentifying if you only look for buzzwords. On this test in particular, there was a Strengthen question that would have been easy to misidentify as a Sufficient Assumption question.

Reading Comprehension

I’m underwhelmed. They can make this section much harder. Some students reported finding it strange that the first passage began with a quotation. Yes, that’s unusual, but the quotation was short and the author gave it context immediately after. The author’s viewpoint was straightforward from that point on.

The second and third passages were typical LSAT. Patents, anyone? Pre-Columbian Native American culture? As I said, typical LSAT. There were a few tough questions, but both passages’ authors made their viewpoints clear. That always helps.

The last passage was Comparative Reading, and students reported that it was tough. The first shorter passage discussed general principles that applied to the examples discussed in the second passage. They’ve done this kind of relationship between passages before. Some of the questions were tricky, but that’s normal for the fourth reading comp passage. If you understood how the second passage illustrated the ideas in the first, you were probably in fine shape.

Logic Games:

My big takeaway from this test’s games: scenarios are your friend. Splitting a game into multiple scenarios up front has always been an important strategy to have in your arsenal. My impression is that it’s been even more useful as a strategy lately, and this test continues that trend. I personally split three of the four games into scenarios.

Two of the games had the kind of rules that typically lead to scenarios, and it was to your benefit if you seized the opportunity. But scenarios were less obvious on the other game. It was hard to figure out how the rules worked together. Once I figured out that one of the spots was limited to three options, I jumped for the scenarios and everything became so much easier. If I hadn’t been actively looking for opportunities to do scenarios, the game would have been much harder. Don’t wait for scenarios to jump out at you — they’re sometimes even more useful when they’re less obvious at first.

The Curve:

You could miss 12 questions for a 170. That’s about average for recent tests with 101 questions, and that makes sense to me. Logical Reasoning was a bit harder than usual, but nothing ridiculous. Reading Comp seemed a bit easier, and Games were pretty normal. This year’s October LSAT had its share of difficult questions, but so does every LSAT. The same skills were important on this test that are important on any LSAT.

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