LSAT Prep Instructor Abroad I: China and LSAT Logic Games

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As my students, friends, and dedicated stalkers know, I recently returned from a solo trip to China. While there, I was reminded of the similarities between the LSAT and life – the laughter, struggles, blood, sweat, and tears. (Okay, hopefully your LSAT studies haven’t involved any of those things.)

If you’re finding yourself surprised that the LSAT applies in any way to real life (besides in matters of determining whether Uma or Thomas plays baseball third), read on:

Celebrating the small victories

Although I took a few semesters learning the language back in college, Chinese falls squarely into the category of things you must use or lose. Since I did not use any of those Chinese skills in the intervening years, I was reduced to (for instance) pointing at pictures on the menu and stammering “给我” (“give me” – hopefully no one was too offended by my lack of manners).
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I bumbled along using my pidgin Chinese, too nervous to venture using full sentences in Chinese. Then, one day, I swiped my metro card at the station and received an error message – “See Operator.” I was clearly going to have to speak to someone, and the best sentence I thought I could muster was “my card has a problem.” I rehearsed it in my head a couple times, timidly approached the man at the service desk, and said:

“我的卡有一个关系.”

He nodded, took my card, fiddled on his computer, and it was fixed! I sailed off through the metro gates, thrilled that I was able to communicate entirely in Chinese with someone who appeared to understand me.

I remember feeling a similar sense of elation after finishing a particularly tricky LSAT Logic Game. I’d read the setup and rules with a sinking feeling, sure that I had no clue what was going on. However, the game had to be at least attempted, so I’d gird my loins (figuratively) and wade into it one step at a time. And while my attempts weren’t always pretty, I’d eventually get there. On the LSAT, as in real life, those little successes might sound insignificant to an outsider, but instead it becomes an exciting and confidence-boosting experience.

That said, one other comment on my heartwarming tale of Chinese-speaking success: I later had a nagging feeling that I had used the wrong word for “problem.” For a long time, I ignored that feeling because I honestly didn’t want to know – I preferred to assume that I had spoken Chinese perfectly.

For the purposes of this blog post, I finally looked up the proper word for “problem” – and it turns out that the word I used, 关系, actually refers to “the basic dynamic in personalized networks of influence” in China (according to Wikipedia). So, my most triumphant experience of speaking Chinese in China is one in which I actually made no sense whatsoever.

But I think there’s an LSAT lesson there, as well: Sometimes you might have to make things up as you go along, but it usually works out in the end anyway.

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