As we do for every LSAT, we’re here today to give an instant reaction to the December 2017 LSAT. We’ll do a deeper dive into the exam once LSAC publishes it, but for now, we’re giving a brief recap based on the whispers we’ve been hearing. If you took the exam this Saturday, hopefully this will allow you to reflect on the exam you just took and provide some measure of consolation that many others also found certain parts of the exam difficult. If you didn’t take the exam yesterday, but are studying for February or beyond, hopefully this discussion will give you insight into the LSAT trends we’re seeing.
Remember this time last year? When pretty much all you would hear, from pretty much anybody, was how unfathomably terrible a year 2016 was?
Doesn’t that seem quaint now? 2017 basically strolled in and was like, “You think you’re so bad, 2016? I’ll see your too soon celebrity deaths and unexpected elections, and raise you the actually terrifying consequences of those elections, destructive natural disaster after destructive natural disaster, the unshakable realization (for men, at least) that almost all men of some power basically terrorize women for pleasure, and perhaps the official installation of an American oligarchy.”
If you’re looking for a token of normalcy and stability during these trying times, well, hopefully you’re not looking to standardized tests. But if you are, the LSAT may be the succor you need.
Because the LSAT, in 2017 at least, has been remarkably consistent and predictable. There haven’t really been any curveballs or massive spikes in difficulty. No truly baffling Logical Reasoning questions. No truly stultifying Logic Games. Reading Comp has been difficult, but we’ve known that’s been the difficult section for a while now. The LSAT itself has faced a bit of tumult recently, but the test itself has been a paragon of consistency in 2017.
And this past Saturday, we got the fourth and final LSAT of the year. And by all reports, it was another one that went by the book. Below you’ll find our section-by-section breakdown …
It’s tough to get a clear picture of the Logical Reasoning sections after the test. The typical test taker gets around 50 short stories about a diverse array of topics (and those with Logical Reasoning as their experimental section get about 75). These questions could conceivably be about anything (although they almost always cover at least a few of their favorite topics, like experimenting on children and things that could possibly lower a highway accident rate). Trying to recall specific Logical Reasoning questions is like trying to recall specific lines of dialogue after binging a show for 10 hours straight. Your mind is, understandably, a bit jumbled after being inundated with that much information. All that really stands out is the truly outré questions. So most test takers tend to overestimate how difficult a Logical Reasoning section is, given that the perplexing questions are the ones that they remember most clearly.
For that reason, I’m very relieved when I don’t hear much about the Logical Reasoning sections following an exam. If I get a lot of “it was pretty straightforward” and “it seemed normal,” that means there weren’t a ton of questions that threw test takers for a loop. Although there were undoubtedly some difficult questions strewn about, when LR isn’t very memorable it suggests a vast majority of the questions were manageable, well within our students’ capabilities.
And straightforward and normal is pretty much all I heard about these Logical Reasoning sections. There didn’t seem to be a ton of questions that truly stumped test takers, like the question relating to the duplicitous orangutans from June 2017 or the caveman mask-wearing crow researchers from September 2017.
Even the questions that many students did remember were on well-trodden LSAT topics, like dinosaurs and Alzheimer’s. There was a Soft Must Be True question about whether bite marks on T. Rex bones indicated that the ancient carnivores were also cannibals. And there was a Strengthen question that turned on supporting the idea that the turmeric in Indian food functions as a prophylactic for Alzheimer’s disease. The strangest question seemed to be a Necessary question on whether constructing a building at certain depths under the sea would disturb dolphins.
As far as question distribution, we can’t make any definitive statements until LSAC releases the exam and we can actually crunch the numbers, but reports suggest that this was an exam heavy on Soft Must Be True and Disagree questions, but a little light on Sufficient and Necessary questions. I’m also hearing that there was a rare Soft Must Be False question (a semi-exotic question type that requires you to pick the answer choice that can most justifiably “be rejected” on the basis of the passage). And, in news that would, if true, be truly shocking to me and a handful of people who care about this sort of thing, I’ve had multiple test takers say that there were two Parallel Flaw questions on a section. Which would be a inconsistency (albeit minor), given that the last, like, 50 LR sections, featured only one Parallel Flaw question per section.
Reading Comprehension has been a bit of a bear the last few years. After every test, pretty much every test taker would have the same post-op: that Reading Comp section was super tough. Usually that would be the first thing they said. And almost always, there was at least one passage that truly rocked test takers to their core.
For this test, however, the reports have been much rosier than usual. Most people have said that this Reading Comp section was a bit easier than expected. This could be a product of instructors like me finally getting through to test takers that they should take the section seriously and practice fastidiously and challenge themselves with difficult passages. Or, perhaps more likely, it could be a product of the test writers finally relenting and giving out some more comprehensible passages. But either way, it seemed like this set of passages were, for the most part, not as traumatic as they could have been.
The first passage covered dialects, a frequent topic the test has recently added to its Reading Comp repertoire. Specifically, the passage was about the the Chinese dialect developed in San Francisco’s Chinatown, and how recent Chinese immigrants would understand the new English-influenced strain of Cantonese.
The second passage appeared to use an analogy involving an action movie hero who narrowly avoids death through a string of impossible contrivances to show how life in this universe required a similarly impossible string of contrivances. This, in turn, supports the theory of the multiverse — that there are actually many other universes, existing parallel to ours, in which things played out differently. Sounds like a bit of a trippy passage, but fans of the cartoon Rick and Morty, in which multiple realities is a central feature — and especially devotees of the “Pickle Rick” episode, in which one of the titular heroes becomes, in pickle form, an action movie hero who narrowly avoids death through a string of impossible contrivances — may have had an easier time unpacking it.
The third passage was yet another comparative passage on the legal system. That makes 2017 3-for-3 on comparative passages on the law. Talk about consistency. Mercifully, this one actually related the law to something test takers are a little more familiar with: jokes and food. It sounds like these passages discussed why comedians and chefs don’t rely on copyright and patent law to protect their jokes and recipes (or, in the case of Guy Fieri, their jokes of a recipe). It appears that both professions use social and professional norms, and not the expensive and complicated legal system, to protect their IP.
The fourth and final passage sounded a bit weird to me, but apparently most test takers did well-enough on it. It was about a writer who interpreted social Darwinism (another common topic on the LSAT) to mean that competition is no longer needed for humanity’s survival, and who took that interpretation to argue that women should no longer be constrained by gender roles, and should instead take an active pursuit in scholarship and activism.
After a few easier Logic Games sections in recent exams, the test writers seemed to have ratcheted up the difficulty for this one. Now, they didn’t do this in the way they normally do — by making one of the games an unconventional twist on a normal game. Instead, it appears that they gave test takers four normal games with conventional set-ups, just made them tough versions of those games.
The games that gave students the most trouble, it appears, are the third and fourth games. In the third, apparently an engineer had to determine which stops along a metro train line would be closed. Some stops would be closed, some would not. This game sounds quite a bit to me like the semi-infamous on/off light switch game from the October 2005 exam. However, some have indicated that they believed this was an ordering game, which could mean either that I’m wrong or that they misinterpreted this game.
The game with the most complaints was definitely the fourth, in which test takers had to schedule cleanings for 8 floors of an apartment building, from Wednesday through Saturday, with two cleanings per day. It sounds like a pretty straightforward Overbooked Ordering game, but apparently it was tough to come by deductions for this one, making it a bit difficult to get through the questions.
In all, another straightforward LSAT in a year that’s been anything but. The only thing that changed here was that the difficulty shifted from Reading Comp to Logic Games. Many test takers opined that this exam was slightly more difficult than September’s. If the curve of the September exam was set at -11 (meaning you could miss 11 questions and still get a 170), this curve is probably going to be set at -11 or -12.
So what now? Well maybe despite this test being consistent with the last few preceding tests, you still feel like it went poorly and you’re considering canceling your score? You have a few days before you have to make that decision. Before electing to cancel your score without seeing it, try watching this video.
The LSAC’s official cancelation policy can be read here. According to LSAC, you have until 11:59 pm EST on the sixth day after the exam to cancel using your LSAC account. Which is a confusing way to say that your deadline to cancel is Friday at 11:59 pm EST. So you still have some time to think it through. Sleep on it. Consider whether the section you blew was the likely experimental section.
If you think you did well on it, well, we can only hope you’ve been celebrating throughout the weekend.
If you have any additional thoughts, feelings, or concerns about the exam, please drop a comment below!