Tiers Without Fears

Most LSAT Prep systems approach ordering games in more or less the same way. First, we start by showing you the classic 1:1 ordering game. Some call these “basic linear” games or something to that effect. But the idea is: you have a certain number of players you have to order, and a certain number of places to put those players, and those two numbers are the same. You have to watch eight Netflix series? On a 1:1 ordering game, you’ll watch them one at a time, first through eighth. Or you have to visit six fast casual eateries? Well you’ll visit one per day, from Monday to Saturday.

We start with these because they’re relatively straightforward, as far as games go. Students like the symmetry between the players and the slots, so these games are less intimidating. You learn how to make common types of ordering deductions and when to make scenarios. You get comfortable with these games. If you have enough success with these or a predilection for spatial reasoning you might … gasp … learn to love these games.

Eventually though, we all leave the safe confines of 1:1 ordering. We leave that relatively warm and nurturing land and dart off to uncharted waters, to the more difficult tiered ordering game. These take your basic 1:1 ordering game and add another variable to deal with.

Most commonly, that extra variable is a characteristic that each player will possess. So instead of just having to watch eight Netflix series, one at a time, we also have to keep track of whether you’re eating drinking a Pamplemousse or Lime La Croix while you’re watching the show. Or instead of just visiting one of six fast casual restaurants from Monday through Friday, you have to keep track whether you contracted E. coli, Norovirus, or Salmonella from that eatery. We call these “tiered” ordering games because you have to make another tier of slots in your set-up to keep track of this extra variable.

Students are decidedly less into these games. Keeping track of an extra variable creates confusion and headache and, in some extreme cases, antipathy towards the writers of this exam. In the rocky transition to tiered ordering, some students feel stranded, like the post-weaning harp seal pup mercilessly left on desolate ice by his cruel but pragmatic mother, praying that he doesn’t encounter a wandering polar bear or that the rising temperatures don’t claim the ice beneath his underdeveloped fins. In other words, students really hope they don’t get one of these games on their exams.

But here’s the unfortunately reality, my seal pups: You’re probably going to get a tiered ordering game. Seven of the last ten published LSATs have featured at least one tiered ordering game. Here’s another unfortunate factoid: These are typically the hardest game on the given exam. One more “fun” fact: A disproportionate amount of the hardest games to ever be on this exam have been tiered ordering games.

However, there are ways to make these games easier. Even though the extra variable set can create confusion, these games, by and large, ask test takers to make the same types of deductions over and over again. In my eyes, there are three major deductions that consistently reappear on tiered ordering games. If you can get comfortable making these deductions, you will no longer fear the tier.

Deduction Number 1: Big Ol’ Blocks

One of the most common rules you’ll encounter in a tiered ordering game is a “block,” or a rule that specifies that two or more players have a definite spatial relationship with each other. Most often, it’s that the players have to go next to each other, like, “Rex Tillerson will leave the administration immediately after Gary Cohn.” Sometimes there are empty spaces in your blocks, too: “Hope Hicks will leave the administration after Omarosa, with exactly one former cabinet member exiting between the two.”

Blocks are very helpful rules, as we’ve discussed in our posts on scenarios. In tiered ordering games though, blocks get very interesting when they start to include information about the top tier as well. Like, “Both Reince Priebus and the staffer fired before him will be fired via Twitter, while the staffer fired after Reince Priebus will be fired in person.” When blocks start to include information about player characteristics, they get really helpful. Essentially, these enormous blocks take up so much space in your set-up that they are naturally constrained to only a few positions.

Which means that these big-ass blocks are super useful in constructing scenarios. And not only that, these scenarios tend to lead to many deductions, since the blocks tell you so much information.

So, one way to make tiered ordering games easier: If you see a huge block, think scenarios.

Deduction Number 2: Checkerboard Patterns in Your Top Tier

Another rule that shows up constantly on tiered ordering games is a rule that prevents characteristics in the top tier from going in adjacent positions. Let’s say a game asked you to schedule the music recitals for six Millennial children — Miles, Nathaniel, Ophelia, Sawyer, Wyatt, and Zara — from first to sixth. But also you have to keep track of which instrument the child played: either the flugelhorn or Roland TR-808 drum machine.

In this type of game, you might get a rule that says, “No two consecutive performances may feature the same instrument.” Which means we can’t have a flugelhorn performance go before or after another flugelhorn, and we can’t have an 808 throw-down before or after another one. This would give this game two scenarios: One where the order of the musical performances went flugelhorn, 808, flugelhorn, 808, and so on. And another when the order of the performances went 808, flugelhorn, 808, flugelhorn, and so one. It creates the classic checkerboard pattern of alternating characteristics on your top tier, hence the name of this type of deduction.

Even if there’s only a restriction on one of the characteristics — like if we knew that the Roland TR-808 couldn’t be used in consecutive performances, but the flugelhorn could — odds are that this checkerboard pattern would appear somewhere on the top tier. For instance, if we knew that Wyatt was playing the 808 in second position and Zara was playing the 808 in the fourth, we’d be able to figure out that the first, third, and fifth performers would all be playing the flugelhorn. Some of the most notorious ordering games to ever appear on the LSAT required test takers to make this “checkerboard” deduction, making what was initially difficult into something head-smackingly obvious.

Deduction Number 3: Build a Block

Finally, some tiered ordering games tell you exactly how many of each characteristic you get to play with. That’s different than the previous games, when we didn’t know from the jump how many White House staffers were fired in person or via Twitter, or how many flugelhorn or Roland TR-808 performances there would be.

Take this hypothetical tiered ordering game, for instance: “Seven skaters — Hosoi, Ishod, Johnston, Koston, Lance, Muska, and Neil — will each perform their signature trick one after another, in order from first to eighth. The skaters’ signature trick will either be an Andrecht plant, a blunt slide, a Christ air, a disaster, an eggplant, a frontside flip, or a grapefruit grind. Each skater has one signature trick, and no two skaters share a signature trick.”

In this game we know how many eggplants and Christ Airs and bluntslides there are. Just one. For a tiered ordering game in which there’s a specified number of characteristics, a big deduction you’ll make is just assigning the characteristic to the player. You can represent this as a vertical block. If you learned that Hosoi’s signature trick is the Christ air, you could represent this as a vertical block, with the “C” above the “H.”

The more vertical blocks you can build, the easier the game becomes. Although it’s not possible for most of these types of tiered ordering games, on some you may be able to build all the vertical blocks. So if you can assign a characteristic to every player — if we could figure out that Hosoi is doing a Christ air, Ishod is doing a disaster, Johnston is doing the graprefruit grind, Koston is doing a blunt slide, Lance is doing the eggplant, Muska is doing a frontslide flip, and Neil is doing the Andrecht plant — then you just have seven vertical blocks, filling seven available positions. Meaning you converted a scary tiered ordering game into an easy 1:1 ordering game.

So remember these types of deductions — you’ll see them all the time on tiered ordering games. Get practice making scenarios when you see big ol’ blocks, thinking about the checkerboard sequences on your top tier when you get a rule that prevents characteristics from going in adjacent positions, and building blocks when you get a definite number of characteristics. The tiers will not be for fears, but you will rule the world (of logic games).

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