Yesterday, we took a detailed look at the Logical Reasoning sections on the September 2017 LSAT. We found a set of sections that had a pretty typical distribution of question types, but that leaned heavily on conditionality. Overall, they were a set a pretty mild LR section. But what about the other two sections, Reading Comp and Logic Games? Everyone said the former was crazy difficult, and the latter crazy easy. We’ll dive into those, and this exam’s curve, below.
It was pretty much universally reported from test takes that this Reading Comprehension section was brutal. Which, given recent trends on this exam, struck me as unfortunately unsurprising. However, when I actually took a look at this section, I was pleasantly surprised. While Reading Comprehension was no walk in the park, I think the difficulty of that section was slightly overstated by the test takers. I suppose I’m in the minority here, and may be completely wrong, but each of the passages used argument structures and rhetorical devices that are very common to Reading Comprehension. So as long as you had practiced and refined sound strategies on many Reading Comprehension passages, you should have been OK on this section. Maybe this section just stood out next to what were comparatively mild Logical Reasoning and Logic Games sections.
I thought the first two passages were actually very accessible by recent Reading Comp standards. The first — about debunking myths as to why we should protect the world’s forests — and the second — about the use of radio in preserving the indigenous language of Native American tribes — were straightforward in their organization, author’s attitude, and questions. These are also two of the most clichéd LSAT topics of all time, and your average test taker should have done many, many passages about the environment and Native Americans before the exam.
The third and forth passages is where things got dicey for test takers. The third one, especially, got a lot of people shook. That was a comparative passage about whether judges should sincerely believe what they write in their opinions. I heard reports from students that varied from “these passages had nothing to do with each other” to “I think they kind of agreed but wasn’t sure” to more eloquent descriptions like “they didn’t disagree but rather formed a Venn diagram-like network of ideas, sharing some and not others.”
These descriptions missed the mark, somewhat. At the end of the day, both authors addressed the question of whether judges must believe what they argue in their opinions, which they refer to as “judicial candor” and “judicial sincerity.” And they both agree that it is an important principle to consider. However, the author of the first passage states that moral principles dictate that judges should believe what they say. The author of the second passage argues that there must be a cost-benefit analysis that takes into account the practical outcome of judicial candor. This analysis, according to the second author, would justify a presumption that judges should believe what they say in most situations, but there could still some instances in which judges need not believe what they say. So these authors disagree in their justification for judicial candor (whether it should be based on moral principles or practical considerations) and how often judicial candor should be required (always versus most of the time).
The most difficult thing about these passages (other than it getting pretty far in the weeds with legal topics) is how the author’s attitude is presented to us. The author of the first passage ultimately comes down much stronger in favor of judicial candor. However, that author spends most of the passage rebutting a potential justification for judicial candor, making it seem like she isn’t that into judicial candor. The author of the second paragraph is ultimately a little less into judicial candor, but spends most of the passage discussing why it’s important. It would be easy, therefore, for test takers to mix up the authors’ attitudes. Doing so would have unsurprisingly led you to mess up some questions.
All of this point to why it’s so critical for you to summarize the main point and author’s attitude after reading a passage. And on comparative passages, it’s especially helpful to summarize how the two passages relate to each other generally. If you didn’t figure out the general points of agreement and disagreement between the two authors on this judge passage, four of the eight questions would have been much more difficult to answer.
The fourth passage, by the way, was about nostalgia for discredited “universal” theories like Marxism and Freudianism. Most of the questions on that one related to the author’s attitude toward the pros and cons of such theories, again showing why it’s so important to summarize the author’s attitude after reading a passage.
Finally, Logic Games. Pretty much everyone told me that this was one of the easiest games sections they had ever encountered. At the time, I took this as more of a testament to my great teaching skills than as evidence of an actually easy games section. Unfortunately for me, it was actually a pretty easy section. Not quite Sunday morning easy, but very fair and manageable.
The first game was what we call a “combo” game about presenting instructional films in two theaters. There was a combination of ordering and grouping principles (hence the name “combo”), since you had to figure out both the time each film would be played and which theater each film would be assigned. To. On many games, getting through the questions is just a matter of identifying the most restricted players and keeping track of that play. This was the case here, as two films could not be played at the latest time slot available (and only one of the two could be played at the second-to-last time slot available). Every question related to that deduction.
The second game was what we call an “underbooked” ordering game. In this game, we had schedule five low-brow dinner specials (like nachos and pizza and quesadillas — what is this a basic 20-year old guy’s dinner plans?) from the inaptly named Café Cosmopolitano for each of the six days the café is open. We called this game underbooked simply because there are fewer players (the dinner specials) than slots we have to fill (the days of the week). If you studied the principles for making scenarios on ordering games, this one is easier than figuring out when to visit the garbage-sounding Café Cosmopolitano (never).
Next up was a tired ordering game that required test takers to figure out the order in which prosecutors interviewed four witnesses to a case. We assumed that it was a murder case, because if you made scenarios on this one too, you would have killed the game.
Almost every Logic Games section has a “hard” game, and that game usually comes third or forth. So the fourth game is unsurprisingly the most difficult one here. This one was what we call a profiling game, since you have to “profile” the rules to figure out how to set it up. The fourth game here involved three students who have to do one or more presentations on Machianvellianism, Shakespeare’s villains, and jitsuaku — a villainous stock character in kabuki theater. It was actually somewhat ambiguous if you should use the three students or the three presentations as your groups. However, the final rule, which put a strong principle of distribution on how many presentations each student could make, suggested that you would be better off using the students as the groups. Many grouping games involving combining rules through transitive deductions, and this one was no different. If you made this deduction, the questions should Iago well.
Surely, a test as straightforward and fair as the September exam would have a harsh curve, correct? As in, you’d have to get a lot more questions correct than usual to earn a good score? On this one, not really.
Amongst nerds who talk about this stuff, the benchmark for measuring how harsh the LSAT curve (technically it’s a scale and not a curve, but that’s mostly semantics) is how many questions you can miss and still score 170. If you can miss 10 questions and still earn a 170, it is colloquially referred to as a -10 curve. Usually that figure oscillates between -9 and -12. Meaning the “toughest” LSATs should have a more forgiving curve of -12 and the “easiest’ LSATs should have more demanding curve of -9.
On this LSAT, that figure was -11. So even on a fairly normal, predictable exam, test takers still had some opportunity to miss quite questions and get a great score. Which is very generous of the normally quite stingy folks who write the exam.
So, this would have been a great LSAT to take. Learning and practicing fundamentals like diagramming, author’s attitude, and scenarios would have yielded a ton of points, which ultimately would have translated to a great school. This is to take nothing away from those who worked hard to get their great scores for this exam. No LSAT is easy — it’s a test deliberately made difficult, and requires a ton of a work to master. But still, conditions were favorable on this exam.
But as an instructor who has seen a ton of these exams, this kinder, gentler LSAT is almost unrecognizable to me. I could speculate if the encroachment of GRE or the lack of high-scoring applicants is forcing LSAC to soften the exam, but I will not. Instead, let’s just hope that this trend continues into December.