This week, we’re going to do a series in which a bunch of LSAT veterans are going to discuss what they wish they knew before taking the LSAT. Today I’ll kick things off by talking a little about what I wish I knew before taking the Logical Reasoning section of the LSAT.
Logical Reasoning has always been my strongest section. Because of that, I didn’t really do much to prepare before I took the LSAT for the first time. I ended up missing two LR questions. Hate me all you want, but my ability right off the bat probably has something to do with why I ended up teaching this test for years. Still, there are things I wish I’d known. Had I known them, I wouldn’t have missed those two, and I would have made my way through the test with a lot less stress. Here’s what I wish I’d known.
Wrong answers are wrong
When I first took the LSAT, I wasted time debating answers on the merits of which one seemed better. I ended up usually picking the right one anyway, probably because the things that made the wrong answers wrong ultimately made those answers seem “worse” to me.
But since then, I’ve learned that there’s something in every wrong answer that makes it wrong. Not just inferior but wrong. If you’re down to two answers, one of them is wrong. You just haven’t figured out why yet. When I first took the LSAT, if I had looked at answers that way, I could have saved myself a whole bunch of anguish and uncertainty.
There’s nothing special about principles
You’ll see a lot of questions on the LSAT that involve principles — applying them, choosing one that strengthens an argument, pointing out a flaw in an application of one, and so on. You might think there’s something different about these questions. When I first took the real LSAT, I debated answers to one Strengthen question with principles because I wasn’t sure whether the answer I liked was “principle-y” enough, whatever that means.
“Whatever that means” is apt, because it means nothing. A principle is just a general rule. If they ask you which principle in the answers most strengthens the argument, all that matters is whether the answer helps you get from the argument’s premises to its conclusion. That’s it.
Quantifiers can be formalized
When I first took the LSAT, I hated questions about “some” “most” “all” and “none.” I always felt like I was tying my brain into knots trying to figure out how all the claims fit together. Then I had to tie my brain into knots again to distinguish oh-so-similar-sounding answers from each other.
Now I know that you can diagram quantifiers. They don’t come up on many questions, but knowing how to deal with quantifiers makes those few questions so much easier. Even if I used to be able to do quantifier questions the hard way, now that I’m eight years older I doubt I could power through them anymore if I didn’t know the underlying logic well. But since I can diagram quantifiers, I’m fine.
“Main Point” just means conclusion
On my first real LSAT, I missed a Main Point question. There’s no shame in missing any particular question, but when you’re near perfect in Logical Reasoning, let’s just say that the questions you miss aren’t supposed to be Main Point questions.
What’s embarrassing is that I had the argument’s conclusion identified correctly. But I thought to myself, “the point, though … the point is something bigger, man.” I picked an answer that seemed to be to reflect the general principle behind the argument. That was wrong, because “main point” just means conclusion. That goes for Reading Comp, too.
To tie this back to the first point, it would also have helped if I had really believed that wrong answers were wrong. Because, then, it would have bugged me that I hadn’t really dismissed the answer that restated the argument’s conclusion, verbatim.
Logical Reasoning is hard. But while there’s a lot to learn about how to approach each kind of question, keep in mind that they mostly test the same basic principles. There’s a lot in common between question types, and keep in mind as you learn each kind of question that you’re not just learning how to do that kind of question. You’re also learning concepts and skills that will translate to other kinds of questions, too. Good luck!