We live in the age of the “life hack,” the simple-yet-clever bit of ingenuity that solves an intractable problem – often a problem you weren’t aware you had until you read that Buzzfeed article about it. This expectation of ease and insight has bled into much of what we do. Some of my students show up to Lesson 1 expecting a limited number of LSAT hacks that get them to their dream score, and thus dream law school, with minimal effort.
Well, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that there are indeed LSAT hacks that you ought to learn and use, but the bad news is that those hacks must be supplemented with methodical hard work. So, without further ado, here’s a list of five tips – some hacks, some hard work – that will help boost your Logical Reasoning score.
1. Read the prompt first.
This falls under the “hack” category. The prompt is the question part of a Logical Reasoning question. Each question has a brief paragraph called the stimulus – which usually contains an argument – then the prompt, which asks a specific question about that paragraph, and, finally, five answer choices.
The prompt can be thought of as a road map to the stimulus. It not only lets you know what you’re looking for, it can give you insight into the stimulus. One very common question type asks you to strengthen an argument. If you read the prompt first, then, before you ever get to the stimulus, you know that there’s an argument that needs to be analyzed. Moreover, you know there’s something wrong with the argument, otherwise it wouldn’t need to be strengthened. Armed with this knowledge, you can read the stimulus looking for the information you’ll need to answer the question correctly.
2. Know the prevalent argument forms and flaws by heart.
This is hard work, pal, but, once you have it down, it becomes a hack. The subject matter on Logical Reasoning varies widely, careening chaotically from bird mating habits to medieval French intellectuals to the composition of moon rocks. That stuff, however, is just a mask for the fact that the makers of the LSAT do the same few things over and over again.
Once you start to see past subject matter to argument structure, your analysis of the stimulus becomes automatic. More than that, it’ll let you slice through answer choices like a hot knife through butter. The most prevalent question type asks directly what the flaw in an argument is. If you have a Rolodex of flaws in your head and you’re looking for them in the stimulus, you can move through the answer choices at a rapid clip, picking the one you already knew was right.
3. Predict answer choices.
This is an extension of what I talked about in the last section. There are specific criteria for correct answer choices, and, if you’ve read the prompt and done your job in the stimulus, you should have an idea of what the right answer looks like before you get to it. This doesn’t just help you get the right answer; it helps you quickly dispense with wrong answer choices. The time constraints on the LSAT are brutal, and actively seeking your answer choice rather than meandering through five answer choices can shave precious seconds off a question.
Again, this is a product of hard work. Early on in your studies, you should do this with great deliberation. Formulate in your own words what you think the answer to the question should look like before looking at the answers. When you first do it, you’ll stink at it, but – and this is a recurring theme – the makers of the LSAT don’t do new things. Once you’ve gotten substantial experience with how they phrase answer choices, your predictions will increase in accuracy, eventually becoming automatic.
4. Do question nos. 18-22 last.
Hurray, another hack! For the most part, Logical Reasoning questions increase in difficulty as the section progresses. The hardest questions, however, are almost never the last few. They come in the 18-22 range. Why is that? Because the evildoers at LSAC want you to get bogged down on the hardest questions – which you’ll likely miss anyway – and miss out on a few relatively easy points at the end.
This is part of a larger strategy that applies across the entire exam. You should be maximizing time spent on attainable questions and minimizing time spent on the questions that separate the 179s from the 180s. You can miss ten or so questions on the exam and still get an Ivy League-worthy score. Part of that is taking the test strategically.
5. Keep your pencil moving.
Depending upon what kind of person you are, this is either a hack or hard work. There is a lot of writing and marking you ought to be doing when attacking a Logical Reasoning question. You might be underlining an argument’s conclusion and identifying its premises. You may need to diagram if/then statements. Each question requires its own kind of work, but very few won’t benefit from some kind of work.
This is as much psychological as it is practical. It’s very easy to find yourself staring at a hard problem and letting precious seconds tick away. Doing work on a problem keeps the wheels turning in your head. More than that, if you’ve done all the work you can think of, and you still don’t know the answer, that’s a good sign you’ve run into a difficult problem and that it’s time to move on to greener pastures.
Hope those help! Stay tuned, because I’ll be back with some tips on Reading Comprehension.
This article is written by Branden Frankel, a veteran instructor at Blueprint LSAT Preparation, 2010 graduate of UCLA School of Law, and a guy who just happened to score a 175 on the June 2006 LSAT.