My Journey

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LR Perfection Free Preview: Chapter 1 Part II

So I knew there was a knowledge gap between the test prep materials and what I needed to get a perfect score on LR. This knowledge was not readily available on the market, and I had to compile it myself. I began to look at each flaw question and compared them to lists of logical fallacies. I read up on philosophy and studied formal and informal logic. Eventually, I was at a point where I had more than enough tools in my arsenal to attack the Logic Reasoning section.

1.2.1 Too much knowledge can also be a curse: focus on habits

But my confidence was short-lived. A new problem arose. On an actual timed PT, I had only a minute or two to tackle each question. I didn’t have enough time to slow down, dissect each stimulus, and apply all the knowledge I had gathered. My thinking was hazy and I had to rely on intuition. I went through the questions mechanically, selecting answers because they appeared right. If you had asked me why I picked answer choice A over B, I couldn’t have given you a coherent, legitimate answer. I was able to think things through untimed, but under time constraints, it was as if I was a completely different person.

You see, the LSAT is such a fast-paced test that you really won’t have enough time to do an in-depth examination of each individual question. With the added stress of exam day and the grueling crucible of multiple sections one after the other, your mind will most likely be in a haze during the entire test. You may or may not have enough time to go back and double-check your answers, and you will most definitely miss certain aspects of questions during the exam itself. As a result, whether during a timed PT or the actual exam itself, you will be falling back on your involuntary habits. Learning from your mistakes and building up that knowledge base is helpful when you slow down and review your answer choices, but that doesn’t mean anything if we cannot apply all that knowledge on the actual test itself. The actual test is a test of habits, and perfection is still far away unless we can fundamentally rewire our test-taking habits.

But how can we change our involuntary habits through practice? I reviewed the questions I got wrong, and it appeared that I was able to understand this specific question. But if a similar question appeared three months from now and I only had a minute left, how do I make sure that I won’t make the same mistake?

I began to look for ways to upgrade my habits. What are some of the things that I can do, subconsciously and involuntarily, that can help me pick the “correct” answer choice even when I’m nervous and pressed for time? Why did my intuition work for the easier questions but end up failing me when it came to harder questions? This was the most significant obstacle I faced, but at least I have located the key problem!

1.2.2 Reconstructing a LR stimulus

At this point, I began to drill LR questions by type. I worked through the easier questions and spent most of my time focusing on the more difficult ones. By comparing easier questions and the most difficult questions of the same type, I came to the most critical realization thus far:

While the fundamentals of approaching a specific question type remain the same between easier and more difficult questions, the test makers will throw in a lot more variation in both the stimulus and the answer choices as the questions grow harder.

I actively sought out these variations, taking the hardest LR questions and simplifying them, stripping away the traps and difficult traits until just the barebones were left. Eventually, after looking at thousands of questions, many of them a dozen times or more, I boiled it down to five different areas where the test makers can tinker to increase the difficulty of a question.

***

Let’s look at an example now and you’ll immediately see what I’m talking about.

The majority of LR stimuli will contain an argument. Let’s start with something super simple.

Original Argument:

All JD students need to have completed an undergraduate degree. Joshua is going to law school, therefore, he must have graduated college.

This is simple enough, right? You probably had no trouble figuring out what’s the premise and what’s the conclusion in this argument.

The first area where test makers can mess with us is by adding uncertainty to the structure of the argument. Simply put, analyzing an argument’s structure is to differentiate the supporting premises from the main conclusion. Let’s throw some confusion into the mix:

Variation 1: Joshua is going to law school and has graduated college; thus all JD students need to have completed an undergraduate degree. 

Or:

Variation 2: Joshua is going to law school and must have graduated college, we know all JD students need to have completed an undergraduate degree.

By simply switching up the sequence of statements and adding certain keywords into the mix, detecting the main conclusion of the argument all of a sudden became a lot more treacherous. Variation 1 is using Joshua as an example and making a generalization about “all JD students.” The conclusion is that “all JD students need to have completed an undergraduate degree.” In Variation 2; however, the conclusion is that “Joshua must have graduated college.”

***

Let’s keep on building up our Variation #2. This time let’s crank up the difficulty of the logic behind the argument:

Variation 2.1: Joshua is going to law school and must have graduated college; we know all JD students need to have completed an undergraduate degree. As a result, Joshua’s studiousness will cause him to become a successful attorney.

The argument is now getting more convoluted, gaps are starting to appear in its reasoning. The main conclusion of the argument has changed yet again. The previous main conclusion is now the intermediate conclusion. Now the main conclusion is about Joshua’s studiousness causing him to become a successful attorney. The conclusion contains causal logic (studiousness cause him to become a successful attorney). The premises, on the other hand, contains conditional logic (all JD students need to have completed an undergraduate degree).

***

How did we go from premises about law students completed undergraduate degree to a conclusion about studiousness causing Joshua to become a successful attorney? I’ve deliberately made this unwarranted jump in the argument. Test makers do this all the time. In both assumption family questions and harder non-assumption family questions, the test makers will leave out critical parts of the argument on purpose. It’s our job to fill in the blanks or to come up with the author’s assumptions as we dissect an argument.

Here, I’m assuming that JD students go on to become attorneys, and that completing college is a sign of a student’s studiousness. These were left unsaid in the argument, but they are just as crucial to understanding the argument.

Variations in structure, logic, and unstated assumptions are the three key areas that distinguish harder question stimuli from easier question stimuli. We will look at all of these in turn.

***

Even when we get good at simplifying/clarifying a complex stimulus, the test makers will throw in additional traps in the answer choices. This can happen in three ways:

Deliberately vague answers

In questions such as Role, Method, and Flaw types, the answer choices can be so abstract that we won’t, at first glance, have any idea of what it’s trying to say. In the chapters on these question types, we will practice drills in translating vague and abstract answer choices and try to match them up with the stimulus.

Answer choices that are open to interpretation are also especially tricky, especially in Strengthen/Weaken Question types. These answer choices can either help or hurt an argument, depending on how you view it. Because they are so pressed for time, many students end up only seeing one side of the picture.

Seemingly legitimate answers with one or two bad keywords

You have seen these trap answers before. Everything looks fine except for one or two words. Keyword Extraction is a habit that we will practice again and again throughout this book. We will examine how certain keywords will make or break an answer choice.

Multiple attractive answer choices 

In Strengthen, Weaken, and MSS Questions (and a few other question types to a lesser extent), we often find multiple answer choices that all seem to fit the bill. Many intermediate/advanced students will have no problem narrowing the answer choices down to two attractive answers, but end up picking the wrong one. We will look at different types of correct answer choices, why certain types of answer choices are preferable, and practice the habit of ranking answers.

Answer choice ranking is also a core skill in RC, but that’s another topic reserved for another book.

***

Structure, Logic, Assumptions, Keywords, and Ranking answers form the five core sectors we must strive to improve during our practice (SLAKR). The goal is to practice these incessantly until they become natural habits to us. These core skills are the tools we need to navigate the hardest LR questions successfully, and when these habits become second nature to us, so will the results speak for themselves. By analyzing these five elements of all the questions that I had gotten wrong or flagged, I was finally able to consistently score in the -1, -0 range on the LR section. On the eve of my test, I made an average one mistake per four sections of LR. I got extremely lucky and eventually scored a 180.

1.2.3 The Final Element: Intra-Question Pattern Perception

After taking the LSAT, I began to tutor the test. It was recreationally at first, but as more students approached me, it soon became a full-time job. Due to COVID restrictions, I quit my job at a fintech start-up to teach the LSAT. I will be applying to law school this year or the next.

I’ve worked with over 200 students preparing the LSAT during the last two years. More than half scored over 170, and just under a third scored in the 175-180 range. While score inflation since COVID is a real phenomenon, I’m nonetheless convinced that my methods are truly effective in helping students attain the score they desire.

Working with students had an added benefit that learning the test on my own didn’t provide. It forced me to explain a question so that others may understand it as clearly as I did. Knowing how to do a question is one thing, but being able to explain it is different.

We also have to know why students got this question wrong, and most importantly, devise drills and recommend similar questions for them to practice, so they can upgrade their knowledge and habits to never make the same mistake again.

The last two years also forced me to look at the test more in-depth than I had ever anticipated. Other than the knowledge and habits I discovered were crucial to LR success, we saw additional patterns emerging within each question type. I returned to the drawing board, redid all the questions of harder and hardest difficulty from PT1 to PT90, and categorized them according to the patterns that I perceived.

Recognizing patterns within a specific question type had an unforeseeable hidden benefit: it made my tutoring much more efficient. Whenever a student came to me with a specific question, we would not only dissect it via the SLAKR method, but I could pinpoint the error they committed and point to another dozen additional questions with similar traps as additional practice. This was truly helpful in preventing one from making the same mistake again.

Finally, recognizing certain archetypes within a specific question type will help you save precious time on the exam. While others are busily trying to understand a stimulus, you already see the potential traps and pitfalls and can spend most of your time analyzing each question on a deeper level.

In this book, I’ve listed the most representative patterns pertaining to the hardest questions of each question type. You don’t need to memorize these, only to recognize them if they appear in practice or on the actual exam.

1.2.4 In order to attain perfection, focus on the hardest questions of each type

I strongly recommend the intermediate/advanced student to focus on the hardest questions of each type in practice. As we saw in the example from the beginning of this book, if you can learn to dissect a question with a complicated structure, confusing logic, and gaps in its reasoning, easier questions will almost seem like a joke. By focusing on the hardest questions, we are also saving our energy to reflect on our mistakes, upgrading our knowledge and habits as needed, and avoiding burnout. Lastly, because the hardest questions have so many issues that needs to be considered, they force us to be more observant in the test-taking process, thus simultaneously helping us avoid careless mistakes.

The LR questions contained in this book are among the hardest to ever appear on the LSAT. Don’t be afraid to get them wrong. Each failure is an opportunity to upgrade our test-taking strategies.

The book’s last chapter (22) gives you a detailed outline on how to practice LR questions in conjunction with this book. We want to read each chapter, familiarize ourselves with the difficult traits associated with that question type, and practice as many questions of that type as we can.

After each chapter, practice that question type to consolidate the knowledge that you’ve just learned!

I would say at least 50 practice questions per question type would be the minimum, and upwards of a hundred questions was not uncommon for my students.

For example, after reading Chapter 3, Find the Conclusion. You should use a program like adeptLR, lsatlab, or 7sage and start practicing Find the Conclusion questions. I would keep in mind all the things I learned in Chapter 3 and see if I can spot these patterns as I practice.

Start at a difficulty level that you are comfortable with. LR questions are commonly divided into five difficulty levels. For example, if Level 3 Find the Conclusion questions are where I am beginning to make mistakes, I would continue to drill them until my accuracy and timing are consistent. Then I would move to Level 4 questions and, finally, level 5. If your goal is to perfect the LR section, only move to the next question type after you feel comfortable with the Level 5 questions of the previous type.

After finishing the entire book, I would keep it on the side as a reference book as you move into drilling entire sections or full PTs. Whenever you encounter difficult questions, refer back to the relevant chapters and see if what you are struggling with is one of the difficult traits we’ve discussed.

Throughout this book, over 200 of the hardest LR questions are discussed, 125 of them in painstaking detail. Try to figure out these questions before looking at the answer choices. Also be sure to read my explanations not just for the questions you got wrong, but all of them. Be sure to know why all the wrong answers were incorrect, rather than jumping straight to the correct answer.

1.2.5 Do you really need a tutor?

Before we finish this chapter, I just wanted to say a few words about the proper role of a tutor in your LSAT prep journey. Are tutors helpful, and who would benefit from hiring one? What should we look for in one?

First, a tutor is only helpful when you are stuck. If you are a beginner, then the materials available on the market are more than enough to get you started. If you are an intermediate/advanced student and are showing steady improvement from self-studying, then keep doing what you are doing! No need for a tutor either.

A tutor can be helpful if your progress is stagnating, or when you have a list of specific questions you can’t find answers to anywhere else. But even then, there are certain qualities that we should look for in a tutor.

Most tutors will simply explain your question and leave it at that. But as we have seen, the LSAT will be a test of habits and understanding. So understanding one question doesn’t help us unless we can repeat the process on a similar question down the road.

As a result, you want someone who can look at the mistake you made and tell right away WHY you made such a mistake. Is it due to bad habits? Is it due to insufficient knowledge? Can they give you drills to overcome such deficiencies and point to similar questions for you to practice?

Lastly, do not become too dependent on your tutor. The LSAT heavily relies on your ability to recognize patterns and traps. This ability is something you need to actively train for to succeed on the actual exam. A tutor may point you in the right direction and give you hints, but come exam day, you alone are reading over each argument, simplifying them, and evaluating them.

In terms of tutor recommendations I would go with someone who has an established track record and verifiable publications. You want someone who is not just a high-scorer doing this just for the summer before law school, but someone who has experience teaching and can adapt their methods to your learning style. You also want someone who has published books or articles on the topic, so that you can take a look at what they have written and decide whether that fits your particular learning style as well. Don’t be afraid to challenge your tutor, get on their nerves and see if they become defensive. You want someone who provides a safe learning environment. Only when you are completely comfortable can you start to learn. You want someone who is not trying to convince you that they are right, but show you how you can tweak your methods so that you can be right too. This narrows down the field exponentially. I no longer tutor students, although there are tutors that I’ve vetted active in the LSAT Dragon discord.