7 Ways to Conquer LSAT Logical Reasoning
Your LSAT scaled score (120-180) is determined by your performance on 3 kinds of multiple-choice sections: Reading Comprehension (RC), Analytical Reasoning (AKA “Logic Games” or LG), and Logical Reasoning (LR). If you’re just starting out on your LSAT journey and realize you would benefit from learning more about how to go about preparing for the LSAT, I highly recommend you cover the essentials and then loop back to read our LSAT prep tips.
Every LSAT PrepTest (officially administered and then released LSAT) since the dawn of man has consisted of 1 RC section, 1 LG section, and 2 LR sections. From this it’s clear to see that LR accounts for half of the LSAT’s scored sections and is given top priority on the LSAT.
But why is that?
The importance of LSAT Logical Reasoning
“Logical reasoning” - roughly defined as the ability to think critically about carefully crafted text and then fulfill a specifically stated task - is a law school requirement and years from now will be one of the defining features of your job as a lawyer!
The LSAT is designed, at least in part, to gauge how successful a prospective law student will be during his/her first year at law school (affectionately known as “1L”). So, given the massive investment of time, effort, and money that LSAT preparation tends to pose for many law school hopefuls, it’s helpful and can even be motivating to view mastery of the test’s LR sections as one of your preliminary steps towards becoming a lawyer and having a successful legal career. Let’s now look at what specific measures you should take to excel on this portion of the LSAT.
Develop a correct understanding of what the term “Logical Reasoning” entails.
The LSAT’s Logical Reasoning sections are NOT the “argument sections”! This crucial misunderstanding, one I’ve encountered several times with new students, can lead to the engraining of bad test-taking habits and resultant underperformance. While any one of the approximately 25 questions within an LR section IS more likely than not to be argument-based, there are some notable exceptions, namely Inference questions (comprising Must Be True, Most Strongly Supported, and Must Be False questions), Paradox/Most Helps to Explain questions, and various Principle-based questions. It follows that one of the most fundamental keys to success on the LSAT’s LR sections is proficiency in recognizing your task so you can then utilize the correct approach: the kind of thinking tested in law school.
Learn the question types and build up efficient approaches to tackle each one.
There are numerous question-typing systems out there for the LSAT’s LR sections: big name prep companies overlap a good amount in their terminology but have some clear distinctions from one another, with some more thorough than others in their categorizations, and lots of LSAT tutors adopt a single system or - as I’ve found to be more effective for a few reasons - combine elements from 2 or more while making certain to clarify for their students any notable differences.
No matter the path you choose, just make sure to look for a tutor who has a reliable and well-tested - but not necessarily unique - system ready to go: it isn’t necessary (and is oftentimes counter-productive) to try to reinvent the wheel, but it IS paramount to know how the wheel works and be able to use it well.
Emphasize method over memorization.
While keywords, such as well-known conclusion indicators like “therefore” and “thus”, can be useful at a rudimentary level, learning a method or set of methods for a given LR question type will allow for more consistent and sustainable improvements over the course of your LSAT study. The LSAT, unlike tests many students are accustomed to taking during college, rewards one’s ability to apply logical concepts to new yet predictable arguments, scenarios, or sets of related statements rather than regurgitate facts accrued over the course of a semester. Take as an example the following Logical Reasoning practice question (pulled from the freely available June 2007 LSAT, Section III, #9):
LSAT Logical Reasoning practice question
Naturalist: The recent claims that the Tasmanian tiger is not extinct are false. The Tasmanian tiger’s natural habitat was taken over by sheep farming decades ago, resulting in the animal’s systematic elimination from the area. Since then naturalists working in the region have discovered no hard evidence of its survival, such as carcasses or tracks. In spite of alleged sightings of the animal, the Tasmanian tiger no longer exists.
Which one of the following is an assumption on which the naturalist’s argument depends?
A. Sheep farming drove the last Tasmanian tigers to starvation by chasing them from their natural habitat.
B. Some scavengers in Tasmania are capable of destroying tiger carcasses without a trace.
C. Every naturalist working in the Tasmanian tiger’s natural habitat has looked systematically for evidence of the tiger’s survival.
D. The Tasmanian tiger did not move and adapt to a different region in response to the loss of habitat.
E. Those who have reported sightings of the Tasmanian tiger are not experienced naturalists.
To tackle the above question, we’re going to work methodically, starting with the stem (the question/prompt itself) and then proceed to the stimulus (the chunk of text given to us). Here are our steps for this argument-based question:
Step 1: Read the stem to identify the question type.
We start by looking to the stem to identify our question type - the importance of which we began discussing in tip 2 of this article. We can tell this is an argument-based question because, quite simply, the term “argument” is used; the appearance of either “conclusion” or “reasoning” would also indicate we’re dealing with an argument.
Furthermore, we see the term “assumption”, and then the term “depends” shows up. This makes it clear we’re dealing with a necessary assumption question.
Step 2: Read the stimulus to identify the conclusion and understand the argument.
Every argument on the LSAT has at least 1 conclusion, as intermediate/subsidiary conclusions sometimes appear as well, and that conclusion is normally explicit: it is a statement included as a sentence or a part of a sentence. Here our conclusion turns out to be the first sentence, which is reiterated in the last clause of the stimulus, but that doesn’t happen much on the LSAT.
Notice how the statement, “The Tasmanian tiger is extinct”, is the key judgment levied in opposition to claims discussed in the first sentence; this sort of opposing dynamic commonly shows up within an argument’s conclusion.
Step 3: Consider what the argument is assuming.
We already acknowledged that necessary assumption can be considered a part of the assumption family. Interestingly, each question type within that family can be viewed with a critical lens, meaning there’s something awry and we’ll be rewarded for finding it. This argument assumes that our Tasmanian tiger didn’t manage to overcome the invading sheep farmers, but how do we know it didn’t up and leave, surviving elsewhere?
Step 4: Go to the answer choices and evaluate.
Looking at our answer choices, we notice that answer choice (D) aligns with our spotted assumption quite well, but there’s one more step to ensure we have a winner on a necessary assumption question. This next and final step is especially useful when, as will often be the case under timed conditions, you’re making a close call between competing answer choices.
Step 5: Run the falsification/negation test on your selected answer to verify it.
This is a more advanced LSAT concept that applies to and ONLY to necessary assumption; sufficient assumption works differently at a conceptual and thus practical level. To run the falsification/negation test, as either term is appropriate, we take the answer we’re considering selecting, check how it would read if it were false, and then look to see how the argument would be affected in that case.
The correct answer, in this case (D), is the only one of our answer choices that we cannot do without: if the Tasmanian tiger DID move and adapt to a different region in response to the loss of habitat, then we would have no grounds on which to conclude it’s extinct! In the same way that we know a piece of machinery is necessary if the machine to which it belongs stops working in its absence, we know a statement is necessary if the argument to which it belongs stops working - becomes unsupported - when said statement is taken away.
Do NOT use answer choices to help you think.
You may have noticed that on the Logical Reasoning example detailed above we didn’t even get to the answer choices until Step 4. There’s very good reason for that. Every LR question, and in fact every LSAT question ever released, has 5 answer choices. 4 of them are wrong! If you rely on a question’s answer choices to guide your thinking, then you’re setting yourself up for failure, as 80% of what you’re reading is misleading. Now, you should of course practice process of elimination, but the intellectual “heavy lifting” should be done before you hit the answer choices. You want to first have an idea in mind of what would work well as a correct answer and then judge the available answer choices accordingly.
Strive to anticipate the correct answer.
We just left off by discussing how the hard part of our job on an LR question is done before we start reading answer choices. Anticipating the correct answer choice, also known as pre-phrasing or predicting, is one of the separating abilities between students who consistently score at or above 80% accuracy (20+/25) on the Logical Reasoning sections and those who don’t. Think of a well-considered answer choice prediction as a rubric: we use it to see how the statements LSAC gives us - answer choices (A) thru (E) - line up in comparison.
Properly review your LSAT practice tests.
Shifting away from the process of working on a given LR question, which we can consider the “micro” level of LR work, we’ll now take a look at the “macro” level of LR work. A lot of LSAT students do a great job of logging several practice tests, often hitting the double-digits, over the course of 3 or more months of study. However, I would bet less than 50% of those who do so have the self-discipline or guidance from a tutor to properly review the results, and this gives YOU the opportunity to set yourself apart. To properly review an LR section from an LSAT practice test, one should review ALL questions on which there was any uncertainty, as failing to do so - by reviewing only the questions missed - can leave conceptual leaks unplugged.
For example, we’ll imagine #19 was a difficult question, as questions in the late teens and early twenties of a given LR section tend to be. This question, which we’ll call a Flaw question, was initially answered correctly by our student. However, we happen to know that the student’s likelihood of answering the question correctly was only 40% in the moment, and our student just happened to be in one of the 2 of 5 worlds in which he/she answers correctly. If this question were to go unreviewed, then there would be no reason to think that likelihood of 40% will have significantly increased by the time our student comes across a similar question on a future practice test (or worse - the test itself), and so our student will more likely than not get that next one wrong. By instead taking the necessary time to thoroughly review the question - by dissecting the components of its stimulus and reconsidering each of its answer choices - our student will greatly increase the likelihood of truly learning from the question and then answering a similar question correctly in the future.
Track your results.
You should use software to track your practice test results. I used Microsoft Excel, at least in the beginning of my LSAT self-study, which left me open to making errors and proved to be highly time-consuming. But there are some great options out there for serious LSAT students. To give one example, 7Sage LSAT offers LSAT Test Analytics for free, into which you can enter practice test results and then, with the assistance of an LSAT expert, dig in and pinpoint your greatest areas for improvement. While graphs on the Analytics “Trends” tab are offered for each of the 3 kinds of multiple choice sections, the LR graph offers the greatest insight, at least in my opinion: it’s easier to build up a decent sample size on LR than on RC or LG and successfully differentiating by question type is more worthwhile on LR than on the other kinds of sections.
Bonus tip: Consider using a “descending time buffer” when practice testing.
Depending on your scheduled or intended LSAT test date, along with other considerations, using a “descending time buffer” (extra time per section that decreases from practice test to practice test) can be enormously beneficial: it allows you to acclimate to the LSAT’s demanding time constraints gradually. Here’s a realistic situation in which using a descending time buffer can help a student lock in a higher LSAT score:
Peter, who works full-time (about 40 hours per week excluding his commute), acknowledges that he can realistically put in 10 to 15 hours of solid LSAT prep per week. Peter is registered to take the April 2020 LSAT and on his most recent of 3 full-length digital LSAT practice tests scored a 156, but given his law school aspirations, his goal LSAT score is >163. So, Peter has an 8-point margin he wants to close, and he has noticed he tends to only get through about 20 of the approximate 25 questions per LR section.
With about 10 weeks until his test date, alongside the fact that he takes a practice test every Saturday, Peter decides to allot himself an extra 9 minutes on both LR sections (and perhaps the other sections as well) on his next practice test. These time buffers allow him to get through all of each section’s questions, and given his tutor’s plan to decrease the time buffer by 1 minute per test, Peter will be able (1) to slowly adjust to the time pressure, and (2) to complete his last practice test at the stipulated 35 minutes per section.