Logical Reasoning

There are two sections of 24-26 questions each.  These are the core of the LSAT, and understanding them well will help with the other sections as well.  There are three parts to a logical reasoning question, in descending order of importance:

1.  Stimulus This is the main text of the question.

eg.  All dogs are pets.  All pets are cute.

note: A stimulus can be either an argument (with a conclusion) or a set of facts.  This is the latter.

2. Question Stem: This asks you a question based on the stimulus.

Eg.   Which of the following must be true, if all of the statements above are true. This is an inference question stem.

(The LSAT generally requires you to presume that statements given are true)

3.  Answer Choices: By far the least important part of a question.  Only one of five answer choices are correct.  And there is an infinite number of wrong answer choices I could invent for any question.  In this case, there are two possible correct answer choices:

1. If an animal is not cute, it is not a dog. Cute –> Pet –> Dog or  C –>  P  –> D

2. All dogs are cute. Dog –> Pet –> Cute or D –> P –> C,

This is a very simple example of course, but all logical reasoning questions have these three parts.  In this case, the right answers were correct because they were logically valid inferences made by combining the statements in the stimulus.

Wrong answer choices could include, among others:

A.  Cats are cute

B.  All dogs have fur.

c.  All pets are dogs.

D.  Everything that is cute is a dog.

E.  And so on.  Reading wrong answer choices does not help you answer the question, generally.

How to Approach a Logical Reasoning Question

So what does help you understand the question?  Use this process, and you’ll be approaching the questions better than most students:

1.  Read the stimulus carefully, slowing down if you don’t understand anything.

If you don’t understand a word, try and get the meaning of the sentence through context.  Map out logical relationships, if there are any to map out (I cover this in more detail in basic logic).  See if it is an argument or a set of facts.  If it’s the former, can you conclude anything?  If it’s the latter, what is the conclusion of the argument?

Above all, understand what the question is saying.  It’s worth taking the time to understand the stimulus.  If you don’t understand it, how can you possibly answer the question correctly?

2. Once you understand the stimulus, then read the question stem. Think about what you’re being asked, and see if you already can guess at the answer.

It’s not a good idea to read the question stem first.  If you’re going to answer a question about the stimulus, you’ll have to understand the stimulus.  So focus on that first.  Then see what they’re asking you.  I cover the different types of question stems here.

On some questions, you can guess at the answer before looking down.  This can be great for speed, though make sure you’re not too attached to any one answer.  But if you can’t think of anything, don’t worry.  Just move down to the answer choices, while keeping in mind what you’re looking for.

3. Read all of the answer choices before picking one.  Eliminate those you think are wrong, but always remember you might make a mistake.

If you understand the question, the two major pitfalls at this point are prematurely picking one of the “sucker” answer choices, or accidently eliminating the right answer choice without considering it carefully enough.  Even I still can have these problems if I get lazy. Read all the answers!

That said, most of the time you should be safe narrowing it down to a couple.  It’s fine at this point to glance back at the stimulus/question stem to confirm your answer.  If you have any uncertainty, you really should.  Double checking that you truly understood what the passage said will avoid a lot of pointless mistakes.  Likewise, it’s very easy to forget the question stem said “all of the following answers except unless you take a second to check it.

I’m a big fan of confirming your answer by looking back at the other parts of the question.  I am not a fan of looking back and forth between the stimulus and the answer choices in confusion.  Read and understand the stimulus, see what they’re asking you, and look for the right answer.  It’s simple, but a lot of people still don’t do it.  Do better than them by making sure to spend the time it takes to understand the stimulus before moving on.

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