Why The LSAT Is Hard (And What To Do About It)

The LSAT is not a test of logic

I used to think it was. The LSAT definitely involves logic. But I now believe that the LSAT is mainly a test of reading comprehension, attention to detail and lateral thinking.  (Logical reasoning, anyway.  Logic games take a bit more logic)

I’ll explain with an example.

A few days ago I was talking to a chiropractor.  He complained about what was wrong with his profession. He told me most chiropractors focussed on expensive techniques that didn’t heal patients. Meanwhile, simple exercise could fix most problems. He asked me why I thought chiropractors did that.

I said: So that they’ll have less repeat patients.

He said: Yes, exactly…no wait: don’t you mean they’ll have more repeat patients?

I agreed. Of course that’s what I meant. I said less when I meant more. Fortunately, I didn’t fail the conversation. Because this sort of thing happens all the time. People say the exact opposite of what they mean. Or they completely mix up key terms.

It’s doesn’t matter. In everyday conversation, people tend to understand you. They’ll stop and clarify if there’s confusion.

It works the same in the papers you read for undergrad. You might have misunderstood a key concept the first time you read it. But by the fifth time you read the concept, you probably figured out what was going on. You can’t get through four years of university while completely misunderstanding what you were studying.

You Only Get One Chance On The LSAT

It doesn’t work like that on the LSAT. You don’t get points for “having the right idea and picking the wrong word.” And it does you no good if you “pick what would have been the right answer if you had only spotted a slight nuance in the question.”

LSAT logical reasoning questions give you one short paragraph to understand. You don’t get to ask anyone to clear up any confusion. If you make a slight mistake, no one will point it out. And you won’t come across a later question that tells you that you misunderstood the first question.

Instead, you have to get things right. I helped a student solve a question yesterday where the wrong answer said “criminal” and the right answer said “potential criminal.” One little word completely changed the meaning of the answer choice. No one will watch over your shoulder to make sure you pick up on that that. You have to learn to spot such things yourself.

Doesn’t Logic Have Anything To Do With The LSAT?

Yes, it does.  But the logic is hard mainly because its used in unfamiliar contexts.  If I say:  You need gas to drive your car, most people will correctly understand that I mean “If you don’t have gas, you can’t drive” and “If you can drive, you have gas.”

But If I say that positronic computers require advanced wireless circuitboards…many people will scratch their heads.  I’ve said exactly the same thing, logically.  A needs B.  But because people don’t think they know what a positronic computer they find the second sentence much more difficult.  And it is difficult to understand when the LSAT uses complex wording.

But the logic behind “A needs B” isn’t hard.  It’s the context that makes it hard.

So LSAT logic is hard because they try to make it difficult to understand and spot the logical relationships. They’ll use two similar terms that mean different things. They’ll use two different terms that mean the same thing. They hide the logic in plain sight.

How To Get Better At The LSAT

If you don’t understand the question then you’ll never be able to answer it. So why do so many students rush on to the answer choices without really understanding what they read?

On most questions it’s possible to figure out what the right answer will be before you even look at the answer choices. You just have to read carefully. Here’s what to do.

1. Slow Down

Yes, slow down. You’ll be able to understand the questions better. And if you understand, then you’ll eventually go faster. But this time, you’ll get the questions right.

2. Pay Attention To Little Things

The LSAT loves to fool you with little difference. Low vs. lower. Percentage vs. Total Number. Employee vs. Potential Employee. Etc. Watch out for small differences that indicate a completely different idea.

3. Make Sure You Understand

Don’t skip over something because it seems complicated. The LSAT sometimes uses complex wording but it always includes enough simple words that you can understand…if you try.

3. Don’t Be A Robot

I said it’s important to look for little differences.  But don’t get hung up on them.  It’s normal for people to switch words sometimes, and the LSAT does the same without always having a reason.  If the stimulus says “big” and and answer choice says “large”, it doesn’t mean you have to focus on that and assume it’s the key to the question.

4.  Understand The Question, Then Think About It

The LSAT increasingly demands lateral thinking.  Older tests emphasized strict logic.  Newer tests emphasize intuitive leaps.  Question 6 from the first section of preptest 29 mentions that “smoking, drinking and exercise” can affect the level of cholesterol in the blood.  The right answer mentions that “lifestyle” factors can affect the risk of heart disease.  I’ve had students puzzle over this question.  They wrote off the right answer automatically without thinking about it, because the stimulus didn’t say “lifestyle factors.”

They were looking for logic when the LSAT was asking them to use common sense:  smoking, drinking and exercise are part of our lifestyle and we can change them.

3 thoughts on “Why The LSAT Is Hard (And What To Do About It)

  1. Good comments for the takers reading. I agree.

    I only got a 146 on it, but I still got in (grace of god) and believe me, the bar exam will seem easy by comparison! (three years to prep makes you feel a lot more prepared)

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