LSAT Trends Part I: Getting Logical

By Ross Rinehart

With the September 8 LSAT a little under three months away, many aspirant lawyers are gearing up to study for the test. We went over the general contours of a summertime study plan last month, so today, let’s get specific. In this post we’ll cover current trends we’ve observed on recent LSATs, and how to adjust your current study plan to account for these changes.

The LSAT has, in broad strokes, been the same test since it changed to the 120-180 scoring format in 1991. There are always two Logical Reasoning sections, one Reading Comprehension section, one Logic Games section, and one unscored experimental section. The same types of Logical Reasoning questions that were on the first exams continue to appear today. The same subjects favored on Reading Comp have frequently shown up on recent exams. And, to a lesser degree, the same types of puzzles teased out in Logic Games are used today.

With that said, over the modern LSAT’s 27 year run, there have been a few fairly significant changes to the types of questions, passages and games that get tested most frequently. Certain skills and concepts tested have become more prominent and others less so. The difficultly levels of certain sections have been ramped up or toned down. Although any major change to the test — like the introduction of the comparative reading passage in June 2007 — will get announced beforehand, many of these changes happen subtly over the period of a few years. If you’re not paying attention to the trends — and if you’re using study materials from the early 90s, or early aughts, or even stuff from the early Obama Administration — you risk getting a misleading picture of what will be on the September 2018 test.

So today we’ll go through the Logical Reasoning section of the LSAT and highlight some of the questions, skills, and subjects that are tested most regularly on recent tests, and how to account for these trends in your preparation for the September LSAT. In a future post, we’ll do the same for Reading Comprehension and Logic Games.

Logical Reasoning

Fewer Formalities, More Activity

One trend on recent tests is a de-emphasis of anything that could be considered a skill of formal logic or argumentation. The Logical Reasoning section used to be teeming with questions that involved conditional statements, syllogisms, and deductive reasoning. If you’ve taken any introduction to logic course, you’re familiar with the structure of these arguments: “All Greeks are men, and all men are mortal. Ergo, all Greeks are mortal.” On the LSAT though, such questions are as outdated as the gendered phrasing of that argument. Questions that ask you to make an inference that “must be true” and questions that ask for an assumption that would allow a conclusion to be “properly inferred” have taken a back seat on the LSAT. At their peak, there was as many as ten of these questions on the LSAT; now there are usually only three or four. Further, the conditional arguments that still do appear on the test have become much more straightforward in recent years.

Questions that challenge you to describe certain components of an argument in very specific detail — the “main point,” the “argumentative strategy”, or the “role” played by a given statement in the argument — have become much less prominent on recent LSATs. There used to be around eight of these questions in the Logical Reasoning sections; now, there are about three or four, and it’s not uncommon for one or more to be completely absent from a test.

In these questions’ place, we now see many more that ask you to do something that’s less precise, rigid, or confined to the strictures of formal logic. Questions that ask you for deductions that are “most” supported by a set of premises have continued to appear frequently on the LSAT. Those that ask you to “strengthen” the reasoning in the argument have also proliferated on recent exams. The LSAT now averages about thirteen or fourteen of these two questions per exam. Further, these questions almost never require you to deal with conditional relationships, formal logic, or the rules of argumentative strategy.

How to adjust your study plan: Most LSAT prep studies start with an overview of conditional relationships, transitive deductions, formal logic, and argument structure. These are still foundational concepts you should learn — both for the questions involving these concepts that still do appear in Logical Reasoning, and because they have application in Logic Games and Reading Comprehension as well. But many students I work with spend hours attempting to wrap their heads around a question featuring an incredibly complex transitive argument or a question involving a novel argumentative strategy. These students overinvest their time into mastering a strategy that isn’t especially helpful on the current LSAT.

Instead, you should establish a basic facility with these concepts but treat them merely as building blocks. You should know the difference between “sufficiency” and “necessity” in conditional relationships, and how to make transitive deductions from a set of conditional relationships. You should know how to identify premises and conclusions in an argument, and understand some of the more common argumentative strategies on the LSAT — analogies, applying a general principle, using a counterexample, and undermining another argument’s premise, conclusion, or assumption.

Once you acquire these skills, move on to the concepts that will help you answer those more common questions, those that ask you do something — whether that’s making a supported inference or strengthen the reasoning — with the information you have. The most helpful concept to learn for these questions are the common fallacies of the LSAT — all the ways arguments typically fail on this test. If you can reliably diagnose all the ways conclusions err on the LSAT, you’ll reliably answer these more prominent questions correctly. You’ll know which answer choices to avoid on questions that ask you to make an inference that is “most” supported by a set of premises and avoid those that commit one of these common fallacies. And if you can consistently determine why an argument is flawed on a question that asks you to strengthen one’s reasoning, you’ll be able to quickly find the answer choice that fixes this flaw, thereby strengthening the argument. Instead of overinvesting time into skills that are becoming antiquated on the LSAT, invest your time into this. 

The Emergence of the Disagree Question

One particular question type that has shown an increased prominence on the most recent LSATs asks you to characterize a point of disagreement between two speakers. Until last year, there were usually only one or two of these questions per exam. But last year, on the September 2017 test, there were four of these questions. On the December 2017 test, there were five. Discussions I had with my students indicate that there were many of these questions on the undisclosed February 2018 test and the recent June 2018 exam, as well.

At this point, it seems like this sudden increase in these questions seems less like an anomalous blip and more like a real change to the LSAT. These changes occasionally happen on the LSAT. For instance, there used to be about five questions that asked you to strengthen an argument’s reasoning per exam, but a few years ago that figure ballooned to seven or eight questions per exam. For the September 2018 LSAT, test takers should be aware that as much as 10 percent of the Logical Reasoning questions could take the form of these “disagree” questions. 

How to adjust your study plan: Obviously, get a lot of practice with these questions. Perhaps more than your current study materials call for. And make sure, sometime in the last week or two before the September 2018 test, to do the September 2017, December 2018, and June 2018 exams as practice tests to get experience doing exams with a high volume of these disagree questions.

You should also account for the difficulty of these recent disagree questions. In addition to becoming more prominent, these questions have also become more consistently difficult on recent tests. Older versions of these questions would feature a very obvious point of contention: one speaker would say one thing, and the other speaker would say something that contradicted the first speaker’s claim. That’s becoming less common on recent iterations of these questions. Instead, you are more consistently required to make valid deductions about what the speakers must also believe, in addition to what is written in the question.

To deal with this, make sure to practice identifying the issues that both speakers discuss. There will many issues that only one brings up. An answer choice that discusses one of those issues will be wrong, since you can’t validly infer a speaker’s belief if she never discussed it in the first place. Further, if you focus in on the issues both speakers discuss, it will be much easier to infer what precisely is at issue between the two speakers.

If you implement the above adjustments to your study plan, you should be in good shape to rock the September 2018 LSAT. But don’t neglect the other question types we mentioned as showing up less and less. You never know when LSAC will throw in some extra questions of a certain type so you want be sure you feel comfortable with all of them. Best of luck with Logical Reasoning and be sure to check back for tips on adjusting your Logic Games and Reading Comprehension study plans.


 

Ross Rinehart graduated from UCLA with a degree in English and Political Science and went on to secure a J.D. from USC Law. After getting a 170 on the LSAT, a 98th percentile score, Ross began teaching for Blueprint LSAT Prep. Having taught for Blueprint for almost 4 years, he has helped countless students improve their LSAT score.



 

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