LSAT Trends Part II: Games and Reading Comp

By Ross Rinehart 

We’re marching ever closer to the September 8 LSAT, which is now less than two months away. If your plan involves applying to law school once the next application cycle opens this fall, surely you have been studying diligently in preparation of this exam. But are you getting the most out of your studies?

Over the span of a few years, the LSAT can change in subtle but important ways. Of course, in broad strokes, the LSAT is fundamentally the same test it’s been since it adopted the 120-180 scoring scale in 1991. However, over that period, certain questions types in Logical Reasoning have become more prominently featured, while others have gradually fallen off. The skills and strategies needed to master the Logic Games section has changed over this time. And the difficulty level of Reading Comprehension has ebbed and flowed.

Last month, we discussed recent trends in the Logical Reasoning section, and how to adjust your study plan to accommodate these changes. Today, we’ll cover the trends on recent Logic Games and Reading Comprehension sections, to help ensure your study plan addresses what is most likely to appear on the September exam.

Logic Games

Sneaky Scenarios

Whether a logic game involves ordering, grouping, or both, when it comes to solving a logic game, there are three broad categories of games. First, there are those games in which several of the rules interlock, which allow the test taker to make one or more key deductions that help answer most, if not all, of the questions. Second, there are those in which there are a limited number of ways the game can play out, which in turn behooves the test taker to actually map out what happens in each potential scenario and save valuable time on the questions. This method of solving a game is commonly referred to as making “scenarios.” Finally, there are those games in which the rules leave the game completely open-ended, forcing the test taker to labor through each question without the help of timesaving deductions or scenarios.

In the last few years, the first category of game has almost completely disappeared — very few games have required the test taker to make a major deduction based on how rules interact with each other. Those games in the first category typically involved many rules that placed major restrictions on individual players. Games on recent exams have tended to feature fewer rules and more unrestricted elements. In fact, in the last couple years of the exam, nearly every game has fallen into the second category. In other words, scenarios have become the principal tool test takers should use when approaching a game. In the last two years of LSATs — ranging from the September 2016 exam to the recent June 2018 exam — I would have recommended making scenarios on 22 of the 24 games.

Things have gotten a little tricky, however, with respect to how the opportunities to make scenarios have been presented. The test writers have cannily disguised many of these second category games to look like third category games. Games have increasingly begun to eschew the rules that are evidently useful for scenarios. They have instead given a short list of rules that presents as though the game was largely open-ended game, when in fact there was a subtle way to make scenarios that is very helpful. So many test takers would believe that a game is completely open-ended — when in fact making scenarios could save them time and effort on each question — and they would try to answer the questions without having a sufficiently thorough understanding of how the game operated. Without the help of scenarios, many of these games take too long to complete accurately within the time limits of the exam.

How to adjust your study plan: Since these games are increasingly relying on novel and creative ways to hide opportunities to construct scenarios, you’ll need to get novel and creative in your approach to making scenarios. To that end, it can really help to re-do games from old practice sessions or diagnostic exams. Getting faster and more accurate in the games section mostly entails consistently finding the best route to get through the game — which, on recent games, has mostly involved finding a novel way to construct scenarios. When you do a game for the first time, in all likelihood, you didn’t find the best route, especially when you’re starting off. If you never try to find the best route, you won’t experience the edification that comes from completing the game in the most efficient way possible. So take another try with games that didn’t go well without scenarios— or with an unhelpful set of scenarios — and see if the questions are easier with a different set of scenarios. Consistently retrying games can give you a better feel for which types of constraints placed on a logic game will lead to the most useful scenarios. Eventually, you should begin picking the best set of scenarios on the first try, even when the game tries to hide the scenarios from you. 

 

Reading Comprehension

It’s Getting Harder

More than any other section, Reading Comprehension has been getting more difficult in the last few years. While the topics have only gotten more predictable in recent years (expect to get one passage on the law, one on the physical science, one on social sciences or philosophy, and then a fourth one on arts, culture, or history), the complexity of the passages and the difficulty of the questions have ramped up.

For Reading Comp, there’s really no such thing as an “easy” passage anymore. Our test prep company has a rating system from 1 (easy) to 5 (brutal) that we use to rate every Logical Reasoning question, Reading Comprehension passage, and logic game. And over the past six published LSATs, there have been zero passages we’ve classified as a “1.” Compare that to the seven passages we’ve classified as a “4” (tough) and the six passages we’ve classified as a “5,” and you can begin to see how the trouble these passages are putting test takers through on recent years. Some of these passages have been, in my estimation, the most difficult passages to ever appear on the LSAT. Utter the words “Eileen Gray” to those who took the September 2016 exam and you’ll unearth in them long-dormant antipathy towards the passage about the development of her architectural style from that exam.

 

How to adjust your study plan: Given the evident difficulty of this section on recent exams, you should expect this to be the most difficult section on the LSAT that you take. Which means that, as test day approaches, you should be challenging yourself with exclusively difficult passages. You want to be well-versed with thorny and complex passages, should a passage about how recent neurological research impacts eighteenth-century philosopher David Hume’s theory of soft determinism, or a pair of passages that weigh the epistemological value of “negative evidence” appear on your test. Try to use prep tests from 2013 and later — this is when Reading Comp began to get much more difficult.

But more than just getting experience with difficult Reading Comprehension passages, you should practice finding the element in the passage that makes understanding it simpler for you. Perhaps there’s a subject that’s especially intimidating for you. For instance, while I felt pretty comfortable with the arts and social science passages, I always had trouble wrapping my head around passages about the physical sciences. However, I eventually realized that nearly every passage of this sort was just trying to prove a causal relationship — that one thing in nature produces or leads to another thing. Once I figured that out, I realized that as long as I understood the general cause-and-effect relationship in the passage, I would be able to answer nearly every question. And, most importantly given the time pressure of the Reading Comprehension section, I could answer the questions without getting too lost in the proverbial weeds, trying to understand every minute detail in the passage. Or, perhaps you’re solid with the science passages, but less into passages on arts and culture. In that case, realizing most of these passages involve classifying artists or movements into several categories, or using one artist or work as an example of a more general idea, can help you gain a better understanding of these knotty passages.

The point is that trying to have a complete and thorough understanding of a complicated passage’s subject matter is neither practical nor necessary for the LSAT. Instead, work on finding something that will simplify your work for you, as I found with the cause-and-effect relationships. Once you have that, it’s only a matter of making sure you know the answers to certain questions that will almost certainly appear on the test — like, “What is the main point of the passage?” or “What is the author’s attitude toward the subjects of the passage?” But discerning these answers will be much easier, once you’ve simplified the passage for yourself.

Last Word

Of course, with both of these sections, you should start by building the basics. Start with easier games and passages, and build the fundamental skills that all of these games and passages test. However, once you’ve mastered the rudiments, keep these trends in mind, make sure your study plan addresses them, and you’ll be well prepared for any difficulty the LSAT will throw your way.

 


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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