I highly recommend that you visit “discoverlaw.org”. It is either run by or in conjunction with the Law School Admission Council (the people who brought you the LSAT).
It was conducted by Lori Davis, who is a senior test specialist at LSAT. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time that LSAT has run a seminar dedicated to LSAT preparation. As a long time, LSAT prep class teacher, I was interested to hear what LSAT says about its own test. I was treated to one hour of “LSAT on the LSAT”. It was interesting. I made notes and decided to put those notes on my LSAT blog and social media sites. What follows is a summary of the Webinar (both the information given and the my impressions of it) for the benefit of those who were unable to attend. Discoverlaw.org will be running more LSAT prep Webinars.
Update: May 15, 2010 – The video of this seminar is now available for your viewing.
The Webinar began with a basic description of the LSAT confirming (I always tell my course participants that the LSAT is a test of “reading and reasoning in context”) that the LSAT is a test of : “critical reading”, “informal reasoning (Arguments), and deductive reasoning (Analytical Reasoning)”. Yes, that is what the LSAT actually tests. (In fact, I recently proposed that the LSAT should be renamed the “READ Test“.)
The Webinar then discussed Analytical Reasoning (Logic Games) specifically. Ms. Davis began by confirming the basic format of Analytical Reasoning: scenario, rules and questions.
LSAT – Analytical Reasoning – Test Questions Format:
She noted that there are three specific question formats. These formats are:
– questions that ask what MUST be true;
– questions that ask what COULD be true;
– questions that ask what CANNOT be true.
Background Skills – Conditional Reasoning:
In 1991, Thomas White, a past president of Law Services wrote a book called “Inside the LSAT”. In this book Mr. White, confirmed that the “basic reasoning task” on the LSAT involved Conditional Reasoning. Ms. Davis continued this theme at three points in her Webinar.
First – the hypothetical syllogism – which is:
If A then B.
If B then C.
Therefore, If A then C
Second – the logical flaw of “affirming the consequent” – which is:
If A then B.
If B then C.
If we are given “C”, what can we infer with certainty? The answer is nothing.
Third – the “contrapositive” – to eliminate and an answer choice in one of the sample questions that she did.
The contrapositive is a rule of inference as follows:
If A then B.
Therefore, Not A
All of this is clear confirmation that LSAT does consider the rules of conditional reasoning when constructing LSAT questions (This is common knowledge in the LSAT prep industry).
When it comes to LSAT, sensitivity to language isn’t everything! It’s the only thing!
The one short example used by Ms. Davis included the following words or “clusters of words” that appear on many LSAT tests. These examples were:
“or” – Do you want cream or sugar in your coffee? This could mean either cream or sugar or both.
“exactly” – Each group includes “exactly” three members. This means three and only three.
“at least” – Each student must take “at least” math. This means math at a minimum, but it allows for more courses.
“unless” – this word frequently appears on the LSAT. One cannot study math, unless one studies English too. This means: If math then English. Note how this is tied to the conditional reasoning examples above.
Diagramming the LSAT Analytical Reasoning Conditions:
Ms. Davis spent a good deal of time diagramming. She also made the following two points:
First, the main diagram should be constructed prior to starting the questions.
Second, LSAT is publishing a new book called the “Official LSAT Handbook” that apparently contains an appendix devoted to diagramming.
Ms. Davis approached the diagrams in a very basic way focusing on what I call the “non-negotiables” (meaning the things that are stated to be true without question). She did not spend time trying to make additional inferences (although this may have just been the nature of the example which I can’t reproduce for copyright reasons). Many LSAT prep courses and books focus on making lots of initial inferences from the initial conditions. This may or may not be necessary.
Ms. Davis introduced three questions. As you might expect she provided an example of each of the three question types above:
– What MUST be true?
– What COULD be true?
– What CANNOT be true? (which means what must be false)
Her general approach was to answer each question by returning to the initial diagram. There was not much variety in the methodology or approach.
On at least two occasions she suggested that “if you think you have found the answer – choose it an move on.” (This is obviously good advice.)
She spent more time explaining why the answers were correct, than on explaining how one should go about actually determining the answers. This is forgivable and understandable since one hour is very little time.
The LSAT prep course industry is obsessed with the categorization of questions. The categorization of LSAT questions may NOT be a good idea. Ms. Davis made no attempt to categorize the sample game that she was doing.
That’s all. I would recommend that you go to Discoverlaw.org and get on their mailing list. It’s always helpful to see what LSAT says about its own test. Furthermore, you should begin your LSAT preparation with publications from LSAT.
Update: If you have read this far you might be interested in a later post where I described the essential skills of LSAT Logic Games. See how relevant their are to the Lori Davis analysis.