Thoughts on LSAT Preparation – How To Choose LSAT Answers

How To Choose LSAT Answer Choices  – Different Strokes For Different  Folks


This blog post was  motivated  by a discussion with Kyle Pasewark  of Advise  In Solutions.

When it comes  to LSAT Prep, are you better off:

“Working hard” or “Hardly working”?

When it comes to LSAT preparation, some people “work hard” and some people “hardly work”.  The horrible reality is that often the people who  “hardly work” do better than the people who  “work hard”. This seems unjust. There are a number of possible reasons for this. It is important that you not only work hard but that you work effectively.

In the first of this series  of  “Thoughts On LSAT Preparation”  posts I introduced the “READ” objective. Because the LSAT is a test of reading and reasoning, the LSAT should be thought of as the “READ” test. “READ” is an acronym that stands for:

“Reading Effectively And Deducing”

In teaching my own Toronto LSAT preparation courses I have  noted that people  have more  trouble understanding information than reasoning with that information.

Effective Work is aimed at improving your accuracy with respect to the “READ” objective.

If you “work hard”, you must “work hard” in relation to what  the LSAT actually tests – i.e. your ability to understand what you are being told and  why.

The LSAT Preparation Objective

Well, obviously to get more right answers. That said: the question is what  is required in order  to get more  right answers? The LSAT is a multiple choice test where you receive credit for choosing the correct  answer. Choosing  an answer  requires  that you decide  which of the five answer choices is best. Therefore:

LSAT Preparation is:

First, about learning how to make better decisions in the context of multiple  choice;

Second, making those decisions accurately (selecting the correct answer) and effectively (selecting  the answer quickly).

Remember: When it comes to answering LSAT questions:

“Some people know what to do,  but can’t do what they know!”

Think of LSAT preparation as a process that is designed to improve the accuracy and effectiveness of your decision making ability – i.e. to make better decisions.

Technique and Approach Applied to LSAT Preparation

Many people (encouraged by LSAT books and courses) approach LSAT preparation with the objective of learning lots of techniques and approach. Often the techniques  are a  function of the category of question. On this point I agree with  the following comment from Kyle Pasewark:

“The key to LSAT success is efficiency under pressure.  It’s not non-game understanding of a playbook or fooling around with Ken-Ken on Sunday morning, but being able to execute when it counts, i.e., answering 5 sections (4 graded) of about 25 questions apiece in 35 minutes per section.  LSAT prep books’ nearly incomprehensible techniques won’t help you do that.  They’re selling materials, not paying attention to the point—taking the exam under tight time conditions.

What’s the answer?  Simplify.  The LSAT is a predictable exam, and if every technique that you need to answer every type of LSAT question doesn’t fit on two or three pieces of paper (or 4 or 5 index cards) by exam day, you don’t sufficiently understand the structure of the LSAT, will have too much muddle in your head and won’t be able to get your highest LSAT score.  Not only won’t you be able to remember several hundred pages of techniques (or even ten), but you haven’t really grasped how to simplify the LSAT into a manageable range of possible questions.  But if you have command of a few, clear techniques, you’ll know what the next step is to get to the right answer: quickly, confidently and without panic.”

Certainty and the LSAT Decision– The Confidence Continuim

When you choose an LSAT answer choice, how  certain are you that  it is right? Your confidence can range from 0% certainty to 100% certainty. You  can  have  no  certainty (blind guess – 0% right up to absolute certainty – 100%).  When it comes  to  the LSAT, 0% certainty is more likely than 100%. In fact, it is almost impossible to be 100% certain of the answer to an LSAT question. Why? Because, the emotional fallout of taking the LSAT is too extreme. For the vast majority of people, they experience  the LSAT as:

– being under tremendous time pressure to choose  an answer choice; and
– being very uncertain  of what answer  choice to choose.

What factors determine how you choose  LSAT answer  choices?

The process of choosing an LSAT answer choice will engage all aspects of your mind and personality.

These aspects include:

Intelligence – Cognitive – your intelligence – you must  have the mental capacity to read and reason with the information.

Emotions – Affective – your emotions – you need enough stress to be motivated, but not so much stress that you are incapacitated. Achieving your optimal  LSAT score requires that you control the “emotional fallout” associated with  the LSAT.

“As go your emotions, so goes  your LSAT score!”

Conative – how you use your intelligence  and emotions to make decisions

According to the Free Dictionary “conation” is:

“The aspect of mental processes or behavior directed toward action or change and including impulse, desire, volition, and striving.”

People with similar intelligence and emotional  makeup may have different styles of deciding on an  answer choice. The “style of decision” is a function of how one uses intelligence  to solve problems. This  explains why some people with high intelligence  perform  poorly (the paralysis of analysis) on the LSAT and vice  versa (any decision is better than no decision).

According to Kathy Kolbe in her book The Conative Connection, different personality types will use different aspects of their  personality to  dominate  the decision process. Examples  of different decision styles include:

Fact Finder – the instinctive way we gather and share information.

Follow Thru – the instinctive way we arrange and design.

Quick Start – the instinctive way we deal with risk and uncertainty.

Implementor – the instinctive way we handle space and tangibles.

When it  comes to choosing an LSAT answer choice, the instinctive way that you deal  with uncertainty (“Quick Start”) will be key. For example, when it  comes  to LSAT logic games, people  have  trouble getting started. There is no right or wrong way to choose  answer  choices. There is no  right or  wrong way to prepare. This point is recognized by prospective  LSAT  test takers.  For example  see the following discussion thread from one of the boards:

This  discussion thread contains information about  student experiences  with various LSAT prep courses. The responses were interesting. However, the real question is  NOT what  course or book worked for someone else. The  question should be:

“Given the particular way that I make decisions in the context of  uncertainty, what would be  the best  way for me to prepare? What is the best way for me to make difficult  choices – less  difficult for me?”

A Case Study – Two Test Takers

Mr. Analysis vs. Mr. Blink

At the risk  of oversimplification let’s introduce you to two LSAT test takers.

Introducing Mr. Analysis – We all know somebody like  him. He is a slow,  contemplative, methodical decision maker. He seeks  all relevant information. He craves detail. He then attempts  to  incorporate all of the relevant information into his decision. He is probably a brilliant student of history. His research is superb. His analysis is exhaustive.  At the end of the day he almost always makes a strong decision. However, he sometimes  becomes paralyzed by his analysis. He has difficulty making a distinction between “major factors” and “minor factors”.

Introducing Mr. Blink – He doesn’t seek lots of information. In fact, he seems bothered by any information. He doesn’t like too much detail. He is a big picture thinker. He seems to operate almost by instinct. In truth, he is basing his decision on the most important factors. He does distinguish between “major factors” and “minor factors”. He also makes strong decisions. He is the kind of decision maker described by Malcolm Gladwell in  his book  Blink.

Mr.  Blink makes  decisions by considering the major factors.

Note that both Mr. Analysis and Mr. Blink make good decisions. It’s just they make  decisions  differently.

(As I write this I am reminded that during the 1970s the LSAT included a section called  “Practical Judgment”. This question type required test takers to distinguish between “Major Factors” and “Minor Factors” that were relevant to a decision”. The “Major Factors” were more  general  and less detail oriented. See:

It is important to recognize that you cannot change the kind of decision maker that you are.  The kind of LSAT preparation that you do must be suitable for the style that you use to make decisions. For example:

Mr. Analysis needs  to make sure that he doesn’t become “Mr.  Paralysis Of Analysis”.  He needs to proceed more quickly based on broad criteria. Mr. Analysis must  learn that he can make  accurate decisions without incorporating every detail into the process.

Mr. Blink needs to learn to not blink too quickly. He must  learn to read more carefully so that he considers how  specific  details  influence the broader picture.

In other words, every decision maker needs to prepare  in a way that maximizes the benefits  of his  thinking style and minimizes the risks associated  with it.

Decision Making Styles And LSAT Logic  Games

Logic Games (Analytical Reasoning) is a high anxiety area of the LSAT. It is the section of the LSAT that best illuminates different styles  of decision making.

Mr. Analysis would  be more likely to approach the section by reading the conditions, trying to make lots of inferences, and generally taking a long time before answering the questions. Mr. Analysis would likely find it difficult to begin the process of  answering the questions. Mr. Analysis would not  feel confident that he had made all the relevant inferences. (Most LSAT  books suggest the approach of Mr. Analysis. I.e. make all relevant inferences and then begin the questions.)

Mr. Blink would be more likely to begin the questions and discover the inferences as he went along. (An LSAT book that advocates the “just get started” and “figure it out as you go along” approach is “Big Fat Genius Guide To Logic Games”. This is an interesting book – must reading for the Mr. Analysis school of LSAT Prep – and no, that is not an ad for the book.)

Remember that Mr. Analysis and Mr. Blink represent two different styles of decision making. Neither  is right or wrong. Each must use the kind of LSAT (“READ Preparation”) preparation that is appropriate for him.

For the record, there are few, if any LSAT Logic Games where it is necessary to make many inferences prior to addressing the questions!

Copyright © 2011 John Richardson. All Rights Reserved.