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LSAT Logical Reasoning: The Basics

What is an LSAT Logical Reasoning question?

An LSAT Logical Reasoning question consists of three components: a stimulus, a prompt, and five answer choices. The stimulus is a short paragraph (typically 50-60 words) that presents an argument, dialogue, set of facts, or scenario. It is followed by a prompt, or question, requiring you to analyze the stimulus in one of a number of specific ways. Finally, the five answer choices provide the possible responses to the prompt. The instructions ask you to select the best answer choice from among those provided. Below is an example of an LSAT Logical Reasoning question.

LSAT Logical Reasoning Sample Question -magoosh

There are roughly 50 Logical Reasoning questions on the LSAT, divided evenly over two sections of 35 minutes each . This means that Logical Reasoning questions account for 50% of your total LSAT score. So, how do you make sure you’re prepared for the LSAT Logical Reasoning section? Start with the following tips.

 

Set a goal for your LSAT Logical Reasoning score

If you haven’t already taken a full-length practice test, that’s your first step. Once you’ve done that, count up the number of Logical Reasoning questions you answered incorrectly on the entire exam. A great preliminary goal is to try and eventually cut that number in half. For more on this, check out the post on Setting LSAT Prep Goals.
 

Learn all of the LSAT Logical Reasoning question types

There are more than a dozen LSAT Logical Reasoning question types, each of which requires you to assess the stimulus in a unique way. Sometimes you are asked to identify an unstated assumption. Other times you are asked to identify a guiding principle, resolve an apparent contradiction, or locate the flaw in an argument.

With so many question types, it may feel at first as though there’s no rhyme or reason to the section. That’s the first misconception you want to dispel. Take control of Logical Reasoning by memorizing the standard question types and learning how to identify them quickly. That way, you won’t spend as much time decoding the question prompt, and you’ll have more time to devote to analyzing the actual stimulus.

 

Know your formal logic

Formal logic appears in a number of Logical Reasoning questions, most often in the form of if/then statements or language like some, most, unless, and only if. The key to navigating formal logic on the LSAT is recognizing that terms like these are defined differently on the LSAT than they are in everyday life.

The Magoosh LSAT blog has a handful of posts on formal logic terms that appear most frequently on the test. That’s a great place to start learning the basics.

 

Read the question first

Again, there are over a dozen different types of LSAT Logical Reasoning questions, each asking you to perform a slightly different analysis of the stimulus. Rather than wasting time reading the stimulus without purpose, go straight to the prompt and identify the question type. Knowing the question type tells you why you’re reading the stimulus, and you can thus begin mapping out its relevant components right from the start.
 

Attack the stimulus

If you’ve already read the question prompt, you know exactly what you’re looking for when you read the stimulus. Is this an Assumption question? Be on the lookout for premise vs. conclusion, and label them accordingly as soon as you recognize them. Is this an Inference question? Then you’re about to see a list of facts and probably some formal logic language, so get ready to number the statements clearly and link them together logically.

Each question type in the Logical Reasoning section demands that you be on the lookout for particular elements of the stimulus. The most successful test-takers use their familiarity of those question types to pull the stimulus apart as they read it. Label the elements, rearrange them, and fill in the blanks wherever you can. This allows you to do most of the required work as you read, so that by the time you look at the answer choices for the first time, you already have a good idea of what the correct answer is.

 

Find the best answer

The instructions ask you to find the best answer, not the right answer. While many answer choices contain obvious errors, this isn’t always the case. It’s easy to waste precious minutes trying to prove a tricky answer choice wrong, when all you actually need to do is determine that it’s not as good as another choice. When you’re stuck between two tempting choices, remember this. One answer will be supported by more evidence than the other, and that’s the one to choose. And as a bonus, once you get this down, you’re halfway to being a successful lawyer!
 

Don’t rush

You only have 35 minutes to answer about 25 LSAT Logical Reasoning questions. Most students’ response to this is to hurry through the questions and try to put some thought into every single one of them. That may be a reasonable strategy for a small segment of the population, but it’s an unwise approach for most test-takers.

A better strategy is to know exactly how many points you’d like to score in the section, and to hunt down the questions most likely to get you those points. Attempting anything beyond that may end up hurting you more than it helps.

Here’s an example: Rita is aiming for a 163 on her LSAT. Based on her performance over the three multiple choice section types, she has set a goal of getting 18 points in each Logical Reasoning section. Rita can do this in two ways.

First, she could try to answer every single question in the section. This requires her to move more quickly than she is comfortable doing, and it results in her making careless errors on some of the easier questions while still missing most of the hard ones. It also stresses Rita out and exhausts her.

Alternatively, Rita can focus on finding the low hanging fruit first. There are always 12 or 13 questions that Rita can answer fairly quickly and easily. Once she’s done with those, she has about 20 minutes left to find 6 or 7 more questions that are slightly more difficult, but manageable if she takes her time. Finally, she can guess randomly on the remaining 5 or 6 questions and hope she gets lucky. The end result is that Rita gets as many or more correct as she did using the first approach, but she has moved at a healthier pace and has not exhausted herself working on questions she’s unlikely to answer correctly anyway.
 

Keep track of your errors

Everybody makes mistakes, including the people who get 175s and 180s on the LSAT. What distinguishes successful test preparation from unsuccessful test preparation is whether and how you learn from your mistakes.

Every time you answer a question incorrectly, write it down. Record the date on which you attempted the question, the test, section, and question number, the question type, and the correct answer. Most importantly, record the incorrect answer you selected and write a one sentence explanation of why your answer was weaker than the correct answer.

I highly recommend keeping this error log in a spreadsheet that you can then sort by question type and date. That way, if you’re ever wondering where you still need more practice, you can pull out your error log and get a quick count of which question types you have struggled with the most and at what point in your prep you either first encountered or successfully moved past that obstacle.

In LSAT Logical Reasoning in particular, your explanation of the original mistake you made could become extremely valuable down the line. As you record more and more questions in your error log, you’ll start to notice patterns in the mistakes you make (this answer was too extreme, I formed a contrapositive incorrectly, I assumed that some meant more than one, etc…). If you begin to standardize the language you use to describe those mistakes, you’ll be able to sort your error log according to mistake and discover what’s truly tripping you up most often.
 

Practice, practice, practice

There’s no way around it. LSAT Logical Reasoning is a complex challenge and requires a lot of time to master. Build a routine of practice that emphasizes frequent exposure to the material rather than intense but sporadic immersion in it. It’s better to look at a few Logical Reasoning questions 3-4 times a week than it is to take a full practice test every Saturday. This is because constant exposure—even when it’s in limited doses—keeps the material fresh in your mind, and over time, you adapt to that new way of thinking. The goal is for Logical Reasoning language to be always near the surface of your consciousness, so that next time you’re out shopping and you see a sign that says, “Storewide sale: 50% off (some exclusions may apply),” the first think you think is, “But many exclusions may not apply!”

 
 

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One Response to LSAT Logical Reasoning: The Basics

  1. Joanna March 15, 2017 at 9:02 AM #

    Excellently stated. While reading this I felt like a little girl in a candy store. Thank you very much for your articulate explanation of points of interest.

    Joanna


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