Jeremy's Weblog

I recently graduated from Harvard Law School. This is my weblog. It tries to be funny. E-mail me if you like it. For an index of what's lurking in the archives, sorted by category, click here.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

While looking for something else, I just stumbled across an old e-mail I sent someone a while ago with LSAT tips, some of it sort of based on some stuff they taught when I was training to teach for one of the major test prep companies (never ended up teaching, but the twenty hours of training was fun -- or not). I don't think I've posted this before. No guarantees it's useful, but at least it's long. I think it's general enough that I'm not giving away any of test prep company's secrets. Also I think most of their advice was pretty silly anyway.


For the logic games, the key really is in drawing the right diagram to minimize the amount of plugging in and testing you have to do... although it's great with the games to have the safety there of just testing all the answers if you get stuck on something.

For each game -- what I found worked well was to first draw a diagram and build in all of the information they gave in the question, then quickly copy that "master sketch" for each question and work off of that, adding whatever rules/limitations they had in the question.

The test prep stuff I have insists that there are only a handful of types of games --
1. tight sequences -- (horses in gates #1-6)
2. loose sequences -- (ordering the height of 6 people)
3. matching -- (who eats which sandwich)
4. grouping selection -- (which set of students out of a larger group is absent)
5. grouping distribution -- (each bill is paid on either Wed, Thurs, or Fri)
6. mixed games -- (combination of above)

For the sequence games, the diagram is a straight line with restrictions/givens filled in (spot 2 can't be green, etc), matching is a list, grouping is buckets***, and then if you write in all of the limitations they give and see what you can deduce right from there (like -- if they say that John and Terry can't eat Tuna, and Ron and Sam don't eat on Tuesdays but they also say that at least one person eats tuna every day, then we know that Sally must eat Tuna on Tuesdays...etc...) before reading the questions, then usually a couple of the questions will fall right out of the master sketch without any additional work, and the rest are easier built off of that rather than starting from scratchand plugging in all the rules each time.

***Instead of buckets, let's pretend I said "circles." Like if you need 3 groups of 2, I'd make 3 big circles and enter in the rules like Andy in one circle who if he can't be with Sandy, Sandy with an X through her name. I think I actually picked up using the word "buckets" to mean "groups" when I was working for the software company -- there were a bunch of vague business-y words I disturbingly found myself starting to use after a while. Like "soft copy" to mean "e-mail" (as opposed to "hard copy" on paper). Or "parking lot" to mean issues at a meeting that we would put off to discuss later. Or, the worst offender of all, "triangulate," which I learned apparently means to appease two disagreeing sets of people by coming up with a vague and meaningless solution. Sorry for the digression.

Logical Reasoning

Some of this stuff will be obvious and not that helpful -- obviously a good chunk of the questions you're surely breezing through without a problem so I'd imagine that overthinking on those and using any of these tactics would slow you down, so just for the ones that you're getting stuck on some of this might be useful.

The stuff I have says the key to all the different types of Logical Reasoning questions is finding which part of the passage is the evidence and which is the conclusion and then looking at the reasoning needed to go from evidence to conclusion. So they say you can save time by crossing out the stuff that's extraneous (not evidence or conclusion) and focus just on what's important. Then, based on what's left, you can cross out any answer choices that don't relate directly to the evidence or conclusion ("out of scope," they call it -- I think "scope" must have been one of the test prep dude's favorite words, because next to the name of the company it's the word that appears most often in my enormous binder.)

Here's an example based on one of theirs, but not the same so they don't sue me for giving away their secrets --

The foot scanner, a machine that scans an image of your toes, stores information about the pattern formed by your toe bones. This information allows it to recognize any patern it has previously scanned. No two feet have identical toes. A foot scanner can therefore be used to determine whether it has scanned a certain person's foot before.

The first two sentences are just filler. Not evidence, not conclusion. So the passage gets shorter and easier to deal with. And then 3 of the 5 choices are unrelated to the information that's left and so they're out of scope and can be eliminated.

Here's a point they make that I'm a bit skeptical about -- but they insist that there's a pattern to the difficulty level of questions in the LR sections -- first 8 or 9 are easy, with 1 exception -- they put a hard question in to "Punish the Plodder" so don't get stuck on it, just keep going. 12-23 are a mix of medium and hard questions, and then the last few are easier to "Reward the Racer" so if you're stuck on 21-23 and running out of time, they say to skip to 24-25 first cause they're easier. I think it's a pretty crappy strategy for the average test taker to be paying any attention at all to the pattern of difficulty in a section at the price of not paying attention to the questions, but you're smart enough that if this sticks in the back of your head somewhere, who knows, maybe it'll be helpful on the exam in some way.


The test prep reading comprehension is absurd. They think test takers should read each paragraph and in the margins, write an outline including a summary sentence, the topic, scope, purpose, main idea, conclusion, and evidence of the passage. Before looking at the questions. To make it easier to find the information. If that sounds helpful to you, by all means go for it. To me it sounds like an arduous process. I have a hunch it's designed for someone who reads poorly and needs to do all this writing in order to remember what he's reading and to force him to pay attention. I don't know what kind of advice I can give for reading comp other than the answers are all somewhere to be found in the passage and if you're getting stuck on something, go on because the answer may get clearer after you do some more questions, whether one of the answer choices triggers something or when you go back to the passage for another question, you find something that helps with the one you were stuck on. My strategy was to just read the passage, top to bottom, and the do the questions. I don't think that's a strategy though. :) My papers mention that "other test-prep courses" say you should read the questions first. To me, that doesn't make a ton of sense, since you're gonna be reading them again anyway, so why waste the time, and keeping 6 questions in your head while you read sounds like a distraction to me. One hint I picked up on in teacher training was they kept saying that any kind of lists of things or examples given in the question -- just skim over them -- they're right there in the passage if you need them and don't add any insight into any questions that don't need them, so knowing which painters, what years, etc is not so important to read carefully.

OKAY, I'm done. Hope this is somewhat useful.