Logic Terminology in LSAT Preparation: Is It Necessary? No. Useful? Maybe.

The Advise-In blog has been a little quiet this week.  I’m doing my annual pro bono LSAT preparation and advising workshop for about 30 students this year.  A full, fun week, during which there are sometimes a few LSAT-related items that come into sharper focus.

Some of each year’s students come armed with logic terms (the favorite virtually every year is the “contrapositive”).  This year is no exception.  My private clients who have taken a previous LSAT prep course are usually similarly equipped.

What’s interesting about students and clients who start out using logic-laden terms freely is that about half don’t understand what they mean at a level sufficient to make them useful for taking the LSAT.  But almost all feel like they have a unique, secret weapon, so they tend to cling to the jargon, whether it’s helping them much or not.  In the classroom format that we’re using for this pro bono workshop (which is one reason it’s pro bono), the lingo can also intimidate students to whom it’s new.  It’s surprising to students and clients when they find out that they don’t need it; they can get to the correct result—often more quickly—without the specialty words.

I’m big on making the LSAT as straightforward as possible.  It’s a hard exam and the pressure of exam day is heavy, so there’s a premium on having a few simple and repeatable LSAT techniques that you can actually use efficiently on exam day.

What does that mean for the use of ever-popular logic jargon in your LSAT preparation?  To the extent that it helps you, use it.  To the extent that it doesn’t, don’t.  But don’t you need it to get your best LSAT score?  No, for several reasons.  First, to repeat, a lot of people who throw the terms around don’t understand them well enough to make them maximally useful on exam day.  And there are other ways of getting to the same place, even for those who have a good command of the jargon.

Many of my clients and students find that the lingo actually slows them down.  It generally needs to be translated into the particular logical reasoning or analytical reasoning question in front of you, and it’s often faster and more accurate to sketch out that relation quickly (without the use of any intervening logic terminology) so that you’ll have it in black-and-white in front of you.  I got a perfect LSAT score and didn’t use logic terminology at all in my LSAT prep (although I was, and any taker needs to be, clear on the concepts involved).  For me, the jargon was time-consuming and generally less helpful than alternatives.

For others, the jargon is the most helpful way to understand how to answer certain LSAT questions.  Finding out what’s true for each person by trying out various techniques to see what works, and adjusting those techniques as clients’ LSAT preparation progresses, is something on which I spend a lot of time and effort with my clients, so that they will be in position to get their highest LSAT score on exam day.  Whether the logic terms are useful—and the extent to which they’re useful—depends on each person’s background and learning style.  What’s important is that, when you take the exam, you’re using the LSAT methods that are best for you.  There’s no one technique—including logic jargon—that’s indispensable to LSAT success for everyone.  When presented as if it’s indispensable for everyone, any LSAT study technique can do more harm than good.

~ by Kyle Pasewark at Advise-in Solutions on July 30, 2010.

2 Responses to “Logic Terminology in LSAT Preparation: Is It Necessary? No. Useful? Maybe.”

  1. This is really interesting. I have been studying intensely for the LSAT in recent weeks and have been thrown aback by the complex logical arrangements in the LR section. I went to the library (and the law library) to find the best books on propositional, symbolic, formal/informal logic I could find hoping to learn some things, but that just confuses me more.

    Through my brief time drilling, I have noticed that the LSAT LR section is just a predictable, repetitive section trying to intimidate and outsmart us embarrassingly. If you catch on to the patterns, you can deduce the right answer every time.

    To get the right answer, you don’t need to be a logician or philosophy major, although you should have some background in logic, however brief – just hitting the basics, like conditionals, chains, assumptions.

    • Thanks for this comment, I think it is crucial to understand the LSAT’s theory of argument, on which every logical reasoning and reading comprehension question is based. Also important, as you say, to understand basic logical relationships. More than that is more complication than you need or want for LSAT purposes.

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