WHAT DOES THE LSAT MEASURE?
The LSAT is an aptitude test. Like all aptitude tests, it must choose a medium in which to measure intellectual ability. The LSAT has chosen logic. Other tests, such as the SAT, use mathematics and English.
The question is — does it measure aptitude for law school? Now if you think analytically and like to fiddle with crossword or logic puzzles, then you will probably warm up to the LSAT. On the other hand, if you think intuitively and synthetically, then you will probably find the medium (Logic) less palatable. Whether the ability to determine the possible arrangements of people around a circular table is an important skill for a lawyer is debatable. Nonetheless, the Law School Admission Council has chosen this type of question to test your aptitude for law school, so you must master their solution.
FORMAT OF THE LSAT
The LSAT is a three-hour-and-twenty-five minute test. Only two hours and twenty minutes of the LSAT count toward your score — the experimental section and the writing sample are not scored. There are six parts to the test.
|Section||Number of Questions||Length|
|Analytical Reasoning (games)||24 Questions||35 Minutes|
|Logical Reasoning (arguments)||25 Questions||35 Minutes|
|Experimental Section||?? Questions||35 Minutes|
|Reading Comprehension||27 Questions||35 Minutes|
|Writing Sample||not applicable||30 Minutes|
NOTE: The order of the format is not fixed: the sections can occur in any order — except for the writing sample, which is always last.
The experimental section can be a game section, an argument section, or a reading comprehension section. You won’t know which section is experimental. You will know which type of section it is, though, since there will be an extra one of that type.
The final section of the LSAT is the writing sample. This part of the test is not scored, but a copy of it, along with your LSAT score, will be sent to the law schools to which you apply.
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THE THREE TYPES OF LSAT PROBLEMS
The LSAT uses three types of problems to measure your aptitude for law school: analytical reasoning (games), logical reasoning (arguments), and reading comprehension.
The game section comprises one-quarter of the LSAT. It contains four games; each has about six questions for a total of about twenty-four questions.
The game section is the most difficult and most mathematical part of the LSAT. Indeed, the games actually fit into a branch of mathematics called Set Theory–though we won’t use any mathematical tools to solve them.
While the entire test should be read with care, the games must be read with extra care. In particular, pay close attention to words that limit relationships, such as “only,” “never,” “sometimes,” “exactly,” etc.
Example: LSAT Game
Adam, Bob, Carl, David, Eric, Frank, George, and Hank are basketball players.
Frank is the same height as Hank.
George is taller than Frank.
Eric is taller than Adam.
Adam is taller than David and Carl.
Bob is shorter than Carl.
Which one of the following must be false?
(A) George is taller than Hank.
(B) Carl is taller than David.
(C) Adam is taller than Frank.
(D) David is the same height as Carl.
(E) Bob is the same height as Eric.
If George is taller than Frank who is as tall as Hank, then George must be taller than Hank. Hence (A) is true. This dismisses (A). Next, the fourth condition tells us that Adam is taller than both David and Carl; it does not, however, tell us who is taller between Carl and David, nor do any other conditions. Hence (B) is not necessarily false. This dismisses both (B) and (D). Next, no condition relates the relative heights of Adam and Frank. Hence (C) is not necessarily false. This dismisses (C). Finally, Eric is taller than Adam who is taller than Carl who is taller than Bob. Hence, Eric must be taller than Bob. This contradicts (E). Thus (E) must be false, and therefore it is the answer.
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Arguments (logical reasoning) test your ability to understand the validity, or invalidity, of a line of reasoning. On the LSAT, an argument is a presentation of facts and opinions in order to support a position. The style of the arguments varies from informal discussions to formal dissertations.
Some arguments are intentionally poorly written and many are fallacious.
This portion of the LSAT looks as though it came right out of a logic book — hence the name “logical reasoning.” Now, logic is the study of the connections between statements, not the truth of those statements. On the LSAT, many students hurt themselves by tenaciously pursuing the truth — favoring answers that make true statements over those that make false statements. Although there will be cases where the truth of an argument is a factor, there will be as many cases where it is irrelevant.
Example: LSAT Argument
In the game of basketball, scoring a three-point shot is a skill that only those with a soft-shooting touch can develop. Wilt Chamberlain, however, was a great player. So even though he did not have a soft-shooting touch, he would have excelled at scoring three-point shots.
Which one of the following contains a flaw that most closely parallels the flaw contained in the passage?
(A) Eighty percent of the freshmen at Berkeley go on to get a bachelor’s degree. David is a freshman at Berkeley, so he will probably complete his studies and receive a bachelor’s degree.
(B) If the police don’t act immediately to quell the disturbance, it will escalate into a riot. However, since the police are understaffed, there will be a riot.
(C) The meek shall inherit the earth. Susie received an inheritance from her grandfather, so she must be meek.
(D) During the Vietnam War, the powerful had to serve along with the poor. However, Stevens’ father was a federal judge, so Steven was able to get a draft deferment.
(E) All dolphins are mammals and all mammals breathe air. Therefore, all mammals that breathe air are dolphins.
The original argument clearly contradicts itself. So we are looking for an answer-choice that contradicts itself in like manner. Notice that both the argument and the correct answer will not be true — again searching for truth can hamper you.
Choice (A) is not self-contradictory. In fact, it’s a fairly sound argument. This eliminates (A). Choice (B), on the other hand, is not a sound argument. The police, though understaffed, may realize the seriousness of the situation and rearrange their priorities. Nevertheless, (B) does not contain a contradiction. This eliminates (B). As to choice (C), although the argument is questionable, it, like (B), does not contain a contradiction. This eliminates (C). Choice (D), however, does contain a contradiction. It starts by stating that both the powerful and the poor had to serve in Vietnam, but it ends by stating that some powerful people — namely, Stevens — did not have to serve. This is a contradiction, so (D) is probably the answer. Finally, choice (E), like the original argument, is invalid, but it does not contain a contradiction. This eliminates (E). The answer is (D).
The two argument sections, each with about twenty-five questions, make up one-half of the LSAT. This is good news because as we analyze these problems you will develop an ability to uncover their underlying simplicity.
LSAT Reading Comprehension
Reading comprehension, like the games, comprises one-fourth of the LSAT. The section consists of four passages each with six to eight questions, for a total of about twenty-six questions.
The passages are taken from academic journals. As you would expect, they are usually quite dry. Nearly any subject may appear, but the most common themes are political, historical, cultural, and scientific. Following is a condensed version of a recently given LSAT passage.
Example: LSAT Passage
There are two major systems of criminal procedure in the modern world — the adversarial and the inquisitorial. Both systems were historically preceded by the system of private vengeance in which the victim of a crime fashioned his own remedy and administered it privately. The modern adversarial system is only one historical step removed from the private vengeance system and still retains some of its characteristic features. Thus, for example, even though the right to initiate legal action against a criminal has now been extended to all members of society and even though the police department has taken over the pretrial investigative functions on behalf of the prosecution, the adversarial system still leaves the defendant to conduct his own pretrial investigation. The trial is still viewed as a duel between two adversaries, refereed by a judge who, at the beginning of the trial has no knowledge of the investigative background of the case. In the final analysis the adversarial system of criminal procedure symbolizes and regularizes the punitive combat.
By contrast, the inquisitorial system begins historically where the adversarial system stopped its development. It is two historical steps removed from the system of private vengeance. Therefore, from the standpoint of legal anthropology, it is historically superior to the adversarial system. Under the inquisitorial system the public investigator has the duty to investigate not just on behalf of the prosecutor but also on behalf of the defendant. Because of the inquisitorial system’s thoroughness in conducting its pretrial investigation, it can be concluded that a defendant who is innocent would prefer to be tried under the inquisitorial system, whereas a defendant who is guilty would prefer to be tried under the adversarial system.
The primary purpose of the passage is to:
(A) explain why the inquisitorial system is the best system of criminal justice.
(B) explain how both the adversarial and the inquisitorial systems of criminal justice evolved from the system of private vengeance.
(C) show how the adversarial and inquisitorial systems of criminal justice can both complement and hinder each other’s development.
(D) show how the adversarial and inquisitorial systems of criminal justice are being combined into a new and better system.
(E) analyze two systems of criminal justice and imply that one is better.
The answer to a main idea question will summarize the passage without going beyond it. (A) violates these criteria by overstating the scope of the passage. The author draws a comparison between two systems, not between all systems. (A) would be a good answer if “best” were replaced with “better.” (Beware of absolute words.) (B) violates the criteria by understating the scope of the passage. Although the evolution of both the adversarial and the inquisitorial systems is discussed in the passage, it is done to show why one is superior to the other. (C) and (D) can be quickly dismissed as neither is mentioned in the passage. Finally, the passage does two things: it presents two systems of criminal justice, and it implies that one is better developed than the other. (E) aptly summarizes this, so it is the best answer.
You may have noticed that the three sample problems did not ask any questions about legal issues. Ironically, the LSAT does not contain any legal questions. You may have also noticed that some questions have a rather mathematical appearance.
In your undergraduate studies you probably learned to quickly read through reams of material. You were also probably taught to seek out truth and knowledge. This academic conditioning will serve you poorly on the LSAT. The LSAT does not measure your academic knowledge; rather it tests your ability to detect patterns and relationships. Often these patterns are invalid, such as fallacious arguments. Searching for knowledge and truth can be ruinous to your LSAT score. Instead, seek out patterns and relationships.
Although time is strictly limited on the LSAT, working too quickly can also damage your score. Many problems hinge on subtle points, and most require careful reading of the setup. Because undergraduate school puts such heavy reading loads on students, many will follow their academic conditioning and read the questions quickly, looking only for the gist of what the question is asking. Once they have found it, they mark their answer and move on, confident they have answered it correctly. Later, many are startled to discover that they missed questions because they either misread the problems or overlooked subtle points.
To do well in your undergraduate classes, you had to attempt to solve every, or nearly every, problem on a test. Not so with the LSAT. In fact, if you try to solve every problem on this test you will probably decimate your score. For the vast majority of people, the key to performing well on the LSAT is not the number of questions they answer, within reason, but the percentage they answer correctly.
SCORING THE LSAT
The LSAT is designed so that it is nearly impossible for anyone to answer all the questions correctly. A “perfect score” can include as many as 3 wrong answers. The LSAT is scored on a scale from 120 to 180, and 151 is the average scaled score.
In addition to the scaled score, you will be assigned a percentile ranking, which gives the percentage of students with scores below yours. For instance, if you correctly answer 77 of 100 questions, then you will score better than 90% of the other test takers. In other words, you can miss nearly one-quarter of the questions and still be in the 90th percentile. This further substantiates the claim that you need not complete the entire test to get a top score. Since 151 is the average scaled score, it marks the 50th percentile.
SKIPPING AND GUESSING
Some questions on the LSAT are very hard. Most test takers should skip these questions. Often students become obsessed with a particular problem and waste valuable time trying to solve it. To get a top score, learn to cut your losses and move on because all questions are worth the same number of points, regardless of difficulty level. So skip the nearly impossible questions and concentrate on the easy and possible ones.
Which problems to skip varies from person to person, so experiment to find what works best for you. There is no guessing penalty on the LSAT. So make sure you mark any questions that you skip! By the laws of probability, you should answer one question correctly for every five guesses.
ORDER OF DIFFICULTY
Most standardized tests list problems in ascending order of difficulty. On these tests, deciding which questions to skip is easy — skip the last ones. Unfortunately, the LSAT does not conform to this rule. The level of difficulty varies throughout the LSAT. However, the first question will not be the hardest and the last will not be the easiest.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
When is the LSAT given?
The LSAT is administered four times a year — usually in October, December, February, and June — on Saturdays from 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Special arrangements for schedule changes are available.
How important is the LSAT and how is it used?
It is crucial! Although law schools may consider other factors, the vast majority of admission decisions are based on only two criteria: your LSAT score and your GPA.
How many times should I take the LSAT?
Most people are better off preparing thoroughly for the LSAT, taking it one time and getting their top score. You can take the test as often as you like, but many law schools will average your scores. You should call the schools to which you are applying to find out their policy. Then plan your strategy accordingly. A copy of your LSAT and Grade Point Average will automatically be sent to every school to which you apply.
Can I cancel my LSAT score?
Yes. To do so, you must notify the Law School Admission Services within 5 days after taking the LSAT.
Where can I get the LSAT registration forms?
Most law schools have the forms. You can also get them directly from Law School Admission Services by writing to:
661 Penn Street
Newtown, PA 18940
Or calling 215-968-1001
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