the games section is the bane of my existence
August 25, 2009 11:28 AM   Subscribe

I am self-studying for the September LSAT (I cannot afford a prep course). I am currently scoring in the low 170s on practice tests. I would like to score just a few points higher (175, maybe? please?). Perhaps predictably, my real problem is the Analytical Reasoning section.

I am using a couple of Kaplan LSAT guides (2007 and 2008) to prepare. I have been preparing on-and-off for the last sixth months, and have really ramped up the preparation in the last two months or so (I spend at least 2-3 hours a day with my Kaplan books). Been scoring in the low 170s consistently on practice tests the whole time. A 170-173 is fine with me, but of course, I would always like my score to be as high as I can possibly make it. The Logical Reasoning and Reading Comprehension sections are actually really enjoyable for me at this point, but the logic games? Right now, I'm lousy at them and am getting really frustrated.

So, for those of you who are familiar with the LSAT, what resources did you use to prepare specifically for the Analytical Reasoning section? Big points if you can provide links, but any help or general advice concerning your study strategies for this section and the LSAT in general at all would be great.
posted by SkylitDrawl to Education (20 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
the best advice i can give is to use actual LSAT tests from the LSAC people.

the wording is just different somehow. i found that once i started using those instead of the almost-LSATs of Kaplan etc, my scores went up. not that i did spectacular, but that's a different story.
posted by sio42 at 12:00 PM on August 25, 2009

also, if you meet certain income requirements you can get some study stuff for free from LSAC. there's info on their site but it's been a while since i looked at it. i think it may include a book of actual LSAT tests, like #1-20 or something.
posted by sio42 at 12:01 PM on August 25, 2009

It's been a long time since I took the LSAT but I remember that the Princeton Review book was the most helpful. I remember not being impressed with the Kaplan book at all.

I originally took it in 1995 and scored in the mid 170s after studying with that book only -- retook it in 2004 or so without studying and got 170. So, the book did help.
posted by miss tea at 12:21 PM on August 25, 2009

Yep, I meet those income requirements and got all the nice fee waivers.
posted by SkylitDrawl at 12:21 PM on August 25, 2009

PS unless I became dumber in the interim time. Which is possible. :)
posted by miss tea at 12:21 PM on August 25, 2009

Some people advocate setting your appointment for the test well in advance, then taking your practice exams at the same time, under the same conditions, as the test will be given. Wake up at the same time, eat the same breakfast, use the same pencil, etc.
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:29 PM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

besides the fee waivers did you request the study stuff? it was normally pretty price but poor folk like us get 'em for free. it might be worth looking into.
posted by sio42 at 12:31 PM on August 25, 2009

When I took it last year, the Games were just off-kilter enough from the last 3 years of practice LSATs that they defied efforts to liken them to their predecessors, or to predict the easiest 3 of 4.

I'd hoped to go in thinking, "Oh, this is just like the one about serving the manicotti after the lasagna," but the test-makers were such clever tricksters. The lesson I took away from it (after the scarring experience of ordering a sequence of tunnel workers, Al, Bob, and Chan, into a cave, while the clock ran out) was that as important as any method is the power to remain calm in the face of new wrinkles.
posted by Kirklander at 12:38 PM on August 25, 2009

Seconding sio42, the most important advice I can give is to use the books of official tests. Those are the only resources I used. I was pretty happy with the results -- I scored in the 98th percentile.

Other books are just trying to imitate the tests. In just a brief period of time, I found some major errors in one of them (I believe it was Princeton Review). For example, the intro gave the blatantly incorrect advice that only the logic games section has clear "right answers," while the other two sections are full of grey areas and have only vaguely "better" or "worse" answers. (In fact, every single question on the LSAT has exactly one clear right answer.) A question in logical reasoning (the kind of question that asks "Which logical error does this argument make?") had possible answers like "circular reasoning" and "ad hominem" -- but the real LSAT never requires you to know the names of different kinds of fallacies.

I also had by far the most trouble with the logic games. A few tips:

(1) I was surprised at how many of them could be solved through boring, relentless trial and error. At first, I was looking for overly clever ways of solving the problems and simply had a hard time imagining that the test-makers would let the answer depend on trial and error.

(2) Develop your own personal language of symbols and practice jotting them down very quickly/automatically to represent the facts that apply within the group of questions. For instance, "A + B" means A must go along with B. Or "A B" crossed out means A and B can never go together. "A + B/C" means A always goes along with either B or C. And so on. If the set-up tells you a rule, write down not just that rule but also a second rule that follows logically (maybe by combining it with other rules). For instance, if you already know A can't go with B, and then you're told B always goes with C, you should reflexively think, "Ah, so A and C can't go together," and write it down.

(3) A friend of mine was told that you should reorder the questions for any given set-up according to what word the questions start with. Don't do anything like that! Every second matters, so don't waste time with frills -- stay as focused as possible on the substance of the questions.

Broader points:

I rarely timed myself and didn't try to replicate exam conditions. My attitude was: I only have to do one thing: master the material. Fully understand how the questions work. If you can do that, the timing and stuff takes care of itself. Maybe this wouldn't work for everyone, but I can only tell you what worked for me. It wasn't getting up at the same time in the morning or always sitting at a well-lit desk -- it was practicing over and over and over till I knew the logic of the LSAT cold.

Also: have a positive attitude about the LSAT. Don't try to debunk it on any level. You think there are mistakes on the LSAT? You think the LSAT is a silly way to judge law school applicants? It doesn't matter! Put that out of your head until you're done taking the LSAT! I remember talking to a friend when we were both studying for the test. He was telling me that the LSAT is severely flawed, that it has mistakes, etc. He scored around the 50th percentile. Was there any actual causation between his negative attitude and his score, or my positive attitude and my score? I don't know, but I'm glad I went in with the assumption that the LSAT is a solid test of your ability to get the right answers to serious questions. I had a good day and felt happy while taking the LSAT, and this was probably helped by having a certain level of respect for the test. You want to be as happy as possible (not cynical) while taking the test.

(Feel free to email me, even if you have a specific LSAT question you'd like to discuss. I actually enjoy it!)
posted by Jaltcoh at 12:39 PM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

I had success with the Princeton Review book and the compilations of old LSATs that you can buy. Just like with all standardized tests, it's all about learning how to take the test, and the best way to do that is to take as many of them as you can, under similar time and environmental circumstances as the actual test.

Partial aside: has the LSAT scoring system changed recently? I got a 170 when I took it five years ago, which was enough to have top ten schools offering me fee waivers and everyone else throwing money at me if I'd apply (my grades were nothing special, so this was completely a result of my LSAT score). Obviously you want to get the best score you can, but I was under the impression from talking with admissions people at various schools that there wasn't much difference between a 170 and a 180.
posted by jalexc at 12:40 PM on August 25, 2009

Former Kaplan LSAT teacher/tutor here...

I have seen students who have had luck taking one game and just beating their heads against it until their brains figured out how to work the problems. They would take problems and spend as much time as necessary (sometimes two or three study sessions) until they forced their way through the questions.

This was a painful, but effective, process for some of them.

Another method is to try to learn all of the tricks. The vast majority of the games and questions follow one of a handful of patterns. Identifying the fact pattern and question types becomes very important.

You should start keeping track of what kinds of games and what kind of questions you tend to struggle with. The techniques for helping someone who is bad at one kind of game varies pretty substantially from helping someone who has a hard time with one type of question, which varies substantially from helping someone who just doesn't get any of it.

You might get more focused AskMe responses to more specific questions. "Help me on logic games" is a somewhat broad question.
posted by toomuchpete at 12:48 PM on August 25, 2009

Ugh, most people hated the logic games. I bought some huge compilation book of old official tests and kept testing myself. I don't think I ever finished the entire book; there were just too many tests or I was too lazy to do all of them. I was studying at the same time as some other friends who were also taking the LSAT and none of us took any Kaplan or Princeton Review course or anything. We all did self-study and used old tests to practice. If you run out of official tests to practice on, that's when you can switch to the Kaplan version of the logic games. I forgot how much the official tests cost; they might be pricey. Perhaps check eBay. I know people sell their old bar exam study materials on there. Probably LSAT study materials too.
posted by That takes balls. at 12:48 PM on August 25, 2009

jalexc: Here are the LSAT scores for the 25th and 75th percentile at certain law schools. I took it a few years ago, but I believe it's long been the case that anything in the 170s is 98th-99th percentile and makes you a likely candidate for the top schools. For instance, the middle 50% of Cornell students scored 166-168. Harvard's scored 170-175. (Cornell is generally ranked the 11th or 12th best law school; Harvard is consistently ranked the 2nd best.)
posted by Jaltcoh at 12:49 PM on August 25, 2009

I bought and LSAC book and used it to take a simulated, timed practice test. When it was over I scored it to see how I did then went back to the logic games section and really worked through them to understand how they worked. There are only a handful of typical logic games, so gaining familiarity with them will be helpful come test day.

The key for me was mapping out the "rules" of the problem so that I could answer the questions efficiently. So if John couldn't work on Saturday and Sally could only work Tuesdays and every other Monday and Bill only wore open-toed shoes, I would figure out how to depict those rules graphically so that I didn't have to re-read the rules for every question. That helped me speed up my answer rate and gave me time to more carefully consider any questions that tripped me up.

Good luck.
posted by AgentRocket at 12:50 PM on August 25, 2009

I love the LSAT games. They're like the puzzle books I used to get as a kid, and seem to use a part of the brain that just doesn't get too much exercise in my daily life. So every few months I buy a prep book or download a practice test and do some LSAT games, strictly for lulz.

The prep books I've found most illuminating are Princeton Review, and that's where I learned to diagram the games. One thing to remember is this: the set-up almost never gives you enough info to solve the puzzle -- who-all had what color scarf and which hat, or whatever it is. The set-up only gives you enough info to answer the questions. So diagram all the clues, then stop. Don't try to figure out the whole thing, because they way they're written, you can't.
posted by Methylviolet at 2:04 PM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Jaltcoh has some great advice. However, I'd disgagree with this part:

I rarely timed myself and didn't try to replicate exam conditions. My attitude was: I only have to do one thing: master the material. Fully understand how the questions work. If you can do that, the timing and stuff takes care of itself.

As a former Kaplan LSAT teacher and somebody who sweated and slaved over the LSAT before that, I'd say that makes sense for the majority of students, but you (the OP) isn't talking about trying to get a mid-140s to the mid-150s. You're trying to squeeze a couple extra points at the very top of the scale, and when you're in that territory every. little. detail. matters. So yes, work on the games (while keeping in mind that you're in comfortable territory), but I'd also work on timing, staying calm, establishing a routine for dealing with potential panic, etc. I'd take as many of those "Free LSAT! No Commitment Required!" tests offered by Kaplan, Princeton, et al, for the experience, then consider not paying attention when they tried to tell me my score (and definitely not paying attention to the sales pitch.) They come pretty close to replicating the test experience and will help you refine the tiny logistics for smooth sailing on the big day -- how many pencils? Earplugs? Where should you sit? Extra jacket for change in temperature?

I mean, if you're getting frustrated at not doing well at the games despite test scores consistently in the 170s/trying to improve from the 170s, yeah, you're probably going to get stressed on the big day, particularly when surrounded by 400 other panicky test takers.

Anecdata point about the importance of prepping the small points: The first time I took the LSAT's, I got a low 160s score and felt numb all over, particularly when the career office started giving me friendly "advice" about where I should apply with those numbers.

The second time I took the LSAT's, I nailed that thing for 174 and got the satisfaction of showing that same career office my score sheet. However, I didn't do any studying in between. In fact, I probably forgot stuff and got somewhat rusty. The difference was that during run #2, I'd practiced timing, staying calm, and establishing a routine for dealing with panic.
posted by joyceanmachine at 3:15 PM on August 25, 2009

I'd say that makes sense for the majority of students, but you (the OP) isn't talking about trying to get a mid-140s to the mid-150s. You're trying to squeeze a couple extra points at the very top of the scale, and when you're in that territory every. little. detail. matters.

To be clear, I was relaying my experience based on going from the 88th percentile the first time I took the test to the 98th percentile the second time. As far as I'm concerned, I did squeeze out every last point I was capable of at the very top of the scale.

The technique I described above was the best way I could come up with to stay motivated. If I try forcing myself to sit at a desk for hours at a time with no distractions, my mind immediately starts wandering. The natural response is, "Ah, but then the same thing will happen on test day!" Well, no. There's just a different energy to test day. My feeling was: it's impossible to replicate that feeling no matter what I do, so I might as well make the practicing as enjoyable and motivating as I can, which for me is often planting myself in a cafe.

But as I said, I'm only anecdotally saying what worked for me. You may be right as far as most people are concerned.
posted by Jaltcoh at 3:26 PM on August 25, 2009

I also highly recommend using actual, old LSAT tests. I found that there was a noticeable difference between the real thing and the fake ones. (Like Jaltcoh, I found some errors in whatever practice book I was using. The fake tests also seemed to have more questions where two answers seemed very close to equally correct.)

For the logic games, I bought a book that was just games. I don't remember the exact book, but it was something like this (for GRE and LSAT). I think I worked through the whole book. Practicing the techniques and how to diagram the clues helped me immensely.
posted by Mavri at 3:59 PM on August 25, 2009

So diagram all the clues, then stop.

Personal preference, but I disagree with this. You do not, by any means, want to try to solve the game. Methylviolet is correct that it is almost never possible.

In almost every single game, however, there are one or two absolutely critical deductions (information not given, but that can be deduced from the info you have). These one or two extra pieces of information generally translate into at least one "gimme" question that would otherwise have seemed pretty tough.

In fact, in my tutoring experience, people who properly diagrammed the game and then came upon a question that they couldn't figure out almost universally missed the key deduction that made that question trivial. As in "look at your diagram, there is the answer" trivial.

Don't try to solve the game, but dear god, please don't stop right after you've diagrammed the clues. There is a sweet spot in the middle there, and once you get used to finding those critical deductions, you will KNOW when you've made one (and then you will smirk with satisfaction when, like clock-work, the "gimme" question shows up).

Also, be sure to differentiate between questions based on only the clues given and "If" questions that are based on extra information. You should generally make all new diagrams for "if" questions, but info you figure out in the course of solving a "not-if" can typically be incorporated into your main graph (because it's a deduction you probably missed initially).
posted by toomuchpete at 9:25 PM on August 25, 2009

So, American lawyers must be good at sudoku. WTF?
posted by mr. strange at 2:24 PM on August 26, 2009

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