A Systematic Approach to Logical Reasoning Questions on the LSAT
The LSAT is intended to make you think like a lawyer. What do lawyers do? They argue. They make statements and support them with evidence to convince a judge or jury that they’re right or that their opponents are wrong.
What don’t lawyers do? They don’t argue from personal conviction or emotion. They don’t base their arguments on their own feelings but on the facts and the laws. They don’t always get to choose the side they represent, which occasionally results in a lawyer’s having to support a side that she personally believes should lose.
In every logical reasoning argument, the author states some conclusion and attempts to support it with evidence. Your job is to identify this conclusion, figure out how the author is supporting it, and then determine why it’s successful or not.
To break down a logical reasoning question, follow these steps:
Read the question.
Read the argument paragraph, focusing on the specific information you need to know to answer the question and looking for inconsistencies and/or assumptions in the logic.
Come up with your own idea of a possible correct answer.
Evaluate the answers.
Read the question first
Tackle a logical reasoning question by reading the question first to determine its type. Following are some of the main types of logical reasoning questions you may encounter:
Assumptions: Which one of the following is an assumption required by the argument above?
Flaws: A reasoning flaw in the argument is that the argument
Logical conclusions: Which one of the following most accurately expresses the main conclusion of the argument?
Strengthen: Which one of the following, if true, most strengthens the argument?
Weaken: Which one of the following, if true, most seriously weakens the argument above?
Inference: If the statements above are true, then which of the following must also be true?
Role played by a claim: The claim that attorneys sometimes serve as their own secretaries plays which one of the following roles in the argument?
Resolving discrepancies or paradoxes: Which one of the following, if true, most helps to resolve the apparent paradox described above?
Disagree: The statements above provide the most support for holding that X would disagree with Y about which one of the following statements?
Patterns of reasoning: Which one of the following exhibits a pattern of reasoning most similar to that exhibited by the argument above?
Principles: Which one of the following conforms most closely to the principle illustrated by the statements above?
Structure of argument: In responding to Larry, Stephen (criticizes, accuses, explains, challenges, assumes)
When you first read the question, don’t read all the answer choices; doing so takes way too much time and clutters your thinking. Instead, concentrate just on the information you need to answer the question. Then you can read the argument with the specific question in mind.
Read the argument
After you figure out what kind of question you’re dealing with, read the paragraph very carefully. Be sure to locate the argument’s conclusion, which may come at the beginning, middle, or end of the paragraph. When you’ve identified the conclusion, you can better understand the rest of the paragraph.
As you read the paragraph, look for inconsistencies or gaps in the argument that may help you answer the question. Look for whatever the question asks for. If it asks for an assumption, look for an assumption — you know one is in there. If it asks for a flaw, find a flaw. Isolating the argument’s premises, assumptions, and conclusion helps you determine the method of reasoning.
The argument paragraph usually isn’t too complicated, and therefore, you may be tempted to read it too quickly. Force yourself to read slowly and carefully so you don’t skim over the word or words that provide the keys to the argument.
Logical reasoning questions presume a fairly high level of reading proficiency and vocabulary; you have to be a skilled reader to understand the arguments well enough to work with them.
Formulate an answer
Now try to answer the question in your head before you read the answer choices. If you do, the correct answer may just jump right out at you.
Of course, you can’t always concoct the exact right answer. For example, if a question asks what information would strengthen the author’s conclusion, you can’t always hope to imagine the exact factoid that’ll be in the right answer, but you probably can come up with something in the ballpark.
Many students overlook this step, not realizing what a valuable tool anticipating the answer can be. Always try to concoct an answer before you check out the choices.
Read the answers and eliminate the wrong ones
Now read the answers. Having one obviously correct choice and four obviously wrong ones would be nice, but of course, the LSAT doesn’t work that way. All five choices seem plausible. The LSAT-makers want you to spend your time agonizing over the answer choices, fretting because two of them look right and you just can’t figure out which is which. Remember, though, there are never two right answers.
Even when you know which answer you want to find, reading through all the choices may take a little time. Logical reasoning answer choices can sometimes be nearly as long and complicated as the actual arguments. You know what to do, though: Read each answer quickly but carefully. Cross it off if you know for sure that it’s wrong; leave it alone if you think it may be right.
After reading all the answer choices, pick an answer. If you cross off four obviously wrong answers and find one obviously correct one, great. If you can’t decide between two answers, think about them for a little while, no more than 30 seconds or so. If you still can’t decide which one is right, pick one and move on.