LSAT Nirvana

(How I Learned to Stop Worrying, and Love the LSAT)


Table of Contents

(Click on titles to jump to any section)

    (Summary of Key Points)

I.  Introduction

-- So You Want to Go to Law School?

-- Law Schools and the LSAT

-- The Purpose and Nature of the LSAT

II.  General Approach

    A.  First Things First

          1.  Forget Perfection

          2.  Low-Hanging Fruit

          3.  Read Carefully and Thoroughly

          4.  Keep Your Pencil Moving

          5.  Process of Elimination

          6.  Choose the BEST Answer.

          7.  Set Your Priorities

    B.  Logic Fundamentals

          1.  Argument Structure
          2.  If - Then Conditions

                   a.  Improper Reversals

                   b.  Improper Negation

                   c.  The Contrapositive

III.  Question Types

    A.  Reading Comprehension

    B.  Logical Reasoning Questions

    C.  Analytical Reasoning Questions

IV.  Preparation Strategies

V.   Quick Tips

VI.  Conclusion


  Summary of Key Points

Your goal should be to achieve your maximum potential.  If you perform at or near your highest level, you will be happy with your score.

The LSAT is an exam that becomes much easier with preparation.  

You should strive to prepare, and perform, in the most efficient manner possible.  

In other words, make things as easy as possible on yourself.  If you do this, you should enjoy the process of preparing your mind for the LSAT.

Your brain is a muscle.  Much of LSAT prep will involve developing the strength, speed, and endurance of this muscle.  The more time you have, the easier this will be.  

Try to eat well and exercise as you prepare for the LSAT.  A strong, healthy body will make it easier to develop your mind.

You can miss a large number of questions on the LSAT and still get a very good score.  (You can miss more than a handful and still score above the 99th percentile.)  Therefore, don't worry about the questions you get wrong - just focus on getting as many right as possible.  Most people get only a little more than half the questions right.  Adequate preparation should allow you to shine.

Easy questions are worth as much as hard ones.  Do easier questions first, harder questions later.  This will make the exam much easier, and will maximize your score.

Use process of elimination to first get rid of obviously wrong answers.  This will also make the test easier.

There is no penalty for guessing on the LSAT, and a definite bonus - Odds are you'll get credit for at least 20% of the questions you guess on.  Be sure to fill in an answer for every question.

Read carefully - careful, focused reading is about half of the exam.

Read actively - keep your pencil moving.  Underlining, circling words,  noting important lines - all this will keep your mind involved and help you focus.

Master basic skills, and become familiar with question types, before worrying about speed.

There are about 100 questions on each exam.  About half (50%) are Logical Reasoning.  A little more than 25 (>25%) are Reading Comprehension.  A little less than 25 (< 25%) are Logic Games.  Theoretically, you could completely guess on all Logic Games and still get over the 90th percentile.  (Not that you should).  
Be sure to master the Logical Reasoning section.

There are two main components to preparing for the LSAT.  The first is understanding the various question types and the various approaches that should be used with each one.  The second is developing the mental strength and stamina to do these questions in an examination context.  Reading about the question types, and then doing practice questions, will help develop both skills.  Practice questions should first be done in an untimed context, and later in a timed context.

Repeated practice with various examples from each question type is essential to mastering the LSAT.

Always check the correct answer on questions you get wrong, and understand why it's right.  

To develop the ultimate mental strength needed to excel on the LSAT, you will eventually work through full-length practice tests.  Start with question sets for various question types, then work up to half-tests.  (First untimed, then timed.)  By the end, you will be performing full-length practice tests under formal, timed, test conditions.  This will develop both your strength and speed, and will also make you much more comfortable with the exam when you actually take it.

Practice reading the editorial page daily to develop your reading comp skills.

Always use a diagram when answering Logic Games.

Always check on every question to be sure you're filling in the right answer  
number.  (Especially when jumping around.)

Practice with a timer or watch with an easily visible second hand.  Use the same timer/watch at the exam.  Be sure not to spend too much time on any one question.

Practice with a mechanical pencil with medium-thickness lead.  Make sure it has a good eraser.  Buy several of these and make sure you have them all at the actual exam.

Check the scheduling of the actual exam, and adjust your body clock so that you're fully alert at the time of the actual exam.  (Start this a couple weeks in advance.)  Do your last few practice tests at the same time of the day as the actual exam.

Do your final practice exam at least two days before the actual exam.  Do not study or prepare the day or night before the exam.  Do something relaxing.


I.      Introduction

Many people feel uncertain or nervous about the LSAT (Law School Admission Test).  My goal is to help you relax, and see that the LSAT is actually your best buddy.  To do so, I will try to convey the key points and tips to you in the most quick and painless manner possible.  I will also strive to set you up with a training plan that will most efficiently and effectively prepare you for the exam.

Perhaps the most important thing is to enjoy the process.  The exam is a game, pure and simple.  Your goal is to condition yourself and understand the game well enough that you shine when you play.  But just as in sports, exercise, music or other endeavors, this process can be one you enjoy.  It can be very satisfying to see yourself developing skills and abilities to the point where you significantly outperform your initial scores.  It can also be very cool to have the opportunity to display that ability in a formal context.  All exams should be seen as a fun opportunity to show off what you know, and the LSAT is no exception.

I believe that the best route to achieving LSAT excellence is to make everything as simple and easy as possible.  Enlightened laziness has been a major force behind most technological innovations, and efficiency can perhaps best be described as the attempt to get from point A to point B as quickly and easily as possible.  Since everyone has finite resources of time and energy, it is important that they are used as efficiently as possible.

This summary of the LSAT is the beginning of your indoctrination into the world of LSAT excellence.  Please review it thoroughly, as it will make everything else easier.

  So You Want to Go to Law School?

This is a question that should be considered before taking the LSAT.  Law school represents an enormous investment, both in terms of time and money.  Many people apply without any clear idea of why they want to go, or what it represents.  Prospective applicants should seek out people who are practicing attorneys, and speak with them about how they enjoy their careers.  Many attorneys like their work, and some make ridiculously high salaries, but they generally work very hard for their money, and there are many lawyers, both successful and unsuccessful, who question their original decision to go into law.  There are also many other stimulating and lucrative professions out there that may better satisfy the passions of a bright recent graduate.  Remember that neither of the two richest men in America (Bill Gates or Larry Ellison) has even a college diploma.

That said, I have no regrets about attending law school.  I greatly enjoyed it, even the “dreaded” first year.  The challenge of competing with extremely bright students, and the opportunity to discuss complex and difficult issues with those students, was extremely enjoyable.  Nowhere else have I had the opportunity to push myself to that level of excellence, or the joy of successfully debating a close issue in class with a worthy adversary.  If you like challenge, and you like to shine, law school has much to offer.  And it's definitely more fun than work.

What is important is that the student does make a thoughtful decision that this is indeed what they think they want to do.  The cost alone (often between $50,000 -- $150,000 total) warrants a serious analysis.  And if a student does have serious doubts, taking a year or two off to travel, try different jobs, or just smell the roses never hurt anyone.  Most law schools probably prefer applicants who have taken some time off to mature, and its definitely better to get wanderlust out of your system now, as opposed to during law school, or when working as an attorney.

My purpose here is not to dissuade anyone who really wants to be a lawyer from applying to law school.  After all, that would make my cash flow smaller.  The reason I urge people to make this decision before taking the exam is because the LSAT really is very important in the application process.  Once you take it, it becomes part of your permanent record, and you don't want any half-hearted attempts misrepresenting what you're truly capable of.  (While the LSAT can be taken repeatedly, your original score will always be factored in, potentially weighing down your overall average.)  For that reason, it's much better to be sure that law school is what you really want, and then commit to preparing adequately your first time through.  There's no real reason to take the exam more than once - after all, wouldn't it be much easier to ace the exam the first time, and then relax?
Law Schools and the LSAT

By now you probably know that the LSAT is extremely important for getting into law school.  Many observers believe that the LSAT is even more important than one's G.P.A..  Most others agree that it carries at least as much weight as your grades, for the simple reason that schools have to distinguish between many applicants with solid academics.  While this may seem unfair, it should be seen as an advantage - where else can you make up for four years of unrepresentative performance with a three-hour exam?  And if you have had the intelligence/discipline to actually do well throughout your college career, you should be able to do equally well on the exam.  While many consider the LSAT a mysterious “aptitude” exam, the truth is that it mainly involves careful reading and common sense, and any decent student should be able to obtain an adequate score with proper preparation.

Most applicants also know that law schools are very hierarchical.  The school you go to can have enormous implications for job and career opportunities, not just upon graduation, but even further down the road.  The legal field is one where a lawyer's pedigree is examined and noted even twenty years into a career.  Most attorneys at the nation's largest law firms are from a select group of elite law schools, usually from the top 10 or 20.  (Schools are ranked annually by U.S. News and World Report.)  Prestigious judicial clerkships, particularly U.S. Supreme Court Clerkships, tend to pick from an even smaller pool of schools.  And if you want to teach, which is probably the easiest, funnest, and most prestigious legal job, it's almost imperative that you attend a top program.

This is not to say that your LSAT score, or even your law school, will dictate your future success, or lack thereof.  Large firms often hire top students from smaller schools, and it has been my personal observation that the single most important factor in any lawyer's success is his or her determination, work ethic, and drive.  Many of the wealthiest lawyers in the country are those, like Geoffrey Fieger, Johnny Cochran, and others, who find their element more in the courtroom than the classroom.

However, what a good LSAT and a good law school will do is make everything that much easier.  At a top national school, or even a highly-ranked regional school, you won't have to worry about busting your butt just to get a job.  You'll be able to relax a little, and actually enjoy the educational experience.  It is my firm belief that it is much easier to do adequately in a top program than it is to place in the top 5% of a smaller school.  After all, even smaller schools will have many bright students.  On the other hand, I know of people from highly ranked schools who didn't even place their G.P.A. on their resumes, and still got decent jobs.  Also, once you have a job, people may still tend to evaluate you in terms of your law school - especially if they went there themselves.  In short, the better the law school you go to, the easier your legal future will be.

Think about it:  if life is about making things as easy and sweet as possible on yourself, doesn't it make sense to focus a little effort on your LSAT now, and minimize the amount of future effort required for professional success?  From a strict cost-benefit analysis, the enlightened lazy person will pour all his/her energies into getting the best score they can, thereby getting into the best law school they can, thereby giving themselves the option to coast a little down the road.  (The type of job options you'll have [government, environmental advocacy, etc.] also increase with the quality of the school you attend.)  No one ever talks about the actual grades Bill Clinton got at Yale - they're just impressed he went there in the first place.

Of course, those who intend to open their own shop, or have a guaranteed job from friends or family, don't have to worry about this stuff as much.  But they're lucky.

Note:  Its been said of students at top programs, by visiting professors, that “I've never met so many kids that were so intelligent, and so lazy.”  Sound familiar?

  The Purpose and Nature of the LSAT

O.k. - so you've decided you definitely want to go to law school (or you just feel like taking the test for the hell of it), and you realize that a little extra effort now will make everything else easier down the road.  You're beginning to rub your hands together in eager anticipation.  One question:  what exactly is the LSAT, and what does it measure?

The LSAT was developed to help law schools measure the potential of an applicant as a first-year law student.  While I do believe that in law school -- as in work -- drive, determination, and work ethic are the most important factors, there is also evidence that LSAT scores correspond with first-year success.

The reason for this is simple.  The LSAT measures your ability to think logically, and your ability to read and comprehend complex passages, both of which are crucial in law school.  (It also measures whether you approach the exam in an intelligent manner or not, which we will discuss below.)

While these abilities may seem like aptitudes to some, the truth is that both can be extensively developed with practice.  When combined with an enlightened approach to taking the exam, score increases of 20-30 points (or 30 - 40 percentile points) are not unheard of.  Almost no one does very well on the LSAT without preparation, and almost everyone improves significantly with proper preparation.  

At this point I would like to point something out.  The amount of time and energy you have to put into the LSAT is very finite, if potentially intense.  Once the LSAT is done, you should never have to study for it again.  Given the potential benefits of a good score, this is therefore already a bonus situation.  

However, think again about what the LSAT measures - your probability of success in law school.  When you properly prepare for the LSAT, you're not only improving your score, you're actually turning yourself into a better law student!  This is because the skills you develop, in terms of reading comprehension, understanding arguments, and logical analysis, are again all crucial to law school study.  Even if they get a little flabby while you're partying in the summer, they'll bounce back when needed like any previously-developed muscle.  So understand that if you want to be a lawyer, the LSAT is your first step in turning your brain into a steel trap from which no faulty logic will escape, or be permitted.  It is a famous axiom that what law school does, more than anything else, is “teach you to think like a lawyer.”  Professor Kingsfield, in the classic law school film “The Paper Chase” (rent it if you haven't seen it) puts it even more eloquently to his first-year class:  “You come in here with heads full of mush, and I teach you to think like a lawyer.”

What this means is that you learn how to think clearly and logically, which is a valuable asset in many areas of life.  Indeed, one of the first things you will notice in law school is how meandering, flawed, and pointless most non-lawyer conversation becomes.  You will become frustrated by the inability of family and friends to “get to the point.”  You will begin to see clear logical flaws in arguments presented by others.  And you will annoy the hell out of all your friends and family as a result.

But the point is that the LSAT is an opportunity for an important head start on this process, and you should keep in mind that your preparation is something enduringly valuable - because it will jump-start the lasting process of turning your mind into a sleek, steel, powerful, reasoning machine.

  II.    General Approach

O.k..  By this point, you realize the importance of the LSAT, the rationale for focusing on it, its purpose, and the long-term benefits of proper preparation.  But how do we prepare in a way that's fun and easy?

Let me state right off that achieving your potential on the LSAT will take an investment of your time.  However, this doesn't have to be unpleasant.  Anyone familiar with physical exercise knows there's two ways to work out - one, where you go in the gym completely unfit, unstretched, not warmed up, and proceed to immediately kill yourself with excessive weights or duration of workout, resulting either in injury or a deep-seated hatred of the gym, which is then never returned to.  The other way is to go in well-rested, well stretched, with a basis of adequate nutrition and basic health.  The initial workout is very light, just enough to make you want more.  You return soon thereafter, and gradually increase the intensity of your workouts in response to the desire of your body to challenge itself.  The eventual result is a very fit, very strong body, built upon a self-sustaining foundation of pleasurable, satisfying workouts that one actually looks forward to.

Training for the LSAT should be done the same way - and make no mistake, this is a form of training.  The mind is a muscle, and it can be developed just like any other muscle.  Like a muscle, it will get tired and need rest between workouts, particularly in the early going.  Later on, you'll be able to push it more and longer as it becomes stronger and more developed.  By the end of training, the LSAT will seem much easier than when you first began -- partly because of increased familiarity, but also because you will have developed the parts of your brain that need to be used during the exam.  This process of developing the strength and endurance of your mind is probably the single most important aspect of LSAT preparation.  

Because this is an involved process, the more time you have to spend on it, the better (and easier).  The individual time required for peak preparation will vary - what's important is that the student feel adequately prepared before taking the exam.  If not, they're probably better off waiting for the next one.  I personally recommend at least two full months, and preferably three.

The basic components of your training program will be 1) developing skills and becoming familiar with individual question types, 2) practicing those question types and skills in an untimed context, 3) practicing those question types and skills in a timed context, 4) practicing entire exams in an untimed context, and 5) practicing entire exams in a timed context, under test conditions.  

As indicated above, it is crucial that the student first understand and absorb the concepts and skills involved with question types without regard for timing.  If proper understanding and comfort is not first achieved, excellence will never be achieved under test conditions.  However, it is equally crucial that students then develop the ability to apply those techniques quickly, so they can get credit for their understanding under the timed conditions of the test.  

If the student begins preparation early enough, they should be able to enjoy their training at a paced speed, without getting excessively bored with the material.  On the contrary, they'll likely enjoy the satisfying feeling that they're getting better and better at each question type, and able to work more and more quickly through them.  This feeling of satisfaction is akin to that experienced when one begins excelling at a sport or instrument.  You're grooving down the learning curve.  

The most fun part is when you start getting better and better, and can look forward to a nice fat score after the exam.  It's especially pleasurable if you do better than your friends and can then rub it in, but even if you only improve on your own initial scores, this can still be immensely satisfying - especially when it ensures your acceptance into law school.

  A.  First Things First

  Forget Perfection

There are various techniques that can enhance your performance on the LSAT, some of which will be discussed below.  However, there is one fundamental underlying premise that underlies many of the tips, and it is the single most important factor in improving your score.  It also makes the LSAT much easier, and much more approachable.

The LSAT becomes much easier and friendly when you realize that the focus of the test is on the number of questions you get right, not the number you get wrong.  What this means is that you can miss a large number of questions and still do well.  (On a standard college exam, if you miss over 30% of the questions, you end up with a very poor score -- probably in the bottom third of your class.  However, on the LSAT, you can miss over 30% of the questions and still end up with a pretty good score, in the top third of all test-takers.)  

Once you realize this fact, it opens up the exam for you.  The truth is, no one, no matter how brilliant, gets every question right on the LSAT.  Even people who receive “perfect” scores still usually get at least a handful of questions wrong.  (You can miss several questions and still get a 180.)  And it's possible to miss around 10 questions and still place above the 99th percentile.  This means you can completely blow one or two logic games and still get into Harvard!  Obviously, therefore, you can miss a large number of questions and still get a very good score.  

So forget about perfection - it's completely unnecessary.  Relax.  What you want to focus on is excellence, which is much more fun.  Once you know you can afford to miss questions throughout the exam, you can relax and enjoy the test.

What you want to focus on is maximizing the number of questions you get right.  There are different strategies for doing this.  One is understanding that there is no deduction for wrong answers, and therefore no penalty for guessing.  If you're left with 25 unanswered questions over the course of the test, and you simply guess on all of them, simple odds indicate that you'll get 20 percent of them right.  These five extra points can make a huge difference in your score.  Therefore, be sure to answer every question, even if you haven't even read them.  Again, there is no deduction for wrong answers, and therefore no penalty for guessing.

  Low-Hanging Fruit

Another key strategy is the principle of low-hanging fruit.  Picture yourself in an apple orchard.  The boss won't let you go home until you've picked 20 apples.  Some apples are high up on the tree, requiring a great deal of effort and time to get to.  Hundreds are easily within reach, simply waiting to be plucked.  Which are you going to grab?

The same principle applies to the LSAT.  You'll find that some questions on the LSAT appear incredibly easy.  Others will seem incredibly hard.  But guess what?  They're all worth the same amount!  Only a fool would waste precious time agonizing over the most difficult questions when they could spend that time cherry-picking on the easy ones.  Not only may you run out of time if you get hung up on tough questions, but you will also be much more mentally fatigued if you do manage to finish them, which means you'll be more likely to mess up on those you would've gotten easily when fresh.

For this reason, you should look for the easiest and most comfortable passages first when doing reading comprehension and logic games.  You'll find while preparing that some will appear much more approachable and straightforward than others.  You should hit these first, rack up some points, and let your momentum carry you into the tougher questions.  Then, even if you somehow don't figure those out, you'll still have a good score guaranteed - with guessing giving you one or two extra points on the toughest passage/game even if you don't manage to crack it.  Remember:  your goal is to get the maximum number of points in the short time allotted.

Don't get me wrong - ideally, you'll be able to figure out every game, and understand every passage, and your preparation will help you do so.  However, you always want to work smart before you work hard, and success on the LSAT is dependent on working smart by doing the easiest questions first.  Not only will this approach guarantee you the highest number of points, it will also maximize your chances of successfully completing the hardest questions.  It's simply much easier to solve a complex puzzle, or review a complex passage, when you know it's the last thing left to do, and you don't have to worry about anything else.  Your focus and concentration will be heightened, and you'll be able to attack the problem with maximum energy.

There are two important corollaries to this approach.  First, it is vital to realize that you are allowed to write in your test booklet.  You cannot make any stray marks on your answer key, but you can scribble all over your test booklet if you wish.  The Low-Hanging Fruit (LHF) approach requires that you note, in the upper corner of the page, the difficulty of any question you skip.  (Some observers suggest a “one check / two check” system to indicate level of difficulty, others suggest a plus or minus symbol.)  The purpose of the difficulty markings is to distinguish questions that are challenging but not overwhelming from those that are doable, but may take the longest amount of time and effort.  After finishing the easier questions, you'll first go back to the moderate questions, and only then on to the toughest ones.


The only potential downside to the LHF approach is that you may accidentally start filling in the wrong bubbles.  Always verify, when filling in the bubble, that the number on it corresponds to the number of the actual question you're answering.  After all, it won't matter if your answer's right if it's in the wrong place.


It is extremely important that you read everything carefully and thoroughly when taking the exam.  While time is an issue, it really won't matter if you answer every question if all your answers are wrong.  Often, a single missed word can completely change the nature of the question being asked, and lead to an incorrect answer.  Your preparation will enable you to read carefully at faster and faster rates.
4.  Keep Your Pencil Moving

It's easier to read carefully, and stay engaged, when you use your pencil to mark up passages and questions.  This can also help you note important aspects of reading comprehension passages for later reference.  Use your pencil to underline key phrases, circle key terms, and indicate argument structures.  Doing so will help keep your head in the game, and increase your comprehension in all sections.

  5.  Process of Elimination

Another helpful technique in answering LSAT questions is the Process of Elimination (POE).  Using the process can help clarify your thinking and move you along when you become confused.  The POE basically means that you eliminate obviously wrong answers first.  When unclear on which of several answers is correct, first eliminate the obviously wrong answers, and then focus on the ones that appear potentially correct.  Even if you only manage to narrow your choices down to 2 or 3, by doing so you have considerably increased your chances of guessing right on the question.

A related technique is to be sure to read every answer choice before selecting one.  Often, an early answer choice may appear correct, but then a later answer appears even better.  This may tip you off that you have missed something, or made a mistake in your reading.  Therefore, be sure to review all answer choices, and not go off half-cocked.

  6.  Choose the BEST Answer.

Sometimes you may feel that more than one answer would be acceptable.  In such cases, choose the answer which best responds to the specific query of the question.  Remember that an answer may be factually incorrect, or be one you disagree with, and yet be the right answer for the question.  

  7.  Set Your Priorities

While preparing for the LSAT, the exam should be your Number One priority.  Remember that the test is worth as much as four years of schoolwork.  Therefore, if a conflict arises between school and the exam, blow off the schoolwork.  I blew off classes entirely the week before the exam, and focused exclusively on preparation.  You can always make up ground on your class work later - you can't with the exam.

  B.  Logic Fundamentals

Much of the LSAT involves understanding and applying basic principles of logic.  These principles arise not only in logical reasoning questions, but are also implicit in analytical reasoning questions.  They even arise in the context of reading comp questions, as logical principles are inherent in the construction of the arguments many passages articulate.  If possible, it would probably be beneficial to take an entire logic course to master these principles.  However, even a basic understanding of key logic principles is very helpful.

  1.  Argument Structure

To begin with, it is good to understand the basic logical structure of an argument.  Arguments are comprised of premises and conclusions.  Premises can include facts, assertions, and assumptions, and they all combine to support the author's conclusion.  The conclusion is the “point” of the argument, and the premises are the reasons the author arrives at that point.  Again, premises may be stated facts or unstated assumptions.  In dissecting an author's argument, the reader should first identify what the author's point or conclusion is.  This will often appear at the very end of a passage, but may occur earlier on.  The reader should then identify the supporting facts or assertions the author makes to support that conclusion.  Finally, the reader should ask himself what assumptions the author is making to arrive at his conclusion.

The structure of an argument can be compared to a coffee table.  The conclusion is the table top, and the premises are the legs that support the table.

At times, the reader may be asked what necessary assumptions support the author's conclusion.  In these situations, a necessary assumption is like a table leg on a three-legged table - without any one leg, the table falls over, and the argument falls apart.

An example of this is the argument that the Supreme Court is responsible for the fact that George Bush is president today, because it stopped the recount in Florida.  A necessary assumption for this conclusion is that the recount would have changed the final result in Florida.  However, most observers now agree that the recount would not have changed the vote totals enough to change the outcome.  (I'll leave to the reader to decide if this was a good result.)  Therefore, this argument is flawed because of a faulty (necessary) assumption.  By knocking out the table leg, the conclusion falls.

  2.  If - Then Conditions

The bedrock of logical analysis is the recognition and understanding of “If - Then” conditional statements.  This basically involves getting your mind to work like a computer.  The good news is that once you realize how this works, it becomes very simple and straightforward to follow.  

An “If - Then” (IT) conditional statement is one that includes two variables (lets say variable A and variable B.)  With an IT statement, the existence of occurrence A necessitates the existence of variable B.  In other words, If A, Then B.  This can be written out as:   A® B.  

What's important to remember about IT statements is that when you're dealing with one, it always, always, always means that where there is an A, there is also a B.  While the real world is often confusing and chaotic, logical analysis takes place in the higher realm of mathematical certainty.  

To give an example of an IT statement, we can look at the hypothetical of a codependent couple who cannot be separated, who are “joined at the hip.”  Lets call them Alice and Bobby.  If you're presented with a passage that states that wherever Alice is, Bobby will also be, then you can represent this by thinking, If Alice, Then Bobby.  (Or, If A, Then B, or, even simpler, A ®B).

However, the above example assumes that the codependency is mutual (hence the “co”.)  This therefore also means that wherever Bobby is, Alice will be, or If Bobby, Then Alice (If B, Then A, or B®A.)

What is important to note is that the two above IT statements are completely different in meaning.  Many people will confuse the two, as described further below.  However, A®B means a very different thing than B®A.

Lets illustrate.  Lets say that Alice and Bobby split up, but Bobby is obsessed and starts stalking Alice every time she leaves her dorm.  As a result, Bobby starts showing up everywhere Alice goes.  This would mean that, outside of Alice's dorm room, A®B.  However, when Alice goes to bed, Bobby will go out to the bar and drink heavily.  Therefore, Alice will not be everywhere Bobby is, and there is no B®A.  In other words, A®B does not equal B®A.  IT conditional statements are one-way roads - if the obsession is mutual, you need two IT statements to properly represent it.

To give another example:  Lets assume that the President of the United States has to live at the White House.  This would mean that If you're the president, Then you have to live in Washington, D.C.  (P®WDC).  However, this would not mean that if you live in Washington D.C., Then you must be the president (WDC®P).  

If you get confused, just remember to follow the arrow.  Also remember that if you try to go backwards against the arrow, you'll become impaled.

  a.  Improper Reversals

The above statement (WDC®P) is an example of an Improper Reversal (IR).  Whenever someone reverses an IT statement and assumes that A®B means B®A, they are making an improper reversal.  While the above example highlights the insanity of such an approach, it is a mistake that most people make at some point when dealing with the LSAT (and often in other contexts.)  People are simply used to linking variables together, and if someone tells them in a passage that all people named Fred are flabby, they will assume that all flabby people are named Fred.  

However, if you think about it, this isn't true.  You could have all the Freds in the world be flabby and still have other flabby people remaining.  Therefore, it's important to train your mind to only recognize the IT statements that are explicitly stated in a passage.  This can best be done by writing out the IT statement in note format (Fred®Flabby) when it appears, and only applying the conditions in the strictest sense.  (Writing out the conditions in this manner will prove very helpful on many logic games, and also on certain logical reasoning questions.)  You will note this is much like applying (simple) mathematical formulas, and if you follow the formulas in a disciplined fashion, you should have no problem.  Remember - follow the arrow, and don't poke yourself by trying to go against it.

  b.  Improper Negation

There is another common error people make when dealing with IT statements.  Lets look at the presidency hypo again (If P, Then WDC.)  If we know this, does it mean that if you're not the president, then you must not live in Washington D.C.?  (If Not P, then Not WDC?)  Of course not.  Thousands of greedy lawyers also live in D.C.  Therefore, it is incorrect to assume that the negation of a IT statement is also true.  Such a flawed approach is known as an Improper Negation.  While the problem with such reasoning should again be obvious, this is also a mistake that many people make on the LSAT, and one that can also be avoided by careful application of your written IT formulas.  To apply the Flabby Fred hypothetical, just because all Freds are Flabby doesn't mean that if you're not named Fred, you can't be Flabby.  All the Freds in the world can be Flabby and still leave room for a Flabby Frank.  

  c.  The Contrapositive

However, there is one true statement you can take from an IT statement.  Lets combine the above two errors, and both reverse and negate the IT statement.  Looking at the Washington Hypo (P®WDC), this would transform into:  If you're Not living in Washington D.C., Then you're Not the President (Not WDC®Not P).  Is this true?  Yes!  And it always will be.  Whenever you both reverse and negate a valid IT statement, you end up with another valid IT statement.  This is know in logical terms as “The Contrapostive.”  Think of it as a double negative turning into a positive.  

The Contrapositive is useful because it will give you an extra formula to work with in diagramming logic games, and will therefore make it easier for you to make connections you might otherwise miss.

As you develop familiarity with the basic principles of logic, you may start to see friends and associates making improper reversals and negations in their arguments with you.  For example, I once told my brother that I thought there were people who were attractive in person, but didn't photograph well.  He denied this, saying that if someone was photogenic, they were also attractive.  Lets compare the statements.  I was basically disputing the idea that non-photogenic people were inherently unattractive (If Not Photogenic ® Not Attractive.)  He seemed to think I was saying that photogenic people were not attractive (If Photogenic ® Then Not Attractive), or the contrapositive; that only non-photogenic people were attractive (If Attractive ® Then Not Photogenic).  However, as you can imagine, there is a world of difference between these two positions, and there is no inherent conflict between the ideas that both photogenic and non-photogenic people can be attractive.  His response therefore missed my point.

Another example where I encountered an illogical response was when I was debating with someone the ability of people with disadvantaged backgrounds to achieve professional success.  I articulated my belief that even people of modest backgrounds could become successful through education and hard work.  He responded that I was wrong because there were children of wealthy people who had success handed to them.  As you can see, his response didn't really address my statement, and didn't really serve to strengthen or weaken my position.  I was basically arguing that if you studied and worked hard, then you could be successful (If SWH, Then $, or SWH®$).  He seemed to think I was saying that ONLY those people who studied and worked hard became successful (If $, Then SWH, or $®SWH).  Because he was unable to perceive my actual logical position, his response was really no response at all, as both his position and mine could freely coexist.

The above examples highlight the fact that whenever the word “Only” appears in sentence involving two conditions, an IT conditional statement is created, as the existence of one condition will then imply the existence of the other.  (If A only appears when B is around, then A®B.)  

The examples also highlight how effective mastery of the basic principles of logic can make someone a much more effective debater, thinker, and advocate.  When you can analyze things in an logical way, you will tend to create much stronger, more persuasive, and more effective arguments.  You will also be able to perceive the flaws in an opponent's argument much more handily.  This can be fun as well as helpful in school and work.

Note:  In determining the validity of an IT statement, don't worry about the actual truth or validity of the statement in the real world.  You're dealing with hypotheticals here, and if the passage tells you that all Freds are flabby, assume it's true for purposes of the passage.  It doesn't matter that your actual friend Frederick may be totally buff.

  III.      Question Types

There are three question types on the exam:  Reading Comprehension, Logical Reasoning, and Analytical Reasoning.  While your preparation materials will give you detailed strategies for dealing with each question type, I have noted below some of the key ideas to keep in mind when approaching them.

Logical Reasoning questions will comprise about 50% of the exam.  Reading Comprehension problems will comprise slightly more than 25%.  Analytical Reasoning (Games) will comprise slightly less than 25%.  It is therefore imperative that you master Logical Reasoning questions.  It is also important to remember that if you do well on RC and LR questions, the games can pretty much be icing on the cake.  Theoretically, if one gets all their RC and LR questions right, one would end up with 76 points, or close to a 160, before even starting the games.  If one then proceeded to guess on all the games, one would probably get five points for guessing (Odds give you one out of every five correct, with 25 questions.)  That would leave you with over 80 points, or right around the 90th percentile.  

Of course, there's no guarantee that you'll get every single LR and RC question correct, and you don't want to leave your score up to fate.  You should be able to master most Games questions as well, and get most of these right too.  However, it's good to know that even if you get one or two tough games that you simply can't crack, it's still very possible to do very, very well - even up to the 95th or 99th percentile.  

Because Reading Comprehension questions are usually the most straightforward, it's usually best to start with these, and get them out of the way.  Logical Reasoning is probably the second easiest, and the most important question type on the exam (due to their large number).  You should therefore do these second, and master them thoroughly.  Becoming comfortable with the relatively straightforward RC and LR questions should be comparatively easy, and you can then devote the bulk of your time and energy to mastering the Games and doing practice tests.

Analytical Reasoning Games are often the most difficult for people, so you should save these for last, but be sure you have plenty of time left to work on them.  Knowing you have over 75% of your learning work already covered should help you relax and focus on mastering the less important Game sets.

Remember:  the more practice questions of each type you work through, the more you'll master them, and the better you'll do on the exam.

  A.  Reading Comprehension

Reading Comprehension is probably the most straightforward question type.  It basically involves a reading passage followed by questions relating to the passage.  These questions measure your ability to read and understand complex passages and arguments.  This ability has probably already been developed in school, but can be sharpened further.

Reading Comp questions are excellent candidates for the Low-Hanging Fruit (LHF) approach.  You will see that some passages are much easier to read and understand than others, and you should always hit these first.  While you will never need to bring in any outside knowledge or information when answering these questions, unfamiliar or technical passages will generally take longer to comprehend.  

There are various ways to approach the passages themselves, but my favorite is to review the questions to get a quick sense of what to look for, and then to do a quick skim of the passage itself.  (Often, this can simply be a review of the first line in every paragraph, and a review of the last sentence of the passage.)  After this quick skim I'm ready to absorb what's really being discussed, and I carefully read and digest the passage material.  

It is very important to use your pencil to keep yourself involved and focused on reading comp passages.  Underline key terms, circle key words, note the argument structure and conclusions.  This will both keep your mind focused on the passage and make it easier to locate key sections later on.  While reading, ask yourself what the author's main point is, and why he believes it.

When you get to the questions, carefully review the question and possible answers.  Then look for the specific section of the passage that relates to the question.  (Some questions are in reference to the passage in its entirety, but some can be answered by reference to one or two sentences in the passage.)

Reading Comp questions are very subject to attack by working with repeated practice questions.  The ability to quickly understand written material is very susceptible to development through repetition.  You should also practice your Comp skills by reviewing the editorial page of your favorite newspaper every day.  Review the various editorials and commentaries, using a pen to mark up the passages, and ask yourself what the author's point is, and why he believes it.  

  B.  Logical Reasoning Questions

Logical Reasoning (LR) questions are based upon short passages that generally express a position or argument.  Logical Reasoning is the one question type that doesn't lend itself readily to the LHF approach.  Because most passages are shorter and of roughly equal difficulty, you may want to do them in the order they appear.  However, you can decide this for yourself after working through a few of them.

Although LR passages are much shorter than Reading Comp passages, you should still review them in a very engaged manner, using your pencil to underline, circle, and diagram.  If you see any IT conditions within the passage, you may want to diagram them out to help you answer any questions relating to argument structure.  You should also note the author's point, the supporting premises, and any necessary assumptions the author seems to be making in reaching his conclusion.

It is also extremely important to read the question stem carefully when answering LR's.  Often one missed word can completely change the nature of the question.

  C.  Analytical Reasoning Questions

Analytical Reasoning Questions, or Games, are perhaps the most difficult element of the LSAT for most people.  If you have a natural ability with this section, you should be able to attain a very good score.  However, even if you're not initially a natural with these games, you can become much better with practice.  Games lend themselves very readily to repeated practice with various game types.

To begin with, LHF is perhaps most effective in the Games context.  Games can very considerably in difficulty and complexity, and you should definitely hit the easiest ones first.  Remember, if you're able to take out several games successfully, you can always guess on the last one or two and still end up with a good score.  Generally, as you get a couple out of the way, you'll also become more relaxed and confident, which will help you do better on the tougher games.

It is essential that you read Game intros very carefully, and fully diagram all the various relationships involved with each game.  There are usually at least several IT conditions within each game, and you'll need to diagram these, as well as their contrapositives.  These will be the keys to getting you through a difficult game.  

The essential element in cracking a game, however, is creating the proper overall diagram.  You should always, always, always diagram a game, simply because only a tiny minority of people are capable of solving these puzzles in their head.  Even if they are, they're much more likely to make an error at some point without the mechanics of the diagram in front of them to help them verify their conclusions.  There are various general diagram/game types, and the more actual games you practice on, the better you'll get at recognizing and resolving the various scenarios.

Once you have the keys and diagram in front of you, you can generally plug in the conditions they give you with each question, and find the answer.  It is very important to remember, however, that each question stands alone.  You should never take the conditions involved in one question and apply them to a later question.  The slate is wiped clean after each question.  (This is why you need a good eraser on your pencil - you'll have to frequently clean off your diagrams.)

While games may appear difficult and frustrating at first, remember what they are:  Games.  Enjoy them, and enjoy the fact that you can get much better at them with repeated practice.  This can be a very satisfying experience.  You should definitely start out ignoring the clock on these, until you've had a couple weeks to develop your game skills.  Once you've polished them up a bit, you can start accelerating.

  IV.      Preparation Strategies

The book I recommend for you will lay out a general preparation schedule.  However, you should also keep in mind the following basic principles when preparing for your exam, some of which are discussed above:

In making the test as easy as possible, realize that the test may involve a significant amount of training, if one is to excel.  However, the training need not be unpleasant.  Think of it as a form of conditioning, just like conditioning for an athletic activity.  Pace yourself, but build yourself up as the exam approaches, so that you are performing at peak capacity on exam day.  

The more advance time you give yourself for preparation, the easier it will be to achieve your maximum potential.

Remember that you can miss a number of questions and still score above the 99th percentile.  (and even get a “perfect” score.)  Forget about perfection - just strive for excellence.  This means you can completely blow or not comprehend various questions and still do very well.  Keep in mind this built-in cushion.

Remember that the mind is a muscle, and can be developed just like any other muscle.  The LSAT involves very specific skills that are usually not very developed in most people, but can be significantly developed with proper training.  

The brain muscle must also be developed to sustain over a prolonged period of time for the exam - this is why repeated practice tests are necessary, so you develop the ability to maintain your focus and apply your mental skills for the duration of the exam.  

The basic components of your training program will be 1) developing skills and becoming familiar with individual question types, 2) practicing those question types and skills in an untimed context, 3) practicing those question types and skills in a timed context, 4) practicing entire exams in an untimed context, and 5) practicing entire exams in a timed context, under test conditions.  

Take an initial diagnostic to see where your toughest areas are.

However -- Don't worry about your first score.  It's meaningless.  You can completely bomb your first practice test and still ace the exam.  Just use it to see where your general strengths/weaknesses are.  

Forget about speed when first approaching question types.  Work slowly and surely until you understand the concepts thoroughly.  Then work on improving your speed.  

Repeated practice with various examples from each question type is essential to mastering the LSAT.  Generally speaking, the more you practice, the more comfortable with the test you'll be.

Practice specific sections first - work up to full tests later.  To develop your endurance, first develop your skills on a specific question type (untimed), then work through various exam sections with numerous questions of that type (untimed), then start working on your speed until you're performing each section under timed conditions.  Follow this process for each question type before attacking entire exams.  You should also probably split up your first few exams into two mini-exams, instead of jumping right from individual sections to complete exams.

You may also want to forget about timing during your first couple practice tests.  It may be helpful to develop your endurance before turning it into more of a sprint.  You should find, both with individual sections and entire practice tests, that your own impatience will generally be enough to make you start working faster and with more efficiency.

Eventually, however -- develop mental muscles, endurance, and confidence by repeated practice tests under test conditions.  The more of these you can do, the better.

Give yourself time between your first few full practice tests (a day or two at least) to give your mind time to recuperate.  Later, try to do them closer together - two or more in a day, if possible.  This kind of strength will make the actual test a cakewalk.  (I remember being surprised by how easy the actual test was in comparison to all my drilling.)

You may want to listen to some non-lyric music, like classical, when first preparing for the exam and during initial practice tests.  However, make sure there is no music or other distraction during your final few practice tests - these must be as similar to actual test conditions as possible.  Otherwise, you'll probably be distracted by the changes.

Work hard in the weeks leading up to the exam - especially the final two or three.  Build up your mental toughness and endurance.  

Use the same pencil, watch, etc. on practice exams that you will on the real exam.  The closer you reproduce the circumstances of the test when training, the more relaxed and comfortable (and brilliant) you'll be.  

The week before the exam, take practice exams at the same time of the day the actual exam will be administered.  Make sure your biological clock is attuned to performing at peak levels at that specific time.  (Make sure your sleep cycle is regular and attuned to when you'll need to wake up as well.)

Consider taking a week off from classes the week before the exam to focus exclusively on practice tests.  Remember that the exam is worth roughly the same as your entire collegiate G.P.A.

Do not study the day or night before the exam!  Get plenty of rest - see a movie, relax.  Make sure your brain is well rested for the actual exam - alertness and lack of fatigue will be key.  If you've been training steadily for several weeks or more, there'll be no need for further work (and if you're not prepared yet, bag it and take the next exam.)  You need to be rested for the actual exam, or your hard work won't be reflected.

Make yourself familiar with the exam site several days before the actual exam.  Arrive at least 45 minutes early to adjust yourself to the environment, and so you won't feel rushed.  Bring an (amusing) book or magazine to read as you wait.  

Pay attention to your physical comfort level when taking the actual exam.  Dress in easily-removed layers so you can adjust your comfort level to whatever's going on in the room.  If you find snacks/drink helpful when practicing, keep them handy in the exam.  (Watch out for bathroom issues!  Your practice exam experience should alert you to any problems.)  You can't eat or drink during the exam itself, so don't do so during practice exams.  However, if a snack or juice helps you during practice breaks, make sure you have them handy for the real break.  

The more comfortable and confident you are, the clearer your head will be, and the better you'll do.  The more you prepare, the more comfortable and confident you'll be (In addition to being actually prepared!)  Don't be afraid of a little adrenaline - that can help you excel.  Use these tips to maximize your comfort and confidence.  (In short, understand the exam thoroughly, prepare extensively, and become familiar with test conditions.)

If you prepare adequately, you'll go into your exam relaxed, comfortable, and ready to kick some ass.  

  V.  Quick Tips

The following are basic tips that can help you maximize your performance the day of the exam.  Some are discussed in greater detail above.  Many are things that personally helped me maximize my score.

    Read carefully and thoroughly.

Fill in all questions, even if guessing.  (No penalty for guessing.)  The extra points you can get for guessing on unfinished problems could significantly increase your overall percentile score.

Easy questions are worth as much as hard ones.  Do easy/shorter questions/games/passages first.  Leave hard/longer ones for later.  (note these in your booklet.)  This approach may even leave you with extra time to devote to the harder questions, or to check your work with.

Be very careful to fill in the proper circle for each question, especially when jumping around.

Use Process of Elimination.  Eliminate obviously wrong answers first.  

(Rely heavily on process of elimination.  Many answers will be clearly incorrect.  Once you begin to narrow the possible answers down to a few, the test will begin to appear much more tame and manageable.)  

Remember to write in your booklet -- Stay engaged by use of underlining, check marks, circling, etc.

Use a mechanical pencil, medium lead.  (Avoid problems with lead breaking, needing sharpening.)  Make sure there's an effective eraser on the pencil.  Make sure it's a Number 2 lead.  Bring extra, identical pencils to the exam.

Reading comp - read questions, skim passage, then carefully read passage again before answering questions.

Logic Games:  Always draw out a diagram to answer questions with.

Watch for trick answers.  Some answers may be objectively true or accurate, but do not specifically answer the actual question posed.

Use the same pencil, watch, etc. on practice exams that you will on the real exam.  The closer you reproduce the circumstances of the test when training, the more relaxed and comfortable (and brilliant) you'll be.  

Pay attention to your physical comfort level when taking the actual exam.  Dress in easily-removed layers so you can adjust your comfort level to whatever's going on in the room.  If you find snacks/drink helpful during breaks when practicing, keep them handy at the exam (food/drinks may only be consumed during breaks.)

  VI. Conclusion

When preparing for the LSAT, your goal should be to achieve your maximum potential ability - to perform at the highest level you're capable of.  While it may be true that different people have differently levels of aptitude for tests like the LSAT, most people significantly underestimate what they're capable of doing, and fall far short of their actual potential.  Your challenge is to avoid that trap.  I believe that the vast majority of students will be amazed at how well they can perform if they prepare with the true intensity and drive they're capable of.