Life is full of logical arguments. Logical arguments are simple chains of statements people make to explain something they believe or notice about themselves, other people or the world at large.
For example: “I love to hike, except when it rains, so I had a great hike last weekend.” “Practice makes perfect. If my sister practices the piano, she will become a concert pianist.” “I feel sick. I should not have eaten the whole pizza.”
People normally respond to such arguments with a reassuring nod or smile. Not lawyers. Lawyers say things like: “Do you still like hiking if it snows but does not rain?” “Does everyone who practices become a concert pianist?” “How do you know it was the pizza?”
Lawyers love to pick apart arguments to see how they work the way engineers deconstruct machines and football coaches analyze plays. This is the ability tested by the logical reasoning section on the LSAT.
The section’s fast pace and tricky phrasing make it difficult. High performance requires skill and sustained focus. Overlooking or misunderstanding one word in an argument can make all the difference between a right and wrong answer.
Fortunately, the questions on the logical reasoning section follow similar patterns. Like the rest of the test, logical reasoning can be mastered through practice — with the right plan and study habits.
Focus on the following five steps:
— Break down an argument into its component parts.
— Distinguish methods of reasoning.
— Know how to approach different question types.
— Identify the best answer.
— Practice methodically to identify your weak points.
Break Down an Argument Into Its Component Parts
Almost every kind of question on the logical reasoning section presents a logical argument and asks you to do something to it, like strengthen it, find its flaw or compare it to another argument.
To work with an argument, you need to understand the function of each of its parts.
Every complete argument has a conclusion. In the examples cited earlier, they are: “I had a great hike last weekend.” “My sister will become a concert pianist.” “I should not have eaten the whole pizza.”
The parts of the argument that lead to the conclusion are the premises . Confusing conclusions with premises is a common pitfall. To master the logical reasoning section, you need to be able to spot conclusions flawlessly.
One way to do this is to look for words that signal conclusions, like “so” and “therefore,” and words that signal premises like “because” and “if.” Another way is to ask yourself which part of the argument follows from the rest. Like any habit, finding conclusions can be tricky at first, but eventually feels effortless.
Distinguish Methods of Reasoning
Although every complete logical argument has premises and a conclusion, they do not all proceed the same way. Some arguments are based on causation: “Eating the whole pizza caused me to feel ill.” Others are based on conditional reasoning: “If my sister practices piano, then she will become a concert pianist.” Other arguments rely on analogies, definitions or other kinds of reasoning.
[Read: What Is a Good LSAT Score?]
While we use a range of arguments in everyday life, their nuances are not obvious. It is easy to mix up different kinds of logic, and some of the trickiest questions on the LSAT rely on this trap. If you don’t have training in logic, consider free or paid study materials and courses to build this fundamental skill.
Know How to Approach Different Question Types
While the same questions never reappear exactly on scored logical reasoning sections, all questions tend to fall into roughly a dozen categories based on what the question asks you to do or to find in the argument presented. Some questions ask you to find the argument’s assumption while others ask for its main point. Some ask you to strengthen the conclusion while others ask you to weaken it.
LSAT t est prep companies vary in how they name and classify each question type. They also approach each type of question with different strategies. Whichever methods work for you, the key is to apply them reliably and consistently. If you perfect your approach to each question type, then the questions will never surprise you no matter how hard they get.
Identify the Best Answer
Unlike the logic games section, the answer choices on the logical reasoning section are rarely black and white. Often, you must choose the best answer among several imperfect choices.
[Read: How to Set Up LSAT Logic Games]
With practice, you can learn some of the tricks the LSAT uses to deflect you away from the right answer or lure you toward a wrong answer. Zeroing in on the argument’s conclusion, correctly identifying its method of reasoning and approaching it strategically based on its question type will help keep you from being led astray.
Beware of decision paralysis. If you can’t find the right answer or feel stuck between competing choices, take a guess, flag the question and move on. You can always come back for a fresh look.
Practice Methodically to Identify Your Weak Points
Once you feel comfortable with the parts of an argument, the methods it uses and the kinds of questions the LSAT asks about it, hone your skills with regular practice sessions. Practice will only get you so far unless it is focused and methodical.
After you finish a section, carefully review your work, analyze your errors, identify your weaknesses and devote extra time to addressing them. The only way to improve is to build up your skills. After all, if you want to become a concert pianist, you need to practice carefully.
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