Many of my students have told me versions of the same thing, especially if they've been self-studying. It goes something like this:
"I'm trying to improve, but I've hit a plateau. I'm always -5 or -10 on Logical Reasoning (or Reading Comprehension), and I can't figure out what's wrong. My misses are all over the map, and there's no pattern or consistency to what I miss. What do I do? It doesn't seem like it's any particular question type, I just don't get better."
Sound familiar? It should. It happens to everyone studying for the LSAT. At a certain point, it's tough to figure out what might be going on or why you're missing those last few questions. But there's hope. Because there is always a pattern.
No matter how random it looks, or how inconsistent, I guarantee you there is a pattern to what you miss and why. Last winter, I had a student with this very issue. He couldn't understand why he continued to miss 4-6 questions over and over on Logical Reasoning. He sent me the practice sessions, showed me the the ones he got wrong. Sure enough, he missed different types of questions without rhyme or reason. Parallel reasoning, strengthen, must be true. All over the map.
However, many of his mistakes DID share a common theme. They all involved making use of and understanding the conditional relation. One, for instance, was a Justify the Conclusion question where the conclusion expressed a conditional. Another question was a parallel reasoning question. It made use of a hypothetical syllogism (basically, nested conditionals). A few were flaw and weakness questions, and guess what? They all made use of wrong inferences based on the conditional relation.
So, we drilled the conditional relation, its implications and its mistaken inferences. He went from missing 4-6 to missing 1. Across both sections.
Of course, that's a relatively simple pattern. Others were sometimes more complicated. One of my students kept missing LR questions that were science based or experimental. No particular reason; mental block. Pointing it out when a long way to removing it. Another kept missing questions where the conclusion expressed a causal relation. I could go on. The point is that there is always a pattern. You may not see it, but it's there. The good news is once the pattern is identified, it's easy to fix. Sometimes it just takes a fresh look to help see the pattern.
Too many of my students attempt to find every inference, diagram every option, and brute force every question. They wonder why they can only complete two or at most three Logic Games before time is called. They plead with me to make them faster at brute force, to give them strategies for diagramming everything, all at once.
I tell them no.
You should never brute force a problem. You shouldn't need to. You should never diagram every option. You shouldn't need to. If you do, you're already lost, I tell them. Work smarter, take only what you need.
"I can't!" they say, "I'm not good enough!"
I've never seen anyone not good enough. I've never tutored someone who just can't draw inferences, or who just can't make deductions. We all make deductions all the time. It's past 6p. The coffee shop closes at 6p. Deduction: the coffee shop is closed. If my wife were home, then her car would be in the garage. Her car is not in the garage. Therefore, she is not home. And so on, and so on. Every day. Deduction upon deduction. We do this all the time. The only thing different about the Logic Games is that it's a closed, finite universe of limited possibilities. And they're weird, unfamiliar possibilities divorced from our everyday.
But essentially no different.
However, my students don't trust themselves. And sometimes, they don't trust me. When I tell them they should never have to brute force a problem, they stare incredulously, or they smirk, or they think my years of teaching philosophy gives me something they don't have. Until I show them that it's easy. It just takes practice, a little bit of reflection, and a belief that they're good enough. Soon, logic games become fun. And did I mention? Most of my students reach a perfect score on the Logic Games. Imagine that.
"My hat must be White." said the third candidate.
"Why?" asked the Chair.
"Otherwise, it is not a contest. The game is rigged. Unless you were to whisper the color of the hat in someone's ear as you put it on them, the game could not otherwise be won. There would be no winner. It would be impossible, and thus not a game at all. Just a farce.
If I cannot see my own hat, and I can't see anyone else's, then I have no information with which to make the right deductions. I'm guessing, and so is everyone else, for as long as we're in that room and the lights are off. So, I must have everything I need to solve the problem without going into the room. The room doesn't matter since it offers no new information. But you said that this contest could decide the Chair, and that means it must have a winner, and more importantly, someone must be able to actually win through deduction alone. If that's true, then there's only one deduction to be made: the hats on all of us must be White. Three people, three white hats. Everyone with the same hat. The winner is simply the one who deduces that if the game can be won, nothing else is needed. For the only way anyone can win is if everyone could win. All of our hats must be white.
The real deduction though comes down to you, and what I think of you.
Are you honest? If so, it's a real contest. The game can be won and my hat must be white. You gave everyone a fair chance, and we all had the opportunity to reach the same conclusion I did.
Or are you false? In which case the game was a joke. You would have simply told the winner you chose in advance the color of his hat.
It all comes down to you."
I said in part 1 that this isn't really a riddle at all. It's a point of view. It comes down to how you see the world: honest or false. You have to decide that the game can be won. Once you make that decision, the game is easy.
Logic games are no different. I have said to many students many times, the LSAT is not a test. It is an instrument. And so it cannot be false. It must be honest. Every Logic Game must be solvable in under 9 minutes. And it must be solvable without brute force. What you have to do, first and foremost, is believe the game can be won. Won without tricks, won on time, and won by the rules. The game is winnable. It must be. Or else it's not a game; it's a farce.
Students don't want to hear this. They want the magic bullet, the promised omniscience. But everything hinges on your state of mind. You have to know the game is winnable, and you have to trust that knowledge.
On a quiet evening, my wife and I were sitting with our kitties in front of the fire. Warm, happy, and loved, there was no more perfect time to reflect upon LSAT logic games...
There is a well-known logic problem. It has many forms, but I like it best adapted to my field. It goes like this:
A Philosophy department was seeking a new Chair. There were three candidates for the position (that's how you know it's fiction: there would never be THREE candidates for being Chair. Someone has to be dragged kicking and screaming into the position and kept there with cookies.). To decide the next Chair, the Chairperson declared there would be a logic contest.
"I have three white hats, and two black hats," she said. "In a moment, I shall take the three of you into the conference room. I will then place a hat on each person's head, either White or Black. Only, there's a catch. The room is pitch black. The windows are covered, and the light is off. In the darkness, you will not be able to see the hat on anyone else's head, and you will not know the color of the hat that is placed on your own head. The first candidate to correctly identify the color of the hat that MUST be on their own head shall be the new Chair."
The Chair and two of the candidates got up from their seats and began to walk into the pitch black conference room. The third candidate remained seated. "Aren't you coming?" asked the Chair. "No need," the candidate replied. "I already know what color my hat must be." Shocked, the Chair gestured for the candidate to proceed. "Do tell," she said. The candidate gave her answer, and was elected the new Chair on the spot.
What did the candidate say?
(To help, there are no "gimmick" answers or trick responses, e.g. "she said her hat was black because all of the hats are black in a dark room." No nonsense like that. Just standard logic.)
I've given this riddle to my classes for years. Not one has ever gotten it right (without Googling it...). What is remarkable is that it is not a difficult riddle at all. In fact, I would argue it's not even a riddle, but a testament to your state of mind. You have to see the world a certain way. And if you CAN see the world that way, you have the most important ingredient in solving logic games quickly and accurately on the LSAT.
For the record, Bumblebee growled, Kik threw up, and Echo rolled over. The wife, after two glasses of wine, threw a pillow. That is the sum total of their answers.
From the military to business, I often hear versions of the old acronym, KISS: Keep it simple, stupid!
Simplicity is always the problem. Logic games often appear simple upon reflection. Students read "unlocked" logic game solutions, or watch YouTube videos, or buy prep books, and it always seems so simple. Every inference is laid out. All of the connections you missed in the frenzy of the test are now apparent. "Oh, if only I had seen that inference!"
I'm reminded of chess. We amateurs marvel at the games of Grandmasters. Their solutions are so elegant, their combinations brilliant. It looks, in retrospect, so simple when the game is laid out before us, commentary in hand. "If only I could see what they see! If only I could calculate moves in advance like the Grandmasters!"
Both Alekhine and Reti, two very different Grandmasters, were asked the same question: "How many moves ahead do you calculate when you play?" Alekhine, who was famous for long, brilliant continuations, answered "Twenty." Reti, famous for his irritation, answered "one." Chess amateurs aspire to have the nearly godlike calculative powers of an Alekhine, calculating many moves ahead. Chess masters aspire to be Reti, and calculate only one move ahead.
As it is in chess, so it goes in logic games. The prep books and YouTube videos lead you to aspire to godlike powers of insight, able to unfold inferences at a glance. They lead you to think you should find the "truth" of the game, calculating inference upon inference until there is nothing left. Pure, shining insight amidst daunting complexity. If only you could master every inference, every problem would be simple.
I think you should want to be like Reti. See only what you need. Find only the inferences necessary to answer the questions. Look one move ahead, and find what is obvious and immediate. Would that not be much simpler? And yet it is so much more difficult. That one move, the right move, is much harder to find and takes vastly more skill.
Unfortunately, prep books and videos don't teach you to be Reti. They want you to be Alekhine. What is missing is that crucial step towards mastery: knowing how to find the right inferences, and only those. That is what they don't know how to do. So they throw acronyms at you, and they teach you kinds and types and strategies. But they don't teach you how to see only one move ahead. They don't show you how to find the right move.
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