How To Choose LSAT Answer Choices – Different Strokes For Different Folks
When it comes to LSAT Prep, are you better off:
“Working hard” or “Hardly working”?
When it comes to LSAT preparation, some people “work hard” and some people “hardly work”. The horrible reality is that often the people who “hardly work” do better than the people who “work hard”. This seems unjust. There are a number of possible reasons for this. It is important that you not only work hard but that you work effectively.
In the first of this series of “Thoughts On LSAT Preparation” posts I introduced the “READ” objective. Because the LSAT is a test of reading and reasoning, the LSAT should be thought of as the “READ” test. “READ” is an acronym that stands for:
“Reading Effectively And Deducing”
In teaching my own Toronto LSAT preparation courses I have noted that people have more trouble understanding information than reasoning with that information.
Effective Work is aimed at improving your accuracy with respect to the “READ” objective.
If you “work hard”, you must “work hard” in relation to what the LSAT actually tests – i.e. your ability to understand what you are being told and why.
The LSAT Preparation Objective
Well, obviously to get more right answers. That said: the question is what is required in order to get more right answers? The LSAT is a multiple choice test where you receive credit for choosing the correct answer. Choosing an answer requires that you decide which of the five answer choices is best. Therefore:
LSAT Preparation is:
First, about learning how to make better decisions in the context of multiple choice;
Second, making those decisions accurately (selecting the correct answer) and effectively (selecting the answer quickly).
Remember: When it comes to answering LSAT questions:
“Some people know what to do, but can’t do what they know!”
Think of LSAT preparation as a process that is designed to improve the accuracy and effectiveness of your decision making ability – i.e. to make better decisions.
Technique and Approach Applied to LSAT Preparation
Many people (encouraged by LSAT books and courses) approach LSAT preparation with the objective of learning lots of techniques and approach. Often the techniques are a function of the category of question. On this point I agree with the following comment from Kyle Pasewark:
“The key to LSAT success is efficiency under pressure. It’s not non-game understanding of a playbook or fooling around with Ken-Ken on Sunday morning, but being able to execute when it counts, i.e., answering 5 sections (4 graded) of about 25 questions apiece in 35 minutes per section. LSAT prep books’ nearly incomprehensible techniques won’t help you do that. They’re selling materials, not paying attention to the point—taking the exam under tight time conditions.
What’s the answer? Simplify. The LSAT is a predictable exam, and if every technique that you need to answer every type of LSAT question doesn’t fit on two or three pieces of paper (or 4 or 5 index cards) by exam day, you don’t sufficiently understand the structure of the LSAT, will have too much muddle in your head and won’t be able to get your highest LSAT score. Not only won’t you be able to remember several hundred pages of techniques (or even ten), but you haven’t really grasped how to simplify the LSAT into a manageable range of possible questions. But if you have command of a few, clear techniques, you’ll know what the next step is to get to the right answer: quickly, confidently and without panic.”
Certainty and the LSAT Decision– The Confidence Continuim
When you choose an LSAT answer choice, how certain are you that it is right? Your confidence can range from 0% certainty to 100% certainty. You can have no certainty (blind guess – 0% right up to absolute certainty – 100%). When it comes to the LSAT, 0% certainty is more likely than 100%. In fact, it is almost impossible to be 100% certain of the answer to an LSAT question. Why? Because, the emotional fallout of taking the LSAT is too extreme. For the vast majority of people, they experience the LSAT as:
- being under tremendous time pressure to choose an answer choice; and
- being very uncertain of what answer choice to choose.
What factors determine how you choose LSAT answer choices?
The process of choosing an LSAT answer choice will engage all aspects of your mind and personality.
These aspects include:
- Intelligence – Cognitive – your intelligence – you must have the mental capacity to read and reason with the information.
- Emotions – Affective – your emotions – you need enough stress to be motivated, but not so much stress that you are incapacitated. Achieving your optimal LSAT score requires that you control the “emotional fallout” associated with the LSAT.
“As go your emotions, so goes your LSAT score!”
- Conative – how you use your intelligence and emotions to make decisions
According to the Free Dictionary “conation” is:
“The aspect of mental processes or behavior directed toward action or change and including impulse, desire, volition, and striving.”
People with similar intelligence and emotional makeup may have different styles of deciding on an answer choice. The “style of decision” is a function of how one uses intelligence to solve problems. This explains why some people with high intelligence perform poorly (the paralysis of analysis) on the LSAT and vice versa (any decision is better than no decision).
According to Kathy Kolbe in her book The Conative Connection, different personality types will use different aspects of their personality to dominate the decision process. Examples of different decision styles include:
Fact Finder – the instinctive way we gather and share information.
Follow Thru – the instinctive way we arrange and design.
Quick Start – the instinctive way we deal with risk and uncertainty.
Implementor – the instinctive way we handle space and tangibles.
When it comes to choosing an LSAT answer choice, the instinctive way that you deal with uncertainty (“Quick Start”) will be key. For example, when it comes to LSAT logic games, people have trouble getting started. There is no right or wrong way to choose answer choices. There is no right or wrong way to prepare. This point is recognized by prospective LSAT test takers. For example see the following discussion thread from one of the boards:
This discussion thread contains information about student experiences with various LSAT prep courses. The responses were interesting. However, the real question is NOT what course or book worked for someone else. The question should be:
“Given the particular way that I make decisions in the context of uncertainty, what would be the best way for me to prepare? What is the best way for me to make difficult choices – less difficult for me?”
A Case Study – Two Test Takers
Mr. Analysis vs. Mr. Blink
At the risk of oversimplification let’s introduce you to two LSAT test takers.
Introducing Mr. Analysis – We all know somebody like him. He is a slow, contemplative, methodical decision maker. He seeks all relevant information. He craves detail. He then attempts to incorporate all of the relevant information into his decision. He is probably a brilliant student of history. His research is superb. His analysis is exhaustive. At the end of the day he almost always makes a strong decision. However, he sometimes becomes paralyzed by his analysis. He has difficulty making a distinction between “major factors” and “minor factors”.
Introducing Mr. Blink – He doesn’t seek lots of information. In fact, he seems bothered by any information. He doesn’t like too much detail. He is a big picture thinker. He seems to operate almost by instinct. In truth, he is basing his decision on the most important factors. He does distinguish between “major factors” and “minor factors”. He also makes strong decisions. He is the kind of decision maker described by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Blink.
Mr. Blink makes decisions by considering the major factors.
Note that both Mr. Analysis and Mr. Blink make good decisions. It’s just they make decisions differently.
(As I write this I am reminded that during the 1970s the LSAT included a section called “Practical Judgment”. This question type required test takers to distinguish between “Major Factors” and “Minor Factors” that were relevant to a decision”. The “Major Factors” were more general and less detail oriented. See:
It is important to recognize that you cannot change the kind of decision maker that you are. The kind of LSAT preparation that you do must be suitable for the style that you use to make decisions. For example:
Mr. Analysis needs to make sure that he doesn’t become “Mr. Paralysis Of Analysis”. He needs to proceed more quickly based on broad criteria. Mr. Analysis must learn that he can make accurate decisions without incorporating every detail into the process.
Mr. Blink needs to learn to not blink too quickly. He must learn to read more carefully so that he considers how specific details influence the broader picture.
In other words, every decision maker needs to prepare in a way that maximizes the benefits of his thinking style and minimizes the risks associated with it.
Decision Making Styles And LSAT Logic Games
Logic Games (Analytical Reasoning) is a high anxiety area of the LSAT. It is the section of the LSAT that best illuminates different styles of decision making.
Mr. Analysis would be more likely to approach the section by reading the conditions, trying to make lots of inferences, and generally taking a long time before answering the questions. Mr. Analysis would likely find it difficult to begin the process of answering the questions. Mr. Analysis would not feel confident that he had made all the relevant inferences. (Most LSAT books suggest the approach of Mr. Analysis. I.e. make all relevant inferences and then begin the questions.)
Mr. Blink would be more likely to begin the questions and discover the inferences as he went along. (An LSAT book that advocates the “just get started” and “figure it out as you go along” approach is “Big Fat Genius Guide To Logic Games”. This is an interesting book – must reading for the Mr. Analysis school of LSAT Prep – and no, that is not an ad for the book.)
Remember that Mr. Analysis and Mr. Blink represent two different styles of decision making. Neither is right or wrong. Each must use the kind of LSAT (“READ Preparation”) preparation that is appropriate for him.
For the record, there are few, if any LSAT Logic Games where it is necessary to make many inferences prior to addressing the questions!