The “Roll the Dice” Flaw

“Find the flaw” LSAT questions are both common and difficult. There are a lot of fallacies, and some of them are quite subtle.  The answer choices use “LSAT jargon” to describe each fallacy, not textbook Latin. That means you have to know the fallacy and the special LSAT terminology for it to answer the question with speed and confidence.

I recently ran across a “find the flaw” question that totally stumped me. I guessed one answer (with no confidence) on a timed test, then came back to blind review and picked another answer–still without any certainty. Both my choices turned out to be wrong, so I looked up the answer and promised to write a blog post about it. (I recommend this same procedure to students who want a 99th percentile score–you haven’t really mastered a question until you either know you got it right  or you write an essay about why you got it wrong.)

The question I had trouble with was PrepTest 65, Secton 4, #26. I won’t violate copyright by printing it here, so here’s a new problem with the same features. (If you own “10 Actual, Official LSAT PrepTests Volume V” you can find the actual question on page 143.

Nikola Tesla Magnet School accepts only the brightest students in our metropolitan region, so it boasts the best science club in the entire Tri-State Area. The best science club is most likely to win the annual robotics competition, so the Nikola Tesla Magnet School will almost certainly bring home the trophy this year.

I read this stimulus and immediately zeroed in on the difference between the best individual students and the best overall team. That’s such a common fallacy that it has a Latin name (“modo hoc“), although it’s not clear whether it applies in this case. But I never got that far because that wasn’t one of my answer choices. Here’s what was offered on the LSAT:

(A) presumes, without presenting relevant evidence, that an entity can be distinguished as the best only on the basis of competition.

(B) predicts the success of an entity on the basis of features that are not relevant to the quality of that entity.

(C) predicts the outcome of a competition merely on the basis of a comparison between the parties in that competition.

(D) presumes, without providing warrant, that if an entity is the best among its competitors, then each individual part of that entity must also be the best.

(E) concludes that because an event is the most likely of a set of possible events, that event is more likely to occur than not.

I was trying so hard to find a composition fallacy (that’s modo hoc for you Latin lovers) that I really wanted D to be correct, but it just wouldn’t work. I wound up picking C, then switched to A. B never appealed to me, and I never really understood what E was all about.

That was a mistake.

E is all about rolling dice. If I roll a pair of dice, seven is the most likely outcome. There are six out of thirty-six chances that I will roll a seven, making it more likely than any other roll (there’s a 1/36 chance of rolling two or twelve, a 2/36 chance of rolling three or eleven, etc., etc.). But just because seven is the single most likely roll, it’s not more likely to occur than not. I only roll a seven one out of six times. I’d have to roll it every other time (plus some) for it to be “more likely to occur than not.”

Most likely, but not more likely than not

That was my error. A science club may be “more likely” to win than any other club in the city, but that doesn’t mean it will “probably” win.

I’ve searched the Internet for the Latin name of this fallacy, and haven’t found it yet. You Latin buffs may refer to it as “alea jacta est.” The rest of us can just call it the “roll of the dice fallacy.”

Knowing What You Don’t Know

 

There’s a difference between what you know you know and what you don’t know you know. On that LSAT, that difference is measured in seconds or minutes of indecision. How long do you hover over an answer before you move on to the  next question?

Psychologists and business schools recognize how important this difference is. The “Johari Window” shows four possible states of knowledge, ranging from the “things you know you know” to the “things you don’t know you don’t know.”

The Johari Window

 

Knowing these four categories helps you on the LSAT. If you know what you know, you can save time by nailing certain questions and moving on without thinking twice or looking back. If you know what you don’t know, you can flag those questions and get back to them if you have time left. By contrast, “unknown knowns” and “unknown unknowns” are a problem. Each question you get right without being sure of yourself (an “unknown known”) slows you down when you need to be moving fast, while each right answer you cross off (because you don’t know what you don’t know) hurts you more than just guessing. It only takes a second to guess an answer and you have a 20% chance of guessing right. By contrast, it takes more time to choose between four wrong answers and you have a 0% chance of getting it right when you’re done.

Using this information for LSAT preparation is easy and effective. The first step is to identify “known knowns.” How sure are you that you got a question right? I sometimes ask my students to “bet” on questions when they take a preptest. Pick a chore you hate (for me, it’s polishing my huge copper bathtub). If I “bet” I got it right but I really got it wrong, I have to roll up my sleeves and get out the polish. If I’m not willing to take the bet, I do a “blind review” of that question. (If you don’t know what a blind review is, here’s an hour-long workshop to fill you in!)

If you can take all four sections of a preptest without “scrubbing your tub,” you have already achieved a high degree of accuracy. You know what you know. If, on the other hand, you find yourself consistently losing “bets,” you will soon either have the world’s most sparkly bathroom or you’ll actively zero in the question types that deceive you.

That leaves the questions you are unsure of. With the “blind review” method, you answer every question under time pressure and then go back and take as long as you need to think through the questions you were unsure about. Figure out why every wrong answer is wrong, and make sure that each right answer is right. See if you can prove that every single answer in the section is correct before you score the test. (If you can’t demonstrate that there is one and only one right answer and you know what it is, then you’ve just discovered a question type where you need help.)

When you finally score that test (or section), pay special attention to any wrong answers that survived the blind review. These are answers that you didn’t know you didn’t know. For people who aren’t preparing properly, this is the worst possible situation, because they will make that same mistake again and again. For someone who is eager to discover what  they don’t know they don’t know, this is the best possible situation. Each one of these “unknown  unknown” questions is a pure gold from a practice perspective. The minute you identify an unknown unknown, it becomes a known unknown which you can conquer.

Find the Flaw: A Difficult But Useful Skill

Some things you do to prepare for the LSAT are a waste of time as far as the rest of your life in concerned. Your ability to recognize a “parallel reasoning” question and skip over it until the end of the section is not going to help you be a better lawyer. But that is not true of all LSAT preparation. At least one area where you need to invest some significant time will serve you well throughout your life and legal career. That area is the “find the flaw” logical reasoning question type.

Logicians call these “flaws” fallacies, and diagnose them as carefully as doctors do diseases. If you take an old-fashioned logic class in an academic setting, you may still be expected to learn their Latin names, such as argumentum ad hominem, argumentum ad baculum, argumentum ad misericordiam, etc.

It used to be you couldn’t be a lawyer without knowing quite a bit of Latin, but aspiring lawyers aren’t expected to learn Latin anymore. That’s why the LSAT doesn’t give you Latin names in the answer choices. Unfortunately, the answer choices they do provide might as well be in Latin for all the good they do the brand-new test-taker. “Find the flaw” answer choices are worded in what I call “LSAT jargon,” a unique dialect found nowhere else on earth.

It isn’t that “find the flaw” answer choices aren’t in English, or that they don’t actually mean something. The problem is that an intelligent person can read the answer twelve times in a row and still not get what the test-writer is saying. Sometimes the only way to figure out what these answer choices mean is to look at the answer in the back of the book. Only after you see that “E” is the right answer will the fog clear and understanding set in. But by that time, you’ve already circled “C,” changed it to “A,” and beaten your head against a wall.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that LSAT jargon is no harder to learn than Latin, and the effort you make on this one question type will serve you the rest of your life. You will need to spot flawed reasoning in every contract you review, will you draft, deposition you take, or witness you put on the stand. On the LSAT, you have more than a minute to figure out a “find the flaw” problem. When your opponent is making her pitch to the jury, you have scant seconds; and when you explain your objection to the judge, you need to speak English, not Latin.

You might impress a jury by saying, “Your Honor, the counsel for the prosecution has committed a post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy,” but if the judge got his law degree in the last twenty years, you’re more likely to annoy him than persuade him. Try saying, “The State has confused a cause with a correlation, your Honor. Just because one thing happens after another thing does not mean it was caused by that other thing.” That might get your objection sustained and your client out of jail! And when your grateful client hugs you and hands you a check, you can say, “Don’t thank me–thank the LSAT!”

Reading Comprehension and Reading Speed

If you are a very slow reader, please skip to bottom of this post now. (If you are a very fast reader, on the other hand, you can skip the last section.)

Reading Speed

The LSAT is a “speeded” test, which means that the majority of test takers are not able to complete it. On three of the four scored sections, your time is mostly spent on choosing your answers, but in the Reading Comprehension section, a significant chunk of time is spent just reading the  passage. Then you spend a lot more time re-reading the passage to try to decide on the answer.

The worst mistake a slow reader can make is to skim through the passage and the questions and circle answers that “sound right.” My students who have tried this approach on PrepTests consistently get worse results than if they just had flipped a coin. There’s a reason for this–the folks who write LSAT tests spend a great deal of time and energy trying to come up with wrong answers that sound right. Remember: their job description is to write tests that make smart people feel stupid.

If your LSAT goal is something under 165, reading speed is important but not critical. You can flip through the four passages, decide which one you like least, and skip it. (Don’t forget to bubble in a string of answers, however. On average, you’ll get one in five right.) That gives you eleven minutes and forty seconds per remaining passage.  If you really comprehend what you have time to read, and get familiar with reading comprehension questions, you could skip an entire passage and still get 20 out of 25 questions right. If you got every other question on the LSAT right, you’d be at the 99th percentile. If your goal is 165, you’re in good shape.

Most of us can’t count on getting every other question right and lucking out on a couple of random answers on the passage we skipped. So if you are a relatively slow reader who wants to go to a top five law school, you’re going to need to do something more.

One solution would be to change your goals. Top five law schools are full of top five students with top five reading speeds. Getting accepted to the law school of your dreams might turn out to be a nightmare if you find you can never keep up with the load.

Another solution would be to change your reading speed. You don’t need to be a speed reader to do well on the LSAT, but you can’t afford some of the bad habits that make some readers extra slow. The challenge of the LSAT may be just the motivation you need to overcome some problems that have plagued you since grade school.

Advice for Slow Readers

  1. Measure your reading speed (speed test courtesy of Staples.com).
  2. Try to identify why you read slowly (Note: the site I am sending you to has a short and simple list of reading problems. It is also trying to sell you a speed reading course. I have no reason to think their reading course is worth your money!)
  3. Try Method 1 and/or Method 2 of these 3 Ways to Read Faster. (Do not try Method 3 on the LSAT!)
  4. Measure your reading speed again after a week or two of regular practice. If your speed is increasing, keep practicing! If you don’t see any improvement, do more research on your own or contact a reading tutor.

Choosing LSAT Prep Materials

My first tutoring priority with any new LSAT student is to conduct an “LSAT Inventory” to figure out that student’s unique goals, resources, strengths, and challenges so that we can develop a personal study plan. LSAT prep materials are key components of this personal plan.

Most of the companies that offer LSAT classes and/or curriculum vendors claim to be the “best” for some reason or another. As a tutor, I’m increasingly aware that what is “best” for one kind of student is just awful for another.  Some LSAT books concentrate on memorizing every single kind of logical reasoning question and every type of answer so that every student can (in theory) get every question right. Other vendors focus on helping students skip the hard questions so they can focus on the ones that are left. I’ve had students who are trying to get their scores up from 130 and others who are shooting for 170. It would be tutorial malpractice for me to recommend the same materials to both groups!

So the first question I ask a new student is, “What are you shooting for? What law schools are on your list?” I’m convinced that the average student can achieve above-average results on the LSAT if they are willing to work at it, so the question is not “what law school can you get into” but “what law school do you want to get into?” Some students name a local school with modest median LSAT scores. Others dream about the Ivy League. I may recommend a “skip the hard questions” LSAT curriculum for the first group and a much more rigorous program for the others.

The second question I ask a new student is, “How much time do you have? How many months (or weeks) (or days) until the test? How many hours a week can you devote to studying?” Some LSAT materials are short. Others are long–some are very long. The PowerScore LSAT Trilogy is a three volume set with over 40 very long chapters. LSAT for Dummies is a lot shorter. For a student with a limited attention span or a super-short study window, LSAT for Dummies is the better choice.

Another important question is, “How do you learn best?” You can get your LSAT materials as paperbacks, ebooks, or even in multimedia. I’m a speed reader who can’t stand the slow pace of an audiobook. My youngest daughter is an artist who can’t stand to read words on paper when her hands could be busy making something beautiful.  Most LSAT materials are paper-based, but an increasing number of new products were born on the Internet. If a student learns best through audiovisuals or interactive modules, I want to set them free from books.

That leaves one more key question–what’s your budget? I grew up very poor (we got running water when I was 17).  One of my main goals with each new student is to help them avoid wasting money so they can put it where it really matters.  Some LSAT materials cost a lot. Others are all but free.  Some students can get great results using just a library and open source materials. Others get lost without the structured approach of the more comprehensive–and expensive–programs.

You’ve almost reached the end of this post without an answer to the question that got you here: how do I choose my LSAT materials? The answer (as it so often is with anything involving the law) is, “It depends.” In this case, it depends on you: your goals, your budget, your schedule, your learning style.

I can’t write a post that tells everybody which curriculum to choose, but I am eager to help you figure out what is best for you. That is why I conduct LSAT inventories, one student at a time.  Click my tutoring link and let’s talk about your future!

World’s Best LSAT Tutors: JY Ping

Full disclosure–there is no evidence that JY Ping is actually tutoring anybody these days. His website says, “We make you feel like you have a private tutor,” which is not the same as actually having one. But JY’s contribution to LSAT preparation is so significant that we just can’t leave him off our short list of world’s best tutors.

JY Ping

JY is one of the founders of 7Sage.com, which exists to “liberate legal education.” The 7Sage website proclaims:

The LSAT is the gateway to the legal profession, and thus it is the gateway to key positions in our society. But those who are unable to hire $150/hr tutors, or take $1000 LSAT prep courses have been at an unfair disadvantage. Until now.

7Sage offers one of the greatest free resources in the history of online education–they explain every single LSAT logic game, for free.  As a professional LSAT tutor, there’s just no way I can help every student master every logic game. I am able to help them understand the approach, and zero in on specific mistakes they are making. But the logic games come in so many different sizes and shapes that it simply is not cost-effective for me to hold every student’s hand through every game. That makes the 7Sage site such a treasure.

7Sage also offers a free PrepTest scoring service which keeps track of every test a student enters and allows them to sift and sort their answers by question type, difficulty, priority, and more. I cannot overstate how useful this can be–in the right hands, it’s like a CAT scan for your brain. All you have to do to use it is sign up for a free 7Sage account.

World’s Best LSAT Tutors: How Do I Choose?

Search for “best LSAT tutor” and you’ll get page after page of hits. There are the “promoted” sites at the top, followed by one LSAT company after another. If you’ve been looking for an LSAT tutor for a while, the names are all familiar. If you’ve just started, they’re all a blur. How can a person who doesn’t even know what they’re looking for find what they need?

Lawchooli.com has a post that offers some objective criteria for choosing a great tutor. The entire article is worth reading but here’s the short version if you’re in a hurry:

Try to find a tutor who scored at the 99th percentile.  Your tutor should be better at this than you are!

Get someone with a good reputation. Check reviews, ratings, word of mouth.

Experience is helpful, but it isn’t everything. A lot of younger tutors just took the LSAT themselves.

If you’re going to spend money on a tutor, spend enough to get a good one.

Try before you buy. If the tutoring company doesn’t offer some kind of “good fit guarantee” (where you only pay for your first session if the tutor is right for you), then only sign up for an hour or two for starters.

The Lawschooli article assumes people are looking for in-person tutoring in a local area. The LSAT, however, is a perfect fit for online tutoring. Everything a tutor and a student really need to do together can easily be accomplished on an interactive whiteboard.

WyzAnt (the tutoring service I use) currently has more than 300 self-employed online LSAT tutors. Unlike some of the big LSAT companies, which select their reviews, WyzAnt posts every rating and every review, whether it is flattering or embarassing. You can sort prospective tutors by price, rating, or “best match.” You may have to scroll down a bit to find me (I’m still fairly new to WyzAnt, and if you’re sorting from highest price to lowest, I’m way down the list), but you’ll find other people in this series right up at the top.

Word’s Best LSAT Tutors: Steve Schwartz

What makes a great LSAT tutor? You have to know people. And you have to know the test. Steve Schwartz knows the LSAT inside out. Steve says:

I never thought I’d become a professional LSAT tutor.

In fact, I saw the LSAT as a major roadblock standing in the way of my dream: to get into law school and become a successful attorney.

However, I knew I had to master it before I could achieve my goal, so I set aside a few months. I studied every LSAT book I could find and every LSAT question ever released.

Little by little, my scores increased from the low 150s to the high 160s, but I didn’t stop there. I kept studying until I felt confident about every question, eventually reaching the high 170s and scoring 175 on test day.

The national average on the LSAT is 150, which means Steve started right at the middle and studied (on his own) until he reached the top 1%. But it wasn’t easy. A picture is worth a thousand words–here’s a picture of Steve’s bedroom floor during this process:

One thing to learn from Steve’s story is how long it took him to master the test on his own. Here’s his take on the process:

I would’ve saved at least 8-9 months of frustration if I had someone experienced in the ins and outs of the test to:

* help me figure out why I kept making mistakes

* give me a customized plan based on my weak areas

* pinpoint what I needed to change about my approach

Don’t get me wrong – I was MOTIVATED, but I needed to be realistic about how much time I had to study (job, classes, yadda yadda).

I also didn’t want to give up my evenings and weekends for a class just to get access to an instructor, and I wasn’t starting from scratch.

I had money I could’ve used for tutoring, but I wasn’t sure tutoring could actually help.

Needless to say, Steve now sees the value of tutoring–that’s why he has dedicated himself to helping others. The way he sees it, “The people who make the LSAT are evil geniuses when it comes to making smart people feel stupid.” That’s why we need more “good geniuses” like Steve to make smart people feel smart.

World’s Best LSAT Tutors: Jon McCarty

This blog was created for every student who wants to go to law school but has to take the Law School Aptitude Test (LSAT) to get there. We’ll cover a lot of topics over time, but we’re starting with a series on the world’s best LSAT tutors. The first on the list is Jon McCarty, “Best LSAT Tutor in New York City,” and the founder of Odyssey Test Preparation.

Jon charges $150/hour for his tutoring services, but his students say he is worth it.  Jon’s WyzAnt tutoring profile (where he is known as “JD M.”) says:

I exclusively teach the techniques and strategies to conquer the LSAT. I have spent over 5 years perfecting my methods and have taught thousands of students how to dramatically raise their LSAT scores. One of the highest score increases that a student of mine has attained was 32 points (from a 145-177). It is pretty typical that my students increase their score between 20-25 points if they work extremely diligently. I am upbeat and motivated to help you get into the law school of your dreams!

I only take on a limited number of students at one time to guarantee that each of my students get the absolute highest quality tutoring experience. Consequently tutoring space is limited.

Jon has written 6 LSAT prep books and founded a company to help students master the LSAT. He offers a $49 video course on Logic Games. (The video course is included free if you sign up with Jon as a tutor.)

Jon offers live tutoring within 40 miles of New York City, but believes that online tutoring can be even better for his students.  He writes:

Making the online tutoring experience just as effective and personal as live tutoring is my specialty. While working together, we’ll use Skype to get the face-to-face experience. I also work in front of a real whiteboard so that I can demonstrate the concepts visually to maximize your understanding. Many of my students prefer my style of online tutoring to live tutoring because it eliminates travel time to and from tutoring locations which allows them to dedicate more time to studying.

Jon currently has 26 student reviews on his WyzAnt profile. Many of them repeat the obvious (“great tutor!” and “awesome” are consistent themes), but a few go into more detail about why Jon is so effective. Here’s a sample from “Jennifer” in New Jersey:

He tailored a study plan to my needs and each session he thoroughly reviewed every prep test and answered every question I had. He targeted and corrected my weaknesses and with his extensive knowledge of the test was able to breakdown and explain any areas of difficulty providing me with the tools and techniques needed to attack the test effectively.

Jon McCarty is an inspiration to LSAT tutors like myself–and an asset. I don’t ever plan to write my own Logic Games video course, but, then. I don’t need to.  It’s already out there! I can help my students do better by studying what makes Jon a great tutor and doing my best to learn from his example.