Exploiting Antitheses

I have previously identified the “some people say” principle in an LSAT logical reasoning stimulus, and have engaged in some discussion of this phenomenon at 7Sage.com.  After some further thought and research, I have decided to revise and extend my earlier remarks.

The “some people say” formulation occurs anytime an LSAT logical reasoning stimulus refers to the words, thoughts, or beliefs of persons other than the author of the stimulus. This usually takes the form of indirect discourse (i.e., “critics insist” or “paleontologists hypothesize”) but it can be more subtle. The functional test that I apply is, “Can I put somebody else’s claim in quotes?” If so, we can label it a “some people say” claim.

In my original post, I argued that every “some people say” claim is the negation of the conclusion. That goes too far. There are a handful of cases where “some people say” something that directly supports the conclusion. I think of this as “expert testimony.” There are other cases where “some people say” what they will do in the future (campaign promises, for example). Logicians distinguish “promises” from “logical statements” (for good reason). There are some other cases where “some people say” things that are not simply the negation of the conclusion–but not many.

Instead of insisting that every “some people say” statement is the negation of the conclusion, it is more accurate and helpful to say that most “some people say” statements have this characteristic. I use the term “antithesis” for such statements, and define it as follows:

An antithesis is a claim which an LSAT logical reasoning stimulus rejects.

There are significant advantages to identifying an antithesis. The first is that it makes complex stimuli simpler. “Some people say” statements can be involved, and arguments involving them can get complicated. If you extract the antithesis, what remains is often short and simple.

The second advantage is in identifying the conclusion. While this is second nature for some students, it is very hard work for others. Since an antithesis is (by definition) a claim which the stimulus rejects, it is easy to look for a part of the stimulus that says so. If there is such a statement, that is usually the conclusion.

The third advantage is in understanding the argument as a whole. If you see a “some people say” statement and suspect that it is an antithesis, you know where the argument is going before you read it. There are only so many ways to deny a  claim, and a person who is thoroughly familiar with basic argument types can anticipate them.

Thus, for example, if the antithesis is a conditional statement (“A->B”), then the simplest argument to refute it is a counterexample (“A and ~B”). If the antithesis is an affirmation (“A”), the simplest refutation is a modus tollens (“A→B, ~B, ∴ ~A”). If the antithesis is a denial (“~B”), the simplest refutation is a modus ponens (“A→B, A, ∴ B”). While these aren’t the only ways to reject such claims, they are the most common–and a person who is actively looking for such argument patterns will be able to find them faster if they really are present.

The bottom line is this: identifying an antithesis can cut a complicated stimulus in half, expose its conclusion, and reveal the argument structure quickly and accurately. While not every “some people say” statement is an antithesis, the large majority are.

How to Find the Conclusion

The first thing I teach new LSAT students to do is “find the conclusion.” That’s because every logical reasoning question on the LSAT is about a logical argument, and every logical argument combines premises into a conclusion.  The conclusion of an LSAT stimulus is what the whole paragraph is about.

Every word, clause, and sentence in a stimulus relates to the conclusion in some way. Typical sentences may introduce the topic to be discussed, provide evidence supporting the conclusion, acknowledge weak points, or describe competing views, but they all contribute to the argument in some way. Once you locate the conclusion, the rest of the paragraph generally falls into place.

So–how does one find this conclusion? More specifically, how does someone who is brand new to the LSAT and completely unfamiliar with logic find the conclusion? This post provides a toolbox of “find the conclusion” tips and techniques.

  1. The “why” test. This is the least useful technique for beginners, but the most useful technique for advanced students. The conclusion is the statement in the stimulus that requires explanation. That makes sense, because every other word in the stimulus provides the explanation that is required.
  2. Conclusion Keywords. The easiest technique is to look for keywords like “therefore,” “thus,” “hence,” “so,” “it follow that,” “and so we see,” “clearly,” and so forth. Most LSAT prep materials provide a comprehensive list of typical conclusion keywords. Be careful about relying too heavily on these keywords, however, especially in a “main point” question where your only job is to find the conclusion. There can be more than one conclusion in an argument, and “main point” questions are notorious for packing them in!
  3. Eliminate the Evidence. Evidence is generally easier to spot than the conclusion. There are evidence keywords (“because,” “for,” “for example,” “since,” etc.) that always introduce a reason for something. (Remember: the conclusion is what makes you ask “why,” so the evidence provides the reasons.) Even without an evidence keyword, you can usually tell evidence because it seems non-controversial. Nobody asks “why” two plus two equals four. It just does. If something is presented as a given, it’s evidence. Once you exclude all the evidence in a stimulus, it’s much easier to pick the conclusion out of what is left.
  4. The position principle. The average writer either starts a paragraph with the point he or she is trying to make, or ends with it. The first and last sentences are emphatic, and most writers want to emphasize the point they are trying to make. Unless someone is trying to bury the conclusion (which LSAT writers often do!), it will typically come first or last.
  5. Sentence type. Kaplan Publishing notes that almost all LSAT conclusions fall into the following six categories: predictions, comparisons, recommendations, judgments, affirmations, or if/then statements. Affirmations (“the sky is blue”), comparisons (“Bob is taller than Sue”) and if/then statements (“If it rains, I get wet”) appear frequently in logical arguments, but the other three categories are rare. If you see a prediction, recommendation, or judgment in a stimulus, it is likely to be the conclusion.
  6. The “some people say” principle. I have written elsewhere about the fact that other people’s statements in an LSAT stimulus almost always point at the conclusion. The conclusion, in almost every case, denies what “some people say.” The conclusion may be as short as “But they are wrong” or as complex as “Romantics who claim that people are not born evil but may be made evil by the imperfect institutions that they form cannot be right.”

The “Should” Principle

The first skill I teach new students is to “find the conclusion.” This is essential but not easy. Until they develop an intuitive sense of what a conclusion is and how it relates to the argument as a whole, students need external cues to help them find the conclusion. One of those cues is what I call the “should” principle.

The “Should” Principle: if the word “should” appears in a stimulus, it will probably appear in the conclusion.

This is a “principle,” not a “rule, because it is not always and necessarily reliable. I haven’t gone through every PrepTest yet. I’m eager to find some counterexamples so that I can refine the principle a little. As of now, however, I have not found a single stimulus with the word “should” in it that doesn’t have “should” in the conclusion. (If you can find a counterexample, please identify it in the comments!)

There are two different reasons for this principle. The word “should” appears in moral arguments but not in factual arguments. One would expect the word “should” throughout a moral argument, especially in the conclusion.

We should obey the law.
The law says we should not drive faster than the speed limit.
THEREFORE, we should not drive faster than the speed limit.

Explicitly moral arguments are relatively rare, however. Arguments about facts are much more common. In real life and on the LSAT, however, a argument about the facts usually has a higher purpose. People may debate whether it will rain this afternoon, but not because they’re abstractly interested in the weather. What they really want to know is whether to cancel the picnic.

Kaplan’s LSAT Premier Chapter 9 lists six types of conclusions: value judgments, if/then conditionals, predictions, comparisons, assertions, and recommendations. When an argument about facts leads to a prediction, judgment, or recommendation, it may easily result in “should.”

The word “should” appears in six stimuli in the June 2007 PrepTest (the only test that is publicly accessible). All instances obey the “should” principle.

  • Section II, Question 10: “should” appears twice in this moral argument.
  • Section II, Question 16: “should” in the conclusion of “Sandra’s” short argument.
  • Section II, Question 17: “should” is the recommendation after a factual argument.
  • Section II, Question 20: “One should not assume” is the conclusion.
  • Section III, Question 14: “should” only appears  once  in this moral argument, in the conclusion.
  • Section III, Question 20: “should” is a recommendation.

A word of caution is in order–the “should” principle is a fast way to find the conclusion, but it is not a reliable indicator of the right answer. The LSAT is full of synonyms for “should.” For example, Section II, Question 10 is a “Main Point” question where the conclusion in the stimulus is “Double-blind techniques should be used whenever possible in scientific experiments.” The correct answer is, “It is advisable for scientists to use double-blind techniques in as high a proportion of their experiments as they can.”

Summing this up in LSAT terminology, “should” is a sufficient condition for a conclusion, but not a necessary condition.

That still doesn’t mean that every sentence with a “should” in it is a conclusion–the principle is narrower and more specific. If the word “should” only appears once in a stimulus, then it is in the conclusion. If “should” appears twice (or more) in a stimulus, then it will be in the conclusion as well as in a premise.

The “Some People Say” Principle

I teach my students to “find the conclusion” as their top priority in answering any LSAT logical reasoning question. That means sifting through the “evidence” in a stimulus to find the main point of the paragraph. In doing so, they often run across sentences that are neither evidence nor the conclusion.  One recurring pattern is a sentence near the start of the stimulus that presents some other person’s position on the topic at hand. I call these the “some people say” statements. Here is an example:

It is now a common complaint that the electronic media have corroded the intellectual skills required and fostered by the literary media. But several centuries ago the complaint was that certain intellectual skills, such as the powerful memory and extemporaneous eloquence that were intrinsic to oral culture, were being destroyed by the spread of literacy. So, what awaits us is probably a mere alteration of the human mind rather than its devolution. [June 2007 PrepTest, Section II, Question 11, emphasis supplied.]

The “common complaint” in this stimulus is not the author’s own view, so it isn’t the conclusion.  It’s more like the opposite. After reviewing many LSAT questions, I have found that the actual conclusion of the paragraph usually rejects or revises what “some people say.” In fact, the fastest way  to find the conclusion may to underline what “some people say” and then negate it.

Let’s test this with all the “some people say” questions on the only publicly available LSAT test (June 2007), beginning with Section II, Question 11 which I quoted above.

Some people say: “electronic media have corroded the intellectual skills required and fostered by the literary media.”

Negation: electronic media have not corroded these intellectual skills.

Conclusion: “what awaits us is probably a mere alteration of the human mind rather than its devolution.”

Section II, Question 16 is a “point of disagreement” question. Taylor, the first speaker, quotes “researchers at a local university.”

Researchers at a university say: “61 percent of information is communicated through nonverbal signals.”

Negation: It is not true that 61 percent of information is communicated through nonverbal signals.

Conclusion: “This claim, like all such mathematically precise claims, is suspect.”

Section II, Question 17 quotes “several computer experts,” but their words are used to support the main argument. This is “evidence,” not what I call “some people say” statements.

Section II, Question 20:

Muñoz says: “the Southwest Hopeville Neighbors Association overwhelmingly opposes the new water system, citing this as evidence of citywide opposition.”

Negation: The SHNA does not overwhelmingly oppose the new system.

Conclusion: “One should not assume that so few votes represent the view of the majority of Hopeville’s residents.”

Section II, Question 21:

My friends say: “I will one day have an accident because I drive my sports car recklessly.”

Negation: I will not have an accident because I drive my sports car recklessly.

Conclusion: “trading my sports car in for a minivan would lower my risk of having an accident.”

Note: this is the only example in this PrepTest where the conclusion is not logically identical to the negation of what “some people say.”

Section III, Question 5:

An early entomologist says: “ants were bringing food to their neighbors.”

Negation: ants were not bringing food to their neighbors.

Conclusion: “the early entomologist was wrong.”

Section III, Question 9:

Recent claims: “the Tasmanian tiger is not extinct.”

Negation: the Tasmanian tiger is extinct.

Conclusion: “recent claims that the Tasmanian tiger is not extinct are false.”

Repeated conclusion: “the Tasmanian tiger no longer exists.”

Section III, Question 19 begins with “Many candidates say that if elected they will reduce governmental intrusion into voters’ lives.” This is a promise of future action, not a statement that can be negated. As a result, this is not an example of the “some people say” rule.

Section III, Question 24:

Romantics claim: “people are not born evil but may be made evil by the imperfect institutions that they form.”

Negation: people are born evil or people are not made evil by the imperfect institutions that they form.

Conclusion: “Romantics who claim that people are not born evil but may be made evil by the imperfect institutions that they form cannot be right.”

Section III, Question 25:

Some anthropologists claim: “the human species could not have survived prehistoric times if the species had not evolved the ability to cope with diverse natural environments.”

Negation: the human species could have survived prehistoric times if the species had not evolved the ability to cope with diverse natural environments.

Conclusion: “the anthropologists’ claim is false.”

The bottom line: the vast majority of “some people say” statements point right towards the conclusion.  You need to exercise a little caution with this–the “some people say” phenomenon is not some rule of logic that is always necessarily true. Think of it as a principle, not a rule. But if finding the conclusion is still hard for you, the “some people say” principle may help you find it faster!

How to “Win” at Logic Games

There are two basic challenges to the “logic games” section of the LSAT: “learning to play” and “learning to win.” When you first encounter one of these “Alf, Bob, Chuck, Dan and Eustace go into a bar” problems, it seems like a joke–a cruel joke. It takes most people less than five minutes to realize they have no idea how to do a logic game. After an hour or so instruction, however, most people can work through a simple game on their own.

That’s the “learning to play” phase. It’s like learning to play chess or bridge. Most people can learn to play those games in less than an hour, but it takes much longer to win.

Learning to “win” at logic games is easier (and cheaper) than it used to be. It takes a lot of practice, and a fair amount of help. If you get stuck on a particular game (and I have been stuck more times than I can count), you either have to invest hours trying to puzzle out the puzzle or pay somebody to show you what  you’re doing wrong. Even if you can figure out an answer by “brute force” (i.e., try every combination until you find the one that works), that generally won’t help you on the timed test.

The fine folks at 7sage.com have made this problem simple. They offer free video explanations of every published logic game. This means that you can learn every trick in the book without paying a penny!

I routinely teach my students “how to play” and then send them off to 7sage to learn “how to win.” Here’s what that looks like in practice.

  1. Look up the  7sage video explanation for that game but don’t start watching it yet. Get some scratch paper. You’re going to need it.
  2. Try to work a logic game on your scratch paper (not on the test). If you can do it on your own, jump to step 4. If you get stuck at any point (most of us do), move on to step 3.
  3. Start watching the 7sage video until it explains something you didn’t already know. Hit “pause” as soon as you understand that one new concept. Then go back to step 2 and try the game again with that hint.
  4. Congratulations! You finished the game. How did you do on it? Did you get every question right? Move onto step 5! Otherwise, go back to step 2 and rework the game using everything you learned on the 7sage video.
  5. Great! You did the whole game perfectly. How long did it take? If it was more than 8 minutes and 45 seconds, you need to pick up speed. Get out a new sheet of paper and do it again. Stay here on step 5 until you get your speed up and your time down.
  6. Fabulous! You got every question right. You did it in less than 8 minutes and 45 seconds! Check the 7sage video one more time to see how long they say this game should take. If it’s a really easy game, keep working it until you match their expected time.
  7. You now know how to do this game. What have you learned about doing other games? Here are some questions to consider:
    1. Did I miss an inference? What can I do to look for a similar inference next time?
    2. Did I panic because the game was tough? What clues can I look for in the scenario, rules, or questions that might indicate that this is just one of those “brute force” situations?
    3. Did I learn a new way to sketch the scenario or code a complicated rule? Am I ready to use that new technique in a similar situation in the future?

 

How to Get Into Harvard Law School

A lot of people find out I went to Harvard Law School and ask me, “What should I do to get in?” There are as many answers to that question as there are Harvard Law students (past and present), but that doesn’t help the person who hasn’t been admitted yet. In today’s post, I sketch out one workable way to get into Harvard Law School.

Let’s start with the basics. Harvard is looking for students with a median LSAT score of 173. (That’s exactly at the 99th percentile.) In addition, Harvard wants a great GPA from a challenging college, preferably in a major that broadens one’s horizons (history, philosophy, economics) rather than focuses on a particular  career track. In addition to these basics, Harvard wants a “compelling life story.” The world is full of smart people who want to be lawyers. A lot of those people are selfish jerks. Harvard wants to turn out lawyers who make the world a better place.

There is a way a motivated pre-law student can get a great LSAT score and a “compelling life story” at the same time. Most educators agree that “teaching is the best way to learn,” and most admissions officers agree that “helping others makes the world a better place.” Put those together and you have the perfect pre-law opportunity: volunteer to tutor the LSAT.

The good people at 7sage.com work with “PreProBono,” a non-profit organization “that helps economically disadvantaged, underrepresented minority, and female pre-law students acquire and utilize law degrees for careers in public interest law.” We’re talking free tutoring for poor and minority students.

You don’t have to be a Harvard Law graduate to realize that this makes law school admissions officers very happy. The LSAT measures “aptitude” for law school, and anybody who can teach the LSAT has to be pretty good on the LSAT. Helping poor and disadvantaged people is in the public interest, so empowering such people serve the public interest in turn just has to be twice as good.

Tutor needy people, and your law school admissions essay may be “What I learned from a single mother who went straight from a homeless shelter to law school.” Add that to a 99th percentile score of your own (plus a decent GPA), and your chances are as good as anybody’s.

Sounds interesting? It  is. Sounds intimidating? It is! The good news, however, is that you won’t be ready to teach the LSAT until you are already scoring in the 165+ range, and your average disadvantaged student needs help boosting their score above 130. Unless your people skills are simply horrible (and you may not make much of a lawyer if they are!), you should be able to make a significant difference as a volunteer. And as your students scores go up, so will yours–along with your chances of getting into the law school of your dreams.

Even Harvard!

The Official LSAT Superprep

There are many books that try to prepare you for the LSAT, ranging from free (in your library) to $189 for the PowerScore LSAT Bible Trilogy (listed retail price, discounts available). These books tend to be bulky–the Kaplan LSAT Premier 2016 is a modest 933 pages. while each book of the PowerScore Trilogy is near that.

The Official LSAT Superprep retails for $28, costs $18.30 at Amazon, is easily available in “used” condition for under $3.00, and is available for free at most libraries. There are only 63 pages of instruction–the remaining 350 pages are three complete tests with explanations for each answer. It is the “Official” LSAT book because it is published the Law School Admission Council, the producers of the LSAT.

The reason it is so short is that unlike almost all the other prep materials on the market, the “Official LSAT Superprep” confines itself to explaining the test rather than teaching specific techniques to “crack” the LSAT (Princeton Review), “beat” the LSAT (out of print), “hack” the LSAT (website here), or “nuke” the LSAT.

The strength of such a short book is that everything it includes is well-nigh essential. A student who is struggling with one particular type of logical reasoning question might have to read 70 pages to see how Kaplan covers it in their LSAT Premier book. The Official LSAT Superprep covers it in three pages.

If you can afford a tutor, the Official LSAT Superprep may be a far more efficient use of your time than any of the bulkier books. If you can grasp a concept in two pages, you don’t need 68 more pages of text and exercises to get it better. If you can’t grasp the concept, it will show up quickly when you take a practice test. A tutor can then zero in on what you didn’t understand in a way that a textbook never can.

If you can’t afford a tutor, this book is nowhere near what you need to succeed. It tells you what you need to do but doesn’t tell you how to do it.

Weaken the Argument: Some Strategies and Examples

“Weaken the argument” questions in the Logical Reasoning section of the LSAT can be slow going. In almost every case, a “weaken” question makes a bad assumption, but these assumptions can be hard to spot. If you can see a chink in the argument when you first read the stimulus, you’re in luck. Check the answer choices for something that expands on that.

If you can’t spot the flaw on your first reading, it’s time to read the answers. In general, the right answer will be something the author fails to consider or takes for granted. “Weaken” questions require you to use your imagination as well as your reason–it helps to put yourself into the situation and visualize how things would change as you read through each answer choice.

The following examples are logically equivalent to real LSAT test questions. Only the nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, punctuation, tone and context have been changed for copyright reasons.

Widget Maker: The Widget 109 has been a dog ever since we introduced it, but we have a new ad campaign: “The Widget 109 is awesome. Buy one now!” I know, I know, it might not work, but it’s our only chance to make this thing pay. We should try it!

The correct answer is: “Advertising for the Widget 109 would require dangerous cutbacks in other advertising.”

Here’s another “weaken” question:

Terra cotta sewer pipes are relatively inexpensive, but they develop cracks over time that allow tree roots to enter and clog the lines. Septic engineers stopped using terra cotta pipes over ten years ago, but pipes keep getting clogged. This proves that the type of pipe makes no difference to the risk of root blockage.

The correct answer is: “Root blockages usually occur in pipes that have been in place for several decades.”

Here’s another:

Ravens are exceptionally intelligent birds, and may be able to think strategically. A wild raven nicknamed “Poe” discovered a deer carcass and made a series of loud calls. Other ravens flocked in and started eating the deer. When Poe discovered a dead raccoon a few days later, he made no noise. This shows that Poe learned he needed to keep silent to keep the food for himself.

The correct answer is: “Ravens typically call to other ravens whenever they find large amounts of food.”

Next:

There are various techniques for increasing reading speed. Some yield immediate results, while others require longer training times.  In a recent study, participants who tried the “immediate results” approach read faster, and so did those who tried the more time-consuming approach. This shows that time-consuming approach has no value.

The correct answer is: “People who combine the two approaches read faster than people who use either of them separately.”

Even with the right answer right in front of you, it can still be very hard to achieve certainty on a “weaken” question. When in doubt, zero in on the conclusion. A conclusion generally has two terms (logicians call them the “subject” and the “predicate”). Can you find both of them elsewhere in the stimulus? If there’s a term in the conclusion that doesn’t appear elsewhere in the stimulus, it has been assumed. Look for that term in your answer choices–the right answer will include it. The wrong answers may not.

If you can match up the subject and predicate in the conclusion to similar terms in the premises, make sure the terms in the premises are identical to the terms in the conclusion, One slippery question had “salary” in the premise and “financial rewards” in the conclusion. The correct answer revealed that an employee’s “financial reward” consists of salary plus significant employee benefits.

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.