Approaching a Logical Reasoning Section Strategically

There is a fundamental truth about test takers when it comes to the LSAT: everyone is different. That is, everyone who sits down with this exam will have unique strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, and, ultimately, ways in which they can optimize their performance in every section. And while that certainly affects how it is that people prepare—where they should devote their time and effort when studying—it also dictates how test takers should behave during the actual test.

It’s worthwhile to consider a few facts about Logical Reasoning before we talk strategy: (1) there are approximately 25 questions in each of the two scored Logical Reasoning sections, and the questions will be a mix of many different types—a total of 13 question types are possible, although only about 9 or 10 appear with much frequency—given in a completely random order; (2) unlike Games and Reading, the questions in LR tend to increase in difficulty as you get deeper into the section, so that questions in the 14-20 range are generally harder than questions 1-7; (3) two important points to note about that progressive difficulty increase: it’s a general trend as opposed to a perfect gradient, so that on average questions get harder, but you can’t make absolute predictions from one question to the next; the last few questions, say 22-25 or so, tend to be slightly easier than the questions immediately preceding them (I won’t get into the potential reasons of why that is, just know that it is typically the case); and finally (4) as always, “difficulty” itself is dependent on both the nature of the question, as well as your personal preferences and abilities.

Continuing that fourth point on the subjectivity of “difficulty,” you will find as you prepare that certain questions or question types are often either inherently easier or more difficult for some feature that they contain, such as the usually mild Must be True question with simple conditional reasoning compared to the typically more challenging page-long Parallel Reasoning question or question with a stimulus containing extremely abstract discussions of philosophical ideas (“A precept can be thought to be morally justifiable if the consequences of acting upon that precept do not infringe upon…” ugh). And you will also find that you have particular strengths and weaknesses—question types on which you tend to perform more strongly or poorly—that over time become fairly consistent and often times predictable, which, again, suggests that the very notion of “difficulty” is best defined by the individual.

So what do these “truths” about Logical Reasoning dictate in terms of strategy? Well, you’re certainly not going to be able to scan the entire section and choose an ideal question order for yourself like you can with the other sections, however you can still let your knowledge of increasing difficulty, as well as your personal preferences, guide you. I advise students to take multiple passes through the section, where on your first pass you are going to work steadily through the questions, attempting to complete each in one to two minutes, until you reach the early-to-mid teens and feel the difficulty beginning to escalate. When you encounter a few successive questions that seem near-impenetrable, recognize that you’re now in the higher-level portion of the section and begin to move forward with more discretion. Perhaps in glancing at the set of questions on the page in front of you you notice one or two are particularly short. Since those will likely take less time, attempt them first and save longer questions for your second pass. In other articles, we talk about this “bang for your buck” in Games and Reading in terms of tackling the game or passage with the most questions, and it works similarly here: shorter questions tend to take less time, so you can do more of them in the time remaining (or buy yourself more time for longer questions if you finish them before time is up).

The key is that you filter the remaining ten or so questions through your own knowledge and experiences and devote the remainder of your first pass to those where you feel you are most likely to be successful. This also ensures that you will have an opportunity to try the last few questions which, as I mentioned previously, are usually a bit easier than the 8-10 they follow. At this point you will have made it to the end of the section, answered to the best of your abilities those questions which you are most likely to answer correctly, and can make your second pass through the unanswered questions determining the ones that are most preferable by length, type, and/or initial reaction to the stimulus content.

The advantage to this strategy of adaptive attack is that it ensures, as much as is possible, that your time in the section is spent where it will confer the greatest benefit: on the questions where your odds of a strong performance are highest. All the while relegating to a tier of lesser importance those questions that are likely to be either more time consuming or simply more difficult.

Finally, we once again have a final thought to consider as we wrap up this discussion: you MUST maintain a high degree of self awareness as you move through the section. Some questions may seem representative of past experiences where you have been successful, but as you begin reading the stimulus you will find that they are much more difficult than anticipated. If that’s the case the best decision may be to stop and move to a different question, rather than potentially wasting time trying to decipher text that is more confusing than you expected. As wise test takers know, just because you have initially committed to something does not mean you absolutely must see it through—choosing to spend your time elsewhere can be an extremely prudent decision in a number of situations, and making prudent decisions is the key to reaching your full potential on the LSAT.