I hope I’m not going to say anything too controversial here, but the reality that most people don’t see big improvements on logical reasoning. It’s not your fault, really. You are just incompetent.
Before you click away because whoa, I just said something really mean, hear me out for a second. Almost everyone starts out their path to logical reasoning mastery totally incompetent, so chances are you are totally incompetent too. The problem is that you don’t even realize it! You may even think you are pretty good, and actually, you’re not wrong. So how can you be pretty good and totally incompetent at the same time?
It happens because your natural logic skills are already highly developed. You’ve been reading and thinking for your whole life, right? Though your natural skills can help you get by pretty well — even allow you do okay on your cold diagnostic LSAT exam — they will be really, really tough to improve beyond the baseline you’re at now. So if you want to get better at logical reasoning, what do you do?
The thing to do is forget about your natural skills entirely. To improve at logical reasoning, you need to tear down your old logical reasoning skills and build new, better skills in their place. Most people don’t really make the effort to do this, so they remain totally incompetent. Here, we help get you in the right frame of mind to actually learn how to do logical reasoning problems better. Read this, and you’ll understand why most people who do improve often get worse before they get better.
I hear LSAT students say all the time that they are freaked out because their LR scores are getting lower than their diagnostic. That’s totally okay! Here’s a big picture view of what learning logical reasoning actually looks like step by step, so you’ll know where you are at and can stop freaking out!
Stage 1: Unconscious Incompetence
The idea for this post came when I happened across something called the “competence learning model.” Stage 1, “unconscious incompetence,” reminded me of every student I’ve ever seen starting out on their LSAT prep. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about it:
1. Unconscious incompetence
The individual does not understand or know how to do something and does not necessarily recognize the deficit. They may deny the usefulness of the skill. The individual must recognize their own incompetence, and the value of the new skill, before moving on to the next stage. The length of time an individual spends in this stage depends on the strength of the stimulus to learn. (source)
Whether you want to admit it or not, this probably describes your relationship to logical reasoning at the outset of your LSAT prep. By adulthood, most of us are going through life more or less on auto-pilot, not really learning new mental skills. It’s nothing to be ashamed about — that’s just how humans work. But, to do well on the LSAT you have to slap yourself around a bit, get out of the mental haze, and start actually learning new skills.
With logic games, it’s easy to recognize the deficit. At first, one often can’t do anything right there! With logical reasoning, however, it’s way harder to see your deficits because, like I said, your natural language skills will do a good job helping you limp through. We don’t want to just be limping though.
Let’s try to reveal one way in which you need to get better. Download one of the few actually useful phone apps I’ve seen for LSAT prep, Manhattan LSAT’s LSAT Arcade. Now play the “If…Then” Game.
Did you get an “A”? I’m guessing no. I didn’t on my first try either. This game tests your ability at a specific skill, converting “if-then” statements into diagrams in your head, and making basic inferences from them (doing the contrapositive).
This is one of the many skills that you need to be able to do blindfolded and handcuffed in order to master the LSAT, but it’s possible, probable even, that you haven’t spent enough time on it to even improve the skill. See what I mean about competence? It doesn’t just come out of nowhere. You have to be aware that you don’t yet have the skill mastered, and start mastering it now.
Not all LSAT LR prep books are created equal. If you’ve been hitting any major snags, it can often be the fault of inferior instruction. Click HERE to check out our list of recommended LR study aids. These books are battle-tested and we guarantee that they will get you on your way to LR mastery. This includes the LSAT Logical Reasoning Bible, the book Josh and I each used to achieve perfect logical reasoning scores. The most effective way to use it is in tandem with the Powerscore Logical Reasoning Workbook, which drills you on different question types using real LSAT questions.
This is my big issue with some LSAT books, that they don’t really say what skills are absolutely critical to build at first, and they don’t really help you with the process. Let me try to fill you in on some key basic skills.
Having your if-then statements down, being able to do contrapositives, and make simple inferences are all skills that are fundamental to most of what you’ll be doing on the LSAT. Start out by merely become aware of the rules and how they work, but remember that you are basically trying to become a conditional reasoning supercomputer. By test day, all these skills have to be automatic. We have a good conditional logic refresher here to get you started.
Key LSAT Words
No, the LSAT LR section is not a vocab exam, but you do have to know the precise dictionary definition of certain keywords like “some” and “all”. Here is a good video on this from Mike Kim, the author of The LSAT Trainer™:
The LSAT handles cause and effect in a way that is very different from a natural, everyday understanding of it. Don’t worry, it’s actually easier to work with than real life usage. Explaining this is a job for another post, but I particularly like the explanation of causal reasoning in the Logical Reasoning Bible, so make sure you give that section of the book a 2nd, 3rd, and maybe even a 4th read. It will help you out.
Stage 2: Conscious Incompetence
Once you know the basic skills, it’s time to head in the awkward adolescent phase of your LSAT prep. At least here, you know that you suck! This is the time to make sure you are doing every right. Not fast, but accurate. All the time I see people doing timed sections at the beginning of their prep and I’m like “holy hell! what are you doing!” We need to slow down and get the processes right before you pick up speed. Do enough untimed problems and speed will build naturally, but you don’t have to push it. Do the opposite. Slow it down. Think about why each and every answer choice is right or wrong.
If you do (against my advice) take a timed section early on, say three weeks into your prep, and score worse than your diagnostic, congratulations! You are probably doing something right. You are have gotten worse because you are now doing the right things more slowly. Again, don’t worry, speed will come later.
Now is all about accuracy and starting to build pattern recognition. Pattern recognition is really the key, and for this, it’s all about learning the question types cold. Question types are just so, so important on the logical reasoning section that I really can’t stress it enough. When you look at the logical reasoning section as a whole, it just looks like a huge mish-mash of infinitely varied questions. However, when you start looking at the question types, patterns emerge. The same kind of trap answers appear over and over, and the correct answers test the same types of inferences over and over.
Targeting your practice by question type will help you see these patterns, so sort out questions by type before you practice. It will help speed you along to stage 3.
STAGE 3: Conscious Competence
At this point, you’re doing everything right, but it’s still slower than ideal. This is when you add the timing component full-on, meaning that you are doing timed sections. Check out our study schedule if you want an idea when this might happen. However, everyone is different. If you can’t make significant improvements in 3 months, then schedule the test for later and keep trying. Trust me, eventually, you will be scoring much better than your diagnostic (unless you scored a 180 on your diagnostic, in which case good for you, all other LSAT takers hate you now).
The point is, you are now consciously aware of how to do the problems right. That’s a huge step. You’ve rebuilt the proper skills and you are ready to start running.
STAGE 4: Unconscious Competence
LSAT prep experts don’t like to admit to this but when you are really good at the LSAT, great things just sort of happen. Most of the time I’m no longer really thinking about why an answer is correct. I just know it is. As you practice more and more you’ll find that the skills you have learned seem to recede back into your unconscious. When you hit a really hard problem, you can call these skills back out to help you be sure about an answer, but mostly you will be running on auto-pilot.
It takes a lot of practice to get to this point, which is why Josh and I and as always harping on you non-stop about practicing. Really, until you hit stage 4, your score might not improve at all. This is why it’s important not to give up and to keep at it because you often won’t see the real benefits of your work until the final month of your prep!
Again, if it doesn’t happen in time for this LSAT, don’t worry. Postpone and try to figure out where your progression is getting derailed. Chances are you need to build some skills better from the ground up. Keep at it and I know you can get better. You will improve.
If you’re feeling stuck, just let us know in the comments and we’ll try to get you sorted out. We are here to help.
If you haven’t done so already, you really should pick up a copy of the Logical Reasoning Bible. Josh and I both credit the techniques learned in that book for our perfect scores on the Logical Reasoning section. We are 100% confident that this is the single most valuable resource on the market to help you master logical reasoning, so don’t try to attack the section without it.