All About the LSAT Format

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The LSAT is a paper-based test consisting of five 35-minute sections of multiple choice questions followed by a writing section. Each multiple-choice section of the LSAT will be Reading Comprehension, Analytical Reasoning, or Logical Reasoning. Excluding the writing sample that is unscored, the LSAT has two Logical Reasoning sections, one Reading Comprehension, one Analytical Reasoning section, and one unscored "Variable section" that is exactly like one of the other sections aforementioned.

Logical Reasoning

Logical Reasoning composes two of the four scored sections on the LSAT, making this the most important material to master. Logical Reasoning sections test the ability to analyze, critically evaluate, and complete arguments effectively. Questions will be based on excerpts from a variety of passages, including newspapers, popular magazines, scholarly journals, advertisements, and casual discourse. Although few of the arguments will contain legal subject matter, the arguments will mirror legal reasoning in terms of the type and complexity of arguments presented.

Logical Reasoning sections present short passages followed by one, or occasionally two, questions about the content of the passage. The questions are intended to gauge a variety of critical thinking skills pertinent to practicing law. You have to identify argumentative flaws, explanations, assumptions, or applicable rules and principles; recognize the component parts of an argument and how they make up a whole; compare and contrast between styles of reasoning, points of disagreement, or misunderstandings; use analogies to advance your argument; determine how additional evidence would tip an argument one way or the other. It is your ability to understand, criticize and draw reasonable inferences from brief arguments that will be measured.

Logical Reasoning sections are intended to evaluate your ability to analyze and manipulate arguments, one of the central skills required for legal analysis. Studying for the LSAT is an opportunity to begin building the skills that will empower you as a lawyer, especially the ability to analyze, evaluate, construct, and refute arguments. You must be able to identify what information is relevant to an issue or argument, predict what impact additional evidence would have, synthesize conflicting information, and construct persuasive arguments.

Analytical Reasoning

Analytical Reasoning, also known as "Logic Games", is probably the most distinctive and, to some, a uniquely challenging section on the LSAT. These games are variable-laden and those who love brainteasers or intuitively understand spatial reasoning may really enjoy these puzzles. You will be tested on how you assess a group of facts and rules and, given that information, determine what is or is not true. This section focuses on this specific form of inferential reasoning or deduction. The scenarios are unlikely to be related to law and are more abstract, but these hypothetical situations presented will flex your analytical muscles. The section consists of 23 – 24 questions, grouped into 4 logic games. The number of questions per game varies from 5 - 8.

Every LSAT logic game contains the following elements: 1) A premise in that establishes the game's scenario and how the subjects are involved, including their relationship to each other. 2) A series of conditions that restricts certain relationships among the subjects. 3) A logical progression of questions on the viable relationships among the subjects. The passage for each set of questions will describe common relationships structured by ordering, grouping, or both. Diagrams are necessary for each game to organize the information; they must be fast, neat, and easy to understand. The logic games tend to fall into one or more of the categories based on how you organize the game's subjects: 1) Selection: You pick subjects from a pool or list. 2) Linear sequence: You line up the subjects in order. 3) Attribute: You ascribe characteristics to each subject. 4) Grouping: You divide the variables into three or more clusters. 5) Logical: You determine the cause-and-effect relationships that affect the subjects. 6) Spatial: You arrange the subjects in a 2D space to make sense.

All questions in the LSAT logic games involve deductive reasoning by which a conclusion arises from one or more premises. You will be measured on how you draw inferences from given facts and rules, possibly in the form of additional or substituted rules or facts; recognize equivalent statements in context by identifying possible replacements for a condition or rule that would not change the possible outcomes; examine conditional "if-then" statements to recognize logically equivalent statements; and comprehend the structure of a set of relationships to completely solve a presented problem).

Some examples for Logic Games could include allocating funding for research projects, prioritizing a list of tasks, grouping of subjects, organizing employee schedules, or determining the optimal seating arrangement of at a conference. Legal applications of Analytical Reasoning skills include determining the impact of a set of regulations or parameters of a contract, or sifting through complicated facts to find a pattern relevant to legal codes. Analytical Reasoning sections challenge students to perform the sort of detailed analyses of relationships and rules that legal students must frequently perform during their training and careers. No formal training in logic is required to succeed at Logic Games, but it's important to learn the architecture, develop your strategy and diagram completely.

Reading Comprehension

The LSAT Reading Comprehension is likely to be familiar territory to most students, as it is similar in structure to other equivalent sections from the ACT, SAT, GRE, and GMAT. You will analyze long and complex passages and demonstrate your understanding. Legal study and practice require extensive reading of varied, dense, argumentative, and expository texts, such as briefs, cases, codes, contracts, court decisions, and evidence. This reading must be precise, distinguishing exactly what is said from what is not said. It requires drawing appropriate inferences and applying ideas and arguments to new situations.

The Reading Comprehension section of the LSAT will consist of four passages of reading material with corresponding sets of five to eight questions. Three of the reading sections will contain a single passage of text; the remaining section, called Comparative Reading, will have two shorter passages that are related. The questions for the Comparative Reading section will test you on the same types of structures or arguments beneath the surface. You will soon be able to identify some of these patterns as: 1) common issue/central idea, 2) point/counterpoint, 3) generalization/instance, or 4) principle/application. It may be helpful to take quick notes as you read to annotate the text(s) for major elements. Law students will often be required to read multiple texts in conjunction with each other, such as reading a trial court decision along with an appellate court decision that overturns it, or comparing a hypothetical fact pattern with existing case law.

LSAT Reading Comprehension sections are drawn from a variety of subjects in the social sciences, biological and physical sciences, the humanities, and topic areas related to law. The sections are usually densely written and contain sophisticated arguments, difficult vocabulary, and complicated rhetorical structures. The passages challenge you not only to read carefully and accurately, but also to quickly digest and utilize large amounts of complicated information. It is best to predict what the author of the passage is going to ask or guess where the author is headed so that the answer choices are easier to eliminate. As mentioned, a macro and micro comprehension of the text will involve understanding the framework and spotting the elements. Common question types include: the main idea or primary purpose of the passage or passages; information or ideas that are explicitly stated or can be inferred; the significance of words or phrases in context; the structure and organization of the passage; application of information in a new context; principles embedded in the passage; analogies to assertions in the passage; the author's attitude about a subject as implied through tone and language; or the impact of new evidence on the arguments presented.

Variable Section

In addition to the four scored sections of the LSAT, there is also a fifth, unscored section called the "Variable Section", because it may be either Reading Comprehension, Analytical Reasoning, or Logical Reasoning. The Variable Section is indistinguishable from the other scored sections of the test, although it is usually one of the first three sections presented. The Variable Section will not impact the rest of your test nor will the law schools you apply see your results for this experiment. It is only used by the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) to evaluate the content and difficulty of new test questions or to provide data used to standardize test scores.

Writing Sample

After completing the five multiple-choice sections, you will be asked to write one sample essay prompt. You will have 35 minutes to plan and hand-write your essay. The essay will not be graded, but copies will be sent to all law schools where you apply. A recent survey of law schools indicated that almost all use the writing sample to evaluate candidates during the admissions process. The writing sample is intended to provide applicants with an opportunity to display their writing abilities under controlled conditions. Although the topics are usually not related to the law, the prompts are designed to inspire the type of argumentative, systematic writing that is required in law school.

The prompt for the Writing section will compel the student to make a decision between two positions or courses of actions. You will be given facts and criteria to guide your decision, but both choices will be defensible like a thesis - there is no "right" or "wrong" position to any topic. The evidence you provide should be coherent. The quality of response is judged not by which course of action is taken, but by the quality of your cogent argumentation and persuasive criticism of the unselected alternative. Law schools are particularly interested in reasoning, clarity, organization, language usage, and writing mechanics; they are more interested in how well you write than how much you write.