A Complete Guide to the Strategies You’ll Need on the Digital LSAT
- Aug 14, 2019
This September, as you’ve probably heard, the LSAT is going digital. You know that, right? Have we talked about it enough? I think we’ve talked about it enough. But if you’re taking this September LSAT, or any future LSAT (at least until The Singularity, when the test will become just brain imaging scan of your cognitive functions administered by our AI overlords), you have to deal with the fact that the test you’ll be taking is on a tablet using LSAC’s proprietary testing software, and not with the newsprint-bound test booklets your forebearers had to endure.
Even if you are taking the digital test, however, rest assured: the content of the test is not changing. You’ll still be given two Logical Reasoning sections, a Logic Games section, and a Reading Comp section. You’ll get an experimental section, which will be ungraded but hard to detect. LR will still be about arguments, mostly. How to break them down, how to strengthen and weaken them, how to identify assumptions in them, and how to draw your own conclusions from them. Bad arguments, especially, will abound. LG will still feature the same old ordering, grouping, and combo games, and if this test is anything like the last, say, ten or so tests, making “scenarios” will be extremely helpful. The passages over on RC will feature the same soporific topics, but will follow familiar structures. Your first step in studying for the LSAT will still be to acquire these skills, so that you can apply them on test day, irrespective of whether that test will be administered on a tablet.
But after you amass these skills, you might want to turn your attention strategies that are specific to the new test software that LSAC will use in September and beyond. So, let’s talk about some strategies we can use to our advantage on this digital exam. But first, let’s acquaint ourselves with the tools at our disposal, in case you haven’t already taken a look at them yourself on LSAC’s digital familiarization page:
This toolbar, which is featured at the top of the screen, includes all the features we’ll be using to mark-up the questions themselves. The underlined “U,” unsurprisingly, underlines things. You click on that and then drag your stylus across a word to underline that word. The three highlighters will highlight the text in the three different colors. The eraser allows you to erase anything you’ve highlighted or underlined. The Big A/Little A icon (I like to think of it as a Poppa A and a Baby A), adjust the size of the text. Those three lines adjust the line spacing. And clicking on the half-shaded sun will harness all 9940.73 degrees Farenheit of the sun to toast your enemies to a crisp. Or, it adjusts the screen brightness. I always forget which it is. Also, you can see that there’s a timer that shows you just how much time is left in each section, which incidentally heralds a tough break for the manufacturers of LSAC-compliant wristwatches people were forced to use on the paper-and-pencil exam.
This line-up of questions is featured at the bottom of the screen at all times. The black-filled dots signify that you selected an answer for that question. The unfilled white dots signify that you have not yet selected an answer to that question. The small black line above dot number 5 indicates that I am currently on question number 5. The flag above dot number 4 indicates that I “flagged” that question, which most people use to indicate that they’d like to take another look at that question, time permitting. You can click on a given question’s “dot” to jump ahead to that question, or you can just manually cycle through them by clicking the arrows at the bottom. This particular line-up of questions is taken from a Logic Games section. So those black dividers in between dots number 5 and 6, and 10 and 11, and 16 and 17, show that the first game ends with question 5, and the second game ends with question 10, and the third with question 16. Similar dividers are used to separate the passages on Reading Comp.
This is an unofficial stock photographer’s rendering of the scratch paper you will receive on the test. Based on reports from the July exam, it seems like every test taker will be given a booklet of scratch paper, which should include more than enough to cover you for the entire exam. But you can raise your hand and ask for more, if you need it.
OK, crash course into the digital tools is complete. Let’s talk about how to use some of these tools to our advantage ….
More than any other section on the LSAT, Reading Comp is going to require you to practice some digital-based strategies before the big day. Because you can no longer mark-up or annotate the passage per your whim, you’ll have to develop a system that makes best use of the limited tools at your disposal: the underliner and the three colors of highlighter. You do not want to start just underlining spontaneously when you read a passage — you’ll underline far too much of the passage, and you won’t know, exactly, why you underlined that sentence when you look back to the passage. Instead, you’ll want a plan. Here’s your plan:
Read in “Passage Only” mode
There are two ways to view the passage on the digital LSAT interface: the default “Passage with Question” view and the optional “Passage Only.” When you do your first pass-through, click on the “Passage Only” icon, to display the full passage on the screen, in all of its ignominy. You may need to adjust the text size to get everything on the screen at once. It’ll be much easier to refer back to earlier parts of the passage when the entire passage is displayed at once.
Underline the author’s attitude, highlight the secondary structures and definitions
To keep your underlining and highlighting consistent and helpful, we recommend underlining the words and phrases that express the author’s opinions and highlighting the important details we call the “secondary structures.” You can also highlight the definitions of key ideas in the passage. We go into why we want to focus on these things, in depth, here. In short, we care about these things because most, if not all, of the questions will touch on these issues. So you’ll want to quickly reference those parts of the passage, which highlighting and underlining allows.
Make “Bliffnotes” on your scratch paper
On your scratch paper, you’ll also want to make what is essentially a Table of Contents for the passage. I’ve taken to calling these “Bliffnotes” — a combination of Blueprint and Cliffnotes that the United States Patent and Trademark Office has to date refused to recognize. At any rate, you should write down a number each paragraph, and next to that number write a brief description of what that paragraph is all about. Think about it like making a title, or a header, for each paragraph. You definitely don’t need a lengthy description of each and every detail. Here’s how I would write out the tags for the above passage:
You definitely want to make sure that you note who’s advancing the argument in the passage. In this passage, it’s author’s argument from the first paragraph on, so I included that in the notes:
You’ll use these notes in a few ways. If you need to answer a question about a specific detail from the passage, these notes can help you identify where that detail is located. If I got a question about “memories,” I’d look to these notes, and figure out that the support information is probably in the third paragraph. I’d then check the third paragraph for something I highlighted or underlined.
These notes will also help you answer questions about the organization of the passage. For questions about the overall organization, just look for an answer that reiterates each point in those notes: “The first paragraph poses a question, the middle paragraphs present a case that helps to justify the posing of that question, and the final paragraph presents a possible answer to the question” — something like that. And if a question ever asks about the role played by a given paragraph, you have that answer in the notes.
For the comparative passages, it’s important to note the points of intersection between the two passages — the issues over which the authors agree and disagree, and the details that appear in both passages. Most of the questions will be about these issues, so it’s really important to note where those points of intersection are in the passage. Highlight the similarities (the details that show up in both passages and the points on which the authors agree) in one color, and the differences (the points on which the authors disagree) in another color. I chose the yellow highlighter (because exposure to the yellow glare of the sun is one similarity all people on Earth share) for the similarities and orange for the differences (because “orange” is so phonetically different than any other English word). But you are free to use whatever esoteric color scheme you want. Just be consistent from practice exam to practice exam.
Fortunately, Logical Reasoning is affected far less by the switch to the digital format than Reading Comp, so this will be a shorter discussion. But there are a few strategies we should adopt …
Underline conclusions, highlight keywords
Much like Reading Comp, you should use the dual underlining and highlighting powers of this digital platform to your advantage on Logical Reasoning. We’ve been telling you to underline conclusions for years. So continue to do that. But you can also highlight certain keywords that help us answer the questions. For instance, if you see some conditional statements in the stimulus, you can highlight the conditional keyword to make diagramming easier …
Skip and flag, skip and flag
We’ve talked before about the importance of skipping questions on LR — of why you need to practice cutting ties with a question before it drags you into an abyss of confidence-rattling uncertainty. All LR questions are worth exactly one point in your raw score, so there’s no reason to sink too much time into a question that doesn’t make sense to you, when that same amount of time could be spent answering multiple questions that do make sense. And one major benefit of the digital test is the “flag” feature. For any question you skip, click that flag button. You’ll see in the line-up of questions that you skipped that question, allowing you to quickly and easily return to it at the end of the section with any time you may have remaining at the end of the section.
Most of what you’ll do in the Logic Games section will be on scratch paper. By all accounts, you’ll have plenty of scratch paper to cull from. But you still shouldn’t be wasteful in your use. We should conserve paper on this section not just because we’re good conservationists, but also because having to rifle through multiple pages of work for a game is going to slow you down, confuse you, and introduce opportunities for avoidable mistakes. We told you before that organization is one major aspect of getting through a game, so keep your work as organized as possible, and try to confine all your work to a single page. Make sure you have an original set-up and scenarios, along with the rules, and that you work out any conditional question (those that start with “If” and which introduce a new rule that only applies to that question) with a new set-up. Try to make your page of scratch paper look like this, more or less:
After you’ve learned and absorbed and refined all the skills you’ll need on any LSAT — digital or otherwise — get to work applying these strategies for the digital test. LSAC has a few practice exams in the digital format on its digital familiarization page, and any exam you take with your myBlueprint account (which you can access by signing up for a classroom, live online, or online anytime Blueprint course!) will allow you to take an exam in its format. With a bit of practice, you’ll feel like an old pro with the digital interface. Not bad, considering you’ll be among the first to ever use it.
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