A Look at the June 2018 LSAT: Logical Reasoning
- Jul 04, 2018
Throughout this week, we’ll be sharing our thoughts on the recently released June 2018 LSAT. Today, we’re covering the score release and Logical Reasoning. Come back Thursday for a discussion of Reading Comp, and Friday for Logic Games and the curve.
Last Thursday, nothing related to the LSAT was supposed to happen. The scores for the June 2018 LSAT were supposed to be released on Friday, June 29. LSAC made a whole thing about how, instead of jerking around thousands of test takers and capriciously releasing LSAT scores sometime in the days surrounding the promised release date (as had been the case for pretty much every score release), they were going to release the June scores on the day they promised to release them. Which was Friday, June 29.
This was great news, since thousands of test takers wouldn’t have to act like compulsive wrecks and check their LSAC accounts constantly for weeks on end as they waited for score drop to happen at some indeterminate time. It was also great news for LSAT instructors like me — we knew on Friday we’d get our first look at the first LSAT of 2018-19 year, and we could treat this occasion with all the pomp and circumstance it deserved. We had banners and streamers and everything.
But old habits die hard, and LSAC decided to release scores at 12:04 am Eastern Time, which means the June LSAT was released on Thursday night for everyone who lived in Central, Mountain, or Pacific time zones. These scores continued to trickle out throughout Friday morning. They stuck to their planned score release, but only in the most technical sense for a lot of people. At any rate, a bunch of June test takers either got their LSAT scores unexpectedly on Thursday or, if they didn’t get their score until Friday morning, experienced what were presumably very unfulfilling nights of sleep.
For us LSAT instructors operating on Pacific Daylight Time, this was the equivalent of Fourth of July fireworks going off on the Third of July (and as a native San Diegan, this particular LSAT instructor has experienced some trauma with a ton of fireworks going off unexpectedly). But this premature emission did give us instructors an extra day with this test. So, without further delay, here are our thoughts on the Logical Reasoning section of the June 2018 LSAT.
If you took this exam and are now hard at work filling out your application materials, here’s your chance to reflect — hopefully in a none too traumatic way — on the exam that open the doors to your legal future. If you’re studying for the July, September, or some later LSAT, this breakdown should provide a little guidance in what your exam might look like. Let’s go to the breakdown!
• Let’s start with the question distribution on Logical Reasoning. While LR sections can bring up any topics — everything from the flight behavior of early winged dinosaurs to the influence of fish behavior on automobile design — there are only a few different types of questions. Eighteen common question types, according to Blueprint’s classification system. While you should expect to get at least one question of each type on your exam, certain question types are way more prominent than others, and they should deserve the lion’s share (lions were another topic of these LR sections, come to think of it) of your study time.
Except the LSAT has a funny habit of adjusting the prominence of certain question types. So the well-prepared test taker should know which question types are trending down (and less likely to appear frequently on an upcoming exam) and which are trending up (and more likely to appear frequently on an upcoming exam).
The question distribution on the June 2018 LSAT fit fairly closely to the patterns we’ve seen on recent exams. Like many recent exams, there weren’t many Implication questions — only six in total, three Must Be True questions and three Soft Must Be True questions. There was also, as on recent exams, a de-emphasis on questions that ask you describe formal aspects of an argument, like its main point, its argumentative strategy, or a role played by a given proposition (only four of such questions were on the June test). As on recent exams, there were a lot more Disagree questions than the historic norm, with three Disagree questions and one rare Agree question, which entails more or less the same strategy as a Disagree question.
The Strengthen question continued its reign as the most common question type, with nine of those in total. There have also been four to six Necessary questions on recent tests, and there were five on this one. In a nice piece of consistency, there have been exactly eight Flaw questions on the last four published LSATs, and there were eight here. There are always two Parallel and two Parallel Flaw questions on a given LSAT and, no surprise, there were two of each here. The one piece of whimsy we saw in the question distribution was the seldom-seen Crux question, which hasn’t shown up since the last June test.
• The question type with the most outsized presence on this exam was Strengthen Principle questions, with five of those in total. This would normally be cause for celebration (OK, I mean, no one celebrates in the middle of a grueling four-hour exam, but it would have been serendipitous nonetheless), since these questions are among the most predictable on the LSAT. Usually you just anticipate a conditional statement that says, “If you have this argument’s premise, then you’ll get this argument’s conclusion” and the right answer says just that, more or less.
Except a lot of the correct answers on these questions took a different shape. The correct answer to one question, about some doctors performing an surgical procedure in which they slow patients’ heart rates to near-death levels, stated, “If you have this premise, you get this conclusion if and only if you get one of the other premises to the argument.” That “if and only if” doesn’t really affect how much this would strengthen the argument, but I’m sure it threw many test takers for a loop, raising their heart rates to near-death levels. The right answer to another question, about a Scott Pruitt-esque environmental minister who didn’t want his country to sign an international agreement that would reduce ocean pollution but harm economic growth, took the form of a comparative statement. For another, about the evaluating e-books as an artistic medium, the “if you have this premise” part of the right answer used very different language than the actual argument used in its premises.
• Speaking of things being tough, of the three sections, I actually thought the Logical Reasoning was the most difficult. After doing each question, I assigned a value to each question, from 1 (easiest) to 5 (most difficult). The average difficulty of the questions was 2.96 based on my back-of-the-answer-sheet math, which is definitely higher than usual.
I thought the first section probably had, on balance, the easier questions of the two, but it was sequenced in a more difficult way. There were several moderately difficult and definitely unexpected questions early on — like a tough Agree questions that showed up as Question 3 of that section — or questions that were easy to overthink and waste valuable time on — like a Necessary question with some trap answers that showed up in Question 2 — in the first section. This illustrates important reminders regarding Logical Reasoning: You have to have a short memory on these short questions, lest you let your performance on one question affect the next several, and it’s never a bad idea to skip a question that leaves you stupefied.
• The hardest question appeared in the second section, and it relied on an annoying piece of misdirection. It was a Flaw question, where a commentator criticizes this woman named Roehmer and her polarizing effect on national politics (Oh politics are very polarized right now? You don’t say. Thanks for reminding us, LSAT). To make this argument, the argument impugns the motives of Roehmer, stating that she is just trying please her loyal readers in offering her hot political takes. Since we have an attack on a person’s motives, a great many well-studied test takers likely thought, “Oh, this is definitely an ad hominem attack, a fallacy I have learned and a Latin word I now know and use to the chagrin of my friends, relatives, and colleagues.” And there was even an answer choice that said the argument is flawed because it “criticizes a column merely by invoking the personal characteristics of its author” — referring to the ad hominem fallacy.
The problem with that answer choice, however, was that the commentator never criticized Roehmer’s personal characteristics. He never said she was a deceitful or untrustworthy or immoral person. He just said that she had certain motives in writing her column. The right answer could have said that the commentator “criticizes a column merely by invoking the motives of its author.” But motives and personal characteristics are two different things.
The real issue in this argument is that the commentator contradicted himself. He said Roehmer was just trying to please her loyal readers. But he also criticized her for “impugning the motives of her adversaries.” So he criticizes her motives, while also criticizing her for criticizing others’ motives. Which is pretty unfair, and definitely bad argumentation. The right answer said that the argument “employs a tactic at one point that it elsewhere objects to.”
• Aside from that unique flaw, the same fallacy appeared over and over again on this test: bad comparisons. My goodness there were a lot of bad comparisons on this test. There were more bad comparisons on this test than there were in … uhh, I can’t think of anything to compare this to. Apparently I too am bad at comparisons. I guess I’m doing the same thing as the aforementioned commentator.
Anyway, bad comparisons usually take one of two forms on the LSAT: either the author makes a faulty analogy, concluding two things must share an attribute when all they have is one superficial trait in common, or the author makes an incomplete comparison, levying a value judgment between two or more things, despite not having all the facts you would need to make such a judgment.
And there were a ton of these all over Logical Reasoning. There were faulty analogies between the aims of politicians and scholars, between chimps displaying affection for other chimps and humans being the object of affection of other humans, between schools of fish and self-driving cars, between business clients who made a profit and business clients in general, between rules that forbade students from citing Wikipedia in history papers and censorship, and between PSAs’ ability to convince people to quit smoking and their ability to get people to start exercising.
Incomplete comparisons were plentiful as well: one doctor tried to predict that the number of flu cases would go up this year, just from the fact that there is one new strain of flu present this year (when we would also need to know how many people contracted the old strains this year to conclude that). Another guy named Umit claimed that the the amount of electricity power plants would need to produce to power a city full of electric cars would actually raise urban pollution, despite not providing any evidence about how much air pollution is emitted (Umitted?) from power plants or whether those power plants were located in urban areas. And one question said regulations that reduced the trade deficit would definitely improve the economy, despite not discussing any ways these regulations might hurt the economy.
• We spoke earlier this week about how weird some of the topics were on this LSAT, but we still can’t get over it. No one would accuse the writers of this test of literary bravura, but some of made-up names were either so phoned in as to be insulting — like “Jason’s Restaurant”; “Kelly’s Grocery”; “MegaFarm”; Ambitions, a television show clearly modeled on Billions; or The World Bank’s “Doing Business” report — or so over-the-top as to strain credulity — like “Hendry,” “Menkin,” “Umit,” “Goh Industries,” “HCN,” “Lorilou,” “RST,” “SamsonGonzales,” “VELSOR,” “ViqCo,” or at one point referring to chimpanzee’s kin as their “associates.” Like, as if these chimpanzees both work for the same insurance company, and they have meetings on Tuesdays, and they treat each other with cordiality, and they trade-off on who brings bagels to the office on Fridays.
• Finally, there were a ton of conditional statements on this test. Way more than I would have expected. Typically, there are somewhere between five and ten questions that involve conditional statements. In recent exams, that number has been closer to five. By my count, there were thirteen questions on this question that would have benefitted from diagramming some conditional statements.
The LSAT used to really test students’ ability to make long and occasionally complex transitive deductions from a series of conditional statements. You’d have to combine three or even four different conditional statements in order to make a valid conclusion. The conditional statements would be pretty easy to find — they’d use words like “if” and “all” and “only” — but then it would be a pretty laborious process to make the deduction. Recently, the LSAT has flipped that. They would try to hide the conditional statements, but the deductions would be a lot easier to make.
On this test, though, they kind of combined the worst of both approaches. They hid the conditionality — like on a really tricky Parallel Flaw question that came down to realizing that the word “provided” introduces sufficiency. And some of the deductions were difficult to make, with several questions involving quantifiers. And on one very meta question about philosophical paradoxes, you had to deduce that, if your intuition will tell you that a philosophical paradox’s conclusion is false, its premises are true, and its conclusion follows logically from those premises, and if solving a philosophical paradox requires you to accept that the conclusion is true, some of the premises are false, or that the conclusion does not follow from those premises, then solving a philosophical paradox requires accepting something counterintuitive. Sheesh.
• In summary, this was a tougher than usual Logical Reasoning section, but it nonetheless tested the fundamentals that will show up on any LSAT. Conditional statements, causation, and the common fallacies are bedrocks of LR. This exam may have featured slightly more conditional statements, slightly fewer instances of causation, and slightly less variation in its common fallacies, but it didn’t test anything that was truly new. I wouldn’t expect future LSATs to test anything truly new, either. But it wouldn’t hurt anyone to think of some topics that are less certifiably insane or names that are indisputably distracting.
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