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Ameliorating the Pernicious Nature of LSAT Vocabulary

  • by Colin Elzie
  • Feb 13, 2010
  • LSAT, Reading Comprehension Advice


The LSAT, thank God, is not a vocabulary test. Unlike the GRE, you don’t have to sit down with a bunch of flashcards learning words that you would never see outside of a David Foster Wallace novel. LSAC is testing your logical reasoning ability, and they know that your knowledge of esoteric words doesn’t really say anything about your law-student potential, so you not knowing what “defenestration” means isn’t going to defenestrate your score (figuratively speaking). So there’s no need to supplement your LSAT books with a thesaurus.

“But reading comp asks you the meaning of strange words all the time!” you say. That is true. And yes, I know what I just said about the LSAT not requiring knowledge of advanced vocabulary. The thing is, the test writers know that not many of you were English majors or read Joyce for fun. When you get vocab questions in RC, what they expect is for you to get the meaning from context. You will rarely know the word, but you will always be able to answer the question nonetheless. So again, no major vocab needed. But don’t get all quiescent just yet.

Over the course of hundreds of hours of teaching the LSAT, I’ve noticed that there are a few definitions of words that you did need to know, and that some students simply do not know. If that’s you, don’t feel bad. Some of us just went to public school. I’ve collected some here of the words here, and it we be prudent to quickly review these. These have all shown up on more than one occasion.

The former and the latter – A lot of people are kind of in the dark about this one, and it shows up on the test all the time. Basically, when you’re talking about two different things, the one mentioned first is “the former,” while the once mentioned last is “the latter.”

For example: I was recently attacked by a homeless person and a dog simultaneously. I stabbed the former and adopted the latter.
Translation: So I shanked a hobo, and went home with a new best friend.

Carcinogen – something that causes cancer. This one also shows up all the time. The adjective is “carcinogenic.”

For example: Asbestos is a carcinogen, and cigarette smoke is carcinogenic.
You get the picture. Just say no to cigarettes. Unless you want to be cool.

Pernicious – Very destructive, injurious, or ruinous in some way.

For example: The carcinogenic nature of cigarettes makes them highly pernicious.

Ameliorate – Verb, meaning to make something better or tolerable.
For example: Although the carcinogenic nature of cigarettes makes them highly pernicious, this is somewhat ameliorated by the fact that smoking is so enjoyable.

Circumspect – Cautious and thought-out, possibly in a guarded nature.
For example: One should be highly circumspect in regards to his or her facebook account while applying to law schools, as admissions officers will often view applicants’ profiles. (This is true, by the way)

Arrested vs. Convicted – If you’re arrested, you’re just taken into custody. Being convicted means that you were found guilty of something.

For example: O.J. Simpson was arrested, but not convicted. Which was clearly the right decision.

Astronomy vs. Astrology – Astronomy is the study of the stars and other celestial objects. Astronomers are scientists, engaged in a noble profession. Astrology is the belief that such celestial objects can say something about you or your personality or other things that happen on Earth, which is utterly ridiculous. One should be highly circumspect of astrologers, who are charlatans supporting an idea that is pernicious to society and humanity.
Astronomers are responsible for much discovery and human advancement, while astrologers are responsible for the Reagan administration.

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