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How to Use Your Debater Skills to Beat the LSAT


This post is for you debaters prepping for the LSAT (I know there’s a lot of you out there…). Skills that you already have can help you tremendously on the test if you use them in the right way. I did LD debate, but these are general skills that any form of debate is likely to have taught you:

Use Your Argument Generation Skills on Logical Reasoning

You have practice quickly coming up with responses to your opponent’s arguments during prep time. This skill can give you a fast and intuitive way to navigate Flaw, Parallel Flaw, Weaken, and Assumption questions. After reading the stimulus but before you hit the questions, come up with the response you’d make to this argument if you heard it in-round.

The idea isn’t that you anticipate the exact answer choice. Instead, going through the exercise of generating the argument gives you an intuitive sense of the flaw, which will allow you to recognize the answer choice when you see it. Your studying (especially if it’s with Blueprint) will teach you general patterns of flawed reasoning. But your own argument-generation skills can be a fast and useful supplement or replacement as you get into later stages of studying.

Use Your Skimming Skills on Reading Comp

You’ve probably been here: you want to check whether a card has been miscut (the debater is not accurately representing the author’s view). So you look at the card and read the whole thing, not just the parts that are highlighted and were read. But you don’t read the whole article. What you have done is develop a skill to quickly skim for the author’s overall point, to make sure it isn’t inconsistent with the part of the text that your opponent highlighted.

That skill puts you in a good position to try out this tactic: before you read the passage, skim it in the same way you would a card, to get the overall point (in Blueprint language, you’d be reading for the primary structure): is this a single viewpoint, or is to presenting two viewpoints and reconciling them—that kind of thing. Your skill at checking cards has primed you to read like this. After you skim (which should only take maybe 15 seconds), you read through the passage normally.

This tactic will allow you to remember and understand the passage better because when you read the details, you will already know the overall context to place them in. To use fancy literary language, this is a way to deal with the hermeneutic circle: you can only understand the parts if you understand the whole, and you can only understand the whole if you understand the parts.

Not sure if this tactic will help you? Practice it on one reading comp section. Then, the next day, do two sections back-to-back, one where you use this tactic and one where you don’t, and see which you do better on.

Think of Speed on the LSAT Like Speed in Speeches

Depending on the kind of debate you did, you probably had to learn to talk fast. I don’t mean just reading quickly, but giving mostly extemporaneous rebuttals. Think back on how you got quicker in rebuttals: by memorizing certain phrases for your extensions and common responses, by deeply understanding the material so you can make the connections more quickly, by just physically training your mouth to feel comfortable sliding along the syllables at that speed.

You should approach gaining speed on the LSAT as a combination of memorization, understanding, and physical comfort. Many students think they can get faster on the LSAT just by forcing themselves to move their pencil faster or to read quicker—but that over-emphasizes the “physical” side of test-taking. You think that the LSAT has nothing to do with memorization, but it does. You can learn patterns of inferences that frequently recur so you can do them on auto-pilot come test day.

There are many other ways that being a debater helps you on the LSAT that I’m sure you’ll discover as you study!