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Logical reasoning: why you should read the question first

  • by John
  • Feb 16, 2010

LSAT prep companies and tutoring gurus differ over a wide range of issues related to LSAT prep.  Many of these seem to be small distinctions, but today I want to focus on an issue that has divided the prep community and that, in my experience, really can impact students’ scores.  That is: in logical reasoning, should students read the question first, or the stimulus?

To be upfront, I’m going to come down on the side that students should read the question first, then use that as a means of interpreting the stimulus.  This is the method taught by several of the largest test prep companies.  However, others, namely Powerscore, teach that students should read the stimulus first.

Why you should read the question first

In short, I believe it saves significant amount of time.  For example, if a student did not read the question, she would immediately devote time to mapping out the argument, predicting assumptions, etc, That time would be wasted if the question was a relatively straightforward “find the conclusion” question.  Further, on the most difficult questions, it can help enormously to know what you are looking for.  Another example: in the more difficult “flaw” questions, it is not always apparent to test-takers that there is a problem in the argument.  If that student knows she is looking for a problem, she can save a good deal of time.

Why others think you should read the stimulus first

The excellent Powerscore LSAT Logic Games Bible says “We are certain [those who recommend reading the question first] are seriously mistaken.”  They list several reasons, but the most important is their claim that “reading the question stem first tends to undermine the ability of students to fully comprehend the information in the stimulus.”  In short, they believe that students should do their best to understand the stimulus on its own terms, then figure out what the question actually wants you to do.  They believe that, on complicated stimuli, the student is forced to “juggle two things at once” by also considering the stimuli.

I think this is backwards.  On more difficult questions, the student who attacks the stimulus first risks spending a ton of time breaking it apart and analyzing the  arguement.  In at least some of those situations, the question itself will not be so difficult.  We’ve all seen LSAT logical reasoning questions where the language was deliberately opaque or overly complicated, but actually solving the problem was relatively straightforward.  In these situations especially, it makes the most sense to attack the stimulus knowing what you are trying to do.

As with all things LSAT, it makes sense to try both methods in your prep.  In my experience, students are more comfortable and build their score when they practice reading the question first.

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