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Speeding Up with Conditional Statements


Figuring out timing on the LSAT can feel impossible — you might wonder how you’ll ever be able to get through a whole section, let alone devote time to those “extra” steps like anticipating the right answer or diagramming. The catch-22, of course, is that taking the time for those extra steps is necessary (see what we did there?) for getting through a section with adequate time — if you skip them, you’re more likely to waste time and be tempted by wrong answers.

That said, as with everything on the LSAT, skills like diagramming can and should be approached strategically. With a little foresight, you can help ensure that you’re diagramming when it’s truly useful, but not wasting time figuring out whether or how to diagram on questions where it’s really not going to help you.

1. Know what question types commonly contain conditional language

Conditional statements can (and do) show up anywhere on the LSAT, but they’re particularly prevalent in certain question types. If you’re doing one of the following Logical Reasoning types, you should know to keep your diagramming spidey sense attuned:

• Must Be True
• Soft Must Be True principle
• Flaw
• Parallel
• Sufficient

2. Read first, then diagram

Some people prefer to dive right into diagramming as they read, while others like to get the lay of the land first and then start diagramming. An advantage of doing the latter is that you can take a moment to figure out whether a diagram will be helpful, and which parts of the stimulus are relevant to your diagram. That way, you’ll avoid getting bogged down trying to diagram sentences that are really just providing background information.

3. Eliminate answer choices strategically

There are some questions for which you really need to diagram all answer choices to eliminate the wrong ones … but those questions are in the minority. For the rest, take a second to think about which terms you know the correct answer will need to contain, and what terms it can’t contain (for instance, “all” instead of “most,” or “never” instead of “sometimes”). If you come across an answer that doesn’t meet your criteria, you can cross it off and keep moving.

4. Look out for key words

Keeping an eye out for words that indicate sufficiency or necessity will help you easily identify which statements should be diagrammed, and how to properly diagram them. If it’s been a while since you thought about how to diagram a sentence containing “only if” or “unless,” take a moment to review conditional key words so that you can spot them easily while working on sections.

5. Practice makes perfect

Not surprisingly, the more comfortable you are with diagramming and combining conditional statements, the more quickly you’ll be able to buzz through questions that require using conditional reasoning. If your diagramming skills still feel shaky at best, set aside some study time to work on untimed questions containing conditional statements – the added proficiency will have big payoffs when you’re working on a timed section.