Tuesday, July 21, 2009

My Logic Game Journal

The following is the first entry from one of our Zen students in his journal through the LSAT self-study process. Look for weekly posts from Mr. Underwood on Wednesday mornings.

Not long ago, I feared logic games. I experienced them as one experiences a phobia: not only did I shake and grimace while I tried to crack any one game, but I would anxiously worry about the upcoming logic games while working on the other sections of my practice LSATs. To put it shortly, logic games intimidated me.

The intimidation, I believe, is there intentionally, and emanates mostly from the set-up of the analytical reasoning section. Whereas with other sections, you read a passage and answer either one or two questions, the logic games present you with a set of actors and conditions, and then force you to synthesize that information into rules; reapply those rules for hypothetical situations; and generally, stretch the information you were given in the stem in ways you never would have thought. For one set of information, the analytical reasoning question requires you to answer 4-6 questions.

Logic games come in big chunks. Suffice it to say, I had not trained my digestive system properly.

I sought advice. From a variety of sources, I received tips as simple as "work backwards" and as complicated as "create a syllogism for each problem, and then restate the problem in the terms of you syllogistic language." The best bits of advice indeed helped me solve a single, contained question, but I remained slow-working and myopic, solving problems one at a time without approaching a greater understanding of the logic games. At this point in my development, it took well over 35 minutes to complete the analytical reasoning section of my practice LSATs. The intimidation factor, needless to say, continued.

I came to Zen of 180 through a colleague, watched the Livescribe demonstrations of logic games, and then watched them again. Whereas others had been obsessed with telling me how to think, this blog allowed me to "look over the shoulder of someone who scores in the top of the 99th percentile on logic games." With that distinct privilege, I discovered, with a Eureka-like shock, a couple of incredibly simple, easy-to-apply 'best practices.'

Understand how all the rules interact with each other before you read the questions.

'Right' I remember thinking, the first time I received this instruction from the Livescribe demonstration, 'I don't understand how the rules interact with each other even after I've answered all the questions in one logic game.' As I found, this is just the point.

The problems are designed to mess with your understanding of the rules, so if you dive into them without a solid grasp you can forget about emerging with your sanity intact. Before going to the problems, I was advised by this blog, to: a) list all the actors using a single letter for each actor, b) write the rules (or conditions) in my own designated shorthand, and c) extrapolate any new rules that necessarily apply but go unlisted (because this would help you, and the LSAT isn't about that.)

This strategy felt counter-intuitive at first because I could spend as many as 5 minutes discerning how and where the rules interacted with each other, and what new rules I could extrapolate from those interactions. The pay-off, however, was well-worth it. In addition to making my work more focused, the interactions of the rules usually constituted 2-3 questions. If I understood the interactions of the rules before going into the problems, I could locate and solve these 2-3 questions very quickly leaving me time to tackle the more difficult hypotheticals. Also, I might add, there is nothing as satisfying as reading an analytical reasoning question on a LSAT and realizing that you 'thought of that already.'

2) For any logic game, draw a single, simple diagram.
The sheets of my Prep LSATs were obfuscated with useless chicken-scratch: re-diagramming for each question, arrows going everywhere, time-sucking formal logic symbols. At the end of a logic game, the chaos of the test sheet was an apt symbol for the chaos of my mind. Since coming to this blog, I've been using my diagrams a lot more effectively and a lot more efficiently. As directed on the Livescribe, I've found it very helpful to use a single diagram. It should be big enough to adapt to guessing and checking. Additionally, I started to put my actors into different slots using a light hand. This way I could erase if the next question rearranged some part of the game with a hypothetical.

The greatest benefits of a single diagram are simplicity and focus. Simplicity saves time, and focus, well, focus is what carries you through the LSAT.

3) Ignore question order; answer questions to "solidify your understanding of the game."

This point is reiterated several times throughout the Livescribes, so I will here mostly attest to how useful it is. When used in tandem with my first point (interaction of rules), one avoids several headaches.

Bascially, the analytical reasoning questions are not written in order so you should not expect to answer them in order. Immediately, you should look to answer 'Must be True' and 'Cannot be True' questions. If you've successfully internalized the rules, these answers will come quickly and further your understanding of the logic game. Next, look to answer 'acceptable list questions'--questions that say "which of the following could be a complete and accurate list of..."

After answering these questions, you will not only have confidence and momentum, but you will reaffirm your understanding of the logic game, giving you a huge advantage going into the hypothetical questions (questions starting with if; almost always done last).

After applying the wisdom of this blog, I've increased my analytical reasoning score by about nine points. I am not yet ready to have a docile LSAT prepper looker over my shoulder, but I've improved dramatically and in a relatively short time. Moreover, with a plan firmly in place, logic games no longer intimidate me. I do not anxiously fear the inevitable appearance of logic games while completing other sections of the test. This saves me a lot of energy that I will put to use for logical reasoning and reading comprehension. With analytical reasoning, as with all sections of the LSAT, even the most abstruse questions have answers, and the LSAT has a certain way it wants you to think to get to those answers.

I've found that this blog helps greatly with 'how to think,' and that gives me confidence going into each new practice LSAT.