How do I go faster at logical reasoning? I know the material, but when I take timed sections, things fall apart.
As I wrote in the main speed FAQ, it’s a myth that you can know the material but have trouble with timing. The better you know the material, the faster you’ll go. So know that 80-90% of speed issues on LR are solved by getting better at LR, not by separately getting better at “speed”.
However, there are some things you can work on to train speed specifically. Note that a lot of these things actually fall into the “getting better at LR” category. The tactics below are the way experts approach LR. Or how I approach it anyway. But these tactics also happen to have an impact on speed.
1. Understand the stimulus before you look at the answers
The stimulus is the big block of text on each LR question. It’s by far the most important part of the questions. The answer choices are traps. 80% of them are wrong, and 100% of them are designed to confuse you. LR answer choices subtract information.
But everyone’s in a rush to get to the answers. This slows you down. You probably don’t realize how much time you’re wasting on the answer choices. It’s easy to let 60-70 seconds slip by as your eyes dart from answer to answer.
If you know the stimulus 100%, the answers are easy. I guarantee this is true. I normally don’t spend more than 5-15 seconds on the answer choices. But that’s because I put a lot of work into completely understanding what’s going on in the stimulus. I’ll read it 2-3 times if I need to. This takes far less time than you realize. It might take you 30 seconds to read a stimulus the first time, but only five more to read it again. Have a friend time you on stimulus vs. answers, you’ll be amazed.
What do I mean by “complete understanding?”. On an argument, at a minimum, you should understand precisely what the conclusion and reasoning say. This is harder than it seems. It’s very common for LSAT students to say “I understand this” when actually they’ve missed a key point or understood the conclusion too broadly.
You can check how you’re doing by looking at my LSAT explanations. I identify the precise conclusion and reasoning of every LR argument. If you are moving on to the answers without having identified everything I identify in the explanations, then you’re slowing yourself down.
2. Prephrase the right answer
Prephrasing means predicting what the answer will be. Almost 100% of LR questions can be prephrased. I noticed this when writing explanations. I write my analysis sections before I look at the answer choices, and I usually don’t have to edit what I wrote. I already know what I’m looking for.
If I can do this, then so can you. I don’t have access to any secret information. I’m looking at the same stimulus you are. How am I prephrasing?
- I precisely identify the conclusion and reasoning, as I wrote above.
- I usually read or skim the argument again, if anything is unclear or if I’ve forgotten part of it.
- This step is the most important part. I stop and think about why the argument could be wrong. I don’t look at the answers until I do this.
Training logical reasoning prephrasing
You can train yourself to get better at prephrasing. Do some LR questions untimed, and cover up the answers. Only look at the stimulus. Think about it deeply. Write down what you expect the answer to be. Once you have a possible answer, then you can uncover the answers to check if you’re right.
Keep doing this exercise. If your prephrases aren’t matching, then it means you need to modify how you think about prephrases. When the right answer is different, look back at the stimulus and see how you could have predicted the answer from the information in the argument.
I should note that it’s a bad idea to get hung up on a specific prephrase. Often, there are multiple flaws in an argument, or multiple ways to describe a flaw. You might think of a specific prephrase, but then it doesn’t match the answers. This happens to me too. When it happens, I just forget about my prephrase and consider the answers based on what I know from the stimulus.
So a prephrase is a nice thing when it works, but you should discard prephrases quickly when they don’t work.
3. Read all the answers before you consider any thoroughly
40% of the time, the right answer will be D or E. And often, the answer will be obviously right once you look at it.
It is therefore a mistake to spend 30 seconds thinking about A or B if you haven’t even looked at D and E yet. I personally go quickly through all the answers before I carefully consider any of them.
When I look at the answers, I usually either have a prephrase, or a clear idea of what would make an answer right or wrong. I do a quick pass through the answers to sort them into categories. Here’s how I approach the answers. I spend no more than a couple second categorizing each one:
i. Clearly wrong —> eliminate
ii. Probably wrong. Keep, but not a contender.
iii. Quite possibly right. Examine more closely after first pass.
iv. Almost certainly right —> Mark as right, but check rest to be sure.
Usually, my first pass will either result in iv, almost certainly right, or I’ll be left with 1-2 answers that are possibly right. Then I check those answers more carefully and look at the stimulus again to be sure.
When I’m considering the answers more carefully, I don’t really look at categories i and ii: certainly wrong and probably wrong. I’m aware that these answers might be right, but why spend time there?
Note that you need to keep track of how well you’re categorizing answers. For instance, if you decide that an answer is “probably wrong”, but then it’s the right answer, you need to figure out why you made that mistake. If you actively review how you classify answers, you’ll improve your classification skills.
Once get good at answer classification, you’ll be able to skim through the five answers and sort them with ease. This significantly speeds you up by preventing you from wasting time on early answers, and letting you find the right answer immediately in cases where the answer is obvious once you spot it.
4. Identify question types that slow you down, and drill them
It’s not enough to be right on LR. You want to be right and fast. If you can get 100% of parallel reasoning questions right, but it takes you 2:30 minutes per question, then you can hardly boast of your parallel reasoning skills.
Certain question types are time sinks. For example, parallel reasoning questions tend to be long. Certain principle questions are long as well. But, there are ways to do these questions faster. Once you identify that a certain question type slows you down, drill it. And set a high standard. Know that experts don’t take any longer to do any one type of question compared to others; there’s always a shortcut.
This FAQ isn’t the place to give tips on how to handle all question types. But often, simply knowing that something is possible can let you improve. I can solve a long parallel reasoning question in 30 seconds. I have no secret knowledge, I just know what to look for. You can learn to do this for each question type too, if you set a high standard and research how people get those questions right, fast.
5. Train for speed (by doing timed sections)
If you want to go faster, then you have to at least some practice under timed conditions. A lot of people ask me why they can’t go fast, but then admit that almost all of their practice is untimed. If you aren’t training for speed, then you won’t have any pressure to go faster.
Untimed work has its place, but you need to do timed practice as well. The LSAT is a timed test, and the only way to prepare for this is to practice under actual conditions. The more timed sections you do, the more you’ll get into the rhythm of the test’s timing.
You can also modify the timing to train yourself. For instance, suppose you need 45 minutes to do a section comfortably. As a practice exercise, you can do a timed section with 42 minutes. This is fast enough that it forces you to adapt to the timing, but not so fast that you’re overwhelmed. Then work your way down to 35.
You don’t have to stop there. If you can finish in 35 minutes, then work on some sections where you only have 32-33 minutes. This is called overtraining. If you can succeed under harsh conditions, then the test itself will be much less stressful.
Don’t make all of your timed practice overtraining or undertraining. But they’re useful tools to use in order to adjust yourself to timing. And definitely do a lot of timed 35 minute sections. This is the best way to get used to timing.
6. Monitor your energy
High performers in any field are acutely aware of their mental state. You need to be too. Any difficult, skillful activity has its stresses. Novices get overwhelmed. High performers see problems just as they begin, and can take action to stay on track.
Here’s a common scenario. You see a long parallel reasoning question. The mere sight of it produces a twinge of panic. This happens to me. The question is….what happens next?
Me: Oh, I feel panic. Why? I guess it’s because the question is long, and seems frightening. But that’s silly. I’ve done questions like this before. Time to breathe and then do the question.
You: Aah, it’s long! What if I can’t do it!??! Fuck, I wish I was better at this. I’ll never get into law school at this rate. I’m such a loser. What will Julie think of me? Mmm, Julie, she’s so pretty. Hmm, Julie, didn’t she mention something about going to a concert this week. I like concerts. Or do I? Maybe I just go to be with people. They’re kind of loud. But it’s fun to see the bands. The rolling stones. They’re pretty good. Is Mick Jagger still alive? I think so, I”d have heard if he was dead. I’m kinda hungry. Maybe I’ll get something to eat. Oh wait, I can’t eat, I’m taking the LSAT.
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!! I’m taking the LSAT. I just spent who knows how long daydreaming. That was so stupid. Fuck, why am I so stupid!!!?!!?!?!? I’m such a loser. What will Julie think of me? Mmm, Julie, she’s so pretty. Fuck, no, I’m doing the LSAT! I can’t think about Julie now. Focus. What question am I on? Oh, this parallel reasoning question. Aaaaah, it’s long! What if I can’t do it? Fuck, I wish I was better at this!!!!! I’ll never get into law school at this rate. I’m a loser!!!!! Maybe I should have stayed in that band. Aww, who am I kidding, I’d never be Mick Jagger. Man, if he even still alive. Time passes so fast, and….oh fuck, there’s only ten minutes left!!!!!! I’m only on question 13. How did this happen!?!?!?!?
Sound familiar? That’s your mind on panic autopilot. The key to avoiding this is to notice the first moment of panic or stress, and respond to it while it’s still small. Breath. Relax. It’s ok to take a moment to gather your senses. The alternative is that wall of text above.
You’re human. You’re distractible and prone to panic. It’s how we’re built. You need to recognize this, and to develop habits that let you manage stress and get the work done regardless. The first step is paying attention to how you feel.
You can practice this in everyday life. For instance, suppose someone’s rude to you. What do you do? Do you yell at them and escalate things? Do you spend the next hour in a bad mood? Neither is a sensible response. What do you care if someone was rude? Learn to recognize the feeling of being annoyed from rudeness. Acknowledge it, and then remind yourself that’s it’s not a big deal. Respond to the situation the way you ought to, after things consideration. Most things we get stressed about aren’t worth stressing about, and yes, this includes doing a timed LSAT section.
If you can recognize when you feel stress/fear/sadness/panic/anger, then you can manage those emotions. This doesn’t mean repressing them. Sometimes it makes sense to be angry or to be afraid. But then again, we often get angry over really tiny things. If you can recognize the onset of emotion, then you can also know when it doesn’t make sense to respond emotionally to a situation.
If you train this ability, you’ll be able to handle the LSAT much more smoothly. When you feel the start of stress/fear/sadness/panic/anger, acknowledge the emotion. Take a few deep breaths. You’re just taking a test. You’re looking at a piece of paper with ink on it. It can’t hurt you. Once you recover your focus, you can solve the question faster.
This advice applies to all sections, but especially to logical reasoning. Logical reasoning questions aren’t related to each other, so it’s easier to take short breaks between questions. I personally take lots of small, 5-10 second breaks while doing logical reasoning sections. This takes a bit of time up front, but I can go through the section a lot faster because I keep my energy and focus throughout.
7. Skip hard logical reasoning questions (and come back)
Ever review a section, look at a question you found hard, and say “Aaaah, it’s obviously B! Why didn’t I see that?”
This is very common. Once your brain forms a view of a situation, it’s very hard to change your mind. This is usually a good thing. It lets you make sense of a chaotic world. But it’s counterproductive on LSAT questions. If you form a wrong view of a question, it’s almost impossible to fix things.
So don’t try. Skip the question. Come back if you have time. Skipping questions has the following benefits:
- You have more time for other questions. This is huge. You’re giving up one point to get many more.
- You might actually have time left over at the end of the section. Then you can come back to the questions you skipped.
Having time left over at the end of the section changes everything. First, you’re no longer rushed as you do the section. You know you can finish. Second, you’ll have time to doublecheck questions and to take a second look at questions you skipped. The only way you’ll finish with extra time is if you learn to skip hard questions. They’re timesinks.
I routinely skip 3-4 questions per section. I mark off answers I’m considering, and come back at the end. Usually, when I look again I form a new view of the question and it becomes much easier. Time away from the question lets you see things you don’t see the first time through.
So I skip questions, initially, but I still get them right. You have a choice:
- You can spend 2:30 minutes thinking about a hard question, OR
- You can spend a minute thinking about the question, then move on. You’ll have 1:30 to spend on other questions, and you can use 30 seconds of that time to take a second look at the question after you’re done.
My vote’s for option II. Your time will be far more efficient if you get in the habit of moving on from questions once you notice you’re in a rut. Usually, if you haven’t solved a question in 1:00-1:30 minutes, any additional time spent on it is pure waste. Save that time, finish the section and come back. You’ll have much greater odds of success the second time around.
More LSAT speed tips
- How to go faster at the LSAT
- How to go faster at LSAT logic games
- How to go faster at LSAT reading comprehension