If you just parsed the title to this post, considering each word and why it was included, then congratulations, your LSAT preparation likely is coming along just fine. (You’re still picking apart my sentences, aren’t you?)
I have a terrific tutoring student, to whom I’ll refer as Tom, though that’s not the student’s real name, of course. Tom is very bright, and a lot of fun to talk with. Our tutoring sessions go very well, with lots of “aha” moments and efficient progress through the material we decide to cover. One thing holding Tom back, though, is that he is just way too nice.
I noticed this during our first session, when Tom repeatedly agreed with me, even though I knew he hadn’t quite yet taken in the concept. We talked about that tendency of his, and I urged Tom to be more a bit more assertive in our conversations. I encouraged him to challenge me if something didn’t quite make sense to him, or if he thought another way of doing things might be better.
As we continued to work together, I could tell that Tom’s communication style was costing him points on the LSAT, too. His tendency in everyday conversations to agree with a person before truly analyzing what the person had said translated into failing to notice improper comparisons, the ambiguous usage of terms, and the introduction of new, unsupported language in conclusions. And, while Tom is a uniquely awesome guy, he isn’t unique in this respect. Many people preparing for the LSAT have the same tendency to agree first and analyze later.
Another tendency many people have is to fill in the missing words and smooth over the innocent inconsistencies that characterize the casual conversations we carry on with each other every day. Doing so is more than mere conversational generosity; it’s also efficient. The transaction costs of even our most mundane conversations would skyrocket if we intently analyzed every word without filing in the gaps based on context and personal history.
However, during your preparation for the LSAT, and on test day itself, you’ve got to break out of these communication patterns. Get into the habit of really thinking about what is being said, and determining whether there are logical gaps in the statements being made. On the test, this translates into things like questioning the appearance of a new term in the conclusion of a Logical Reasoning stimulus. Ask yourself, is it really a new term, or is it simply synonymous with, or related to, a term used previously? If it’s not synonymous, is its use supported by the premises some other way? Be connected and assertive.
Now, a word of caution: just because you start to notice the gaps and inconsistencies in even casual conversations doesn’t necessarily require you to address them! Parsing every interaction you have with friends and family, and especially any significant other you might have, is a surefire way to quickly reduce the number of conversations available for you to dissect.
In fact, I polled one of my classes this week to see if anyone had noticed an inverse correlation between their preparation for the LSAT and the degree to which the people in their lives appeared to enjoy communicating with them. As I suspected, a number of the students reported having to tone down their newly heightened analytical prowess to avoid social banishment.
Bottom line: become more attentive and analytical in these final weeks preparing for the LSAT. Though, it might be a good idea to apologize to your friends and loved ones in advance.
Photo: “No evil” courtesy of Geoffrey Fairchild.