LSAT Kung Fu Blog / FAQ Four
Today, we continue our series of mailbag questions, in preparation for the LSAT at the end of this week. Time's a-wasting - let's get to it!
Q: Dave, do you have any tips for dealing with test-day anxiety?
A: This is an important question, and one that I get a lot. Since it seems to have deep and complex psychological roots, test-day anxiety is tough for me to crack. But here are some thoughts that might help:
- Knowledge kills fear. If you know that you're ready for everything the test will ask, then you can relax a little, secure in the knowledge that there's nothing they can throw at you that you haven't seen before. Dedicated, focused practice is required to get to that place, but I believe you can do it.
- Prep in the food court at the mall. If you can learn to think under those conditions, then you'll be able to deal more easily with the smaller noises and distractions of the other test takers around you on test day.
- Many prep companies offer free practice exams - take advantage, just for the experience of sitting in a strange room, surrounded by strangers.
- Learn and practice some visualization techniques: Picture yourself in the room on test day. In your head, walk through the entire experience of the day, from waiting in line, showing off your passport photo, to receiving the test booklet and listening to the inexorable drone of instructions, on through opening the seal with your pencil and turning the first page. Picture yourself owning that test. If you can see all of that, then once it happens, you'll already be in charge of it.
- Remember that anxiety is an evolutionarily pre-programmed response. It's nature. You cannot expect to not feel nervous, and just saying to yourself "Hey, self, don't be nervous," won't stop it. Instead, recognize that the nerves are part of the experience, and that they will come, but that they do not get to win. The nerves don't mean anything. You are in control, and you will stay in control by allowing the anxiety to come on, recognizing it for the purely physical reaction that it is, and moving straight on past it.
Q: Any advice for avoiding careless errors?
A: Yes! Slow down.
I say slow down, when what I really mean is relax. The difference, measured in seconds, between the amount of time it takes you to read a sentence:
"As to the issue of Justin Bieber's romantic inclinations, I could care less"
or to correctly read the sentence:
"As to the issue of Justin Bieber's romantic inclinations, I couldn't care less"
almost can't be measured.
Probably you can't measure it using your wristwatch, anyway. But that miniscule difference in time means the difference between an author caring about the Biebs' love life in the first instance, and not caring about the Biebs in the second.
To catch that distance, you just have to read, which shouldn't be hard, but sometimes is hard nonetheless. So my best advice to you is to try to slow down, just a bit. You have the time to read properly. Make yourself know that - where it counts - and your actions will start to reflect it.
I think that will help. Hope it does.
Answer Part 9 - Point of Disagreement Questions
These questions ask you for the "point at issue" between two speakers, or for the thing about which two speakers "disagree" (hence my choice of name).
When deciding on the right answer between two choices, it will help to have a mechanism for making your judgments.
Here's a three-step approach that may help:
- First, treat the question exactly like a Main Point question. The thing they disagree about ought to be their central conclusion, right? Articulate the end-of-the-day difference between the two arguers. Look for an answer choice that expresses that point. Experience tells me you'll find such a choice in roughly 1 of every 3 POD questions. When you don't find such an answer choice...
- If no answer choice describes the main point of contention, treat the answer choices like the answers to Inference Questions; the answer will be the one choice that you can prove the arguers take opposing positions on.
- You may find it helpful to draw a two-column T-chart just to the left of the answer choices - one column is for Speaker 1, and the other for Speaker 2. As you read each answer choice, write down in your T-chart Yes or No answers for this question: "Can I prove that Speaker 1 agrees with this answer choice? Can I prove that Speaker 2 does?" If you cannot prove it either way, it's not the right answer. If they both say "no" to an answer choice (or, of course, if they both say "yes"), that's not the right answer. The right answer is the one with a firm Y in one column and a solid N in the other.
The right answer to the POD Question is the think you can prove they disagree about. For that reason, the answer is often pretty aggressively worded. When in doubt, choose the more aggressive answer choice. More often than not, that'll be the right choice.
Answer Part 10 - Main Conclusion Questions
I realize that for this question type, we'll really be talking less about choosing between two answer choices, and more about sussing the right answer from within the passage to begin with. I thank you for your forbearance.
Let's talk about three things that maybe don't get mentioned enough:
The But. Probably the single most important indicator of the main conclusion of an argument (in those cases when you've been asked to identify the conclusion, that is). So many arguments take one of these two forms:
(A) But ... since
Some people say that Tony will probably die alone [note the ascription!]
but this can't be true [see the conclusion here?]
since the ladies go crazy for guys who wear lots of cologne and say "broseph" a lot. [since always introduces evidence!]
(B) But ... so
Tony is afraid he will die alone, a victim of his own cologne [the setup]
but he needs to remember that there are some ladies who love them some cologne, [ah! competing evidence is offered!]
so maybe Tony will find love someday. [and we finish with a heartwarming conclusion]
In both instances, the word but can serve as an important indicator that you are nearing the conclusion. When you see that word in a phrase, determine whether the following phrase is evidence (as in the but ... since construction) or whether the phrase itself is the evidence (as in the but ... so construction).
The After All. These words (just like the word since, and the words to see this and this is because) always precede evidence. As a result of this rule, these words should then function for you like a giant, flashing neon light that says "Excuse me, Carl, but you have just now passed the Main Conclusion of this argument" (I'm assuming that if you're reading this, your name is Carl). When you see any of these words, you know you've found the conclusion. It's whatever sentence you just finished reading.
Therefore is wrong. Look, almost all the time, the word therefore is used to identify the main conclusion of an argument. But you tell me - if the test writers have asked you in a question to identify the conclusion, how likely do you think it is that they've telegraphed that conclusion by using the word thus or hence or therefore to signal it? Right. Not at all likely. When you're asked to find the conclusion, avoid the sentence that starts with therefore!
So, for Main Conclusion Questions, you'll be able to find the right answer most of the time (like 80% or better) by following one or more of these three rules:
- Find the but.
- Precede the after all.
- Avoid the therefore.
Answer Part 11 - Role Questions
The Role Question asks you for the function of a statement within the passage as a whole. When deciding between answer choices here, the most important thing you'll do is develop a good initial assessment of the function of the statement.
To do this, start with a wide view - what's the argument about? Describe it in the same way you'd describe an argument when answering a Method question. Perhaps the most important thing to warn you of is to avoid the (completely natural) tendency to focus on the statement in question while you're reading the argument.
If your job is to assess the role of the statement within the passage (and it is!), then you have to be able to see the whole passage in structural terms. If you concentrate on finding that one sentence you've been asked about, you may be less able to provide a good description of the argument, and consequently less able to identify the function of the sentence.
So, for Role Questions, read structurally - the same way you would for Method questions. Prepare to describe the passage as a whole, and only then should you worry about the single sentence you've been asked about.
For answer choices, expect bad answers of these kinds:
- Choices that correctly identify roles played in the argument by other statements. Your surest way to eliminate these answers quickly is to have at hand a strong, simple assessment of the role of the statement before you look at answer choices!
- Choices that correctly identify the role of the statement, but incorrectly identify the conclusion of the argument. Many answers will have this form: "Evidence for the conclusion that [X]." Of course, those answers are correct when the statement in question is evidence, and the conclusion of the argument is [X]. However, it's often the case that the statement in question is evidence, but the conclusion of the argument is [Z], not [X]. The existence of these kinds of bad answers (and there are plenty of them) is perhaps the clearest reason why you need to strive for a good general description of the argument, and not worry only about the one statement in question. Stay on your toes, and you'll mostly be fine.
Knowing what you can expect from bad answers will help fill in the puzzle: For Role Questions, you describe the argument, eliminate choices that don't match your description, and eliminate options that don't match the argument.
Answer Part 12 - A final note on language cues
Think of language cues within answer choices sort of like modes of dress:
For example, if a person is wearing a wedding dress, then there are two additional things that are almost certain to be true:
- The person is female.
- The person is getting married.
Likely, well over 90% of all cases of persons wearing wedding dresses involve both of the above facts.
Of course, it's certainly possible that one or both of those things are false - maybe you see someone in a wedding dress and he's a man going to a costume party (or maybe he's in New York and he is getting married!)
It's possible for the cues regarding expected language to be misleading, in almost precisely the way that it's possible for someone in a wedding dress to be misleading. It could happen, but not very often.
- For answers to Necessary Assumption and Inference Questions, we want Soft Language.
- For answers to Weaken and Strengthen Questions, we expect Middle Language.
- For answers to Sufficient Assumption Questions, we want big, burly Load-Bearing Language.
And speaking of being big and burly, tell us how strong we are: Check us out online or drop us a line at Info@VelocityLSAT.com, and visit The Forum (http://www.VelocityLSAT.com/Forum) to join the conversation, to share your thoughts on our answers here or to ask a question of your own, or to suggest topics for future conversations. Next week, we'll open our episode with some thoughts on the October test.
Until then, and especially all week long this week, be big and be burly. Go kick some ass.
Photo Credit - www.flickr.com/photos/roonb/2095647725