LSAT Kung Fu Blog / Of Hygiene and Jim Beam

Of Hygiene and Jim Beam

Of Hygiene and Jim Beam

A young reader contemplates his mortality

So here’s a myth that I’ve heard bandied about and that I’d like now to kick in the junk:

Either you know how to read or you don’t. Ergo, there’s not much you can teach someone about the Reading Comprehension section of the test.

This is very much like standing at the edge of a swimming pool and saying that either you know how to swim or you don’t.  I mean, therefore there’s no real purpose served by swimming lessons.

Yes, of course I’m certain that must be true. Clearly.


It kind of isn’t. Reading for the LSAT is a skill, not a talent. It’s not something that you’re born knowing how to do. It’s the kind of thing that you learn to do, and that you get better at by practice.

Of course it’s true that some people bring in disadvantages as they begin their preparation, in much the same way the hydrophobes begin swim camp lagging behind their peers. If you’ve shirked your cultural responsibilities as an avid reader of varied texts up to now, then you can’t expect that you’ll start out in the deep end with those of us who’ve spent our lives reading for pleasure, for information, for the expansion and better use of our brains.

But with a focused approach and a dedication to improvement, real gains can be achieved in a few weeks. You will need a coach. You’ll want someone who already knows how to swim, and who can direct you in your efforts. You’ll need a coach because it’s a long, hard process that you have to undertake. You’ll need a coach because you can’t get a proxy. You have a lot of work ahead of you, and though there are people in the world who can show you how to get better, there’s no one in the world who can do this for you.

Remember that I said it could be done, not that it would be easy. It can be done.

Of course, part of the problem is the language.

Or, I should say, our usage thereof.  We are slovenly with our words, just letting them spill this way and that with little regard for where they land nor much more for what they mean.  And although most of the time we get away with it, there are times, to be sure, when we have to pay.

The LSAT exacts a toll for such non-specificity – the test requires us to use words with care for their denotation and with an eye toward their proper structure and use.  If we regard this test in the same half-formed, slipshod, unkempt manner with which we approach our personal hygiene (I’m talking to you, buster, on the couch.  I mean, come on – would it kill you to run a comb through that thing?), then we will pay a price in words overlooked, meanings lost, and points given away.

For example, think about the following sentence:

Well, I’m not going to go out with him unless he showers.

In our day-to-day, we might take the speaker of this sentence to mean that she (or he) will date the person in question if he does shower, but that’s not what she said at all.

Her sentence offers us a necessary condition for dating her – the guy must shower.  However, simply because some guy meets that one necessary condition does not mean that he’s met every condition sufficient to win him a date.

Maybe he’s all showered up and ready to go, but he looks like this.

She might not find that the shower was enough.  And the astute reader will notice that our speaker never indicated that the shower would be enough; she just said that it would be necessary.  If we misunderstood her, the fault was our own.

And your parents abused the language, too; you can remember that among other things, they said the following to you:
If you don’t finish the rest of that opossum, you’re not getting any more Jim Beam tonight.

(Though I’ve just been handed something that says that in some families, parents might have substituted the words “broccoli” and “dessert” in some fashion in the foregoing sentence.  Whatever.  You’ll find I’m not one to judge the idiosyncrasies of your family life).

When they said that, you probably took them to mean that if you did eat all of your opossum (or broccoli, or what have you), that you would then be rewarded with Jim Beam (or some dessert.  Again, no judgment here).

And that likely is what they meant to say, but it is not what they denoted through their choice of words.  All they’ve said in the above sentence is that eating up all of your heapin’ helpin’ of opossum would be necessary in order for you to tip that bottle.  They never said that eating it all would be enough to guarantee that you’d get your drink on.

And if all the girls and boys are doing it and if even our parents are doing it, the deck is already stacked against us.  But fierceness of logic dictates that we swim upstream when necessary (if you’ll allow me to mix my metaphors with abandon), and we will read carefully, and we will symbolize conditions when so doing best serves our purposes, and we will see the meaning of the words in front of us, not of the words we wish we had.

Have a lovely and logical week, and join us next week when we intend to take up the idea of the bi-conditional (but again, no judgment here).

Before we go, here’s a bonus question for you: Which of the following best describes the primary purpose of the foregoing?

  1. To describe some advantages to a particular course of action
  2. To contrast a commonly accepted approach against two competing methodologies, then side in favor of the former approach
  3. To contrast a commonly accepted approach against two competing methodologies, then side in favor of one of the latter approaches
  4. To argue in favor of a particular course of action by appeal to several unrelated analogies
  5. To dispel a commonly held misconception by appeal to several unrelated analogies

First correct answer wins a date with Fake Dave Hall (you bring the wine, he’ll bring the glowy aura).

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stevegarcia88's picture

Regardless, my answer is E.

majorgeneraldave's picture

Certainly. Fake Dave Hall is a real catch, so I'll be eager to hear how it goes (he's so glowy and fit!)