In this post I’m going to share a games technique that you won’t find in anyone else’s LSAT book.1 It’s something some other experienced teachers have figured out for themselves along the way but they tend not to share it with students, and definitely avoid putting it in their books, because it looks complicated and they don’t want to scare their students away or risk confusing them. But I’ve found over the years that this one technique is worth an average of at least one and often two correct answers, or at least two minutes saved, for a typical test taker on a typical LSAT game to which it applies, and it applies on an average of two games per section — in other words, an average of about three extra points per test. Interested?
I call it Splitting the Game.
The basic idea is this: Suppose you know roughly how to diagram a particular game (be it ordering, grouping, or what have you; it doesn’t matter as long as you can do some sort of diagram). Let’s assume you’ve made that diagram and filled in what you can based on the clues. What should you do now — go to the questions? No. First, you ask yourself two things:
- Is there something about the game that
- can only go two ways (e.g., some element that can go in only two slots, some “block” that only fits two places, two different possible arrangements of the numbers of elements per group, that sort of thing); and
- has a lot else that depends on it (e.g., the block fills in a lot of the empty space, the element in question has a lot of other things tied to it)?
- Do I already have a lot filled into my diagram?
If the answer to the first question is yes, there is something that can only go two ways and seems like it’s pretty important, and the answer to the second question is no, you don’t have a lot in your diagram yet, then this is a game that should be split.
What you’re going to do is make two diagrams, one for each of the two possibilities you’ve identified above. I sometimes call these “two states of the world”, and the math geek in me labels them alpha and beta, but it doesn’t matter what you call them; the point is that you’re going to write out each of those two possibilities. And on each of the two diagrams you’re going to fill in as much as you can, applying all the clues in turn. You’ll probably find that on one of the diagrams, and sometimes on both, you can fill in a whole lot more than you could before you split the game; that’s what you’re hoping for because it’s going to help you answer questions quickly and correctly. In fact, the more I teach this technique the more impressed I am with how often using it saves far more time on the questions than it takes up front.
Having created the two diagrams (which did take some time, it’s true) you head to the questions. On the “if” questions, the ones that give you some new information, you’ll first look at your twin diagrams and quickly determine which of the two “states of the world” this question lives in (it will usually be clear which one it has to be); all your subsequent work on this question will take advantage of everything you have already filled in on that diagram. On the “which” questions, the ones that don’t give you anything else but rather ask about what is or isn’t possible, your first task in assessing each answer choice will be to look first at one diagram and then the next to see whether what they’re asking about is already known to be true, or false, in that state of the world, and proceed accordingly depending on the exact question. (For example, if the question asks whether something “must be false”, then the answer has to be false in both of the two possible states of the world.)
As I type this out I know it sounds like a complicated approach requiring a lot of work. And it’s true that by splitting a game you’ll be doing more work up front, before you get to the questions, than you otherwise might. But as I said, that work tends to pay big dividends when you get to the questions, provided those two conditions were satisfied up front (there was something that can only go two ways that a lot depended on, and you didn’t have much in the diagram otherwise). I wouldn’t recommend trying this technique for the first time on the actual test, but if you practice it you’ll probably find that your scores go up, as when it applies you’ll get through that game more quickly while making fewer mistakes.
This post is just a quick introduction to a powerful technique, one you can employ no matter whose diagramming techniques you’re already using. But if you’d like to know much more about how to apply this and the other techniques I’ve developed to improve your score on the LSAT logic games section, contact me. You can learn to beat the games section, and I’d love to help you do it.
- The diagrams of logic games that you’ll find in commercial LSAT books tend to look pretty similar to each other. Princeton Review, Kaplan, Powerscore, Blueprint… the techniques each company teaches are usually just variations on the same common themes. Games about order are diagrammed about the same from book to book, so are games about groups, in/out or true/false games, and so on. That’s one reason I’m comfortable working with students who are now taking or who have taken courses from all those companies: I’ve seen it before, regardless whose it is.