Mentality Musts: The First Mental Hurdle

Ouch.

We’ve all been there – frustrated, staring at a question where you’re convinced that the right answer choice is wrong, and the choice that you picked is better. This is the first mental hurdle that every student must overcome. 

As hard as it may be to accept, you must recognize that whenever you disagree with a correct answer choice, you are wrong. 

Obviously, this is frustrating. Your brain is screaming at you that things are “obviously” a certain way, so to be told that you are wrong is jarring. It goes further than just your typical frustration with getting something wrong. On the LSAT, a logic-based skills test, the implication of getting a question wrong is that you have been illogical. And if there is one thing that every single human on this earth clings to, it is that s/he is a logical being. To be told otherwise hurts because it strikes at the core of our collective self-image as rational beings. And so, faced with this, students do what comes naturally – they become defensive. “The problem isn’t with me,” the student reasons. “This question is unfair.”

Here’s the thing – the LSAC makes sure that its tests are completely and thoroughly vetted. Every question you see on every released PrepTest is not only vetted via the usual experimental section process, it has also proven itself in the only arena that actually matters – being administered as part of a full-length, official test, and getting the results that the LSAC anticipates. The LSAC is certainly not perfect – the fact that they sometimes have to omit questions from a live test despite this process is proof enough of that – but as far as the questions you see on released PrepTests are concerned, they might as well be. You can certainly disagree with the way that certain things are phrased, or complain that there’s some ambiguity, or complain about any of a number of other things. Certainly, there are some questions that are better-written than others. But at the end of the day, I can say with 100% certainty that there does not exist a released question where the right answer is not unambiguously correct.

Even if none of that was true, it makes no difference. Perhaps the best reason for just accepting the way the test is written and conforming yourself to the LSAC’s thought process is the simple fact that they are the ones who write and grade the exam, so nobody else’s opinion (including yours) matters. How you feel personally is completely irrelevant. If the LSAC decided to write the entire test with the view that sugar is spicy, the sky is bright green, and negating a sufficient condition allows you to conclude the negation of the necessary, you’d better adopt those same views when you take the test if you want to do well. The fact that the LSAC writes its test in such a way that the answer to each question clearly and unambiguously conforms to the principles of good logic and maps (generally) to reality is just gravy.

Finally, even if you’re not buying any of this, consider it from this perspective. Let’s say you can reasonably complain about ambiguity (or whatever else you like to complain about) for a full 10% of the test (a ridiculously inflated number, in case that wasn’t clear). Let’s say that for every ambiguous question, you can eliminate down to 2 answer choices, but no further. On average, this will give you 5 incorrect answers right off the bat. Since you’re a human being and not a robot, you miss a handful of other questions (let’s say another 5) as well due to silly mistakes, bringing your total tally up to 10 incorrect answers. Let’s see what that gets you on recent tests:

PrepTest 66: 170 (97th percentile)
PrepTest 65: 173 (99th percentile)
PrepTest 64: 173 (99th percentile)
PrepTest 63: 170 (97th percentile)
PrepTest 62: 173 (99th percentile)
PrepTest 61: 171 (98th percentile)
PrepTest 60: 171 (98th percentile)

If you were really as good at logic as you think you are, then you should consistently score in the 97th percentile or above, even though a full 10% of the test is a 50/50 guessing game. I hope you see where this is going.

So, once the rationalizations stop, the truth must be faced. Whenever you get a question wrong, you have been illogical. Whether it’s because you made unwarranted assumptions, or you completely missed the relevance of one of the statements, or you misinterpreted the words on the page – whatever it is, the error lies 100% with you. Continuing to blame the test or the test writers does you no good. It’s a sobering prospect to realize that you aren’t as logical as you think you are, but it’s something that you have to come to terms with. The faster you accept this, the quicker you can get to the business of actually learning how to reason properly.

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