How to Reason Through LSAT Problems as an ESL Learner

Posted by Songhoon on 4/15/19 8:17 PM

esl LEARNER

Let me begin this introduction by admitting to something that I think no other student newly admitted to Harvard Law School’s JD Program would admit to: I find English incredibly hard.

I am a U.S. Citizen who was born in and raised in Seoul, South Korea. I’ve lived there for over 20 years and Korean has been my native language my entire life. I was in Chinook Middle School’s English as a Second Language (ESL) Program until 8th grade. Now, thanks to reading The New York Times every day since 8th grade (I didn’t have too many friends back then, as it should be obvious by now), I was able to significantly improve over the years.

But still, I find English incredibly hard.

I read Shakespeare and I have no idea what he’s talking about.

I read U.S. Supreme Court Opinions and I seriously have no idea what they’re talking about. 

And so on, and so forth — about the only thing that makes sense to me are the short and declarative sentences of the Times.

Now, imagine taking LSAT in Spanish or French.

Sure, you may have majored in French at Yale (if you actually did, good for you) and even went to college in Paris (I went to NYU for undergrad) but still – imagine taking LSAT in French.

Yes.

And yes.

But there was no other school I wanted to go besides Harvard.

So what to do?

I spent four years studying for LSAT during which I took LSAT PrepTests 1 to 72 five times, meaning I’ve solved over 36,000 LSAT questions. (I took the actual LSAT six times, and got 173 in June, 2016). 

I did all this while I was teaching LSAT at Pagoda Academy in Seoul, one of the largest test prep companies in South Korea. So, it was worthwhile and meaningful because I was able to help other Korean students for whom English also wasn’t their first language.

I quickly realized that I had to develop a systematic method for people who spoke English as a foreign language and therefore read English much slower than native English speakers (such as myself).

My teaching method can be summarized in the following three bullet points: 

  1. The Holy Trinity of LSAT (Scope, Certainty, Quantity)
  2. Scope Shift
  3. Cutting answer choices early

Tip No. 3 was what my students found most helpful.

They simply didn’t have the time to read through all the answer choices because English wasn’t their first language. 

My teaching method specifically targets people who are ESL (because it’s not their native language).  But I am confident that native speakers of English can also greatly benefit from my methods.

I don’t speak English very well.

But I am confident I can teach you LSAT very well.  

How to Reason Through Problems: Examples

Now, let's look at a sample problem from LSAT PrepTest 85, Section 2 (Logical Reasoning), Odd Numbers

Q1

This is a Flaw Question.

Look for an unwarranted shift in Scope, Certainty or Quantity from Premise to Conclusion.

I call this the Holy Trinity of LSAT.

  1. Highlight the Main Conclusion (“because musicians seek…”)
  2. Identify the SCQ in the Conclusion (“seek”)
  3. Identify the SCQ in the Premise (“can manipulate”)
  4. What is the unwarranted shift from Premise to Conclusion?
  5. From talking about the effect of music to the intention of musicians.
  6. You may have no intention of getting cancer but by smoking you may get it
  7. (A) correctly describes the shift.

Q3

This is a Flaw Question.

Look for an unwarranted shift in Scope, Certainty or Quantity from Premise to Conclusion.

  1. Highlight the main conclusion (“We should prohibit this sale.”)
  2. Identity the SCQ of the conclusion (“prohibit”).
  3. What grounds are given for the prohibition?
  4. “If we allow…” and “we will have…” and “soon…”
  5. Hypotheticals and hypotheticals -> hasty generalization flaw
  6. In (D), highlight “a chain of possible consequences…” That’s hasty generalization.

Q5

This is a Necessary Assumption Question.

Look for a shift from premise to conclusion.

  1. Highlight the main conclusion. (“attacking someone’s philosophy is more effective”)
  2. Identify the SCQ of the conclusion (“more effective”)
  3. Now, look for a shift.
  4. What grounds are given for saying that it is more effective?
  5. That because it tells a story, that it provides a context.
  6. Do you care? You may not. But others might. We don’t know.
  7. But we do know that the author thinks they’re important to being effective.
  8. That’s the only reason provided.
  9. So, the shift is from [telling a story] to being [an effective political strategy]
  10. In (B), circle “emotionally compelling” and “more effective.
  11. The quoted parts are categorically synonymous with the brackets.
  12. That’s what LSAT tests – your ability to decipher similarity among dissimilar items.
  13. (B) describes the shift that takes place from premise to conclusion. 

Q7

This is a Principle Question.

How do you solve Principle Questions?

Frame the argument into Cause and Effect.

Then weaken or strengthen the logic between them.

  1. Frame the argument into Cause and Effect.
  2. Cause Effect

Makes them dependent            Don’t feed them

  1. What is an exception? It is when the Cause and Effect relationship is neutered.
  2. That’s right. You have to neuter the living soul out of it.
  3. How? Look for additional information.
  4. (E) says birds must somewhat depend on human sources.
  5. That significantly weakens the strength of the Cause.
  6. If birds have to depend on humans anyhow, then dependency is no longer so strong.
  7. That’s what makes (E) the correct answer.

Q9 

This is a Weaken Question.

How do you solve Weaken Questions?

Frame the argument into Cause and Effect.

Then find the shift.

Then find an 1) alternative cause or 2) additional information that would weaken the C & E.

  1. Highlight the main conclusion (“making physicians less willing”)
  2. Frame into Cause and Effect.
  3. Cause Effect

Less willing                  Less visits

  1. (A) provides an alternative cause.
  2. It wasn’t that Doctors were less willing. They were just spending more time.
  3. That’s why (A) is the answer.

Q11

This is a Paradox Question.

How do you solve Paradox Questions?

Frame the argument into Unexpected Cause and Unexpected Effect.

Identify the shift that takes place from premise to conclusion.

Your job is to find an alternative cause that would take the unexpected out of unexpected effect.

  1. Circle the Unexpected Effect (“some use a single fast-growing species”).
  2. Box the Unexpected Cause (“goal is many thriving species”)
  3. What is the shift? Cause talks about many Effect talks about fast-growing.
  4. We want many species. But why plant just one?
  5. We already know it’s fast growing.
  6. (D) says fast growing trees will allow “a large variety” of trees to eventually grow.
  7. That’s what makes (D) the correct answer.

Q13

This is a Paradox Question

How do you solve Paradox Questions?

Frame the argument into Unexpected Cause and Unexpected Effect.

Identify the shift that takes place form premise to conclusion.

Your job is to find an alternative cause that would take the unexpected out of unexpected effect.

  1. Circle the Unexpected Effect (“greater tendency to cite same articles”)
  2. Box the Unexpected Cause (“access to more journals”)
  3. What is the shift? Cause talks about more journals being available.
  4. The Expected Effect here is that a greater variety of journals would be cited.
  5. But the Unexpected is that the same articles are being cited more.
  6. The shift is from number of journals to frequency of citation.
  7. Our job is to find an alternative cause that could produce the Unexpected Effect
  8. In (E), circle “prefer to cite.”
  9. Scientists have a reason to more frequently cite a small number of articles.
  10. The reason is that they’re the best (“most highly regarded”).

Q15

This is a Flaw Question.

How do you solve Flaw Questions?

Find the unwarranted shift in Scope, Certainty, or Quantity from premise to conclusion.

Master Songhoon calls them the Holy Trinity of LSAT.

  1. Highlight the Main Conclusion (“Most old houses have more than one apartment”)
  2. Identify the SCQ of the Conclusion (“Most old houses”)
  3. Identify the SCQ of the Premise (“Twice as many apartments”)
  4. The unwarranted is shift from apartments to houses.
  5. This is a shift in scope and
  6. Argument moves from the # of apartments to the # of houses – a shift in scope.
  7. From the # of apartments, you can’t make a definite claim about the # of houses.
  8. This is an unwarranted shift in certainty.
  9. Whenever you see “fails to address the possibility,” cross it out.
  10. Read the rest of the answer choice to see if it weakens the argument.
  11. If it does, it is the correct answer.
  12. What if a few houses have 20+ apartments while others have no apartments?
  13. Then, the conclusion that most houses have +1 apartments fails.
  14. That is what (E) describes. 

Q17

This is a Most Strongly Supported Question.

Combine two sentences to create an additional truth.

  1. The last sentence says strong winds lead to decreased temperature.
  2. The first sentence says a load increases temperature.
  3. Strong winds would open up space for temperature increase.
  4. That would make it possible to carry more loads.
  5. In (C), circle “load” and underline “increases” and bracket “wind speed increases.”
  6. (C) is supported by combining the first and last sentence.

Q19

This is a Parallel Reasoning + Conditional Reasoning Question.

Diagram or Paraphrase.

  1. The second sentence is the key.
  2. It lays out the equation.
  3. For E (“elected”) to occur, FS (“fundamental shift”) and WR (“well-run”) must occur.
  4. E occurred. So, we know FS and WR occurred.
  5. Conclusion merely confirms that FS has occurred.
  6. In (B), note how “without” from the Question is written out as “unless.”
  7. The two are the same.

Q21

This is a Sufficient Assumption Question.

How do you solve Sufficient Assumption Questions?

Find the shift. Supply an additional fact that will make the conclusion absolutely true.

Sufficient Assumption Questions

  1. Highlight the Main Conclusion (“So total bank lending to…”)
  2. Identity the SCQ of the Main Conclusion.
  3. Total banking. That’s Scope, Certainty and Quantity.
  4. Scope, because it is about the “total” amount.
  5. Certainty, because can we really deduce a claim about the “total” amount?
  6. Quantity, because can we really deduce a claim about the “total” amount?
  7. Now, let’s identify the shift.
  8. On what basis does the argument make a claim about the “total amount?
  9. Fact 1: Cost of borrowing higher than profit from loans to large companies.
  10. Fact 2: Banks won’t lend to companies that are medium and small.
  11. Fact 3: Total lending to medium and small companies has decreased.
  12. Conclusion: Total lending to companies has decreased.
  13. Look for loopholes.
  14. What are the loopholes?
  15. To establish the conclusion as true, consider the only three sources of lending.
  16. First, to large companies. Second, to medium companies. Third, to small companies.
  17. Facts 2 and 3 make it clear that lending to small and medium companies isn’t happening.
  18. Then the only source left for lending is to large companies.
  19. Fact 1 establishes that banks have incentive to lend to large companies.
  20. This is so because the cost of borrowing (to pay bank’s other obligations) is high.
  21. It is higher than the money they would make from lending to large companies.
  22. So there’s a clear incentive for banks to lend to large companies.
  23. We therefore need to eliminate that possibility in order for the Conclusion to be true.
  24. (A) says banks won’t lend money when cost of borrowing is higher.
  25. So (A) eliminates that loophole, thereby guaranteeing the conclusion. 

Q23

This is a Flaw Question.

Identify the shift in SCQ from Premise to Conclusion.

  1. Highlight the Main Conclusion (“will develop a preference…”).
  2. Identify the SCQ of the Conclusion (“preference”).
  3. Identify the SCQ of the Premise (“sweeter”).
  4. What is the unwarranted shift in the argument?
  5. From how something is sweeter to how someone will prefer
  6. ANALOGY: A flight from Seoul to NYC is 14 hours.
  7. ANALOGY: A flight from Seoul to Tokyo is 2 hours.
  8. ANALOGY: Therefore, you must prefer the flight to NYC since it’s longer.
  9. Just as you don’t prefer just because it is longer, the same for that which is sweeter.
  10. In (C), you have a similar shift from being worth more to having more items of its kind. 

Q25

This is a Method of Reasoning Question.

Look for clues.

  1. Identify the Main Conclusion (“What is needed is a system for…”)
  2. Identify the function of the sentence asked (“when something valuable costs…”)
  3. It is preceded by “we learn from this,” which works as a subsidiary conclusion indicator.
  4. That’s how we know (D) is true.
  5. Remember that a subsidiary conclusion may appear as “general statement”
  6. The sentence isn’t the main conclusion because it is not supported by the rest.
  7. If it’s not the main conclusion, think about which sentence it supports.
  8. The sentence provides justification for why we should implement a particular system.

 

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Tags: LSAT, ESL