Both law school and the practice of law revolve around extensive reading of highly varied, dense, argumentative, and expository texts (for example, cases, codes, contracts, briefs, decisions, evidence). This reading must be exacting, distinguishing precisely what is said from what is not said. It involves comparison, analysis, synthesis, and application (for example, of principles and rules). It involves drawing appropriate inferences and applying ideas and arguments to new contexts. Law school reading also requires the ability to grasp unfamiliar subject matter and the ability to penetrate difficult and challenging material.
The purpose of LSAT Reading Comprehension questions is to measure the ability to read, with understanding and insight, examples of lengthy and complex materials similar to those commonly encountered in law school. The Reading Comprehension section of the LSAT contains four sets of reading questions, each set consisting of a selection of reading material followed by five to eight questions. The reading selection in three of the four sets consists of a single reading passage; the other set contains two related shorter passages. Sets with two passages are a variant of Reading Comprehension called Comparative Reading, which was introduced in June 2007.
Comparative Reading questions concern the relationships between the two passages, such as those of generalization/instance, principle/application, or point/counterpoint. Law school work often requires reading two or more texts in conjunction with each other and understanding their relationships. For example, a law student may read a trial court decision together with an appellate court decision that overturns it, or identify the fact pattern from a hypothetical suit together with the potentially controlling case law.
Reading selections for LSAT Reading Comprehension questions are drawn from a wide range of subjects in the humanities, the social sciences, the biological and physical sciences, and areas related to the law. Generally, the selections are densely written, use high-level vocabulary, and contain sophisticated argument or complex rhetorical structure (for example, multiple points of view). Reading Comprehension questions require you to read carefully and accurately, to determine the relationships among the various parts of the reading selection, and to draw reasonable inferences from the material in the selection. The questions may ask about the following characteristics of a passage or pair of passages:
- The main idea or primary purpose
- Information that is explicitly stated
- Information or ideas that can be inferred
- The meaning or purpose of words or phrases as used in context
- The organization or structure
- The application of information in the selection to a new context
- Principles that function in the selection
- Analogies to claims or arguments in the selection
- An author’s attitude as revealed in the tone of a passage or the language used
- The impact of new information on claims or arguments in the selection
Analytical Reasoning (AR) questions are designed to assess your ability to consider a group of facts and rules, and, given those facts and rules, determine what could or must be true. AR questions appear in sets, with each set based on a single passage. The passage used for each set of questions describes a scenario involving ordering relationships or grouping relationships, or a combination of both types of relationships. Examples might include scheduling employees for work shifts, assigning instructors to class sections, ordering tasks according to priority, and distributing grants for projects.
The specific scenarios associated with these questions are usually unrelated to law, since they are intended to be accessible to a wide range of test takers. However, AR questions test skills that closely parallel those involved in determining what could or must be the case given a set of regulations, the terms of a contract, or the facts of a legal case in relation to the law.
In this sense, AR questions reflect the kinds of detailed analyses of relationships and sets of constraints that a law student must perform in legal problem solving. For example, an AR passage might describe six diplomats being seated around a table, following certain rules of protocol as to who can sit where. You might then be asked to answer questions about the logical implications of the rules as they apply to the scenario. For example, you might be asked who can sit between diplomats X and Y, or who cannot sit next to X if W sits next to Y.
Similarly, in law school you might be asked to analyze a scenario involving a set of particular circumstances and a set of rules that apply to the scenario—rules such as constitutional provisions, statutes, administrative codes, or prior rulings that have been upheld. You might then be asked to determine the legal options in the scenario: what is required given the scenario, what is permissible given the scenario, and what is prohibited given the scenario. Or you might be asked to develop a “theory” for the case: when faced with an incomplete set of facts about the case, you must fill in the picture based on what is implied by the facts that are known. Sometimes you will be asked to assess the impact of hypotheticals that add new information (as in the example above: If W sits next to Y, then who cannot sit next to X.).
AR questions test a range of deductive reasoning skills:
- Comprehending the basic structure of a set of relationships by determining a complete solution to the problem posed (for example, an acceptable seating arrangement of all six diplomats around a table)
- Reasoning with conditional (“if-then”) statements
- Inferring what could be true or must be true from given facts and rules
- Inferring what could be true or must be true from given facts and rules together with new information presented in hypotheticals
- Recognizing when two statements are logically equivalent in context
As you may know, arguments are a fundamental part of the law, and analyzing arguments is a key element of legal analysis. The training provided in law school builds on a foundation of critical reasoning skills. As a law student, you will need to draw on the skills of analyzing, evaluating, constructing, and refuting arguments. You will need to be able to identify what information is relevant to an issue or argument and what impact further evidence might have. And you will need to be able to reconcile opposing positions and use arguments to persuade others.
The LSAT’s Logical Reasoning questions are designed to evaluate your ability to examine, analyze, and critically evaluate arguments as they occur in ordinary language. These questions are based on short arguments drawn from a wide variety of sources, including newspapers, general interest magazines, scholarly publications, advertisements, and informal discourse. These arguments mirror legal reasoning in the types of arguments presented and in their complexity, though few of the arguments actually have law as a subject matter.
Each Logical Reasoning question requires you to read and comprehend a short passage, then answer one question (or, rarely, two questions) about it. The questions are designed to assess a wide range of skills involved in thinking critically, with an emphasis on skills that have proven to be central to legal reasoning.
These skills include:
- Recognizing the parts of an argument and their relationships
- Recognizing similarities and differences between patterns of reasoning
- Drawing well-supported conclusions
- Reasoning by analogy
- Recognizing misunderstandings or points of disagreement
- Determining how additional evidence affects an argument
- Detecting assumptions made by particular arguments
- Identifying and applying principles or rules
- Identifying flaws in arguments
- Identifying explanations
Logical Reasoning questions do not require specialized knowledge of logical terminology. For example, you will not need to know the meaning of specialized terms such as “ad hominem” or “syllogism.” On the other hand, you will be asked to understand and critique the reasoning contained in arguments. To do so, it is important to have a university-level understanding of concepts such as argument, premise, assumption, and conclusion.