I interviewed Stephen Harris, former LSAT question-writer and author of Mastering Logic Games. (Yes, he’s written hundreds of the questions that appear in your books of LSAT PrepTests.)
Our discussion follows.
In a previous interview, you wrote, “”One thing I have learned from studying thousands of LSAT items is that, first appearances notwithstanding, there is a benevolent intelligence at work behind the LSAT. The test taker just needs to tap into it.”” Would you please elaborate on this?
I was thinking of Analytical Reasoning [Logic Games] in particular. My initial reaction to a complicated game is often confusion and panic. But after a few deep breaths, I begin to see how the complications work together, and that seemingly unrelated facts yield rich consequences that often make the items relatively easy to solve. Perhaps the point is better made by saying that, beneath the chaos, there is an underlying order. And being aware of that fact can make one more confident when approaching complicated games.
How does LSAC determine the combination of game types that will be in the Logic Games section? They seem to vary. Why do you suppose that is, and why do you suppose the LSAC has virtually phased-out some of the now-rare game types?
I’ve wondered this myself. Some tests are loaded with grouping or combination games; most have at least two ordering games of some kind or other. Perhaps more holistic considerations come into play – they know that this reading comp section is a little tough, so they make the AR section a bit easier. I don’t know, but that’s a good question. As for the virtual elimination of certain game types, again I have no idea. But it sure makes preparing easier!
Have you ever put the finishing touches on a logical reasoning question, then put your index finger forcefully in the air and shouted “Aha! This will surely fool them all!”? (This inquirer comments, “I imagine something like this every time I read a tricky LR question with a cryptically worded answer trap or credited response.”)
Yeah, especially at first. But ultimately you wonder whether that’s the point. The point isn’t to be tricky. Subtle, perhaps, but not tricky. And the test requires a wide range of difficulty levels to make the kinds of discriminations among test takers that LSAC seeks. So I think you get over that pretty quickly as an item writer.
Would you be permitted to take the LSAT and apply to law school if you desired to do so, or is it like the lottery, where employees are prohibited from entering? Have you ever taken a full PrepTest or an actual LSAT administration? Do you think you’d be able to get a 180 if you tried?
I imagine that I could take the LSAT and go to law school. I don’t think that there are rules against it. Is that unfair? The likelihood of any items that I wrote showing up in sufficient numbers to make much difference is pretty small. And the items have gone through at least two subsequent rounds of editing before making it to the test, so an item might not have the same answer choices that I wrote, for instance. But obviously spending a few thousand hours thinking about how to write LSAT questions is probably pretty good preparation. I doubt that I’d score 180 very often, though. If I took 10 tests, the scores would probably all fall in the 172-177 range, I guess. I can’t remember the last time I sat down and took an entire sample test, though. It’s been a while.
*** This is part 4 of the series of interviews. You can also get them all in a free book I put together.