Guest blog post by Nathan Fox of Fox LSAT.
As a kid, I laid on the floor dreaming about playing games for a living. Back then, it was Pac-Man and Combat on my Atari. The graphics sucked, and the controller was made out of this weird rubbery plastic stuff, with one crappy stick and one sticky button. It ruled. Today I still dream about playing games for a living. Now it’s XCOM on my XBOX, but it rules just the same. I keep waiting for the call — It’s General Nukem calling from World Video Game HQ; we need you in Washington — but the call never comes.
And that’s OK because it’s dawned on me that I already do play games for a living. As an LSAT tutor in San Francisco, I use a whiteboard instead of a wireless controller, but I’m gaming nonetheless. In this post, I’ll show you how the LSAT’s Logic Games can be conquered using many of the same skills a gamer would use to kill zombies, blow stuff up, and save princesses. It’s a lot more fun than you might think.
Level 1: Start with Level 1
The worst advice anybody ever gave an LSAT student was “pick which game you want to do first.” This is stupid for two reasons:
First, even a professional can’t glance at a game and tell immediately whether it’s going to be easy or hard. Lots of times, a simple-looking game will have tough questions, or a tough-looking game will have easy questions. I can’t tell which games will be hard and which will be easy, and I’ve been teaching the LSAT since 2007… that’s six years of intensive practice after scoring a 179 on the actual exam. If I can’t tell, then how would a student?
Second, “pick which game you want to do first” is stupid because generally, the earlier games are easier. I can’t think of a single recent test where games 1 and 2 were harder than games 3 and 4. So why burn time looking through all four games at the beginning of your 35 minutes? Instead, you should just dive right into game 1. If you can’t do game 1, I seriously doubt you can do games 3 and 4.
This advice should make sense to a gamer: World 1-1 is a hell of a lot easier than World 8-4, right? This might seem obvious, but it’s really important that you start at the beginning. I’m shocked by how much bad advice there is out there. Much of what I do is simply convincing students to ignore the bogus “techniques” taught by the likes of Kaplan and Princeton Review. Which brings me to my next point:
Level 2: Practice Beats Theory
Big prep companies do students a disservice by putting theory ahead of practice. Did you read a theoretical treatise on Super Mario Brothers before you started playing? Of course not! If you did, you’d be wasting time and ruining all the fun. Instead of slogging through a 500-page book that talks about the games, you should just jump right in and play. Like a video game, you’re going to die, a lot, and that’s OK. You’ll learn from each mistake. You’ll get a little bit further every day. And before you know it, you’ll be an expert. Maybe you’ll even get as good as this badass right here:
That just happened. But if you think it happened without hundreds or thousands of hours of practice, you’re dead wrong. The first thing that stops most students from getting good at the LSAT’s Logic Games is that they simply don’t do enough of them. Any time you’re reading theory or doing drills, you’re wasting time that could better be spent actually doing games. Currently, there are over 70 practice tests available for you to study. That means there are 280+ games in circulation. Some of your competitors will do all of those games before sitting for the actual test. Shouldn’t you? (Hint: The cheat code is “yes.”)
Level 3: Play Tetris
You must learn to solve the games graphically. You’re allowed to write on the test pages, and if you aren’t using the page to make some kind of a picture then you are absolutely doing it wrong. Game 2 from October 2003, PrepTest 41, is my favorite example of this principle. In that game, you’ve got four songs which are played on four different instruments. You’re trying to determine the order of the songs, while matching the songs to the instruments. In words, that might sound a bit complicated. In pictures, it’s shockingly easy.
Done correctly, the rules combine in such a way as to allow you to draw a picture that looks like this:
That’s a Tetris piece! And the easiest solution to this Logic Game involves a simple game of Tetris. There are only two places that this block can possibly fit. After that, the game is cake. Good logic gamers look for opportunities to create these sorts of visual/spatial solutions. It happens all the time, but you literally won’t “see” it until you draw a picture.
Level 4: Find Some Competition
In 2006-2007, I got damn good at Mario Kart on the Nintendo 64, and it had absolutely nothing to do with books or expensive professional advice. Rather, it had everything to do with exposing myself to stiff competition; specifically, my roommates. I was always Toad; Craig was always Peach, and Mike was always Yoshi. For a while, beating those guys was my mission in life. Together we put in countless hours on the couch and spending countless hours competing is the only way to get good at any game. We never would have done it on our own.
With a buddy, you can do the same thing on the LSAT’s Logic Games. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to be your private LSAT tutor. But don’t use “I can’t afford tutoring” as an excuse for not getting better at the LSAT! Study partners cost nothing (well, maybe the price of a coffee or a beer), and they are amazingly helpful. It doesn’t even matter if your study partner is at your level. If your partner is better than you, then they’ll teach you stuff; if you’re better than your partner, you’ll probably learn even more because you’ll be forced to teach them. Either way, you win. And you’ll have a lot more fun than you would studying on your own. (Especially if you meet over a beer.)
Level 5: Watch a Pro
I doubt you’re playing Super Mario Brothers anymore. But if you were, you could learn a ton from watching the crazy speed run at the top of this post. Even if you weren’t trying to break the five minute mark yourself, watching a pro dominate the game like that can lead to sudden breakthroughs in your own performance. In my LSAT class, I do at least four Logic Games on the board every night, often more. My students start out saying “Wow, you make those games look easy!” By the end of class, I hear a lot of “Wow, these games actually are easy.” Nothing makes me happier.
There are lots of free ways you can expose yourself to professional logic gaming. For starters, here are a couple free videos I did, where I show how games that show up on those “Top Ten Most Difficult Logic Games of all Time, OMG, FML” lists can actually be pretty simple:
Zephyr Airlines Mapping Game
Souderton-Randsborough Grouping Game
If you like those explanations, you might want to check out my online LSAT course. The free class has 15 hours of video.
As always, I’m here to help. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and my phone number is 415-518-0630. Stop banging your head against the wall, and start having fun! I’m here whenever you need me.
Thanks for the video. I would have liked to have seen the questions in print. It seems that they’re hard to come by. I just took the June 2016 LSAT.
My web site’s not quite up. But since you asked …
If I can just put on my feminist/indie game snob hat for a second, I respectfully find your characterization of video games’ content to be a bit reductive. I don’t at all object to the comparison of practice in mastery-focused video games to practice in logic games though. I suppose Analytical Reasoning is a bit of a roguelike execution puzzle, maybe like speedrunning Spelunky. Although I hope to Cod not quite as hard. Thanks for the article.
Both links to practice tests are dead. Why are you filling up web space with jibber.