Acing LSAT Sufficient Assumption Questions (Ep. 305)

Nathan Fox's headshot.

If you’re not already predicting the answer to every Sufficient Assumption question on the LSAT, you’re wasting time and leaving easy points on the table. Nathan and Ben explain why these questions are so predictable and how you can learn to master them. Today’s action-packed episode also includes updates on the August LSAT, Pearls vs. Turds, a discussion about law schools paying students to defer enrollment, and a question about whether you should care more about a school’s overall ranking or their ranking in a specialty program.

2:48 – August LSAT Updates

First up, LSAC has some updates on the August test. Registrants will be able to schedule the test for August 14, 15, or 17. The “unscored variable section” (better known as the experimental section) is coming back. It’s used to validate new test questions, and it won’t affect your score. But there’s no way to know which section it is, so don’t bother trying to figure it out. Do your best on all four sections.

According to LSAC’s email, the test will continue to be administered in an online, live remote-proctored format through June 2022. But, strangely, the FAQ page (linked in the same email) says, “We plan to use this format for a minimum of 2-3 years, so it is the new LSAT format that candidates and schools can rely on.” LSAC is consistent in their inconsistencies.

15:20 – Sufficient Assumption Questions

Question 10 from PrepTest 73 starts off with an actor declaring that Brecht’s plays are not genuinely successful dramas. This sounds like a conclusion to Ben, and he anticipates that the actor will go on to offer some evidence to back this claim. There’s a lot packed into the next sentence. Basically, some incongruity in Brecht’s plays makes it hard for actors and audiences to discern the characters’ personalities. Ben and Nathan promptly push back: Why does that make the plays unsuccessful? For all we know, people may like the challenge of difficult-to-discern character personalities.

The final sentence of the passage says that for a play to succeed as a drama, audiences must care what happens to at least some of its characters. Again, accept the premises, but fight the conclusion: Caring about what happens to characters isn’t the same thing as discerning their personalities. There’s not enough evidence here to prove the conclusion.

It turns out to be a Sufficient Assumption question. The goal is to find an answer choice that, in combination with the two premises above, proves the conclusion. Sufficient Assumption questions are very easy to predict. Why? Because there are only so many ways to fix a broken argument and make it win. The problem with this argument is that it jumps from discerning characters’ personalities to caring about what happens to them. The correct answer needs to fix that problem. Ben predicts an answer accordingly: If you can’t discern characters’ personalities, then you can’t care about them. The answer may be phrased differently, but its meaning perfectly matches Ben’s prediction.

Nathan reiterates the importance of predicting the answers on Sufficient Assumption questions. Once it clicks for you, you’ll realize that it’s very formulaic and there’s usually just one way to bridge the gap in the argument. If you don’t get every Sufficient Assumption question correct, you’re leaving points on the table that you could easily be earning. They’re essentially freebies, once you know what you’re doing.

38:10 – Pearls vs. Turds

The guys take a gander at a list of LSAT “secrets” that Cooley Law School sent to prospective students. But first, Nathan checks the 509 report and confirms his suspicion that Cooley is not a great law school. They appear to have abysmally low admissions standards. Their 75th-percentile LSAT score is 149—below the average score of all test-takers. In other words, the best of their admitted students scored worse than the average potential applicant.

Right off the bat, the headline is atrocious: “Admissions’ Secrets to Conquering Your LSAT Prep.” It’s not technically wrong, but did they really have to include that possessive “Admissions’” (with an apostrophe after the s)? And the goal should be to conquer the LSAT, not to conquer your prep. Anyway…

Their first tip is to devote “big blocks” of time to studying, five to six days a week. How long is a “big block” of time? They don’t say. Ben worries that some people may interpret this to mean that they should study for the LSAT full time. Suggestions like this are counterproductive because they scare people away from doing the little bit of work every day that would actually lead to progress. As an analogy, imagine a coach telling you that you need to work out at the gym eight hours a day, five to six days a week to get in shape. You might just not even show up. Ben and Nathan recommend only one to two hours of focused studying per day for most students.

Next, Cooley’s guide recommends focusing on weak areas identified during your practice tests. They specifically mention practicing logic games and writing. Logic games are important—they count for a third of the test. But the writing sample isn’t scored and shouldn’t be at the center of anyone’s LSAT prep. Yet here it is highlighted right alongside logic games, as if the two sections were equally important.

What else? They say to read things like textbooks and investigative news articles to improve your vocabulary and critical thinking skills. Nathan and Ben say the best way to improve your LSAT score is to practice the actual LSAT. If you need to get better at reading, read LSAT reading comprehension and logical reasoning passages. There are ninety-something official LSATs available to study. That’s plenty of reading material. After three strikes, the guys decide that Cooley’s list of LSAT secrets is one big turd. On to the next submission.

The next one comes from a new Demon student who previously used the LSAT Trainer. According to this student, “a drill was suggested to go to old tests and mark the conclusion and support on LR as quickly as possible.” Nathan immediately questions why anyone would do this instead of just practicing logical reasoning questions the way they’re meant to be practiced. Ben says he could see people being tempted by this kind of suggestion as a way to get faster. But deliberately training yourself to identify the conclusion and support as quickly as possible isn’t going to help you understand the argument. It’s the other way around: Understanding the argument leads you to identify the conclusion and support. Focus on understanding the passage.

Nathan offers a general rule of thumb for deciding which LSAT gurus are worth taking seriously. The second someone starts talking about “how to go fast,” stop listening to them. Racing the clock is not the way to improve on the LSAT. Your objective should be to do careful, accurate work—like a lawyer does. Once you learn how to do that and get good at it, you’ll naturally get faster. But you should never try to go fast.

56:37 – Overbooked Law Schools Paying Students to Defer

Listener J shares a New York Times article about the current law school admissions cycle. Here’s the gist: This year was gangbusters for law schools. It was the most competitive admissions cycle—ever. A lot more people applied, and there were a lot more high LSAT scores than usual. Many schools admitted more students than they can accommodate. Now, some of them have resorted to paying students to defer.

Duke and University of Colorado both offered $5,000 to students willing to accept binding deferrals. Columbia offered some students $30,000 to defer and join a newly minted “exploration fellowship.” Nathan points out that this is just like when an airline overbooks and has to bribe people to take a later flight. It’s something to think about, especially if you’re on a school’s waitlist right now—you’re probably not getting in, and if you do get admitted, you’ll probably be charged full price. The guys double down on their usual advice: Apply early and with your very best LSAT score.

1:05:30 – Overall Rankings vs. Specialty Rankings

The next listener email comes from another J, who is interested in IP law. Before getting to J’s question, Ben and Nathan react to J’s 4.0 GPA in a STEM field and 168 on the LSAT. J doesn’t plan to take the test again, and the guys think this is a huge missed opportunity. A 168 is great, but if J can prep for a little longer and break into the 170s, that score plus a 4.0 GPA would open doors at Yale, Harvard, and Stanford—and earn scholarships at other highly ranked schools.

J mentions UVA and Northwestern as two schools they’re considering. Check out the Demon’s scholarship estimator, and see what happens when you plug in a 4.0 GPA and an LSAT score of 168. An applicant with those numbers is likely to receive less than half tuition at either school. But if you bump the LSAT score up to 173, the scholarship estimates increase dramatically: full tuition at UVA and more than full tuition at Northwestern. J’s situation perfectly illustrates why it’s worth spending a few more months studying to squeeze out a few more points on the LSAT. It can potentially be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in saved tuition.

Now to J’s question. They’re primarily interested in IP law and wondering if it’s better to focus on schools that are well-ranked overall or schools that are recognized specifically for their IP law programs. Nathan and Ben agree that better-overall law schools are better for everything. Ignore these lists of specialty rankings that schools use to promote themselves. They’re mostly B.S. Go to the best school that you can go to for free.