Hi Sarah —
I think I may not be the best person to help you here — I don’t teach the LSAT in terms of grammar, and I probably teach it less in terms of formal logic than any other teacher I know —
I don’t mean to say that studying those things won’t be of use to you — there may be tons of benefits — but I do have some opinions that might help you put that sort of study into the right context and get the most of out it —
- First, my best attempt at offering resources — for grammar, I know that The Elements of Style is the default, but I really like these two books for easy/simple reference —
I’ve never read a book on formal logic — I imagine there are some other people on here that might know more about the subject and be able to offer some suggestions —
- Just to be clear, even though I can certainly see how studying these issues might be helpful, I do not recommend thinking about grammar as you are actually taking the exam, and you shouldn’t feel any obligation to tie all your thinking to formal logic principles during the exam — if you know what’s wrong with an argument but can’t “categorize” the flaw, that’s no problem at all, and worrying about that it is an unnecessary distraction. So again, if you are going to incorporate grammar or formal logic, you want to make sure you are incorporating it into your study and review, as opposed to your actual strategy. That might be totally obvious, but I just wanted to make that clear.
- Somewhat related to what I mentioned above, in terms of grammar, keep in mind that testing your grammatical mastery is not a primary concern of the test writers — they surely need to check their work to make sure that they are grammatically correct, and they may use grammar to gauge and ensure enough variation or consistency amongst problems or between tests, but it’s of zero concern to them in terms of what they interesting in gauging and in how they differentiate right and wrong.
Beyond that, speaking on a more objective and technical level, LSAT problems are designed to reward correct understanding and implementation of basic grammatical principles in challenging circumstances (such as when you have to correctly hold and relate a collection of ideas together) — this is in contrast to, say, the GMAT, which is explicitly designed to test the breadth of your grammatical understanding, and where right and wrong is often primarily determined by correct usage of rarer grammar rules.
So, if you study the LSAT in terms of grammar, you want to make sure you don’t waste your time, and, more importantly, your focus, by studying random issues that don’t directly relate to getting better at this test. And, you’ll get a lot more out of efforts if can more directly connect the type of grammar work you do put in with what will actually be useful for the LSAT — I have some suggestions for how to do this coming up in #5 —
- Unlike grammar, logic is, of course, a primary concern of the test writers, but, just as with grammar, I think it’s really important to keep in mind that success doesn’t come from the breadth of your understanding, but rather the quality of it — you don’t need to know a ton of complex formal logic concerns, and knowing them won’t necessarily make you any better at the exam. You do need to have an absolute and correct understanding of certain basic principles — but these are basic principles that are fundamental to everyone’s lives all the time — so, studying the test in terms of formal logic can, of course, be totally helpful for codifying and clarifying your understanding of the reasoning that defines the LSAT, but you shouldn’t feel you have to develop some understanding of logic that is somehow separate from what is already within you. It’s much more about utilizing tools such as formal logic to clarify and strengthen your natural abilities.
- Finally, I believe that a great way to ensure that this study is effective for you, and that you are using your time efficiently, is to tie your grammar or logic work directly into your process of solving actual LSAT problems —
Here’s what I mean by that —
Every time you have trouble with an LSAT problem or set of LSAT problems, think about why–
You can start with this general rubric I discuss in the Trainer —
- a) I read it wrong
- b) I thought it wrong
- c) I solved it wrong
and then get more specific than that — if you feel you didn’t read an LR stimulus correctly, for example, it could be that you didn’t correctly isolate the conclusion, or confused the support and the background, and so on. For questions where the reasoning issues stumped you, perhaps you just couldn’t see why the support didn’t guarantee the conclusion, or you thought an answer was sufficient when it wasn’t, and so on —
Keep a log of all the questions you review in this fashion, and, when you feel it is appropriate, study these problems in terms of grammar or formal logic — see if a lack of strong grammatical understanding is holding you back in your reading, and, if so, see if you can fix those issues by studying grammar, and see if studying formal logic can help give you a more black and white understanding of reasoning concerns that caused you trouble or that you feel fuzzy about.
Again, by incorporating your “outside learning” in these ways, I think you can best ensure that you do indeed spend time working on stuff that ends up being helpful to you, and you can better figure out how to spend this time more efficiently —
Lastly, even though you didn’t ask this specifically, in terms of what you can do besides study for the LSAT, I suggest you do what you can to immerse yourself in lots of critical reading– it does not have to be dense and boring material that you are not interested in.
Sorry for the length — I have to work on being more efficient with my writing, but as always feel free to use what applies and ignore what doesn’t, and I hope at least some of that helps — if you have any follow up just let me know —