Reply To: Where to start?..Again.

January 4, 2016 at 11:05 am #1189
Mike Kim

Sorry for the delay (holidays) —

I think that spending time on such an exercises is a great idea, and it certainly makes sense for you to keep going with it, especially if you continue to find it useful —

I do a lot of similar sort of stuff myself, and I think the 1 Argument/10 Answers exercise on Page 285 is a direct consequence of such work —

Here are some thoughts that may help you get as much as possible out of such exercises; as always, you know yourself best, so feel free to use what is helpful and ignore what isn’t —

I think the benefits of doing that type of studying can be roughly broken into two general areas:

a) it is useful for developing and assessing your understanding

b) it has an impact on how you develop habits — here the impact can be positive or negative

More on how it can help with understanding

– great for getting big-picture view of issues that underlie variety of problem-types
– great for developing more accurate sense of what each different type of question stem is really asking
– great for developing better sense of how different question types relate to one another
– great for developing better sense of when you can/ought to predict answers and when you can/ought to only predict certain characteristics of answers
– great for evaluating whether/when how you think about a stimulus matches or doesn’t match how test writer thinks of stimulus

I’m sure there are many other key benefits but those are just a few off the top of my head.

More on how it can impact habits

With the type of score you are going for, you want to go above and beyond to try and develop the most effective, razor-sharp habits you possibly can — a big problem we all face is that you can’t just tell your brain what habits to develop and for what — if you tend to spend a lot of time and mental energy thinking about questions in a certain way, even if you think about the questions in this way only while you are reviewing, during the actual test, your mind can end up thinking about q’s in those same ways just because it’s used to it — you want to be very careful of this, and you want to make sure that the work you do, even during your review, doesn’t end up causing you to develop unwanted habits —

To emphasize this point with more specific examples —

1) One thing to notice is that LR problems never assign you the task of determining whether an argument in the stimulus is flawed or not. They will either tell you the argument is flawed (and ask you to address this flaw in some way) or they will ask you to evaluate the stimulus objectively — that is, without judging the validity of the reasoning.

So, you never have to think about whether a given argument is valid or not during the test. But it’s something that all we naturally commonly think about, and that we may think about during the course of doing an exercise like the one you mentioned. During the exam, it’s a distraction and a waste of time — so, make sure not to incorporate “is this valid or not” thinking into your exercises.

2) Another thing to notice is that certain question types are, by their nature, designed to have more predictable answers, and others are designed to have less predictable answers. Furthermore, the test writers often make a right answer more difficult to find by making it less predictable. So, for example, you should almost always be able to predict the substance (though not the wording) of a flaw answer, but you shouldn’t expect to be able to predict the right answer to an inference q, because there are always tons of inferences one could make from any given stimulus, and again, by nature, harder inference q’s will often have right answers that were among the less predictable options.

If your review exercises help you gain a clearer understanding of when you ought to and ought not be able to predict answers, and thus helps you develop smarter instincts about when you are in control of a stimulus vs when you are not, that’s a great benefit you can gain from the exercise.

What you want to avoid is develop the (misguided) generalized sense that if you can’t predict an answer, or if answers don’t match your predictions, there is something wrong. I’ve seen this happen again and again with students — they guess an answer is going to be there, it isn’t, and it distracts them so that they either miss an obvious right choice they could have easily seen otherwise, or fall for a tempting wrong answer that seems like what they predicted.

So, just be careful that you use the review exercises to develop the right expectations about when you ought to predict the right answer, and what such a prediction (or the inability to make or match one) says about you or the problem.

(by the way, you may already be doing this, but I suggest you make sure to work on predicting the reasons why some of the wrong answers could be wrong — as I often say, the wrong answers give amazing insight into what the test writers care about, and if you can get to a point where all the wrong answers are significantly more obvious and predictable, well, you aren’t going to need me anymore.)

3) Finally, it’s really important to keep in mind that the test writers reward, again and again, those who can think of understanding and judging as two distinct tasks — to me, the most obvious way they do this is with the way they design the problems which do not require judgment — questions like ID the Conclusion or Inference — so very often, the most tempting wrong answers are ones that we are attracted to because they relate to opinions we might form (when we have been told not to form opinions) and right answers are tough to see because they may not relate to these opinions, or even seemingly contradict them.

Every person I know, including myself, is guilty of constantly mixing together evaluation and judgement — we cannot actually be 100% objective, ever, because how we view things is always impacted by our opinions about the world. So you have to understand that this is a natural instinct that you need to actively work to quell in order to improve at the exam — this is why working on habits can be so important (and my opinions about this stuff are a huge part of why I relate the LR q’s to one another the way I do, suggest reading q stem first, etc.) —

Be very careful about making sure that the work you do fully fleshing out every stimulus and thinking about how it could be used for various q’s and so on doesn’t have a negative impact on your ability to keep separate, as much as possible, your objective evaluation and your judgment.

So again, those are the caveats — as I mentioned above, I definitely think there is a ton of benefit to gain from such review, and I tend to do a lot of that sort of work myself — my general suggestion is just be aware of how it can impact habits and make sure to avoid developing bad habits, and you should be all good —

HTH — sorry again for the delay (and the length) — let me know if you have any follow-up –mk