Really appreciate you sharing such interesting insight into your own process —
I also want to mention that I agree w/Dan 100% (as usual — we seem to have a great amount of overlap in terms of how we think about the exam) —
Here are some additional thoughts that you might find to be helpful —
1) Keep reminding yourself that each part that you are trying to understand correctly is defined by its relationship to other parts, and use these links to strengthen your understanding / recognize problems in your understanding.
A conclusion is a conclusion only if it has support, support is support only if there is a conclusion to support, an argument is the connecting between support and conclusion, the gap is a hole in that connection between the support and conclusion, the wrong answers don’t address the hole in that connection between the support and the conclusion in the way the q stem requires, the right answer will address the hole in the connection between the support and the conclusion the way the q stem requires.
The extreme alternative to focusing on links is trying to think about each part in isolation — thinking of just the conclusion in a bubble and then saying you have to done thinking about it, thinking of just the support in a bubble and then saying you have to be done thinking about it, and so on. For the reasons I stated above, you want to avoid this mindset.
2) Try to read with greater and greater empathy —
Imagine that the person making the argument is a good friend of yours, and he is describing a situation to you, and he’s all stressed out and so his phrases all come out in a garbled manner —
And he’s come to you because he’s just too emotional or close to the situation to evaluate his own reasoning clearly, and he needs you to play devil’s advocate —
So, you want to try to try to understand the point he’s trying to make as clearly as you possibly can, try to understand the reasoning he’s trying to use as clearly as possible, and do all this with the understanding that, at the end of the day, your job is try and evaluate as clearly as possible why the reasoning in his argument is not ironclad.
I know you know all of this and don’t need the imaginary scenario to understand its importance — the reason I bring up the imaginary scenario is to contrast this mindset with a very similar, but slightly different one, which can, in my view, make LR feel infinitely harder —
The alternative mindset is to
a) try to find what you think ought to be the conclusion and then
b) try to find what could be support for it and then
c) try to validate why what you found is the proper argument to find and then
d) evaluate the reasoning in the argument you decided on —
The differences between these mindsets is very subtle, but, from my side of things, I’ve seen tons of evidence that points to it being a very important distinction —
It’s much, much easier to read any stimulus correctly the more you can empathize with its author, and if that’s not something you’ve tried to focus on before, I encourage you to give it a shot. The better and better you get at empathizing w/ LR stimuli, the easier it becomes to just naturally zero in on the correct argument.
3) Try minimizing notations
You’ll notice that I notate very little in the LR solutions I present in the Trainer, solutions which are meant to replicate the real time thoughts I have as I solve problems —
Just to be clear — it’s not that I feel I need less notation than other test takers might — the reason I present the solutions the way I do is because I feel strongly that, for the vast majority of test takers, minimal notation is best for LR success —
Now, that doesn’t mean that notating certain things in certain ways can’t be useful for you — but what it does mean is that you need to be very, very careful in considering all of the positive and negative consequences of using certain notational strategies, and, at the end of the day, you want to make sure to only use those that you feel certain improve your chances of success on a problem (rather than limit them).
4) Related to point #1, our sense of the conclusion (and, in a similar fashion, the support) should get stronger and stronger throughout the process of solving a problem.
That is, after you’ve put your best effort into identifying the conclusion, when you go looking for the support, the point the author is trying to make should hint to you what sort of support you might expect (for example, conclusion about causation, so you expect support to talk of correlation, or some other unrelated causal situation) and, on the flip side of things, seeing support that has a relationship with the conclusion is a huge help in confirming that you have indeed found the right conclusion (this is the big point Dan was making) —
To say that another way — if you have the right conclusion, you should be able to find support for it, and if you have trouble finding support, that could be a sign the conclusion isn’t exactly what you think it is.
Going further, if your sense of conclusion and sense of support is correct, your evaluation of the reasoning should be a simpler process, and going through the evaluation of the reasoning should strengthen your understanding of the conclusion (more on this later) — on the flip side, not being able to see the flaw correctly is often a sign that you don’t have as correct an understanding of the conclusion and support as possible.
And finally, in an ideal experience, the process of evaluating answers should also strengthen your understanding of the conclusion, the support, and the reasoning —
In that — you should be able to see, in eliminating answers, ways in which the test writers deviated from the actual given conclusion or support, and seeing and recognizing what is incorrect in these answers should strengthen your own understanding, and, finally, when a right answer matches the conclusion, support, flaw, and task as well as you want, it’s validation that your understanding of the conclusion was indeed as sharp as it should be.
So, seek to take max advantage of these affirmations and checkpoints — practice, for example, re-evaluating what you thought to be conclusion when you can’t find the support, and practice using wrong answers to confirm your understanding, and so on.
On the flip side, be careful to
a) not expect that you have to be perfect about deciding on a conclusion the first time through reading a stimulus — again, sometimes it’s tough to see it, and you need to have a better sense of the entire argument before you can see the conclusion more clearly — don’t be afraid to give yourself some time.
b) not let your notations lock you in — if you find that you have a habit of notating incorrect or incomplete conclusions, and this blocks you from recognizing mistakes, changing mindset, etc., work to remove this obstacle (the easiest way to do so being just not to notate at all).
5) Remember that this is a test of careful reading
No matter how efficient, effective, and eloquent you are in writing out a flaw in your own words, it will never, unless it uses the exact same wording as the original stimulus, put you in a position to read more carefully — in fact, by eliminating phrases and turning wording into abstraction, notation can do nothing but make it harder and harder for you to evaluate the actual wording as it was given.
So, of all the notational strategies you discussed, the one of writing out the flaw next to the argument is the one I worry about most — it doesn’t mean that it isn’t the best thing for you, but you want to very careful in weighing the benefits vs the drawbacks.
As much as possible, the thing you want to hold in your mind is as accurate and complete a representation of the given argument (and reasoning) as possible, and the best form is in its original wording.
6) Beware of untimed practice —
A little bit of untimed practice is okay, but I believe that doing a lot of it can be detrimental to your improvement. As much as possible, I encourage you to time as much of your practice as possible, push the pace as much as possible, and seek to do so without sacrificing any accuracy at all — seek to get faster and faster by becoming more and more efficient (and realize it’s not about trying to read faster or think faster or anything like that).
So with all that said, here’s what I suggest in terms of something for you to try —
The following may not, ultimately, end up being the best method for you, but it’ll give us something to evaluate and contrast against your current situation, and, in doing so, perhaps we can get closer to zeroing in on what does work actually best for you —
My suggestions —
I ask that you first try evaluating arguments using no notations at all —
Instead, try to do everything you possibly need to just in your own mind, and, in terms of actual mental processes, I ask you think about it as a “linked cycle” — where just by habit, you continue to return to important topics (such as the conclusion) — as part of your process of thinking through various steps of the problem solving process —
I realize that’s an impossible statement to understand, so to illustrate with a gross oversimplification of your mental processes, imagine your mind going through the following chain of thoughts during the process of solving an LR Flaw Q —
(read Q stem) “This is a Flaw Q. Need to read stimulus to first find conclusion.”
(read Stimulus) “I think this is the conclusion. Now I should zero in on the support.”
(read Stimulus again) “Here’s what I think is the support — does it make sense that the author would try to use this support to justify this conclusion? Yes.” — you essentially use your understanding of the support to help validate your understanding of the conclusion and vice-versa.
(think about Stimulus while scanning various parts) “Why doesn’t the support guarantee the conclusion? Oh, well, Just because X (X = premises) is true doesn’t mean that Y (conclusion) has to be true. The author is Z (whatever u think the flaw is that the author is committing).”
I’ll stop myself there, but I could go on until the very end of the process of solving the problem —
As I mentioned earlier, a conclusion is a conclusion only if it has support, support is support only if there is a conclusion to support, an argument is the relationship between support and conclusion, the gap is a hole in that connection between the support and conclusion, the wrong answers don’t address the hole in that connection between the support and the conclusion in the way the q stem requires, the right answer will address the hole in the connection between the support and the conclusion the way the q stem requires.
The key point I want to make is – notice how each part of the process allows me to cycle back to the conclusion, cycle back to the support, and so on, and, simply by trying to fulfill that step in the process as correctly as possible, I will naturally end up either reinforcing, again and again, a correct understanding of the conclusion, the support, and so on, or, if the situation arises and I can sense trouble — that is, the cycle breaks down at a certain phase — I then know to try to solve it by reassessing the components involved — the conclusion, etc., and in so doing I can catch any mistakes I’ve made/clarify any fuzziness I had initially.
And as much as anything else, your practice should be about training your mind to habitually go through such a cycle as consistently and effectively as it possibly can (which is a huge reason why I don’t recommend untimed practice).
So, to summarize, I encourage you to try solving LR q’s first by not notating at all, and, instead, try thinking about the problem-solving process as a cycle of thoughts, and try to use that cycle as the main tool for reinforcing, strengthening, and reevaluating your understanding of the conclusion, the support, and so on —
If you find that notations and such help you with this cycle of thoughts, by all means utilize them. On the flip side, be very careful of taking extra steps that cause you, unnecessarily, to get out of this cycle, make it harder for you see how parts connect to one another, or make it harder for you to focus on the actual wording of the stimulus.
That’s all I’ve got for now and I’ll stop myself there —
I have no idea which of the above is relevant or helpful to you — as I often say, please feel free to ignore anything you don’t think applies — and, if you have any follow-up let me know —