A Look at the June 2019 LSAT

BPPhank-lsat-blog-june-lsat-registration-deadlines

Two Fridays ago, LSAC released everyone’s scores for the June 2019 LSAT. Most people — the sane, well-adjusted people who take this test just as a means to go to law school — get the email, see their scores, react accordingly, and discard the other contents of the message. But other people — LSAT instructors, the decidedly less sane and well-adjusted — get really excited about those other contents. Because among those attachments are copies of the new LSAT. And LSAT instructors get really excited about new LSATs being released.

For one, even with the dramatic increase in the number of LSATs administered in each year, these score-and-LSAT-release days still fairly few and far between. The June score release going to be the last score release for a while; even though the July LSAT is next Monday, it’s going to take about two lunar cycles for the scores to finally come out. And, for our admittedly nerdy purposes, it’ll be even longer before the next LSAT is released. The next disclosed exam — the September 2019 test — won’t be released until mid-October. So these days feel ceremonious.

Two, the new exam gives us new material to work over, figure out, and prove we still have quote-unquote it. These opportunities to figure out games and passages and LR questions that test takers referenced with hushed and ominous tones post-exam are our continuous professional competency tests.

And three, these new exams give us an opportunity to monitor and assess ongoing trends the LSAT. Oh, were you not even aware that this test has trends that are in need of monitoring and assessment? That’s probably because you don’t nerd out over these exam releases like we do. Much like the griot of June 2019’s passage four, LSAT instructors are both the guardians of and mouthpieces to the history of this great test. We track changes to the test and sing songs write blogs about those change to hordes of future test takers.

So, excuse us as we nerd out over the June 2019 exam in this blog post. But we think this ensuing nerdgasm will be will be beneficial to you, too. You’ll see our thoughts, takeaways, and concerns about this test, and we’ll contextualize this exam within the recent history of the LSAT. And hopefully, this will give you a better idea of what to expect in future LSATs, whether you’re taking it July 15th, September 21st, or beyond.

So let’s breakdown each section.

Logical Reasoning

• Here’s how many of the different question types appeared across both LR sections:

BPPross-lsat-blog-june-2019-question-distribution

• As you can see, it’s a fairly typical score distribution, with a few notable exceptions. One, after many tests where the LR sections de-emphasized questions that involved identifying formal aspects of the argument (Main Point and Role questions, namely), June test takers saw a sudden re-emphasis on those. We also a higher-than-normal of Disagree and Agree questions. In 2017, the LSAT went a little crazy with those questions, and then in 2018, they regressed to the mean. Is the relatively high number of those questions on this test an aberration, or a sign that LSAC will prominently feature Disagree questions every other testing year? Who knows, but the number of those questions vary significantly from test to test, so practice them a lot, just in case they show up in droves on your test.

• I predicted we would see a re-appearance of an old question format on this test, but that didn’t happen. In fact, there wasn’t anything terribly novel about these LR sections, other than the fact that both had twenty-six questions (which only happens occasionally).

If you were looking for novelty you had to settle for a question that had an unusual prompt. One question asked test takers to find the answer choice that “completes the explanation” begun in the stimulus. The stimulus started explaining why some people smoke way more nicotine products than others, and then it abruptly cut off, leaving the test taker with a blank line to fill in and complete the explanation. As far as I can remember, these “fill in the blank” questions have been exclusively Soft Must Be True, Strengthen, or Sufficient questions. This question, however, was clearly an Explain question.

It wasn’t terribly difficult, fortunately. Answering it just required you to realize the effect a rare form of the enzyme CYP2A6 had on nicotine cravings. One might say that rare form of CYP2A6 is the crown Juul of enzymes.

• On the whole, there weren’t a ton of truly difficult questions. There weren’t a ton of truly easy questions, either. Most questions fit somewhere in the middle. This comports with the eventual “curve” of this exam (more on this below). The curve was a little bit stingy for the high scores — you could miss fewer questions than usual to earn a high score. But the curve normalized for the middle-of-the-pack scores. This type of “curve” usually suggests that there were fewer difficult questions, and more medium question, than usual.

• In terms of the topics of these questions, we had some of the LSAT’s old favorites, like questions about predatory birds and their effect on insect populations, bicycle safety, mendacious politicians, and early human inhabitants of North America’s troubling habit of causing mass extinctions. So you could have crossed off all those on your LSAT bingo cards, kids. Shockingly, there were no questions about dinosaurs. There have been several recent questions about film critics and vampires, and we got more of those here. There was a question about how pilots on a diet might as well be two-drinks-in-the-bag-impaired, which I happened to read while on a plane captained by a very fit-looking pilot … so thanks for that burst of aerophobia, LSAT. And because the test writers seeming love to write “topical” questions — but since it takes a few years to write and test out questions — we got a question that was clearly inspired by “Fake News,” two years after that was a novel topic.

• Which was the hardest question here? There weren’t that many candidates. But one that springs to mind is a Strengthen question from the fifth section. That question went with a big theme common to many Great American novels and Real American Housewife music videos: that money can’t buy a great many things, including happiness. In fact, this question went a step further — taking a page from Diana Ross c/o Faith Evans, it claimed that money actually generates new wants that can’t be fulfilled, so money actually makes people less happy. There’s a pretty clear causal claim to strengthen — the idea that unfulfilled desires actually cause people to be less happy. The correct answer does that by showing that the fewer unfulfilled desires one has, the happier that person will be. That’s a dictionary-definition instance of “no cause, no effect.”

That was all fairly normal for a Strengthen question. There was one answer choice that was very difficult to eliminate, though. One answer preyed upon an aside in the argument, which said that wealth does fulfill some desires. This pesky answer choice said, “Oneʼs happiness tends not to increase each time a desire is satisfied.” Which would strengthen the argument if the argument actually claimed that money wouldn’t increase happiness. But remember, the argument said that money would decrease happiness. Satisfying new desires might fail to increase your happiness, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to be less happy. The distinction between not increasing and decreasing, or between not decreasing and increasing is one that gets tested fairly often on the LSAT, so watch out for it.

• Looking ahead to future LR sections, what can be gleaned from these sections? For one, this section reaffirms that Strengthen questions are the most important question type in LR. The number of other common question types — Soft Must Be True questions, Flaw questions, Necessary questions — have actually gone down on recent tests. Strengthen questions have only increased their prominence. So get a ton of practice with those.

Diagramming conditional statements continues to be a fairly important skill — eight questions on this section were diagrammable. However, these diagrammable questions were not very complex, which has been par for the course on recent tests. So make sure you know which words indicate sufficiency and which indicate necessity, and make sure you know the basic deductions you can make with conditional statements. You probably won’t need more than that, though.

Reading Comprehension

Everyone who took the June exam hated the Reading Comprehension section, and having read these passages, I get it. It was rough. That shouldn’t be surprising though — Reading Comp has regularly been the most the difficult section on recent LSATs. What was a little surprising to me, though, was why these set of passages were difficult.

Most tough passages are difficult because the passages themselves are hard to comprehend. Anyone studying for the LSAT knows the feeling — a passage is about some scientific phenomenon you either didn’t know occurred or assumed operated by luck or magic, and as a result you’re only dimly aware of what you’re reading.

These passage, however, weren’t too hard to understand (this is, of course, by the LSAT’s standards, where everything is fairly difficult to comprehend, including why you ever signed up to take this test). The questions were a nightmare though. These questions were rife with all kinds of trap answer choices. Many questions tested incredibly picayune details from the passages. Certain correct answers were, in my opinion, not well-supported by the passage. In short, this would have been a particularly frustrating RC section to take.

• The most annoying passage, I thought, was the passage on the use of “accomplice witnesses” (AKA snitches) in criminal trials. The fact that literally no one referred to this as the “snitches” passages post-exam confirms my belief that kids today are nerds who lack appreciation for the finer purveyors of early-aughts rap. Anyway, this passage had a straightforward enough thesis — that the use of “accomplice witnesses” poses problems for criminal trials, because jurors are either unaware of the incentives law enforcement offers such witness or unlikely to consider those incentives when assessing the witnesses’ testimony.

So I thought I understood the passage. Not only that, but this is a subject I studied and have first-hand experience with. Then I got to the main point question, and thought every answer choice was wrong. The correct answer choice made an assertion — that this testimony increases the likelihood that a defendant may be convicted by false testimony — that the passage simply never made, only sort of implied. I had major issues with that answer choice, and a few others on that passage. Good thing this passage wasn’t on the digital LSAT — it may have provoked many a test taker to hurl the tablet across the room.

• There was also an irksome passage about fish farms. That passage argued that fish farms can be the cause of and solution to the overfishing problem, much in the same way that alcohol is the cause of and solution to life’s problems. That passage had eight very detail-oriented questions, which would have taken an eternity to answer on the test. The fact that it was second passage — typically one of the easier passages — was also fairly, well, fishy.

• Rest assured, the annoying features of those two passages aren’t typical of recent LSATs. Most passages test big-picture ideas and details in about equal proportion — unlike the fish farm passage. And the right answers to pretty much every recent question are very well-supported by the passage, as long as you know where to look. Although I would anticipate any LSAT this year to have a difficult Reading Comp section, I don’t think any will be this annoyingly difficult.

Logic Games

• On the whole, the Logic Games section was relatively mild, as far as these things go. The second game, about scheduling commercials for fast food, pizza, sportswear, trucks, and, inexplicably, granola — Seriously, who invited granola? Who has ever seen a granola commercial, for that matter? — was particularly unchallenging. The third game, a tiered ordering game that involved arranging both oil and watercolor paintings, was also fairly straightforward. The third game was also, by my count, the fourth time the test writers returned to the concept of oil and watercolor paintings in a logic game. So that was at least familiar, as well.

• The thing that linked all these games was “scenarios.” I thought scenarios were helpful and time-saving on all four games on this section. This is nothing new or novel on recent LSATs. On the September and November 2018 exams, I also thought you should make scenarios on all four of the games. On June 2018, all but one. On December 2017, all.

This isn’t just some random hobby horse of mine (OK it’s not just a random hobby horse of mine), but reflects how newer games distinguish themselves from older games. On older games, when scenarios were useful less frequently, you’d typically get a laundry list of rules, which would severely constrain your players and lead to important deductions. To find these deductions, you really just had to pay attention to elements that showed up in more than one rule.

On almost all recent games, however, there are fewer rules and, with that, fewer elements that show up in more than one rule. Because there are fewer rules to follow, the games appear much more open-ended and unconstrained. To figure out how these games work and to get a little head start on the questions, it’s become increasingly important to figure out a way to divide the game into a few different “scenarios” — the few ways the game could actually shake out. Doing so usually involves constraining one or more part of your set-up, which leads to some important deductions in each scenario that would be exceedingly difficult to make without resorting to scenarios.

So if you’re taking the LSAT this year, it’s very important that practice figuring out when and how to make scenarios. If you’re not developing this skill, you’re preparing for a different set of logic games than the one you’re probably going to get.

• The last game was, unsurprisingly, the hardest. It involved finding people to volunteer for a charity booth on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, three volunteers per day. We had only five potential volunteers to draw from, which means that several of our volunteers would have to pull double-duty and work on more than one day. Thankfully, for the hypothetical work-life balance of these players, a rule prevented anyone from working on all three days.

This game was hard for a couple reasons. First, games that involve scheduling, especially ones that invoke the days of the week, are basically always ordering games. This game, which invoked days of the week, by all rights, should have been an ordering game. This issue comes up a lot when working games out with people studying for the test, and it has occasionally led me to make sweaty exhortations on this blog that games that “SCHEDULING IS ORDERING” (emphasis obviously mine, now and then). Except this particular wasn’t an ordering game. There weren’t any rules that involved any volunteer going the “day after” or the in the “days before” any other volunteer. This game was better classified as a grouping game, an exception to the rule that “days of the week = ordering.” However, you would have been fine even if you set up this game as an ordering game, so you can hold your educational malpractice suits for now.

The main reason this game was difficult was the deduction test takers were required to make. As far as difficult deductions go, I have to say I quite enjoyed this one (and with that statement, I’ll kindly see myself into this locker, good sir). Anyway, one rule claimed that if one volunteer, Morse, worked on a day, then another volunteer, Lentz, would also have to work on that day. The contrapositive of that rule meant that if Lentz didn’t work on a day, then Morse couldn’t work on the day either. But, since we only had five volunteers to fill three positions each day, that would mean the other three volunteers — Nuñez, Pang, and Quinn — would have to volunteer on any day Lentz didn’t. Plus, because Lentz couldn’t work all three days, there had to be at least one day they weren’t working, and at least one day the mighty Nuñez-Pang-Quinn triumvirate worked. Another rule made it so that the Nuñez-Pang-Quinn squad couldn’t work on Saturday, so that game divided into two nice scenarios — one where they worked Thursday, and another where they worked Friday.

So, basically this deduction came down to realizing that once two people couldn’t volunteer on a given day, the remaining three would have to volunteer on that day. These kinds of deduction, based on group sizes and the limited number of players to fill those groups, have been a theme of many recent games. The first game of the November 2018 LSAT, the fourth game on the June 2018 LSAT, the first game of the December 2017 LSAT, and the fourth game of the June 2017 LSAT all required similar deductions. It wouldn’t surprise me, then, if similar deductions were required on more LG sections this year. Make sure, then, you’re tracking which players can’t join certain groups by actually writing out that they can’t join that group in your set-up, and then check your list of players to verify who actually could join that group. Also pay attention to “can’t be together” or “hate” grouping relationships, which further restrict who can join groups.

The Curve

• Here’s the “curve” for this exam — as in, the number of questions you could miss and still earn a given score — compared to the curves of other recent tests:

BPPross-lsat-blog-july-2019-curve-table

• In previous posts, we’ve discussed why worrying about the curve before you take a test is mostly a waste of time and energy, but checking out the curve after the test is released can provide a somewhat objective measure of how “difficult” that exam is.

Essentially, if you can miss a lot of questions you miss and still earn a “high” score, that suggests a high percentage of the questions were “difficult” questions, or the difficult parts of the test were more difficult than usual. If you can miss more questions and still earn a “medium” score, that suggests a high percentage of the questions were “medium difficulty” questions, or the “medium difficulty” parts of the test were a little more difficult than usual.

• This curve definitely reflects my experience reviewing this exam. Nothing was incredibly difficult. And there weren’t more difficult parts of the exam than usual — one hard game and a couple difficult passages is pretty much the norm on recent exams. So it makes sense that we didn’t get a -11 or -12 curve for a 170, or a -20 curve for a 165. But there were a lot of medium-difficulty questions on this test, especially on Logical Reasoning. So it makes sense that the curve got a little more generous at 160, 155, and 150.

• You should also notice that, putting the very difficult December 2017 exam aside for the moment, the curves of all the recent exams have been virtually identical, give or take a question. More reason to not fret about the curve of any future exam! It will almost certainly look like one of these.

What to Expect Moving Forward

If you made it this point, congrats! These posts are always mammoth undertakings, because each exam provides a lot of material to discuss. But, for making it to the end, you get a reward. This is the point where we uncover our crystal ball and try to divine what future LSATs might look like, and tell you how to best prepare for them.

This exam was definitely representative of trends we’ve been seeing over the LSAT, and would make a fine practice exam to take in the weeks before any LSAT you may take this year. It followed many recent trends, like an increased prevalence of Strengthen questions, more straightforward “diagramming” questions, a very difficult Reading Comp section, and a lot of scenario-based logic games. If you want to be best prepared for any LSAT you’ll take this year, the June 2019 test, in addition to the last few years of published LSATs, provides ample evidence that you should focus on developing those skills.

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