LSAT Logic Games: Hierarchy of Rule Notation

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Manhattan Prep LSAT Blog - LSAT Logic Games: Hierarchy of Rule Notation by Christine DefenbaughLearning science has come a long way in recent years, and we’ve been learning with it. We incorporate the latest discoveries in learning science into our LSAT course to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of your prep. Want to see? Try the first session of any of our upcoming courses for free.


In order to efficiently crush logic games, we need to face the fact that we’re human. Mortal. Imperfect. We make mistakes, we forget things – even things we knew 15 seconds ago! We put our keys down and forget where a few hours later, we spend 20 minutes looking for the sunglasses that are sitting right on top of our heads. It’s an epidemic condition, this ‘humany-wumany’ fallibility.

So, since implanting cyborg supplements is not yet possible in LSAT preparation, we’ve got to come up with a series of safety nets that give us the best shot at fighting the ever-present human amnesia. If you’ve been studying for awhile, you already know that an important step in logic games is notating the rules of the game. But if we could just hold all that information in computer brains, we wouldn’t need notations. Notations are a tool to make my life easier, so if they  1) aren’t effective at helping me remember what the rule really means or 2) don’t quickly tip off the pattern recognition part of my brain to make connections with other rules or 3) simply take too long to reread and reinterpret later in the game, then they aren’t doing their job.

Enter the Hierarchy of Rule Notation – a way to quickly assess how to best use a rule in a way that allows us mere humans to get by.

1) Get it in the diagram

Get that rule on the diagram if you possibly can. Sometimes this is obvious (Quentin ranks third!). But what if it were “Q must be on in an odd numbered spot”? It might be tempting to jot down “Q=odd” to the side of the diagram. But we can get it into the diagram by crossing out Q under spots 2 and 4. Why does it matter? Don’t they mean the same thing?

Remember, the purpose of notations is to simplify our mental process. Getting this info directly into the diagram allows us to look at the diagram and immediately take in all the visual information on how the players are restricted. Otherwise, every time we play out a scenario, we’re going to have to read and interpret the phrase “Q=odd”, process it, look at the diagram, and then apply it – that’s both time wasted and ample opportunity to make mistakes.

2) Represent it as if it were in the diagram

Unfortunately, it’s not possible to handle every rule by that way. For instance, in a 3D Ordering game, if you know Karen wears a blue hat, but you don’t know where Karen (or blue hats) must go, then there’s not much you can do. But, we don’t want to resort to “Karen = blue” just yet. Instead, we want to take the rule and imagine what it would look like if it were in the game. If you’ve got two sets of slots (one for kid names and one for hat color), then wherever ‘K’ ends up, there’s going to be a ‘b’ above. This is a vertical chunk of visual information, and that’s exactly how we should notate the rule – as a vertical chunk.

Any rule that will have a particular visual layout when applied to the diagram should be represented on your paper in that visual layout. We can then mentally overlay that image onto the diagram in different locations. Again, we want to bypass the ‘read and interpret and process’ part of the brain activity and get directly to the ‘apply’ stage, as often as we possibly can.

3) Represent it as visually as you can

Sometimes, all our attempts are for naught, though, and a rule simply resists being contained in chunk. This doesn’t mean you’re off the hook in notation. English language rules take language processing time, while a visual representation of the same relationship can let us skip that step. If the rule is “Karen must take the second shift, or the fourth shift, or both,” that’s a ton of language to process. But it’s really just a conditional relationship that can be expressed pretty succinctly:  ~K2 → K4, and ~K4 → K2. Similarly, a rule that “Team Blue must always have more members than Team Red” might be notated as simply: #B > #R. While you’ve still got to do a little processing on reading this notation ‘sentences’, this still minimizes the language parsing we’d have to do on every question.

Face it – we’re all human, and the human brain is not going to remember complicated restrictions without some serious visual help, and the harder a rule notation is to understand at a quick glance the less likely we are to apply it when it is needed. The overriding principle for rule notations is ‘how can I fool proof this notation so that my own brain won’t screw it up 3 minutes from now?’

For more insight into LSAT Logic Games, check out our Logic Games Strategy Guide. ?


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Manhattan Prep LSAT Blog Christine Defenbaugh Instructor Photo Christine Defenbaugh is a Manhattan Prep LSAT instructor based in New York City. After receiving her BFA in Acting from NYU-Tisch, she found a more promising way to pay the rent at Columbia Law School, to which she was accepted with a perfect 180 LSAT score. After working for several years as a tax associate at a Manhattan law firm, she returned to NYU for her Tax LLM while mastering the GMAT on the side to the tune of a 780 score. Christine’s philosophy is that learning a standardized test is like learning to play a musical instrument: you must slow down to get faster, you must tune your ear to dissonance, and you’re going to get some callouses along the way. Check out Christine’s upcoming courses here.

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