The LSAT Five-Second Rule

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Manhattan Prep LSAT Blog - The LSAT Five-Second Rule by Matt Shinners

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Have you heard of the five-second rule? It was a staple for me growing up. Dropped something delicious on the floor? If you pick it up within five seconds (with friends/family desperately counting down), it’s still clean.

That’s…not true. It’s not a good rule. And, honestly, you should probably eat it anyway—some dirt is good for you.

So let’s replace that stale food-based five-second rule with a good one for the LSAT Logic Games: the LSAT five-second rule.

Here it is:

If you haven’t written anything for five seconds, it’s time to try out a new strategy.

That’s right, five seconds. How does this play out at regular sticking points on the LSAT?

If you haven’t started drawing your diagram five seconds after reading the scenario, start reading the rules to see if they help you.

If you get stuck on a rule, write anything that sounds like the rule down, and then compare your diagram to the rule to see if it seems right.

If you don’t see any inferences within five seconds? Assume there aren’t any (for now).

Looking for frames? If you don’t see any framing opportunities within five seconds, it’s question time.

Don’t know how to start on a question? Give yourself five seconds, and then start testing out an answer choice.

Don’t know how to test out an answer choice? After a few seconds, defer and move on to the next one.

No idea how to work through a question? After being stumped for five seconds, move on to the next question. You’ll probably generate some hypotheticals that’ll help you answer that earlier question.

A logic game is a lot like hockey. In hockey, you can’t make a play on the puck without your stick on the ice. In a logic game, you’re not really doing much without your pencil on the paper.

Sure, you can think through a bit of it. But three things:

  1. I guarantee you it’s faster to write it out than to juggle a bunch of arbitrary rules and letters in your head.
  2. I guarantee you it’s more accurate to have it written down than to subject your brain to transposing two letters.
  3. I guarantee you any hypothetical you work through in your brain will be erased as soon as you move on to the next question, removing the ability for you to use it to help in answering later (or earlier, if you skipped) questions.

If you watch me doing any logic game, you’ll see what looks like a nervous tic: I’ll cycle through the fingers of my right, pencil-holding hand, tapping each one to the desk. If my hand isn’t writing, I’m tapping. I start with my pinky or thumb, and when I get to the other end, I know it’s time to use that hand to start writing out something.

Because with Logic Games, something is better than nothing. I’d much rather write down 2 incorrect diagrams before stumbling on the correct one than sit there staring at the page. Ruling out those 2 incorrect diagrams got me to the correct one; there’s no guarantee staring at the page will lead to a breakthrough. Quite the opposite, I’d assume.

So eat that dirty Snickers you just dropped on the table and start counting to five when you don’t know what to do next. When you finish your count, it’s time to put the pencil to the page. ?


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Matt Shinners Manhattan Prep LSAT InstructorMatt Shinners is a Manhattan Prep instructor and jdMission Senior Consultant based in New York City. After receiving a degree in Biochemistry from Boston College, Matt scored a 180 on his LSAT and enrolled in Harvard Law School. There’s nothing that makes him happier than seeing his students receive the scores they want to get into the schools of their choice. Check out Matt’s upcoming LSAT courses here

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