End All Survey Debate: Reading the Question or Stimulus First?

Which category do you fall in?

I scored in the 160s on the LSAT and read the question first for LR questions.
4
19%
I scored in the 160s on the LSAT and read the stimulus first for LR questions.
4
19%
I scored in the 170s on the LSAT and read the question first for LR questions.
5
24%
I scored in the 170s on the LSAT and read the stimulus first for LR questions.
8
38%
 
Total votes: 21

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Cochran
Posts: 188
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End All Survey Debate: Reading the Question or Stimulus First?

Postby Cochran » Thu Jun 04, 2015 1:38 pm

I'm sure this question has been asked ad nauseam, but I thought it would be interesting to see which method the highest scorers use when approaching LR Passages. As I began reading the powerscore bibles again, I remembered that they recommended reading the stimulus first. Since taking a blueprint course last fall (largely regret this), I have read the question first. In general, I re-read a lot and have timing issues, and it seems like others on the forum share these same issues.

To any scorers in the polled ranges, I'd love to get insight into your preferences. Posting your actual score would be helpful as well, as we can get an even more accurate estimate of the effectiveness of both strategies. Thanks!

PoopNpants
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Re: End All Survey Debate: Reading the Question or Stimulus First?

Postby PoopNpants » Thu Jun 04, 2015 1:47 pm

167. Went -4 combined on LR for both sections this past February. I used Powerscore so by default I only do stimulus first, alot of the times I can tell what the question stem is going to be just by reading through the stimulus, although I do sometimes re-read the stimulus occasionally during the section. I think you should just do whatever you feel most comfortable with

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RZ5646
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Re: End All Survey Debate: Reading the Question or Stimulus First?

Postby RZ5646 » Thu Jun 04, 2015 2:59 pm

Not voting because I haven't officially taken the LSAT yet, but I usually go -1 or -0, and I read the stimulus first. I think that if you've mastered the skills (reading fast, interpreting words correctly, discerning the logical structure, etc.) it doesn't matter which part you read first. Focus on developing those skills instead of worrying about whether you're answering questions in the Powerscore way or the Manhattan way.

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appind
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Re: End All Survey Debate: Reading the Question or Stimulus First?

Postby appind » Thu Jun 04, 2015 3:15 pm

Op you should probably also add categories for both 175+ and -2 or less combined LR scorers.

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Jeffort
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Re: End All Survey Debate: Reading the Question or Stimulus First?

Postby Jeffort » Fri Jun 05, 2015 3:37 am

RZ5646 wrote:Not voting because I haven't officially taken the LSAT yet, but I usually go -1 or -0, and I read the stimulus first.

I think that if you've mastered the skills (reading fast, interpreting words correctly, discerning the logical structure, etc.) it doesn't matter which part you read first. Focus on developing those skills instead of worrying about whether you're answering questions in the Powerscore way or the Manhattan way.


My official test day score is 177 and I missed 2 LR questions in total on the test. I read the LR stimulus first, then the question stem.

For the most part I agree with the bolded above.

There is no objectively correct answer to the read the stem or stimulus first issue. There are some minor benefits and drawbacks to using either method that really are very insignificant/not influential to your test day LR performance provided that you have developed solid LR skills and good time management skills.

Whichever order you first read the stimulus and question stem doesn't change your skills/ability to properly analyze the stimulus and answer choices in any ways that would increase your chances of getting any particular LR question correct or impact your overall LR performance if you know what you're doing and have good time management skills.

Reading the stem first isn't going to help give you any better insights/understanding of the substance and underlying logic contained in the stimulus that's relevant for answering whichever question type asked that would increase your chances of getting any difficult questions correct that you wouldn't otherwise figure out if you read the stimulus first.

The most common justifications people offer for claiming that reading the question stem first is better are mainly related to timing/saving time issues with stuff along the lines of 'reading the stem first helps you know what to look for/focus on when you read the stimulus'.

There is some of merit to that view but the benefits are minimal and only exist for a few LR question types. For example, if you know before reading the stimulus that it's a main point/main conclusion question, it might save you a little bit of time by preventing you from wasting time analyzing the argument for flaws/assumptions in the reasoning before reading the stem and realizing that critically analyzing the argument for flaws is irrelevant for the question type being asked. Similarly, if it's a must be true, most strongly supported or apply the principle question type (inference family question types), knowing that up front can prevent you from wasting time over analyzing the stimulus on first read for possibly irrelevant things like trying to find/identify a conclusion and figuring out argument structure since the stimulus for most (but not all) of those question types is just a set of facts/information, not an argument. Same thing with resolve/explain questions.

Almost all of the other LR question types (which comprise around 80% of the LR questions per test) are based on logically flawed arguments and revolve around breaking down the argument structure and critically analyzing the reasoning for flaws/unwarranted assumptions. The overwhelming majority of LR questions fall into what is commonly called the assumption family of question types which includes strengthen, weaken, describe the flaw, necessary assumption, sufficient assumption, evaluate the argument, strengthen/help justify the argument with a principle, and parallel the flawed reasoning questions.

For all assumption family questions your approach when reading and analyzing the stimulus before heading into the answer choices should be pretty much the same, so knowing which specific assumption family question type you are being asked before first reading the stimulus isn't likely to provide any time saving insight. Whether it's a str, wkn, flaw, NA, SA, evaluate the argument or parallel flaw Q type shouldn't alter your initial approach or analysis of the stimulus when you first read it. Your initial first task is the same, identify the main conclusion, break down the structure of the argument, identify the core, and figure out what flaw(s)/gaps/unwarranted assumptions the reasoning contains. Your success on the different assumption family question types depends on the same type of initial analysis of the stimulus, your ability to break down and critically analyze the argument for flaws/assumptions. Weaken question CR's attack/exploit a flaw/assumption in the reasoning, strengthen question CR's mitigate a flaw/support an assumption in the reasoning, NA question CR's state an unwarranted/flawed assumption the reasoning depends on, SA question CR's fix/get rid of all flaws in the reasoning/close all gaps in the reasoning to create a logically valid 100% airtight argument, etc.

A potential drawback/downside of reading the stem first is that doing so might bias your reading and analysis approach with the stimulus in some way that could cause you to not come away with a full accurate big picture understanding of the contents and logical features of the stimulus due to your focus on first read being somewhat myopic, possibly leading to having a less than comprehensive understanding and memory of the contents of the stimulus as a whole/the big picture of what's presented.

For instance, even though a majority of must be true and most strongly supported inference questions stimulus are just a set of facts/info and not an argument, many of those question types do give you an argument with a conclusion in the stimulus and recognizing the reasoning structure and conclusion with those ones is often very helpful for being able to quickly recognize the CR, especially when it's a big picture high difficulty level synthesis based correct answer. On MBT & MSS inference questions with an argument as the stimulus, if you read the stem first and close off your reading and analysis focus and attention from recognizing that there's a conclusion and argument structure present, it can make analyzing the answer choices much more difficult since you don't have a full big picture understanding of the contents and logical relationships presented in the stimulus since you went into reading the stimulus thinking 'not an argument' even though it was one and end up myopically focusing on a few parts of the stimulus that grab your attention rather than seeing the big picture gist of the argument as a whole since you mistakenly assumed prior to reading the stimulus that it isn't an argument because of reading the stem first.

When reading the stimulus before the stem I'm more likely to read and take in all the information with an open mind and more readily see/understand the big picture painted by the stimulus and the important logical relationships better than I might have if I had read it with a myopic question type focus under which I may consciously or subconsciously selectively prioritize looking for certain things while also glossing over other parts that could turn out to be crucial to identifying the CR and/or being able to see why an attractive trap answer is actually an incorrect attractive trap.

As long as you've gotten proficient with and built strong LR skills and good time management skills, you should be able to perform just as well either way whether you read the stem or stimulus first and the decision should just boil down to personal preference with whichever way feels more comfortable to you and that you've adopted as your habit. If doing it one way versus the other significantly alters your performance, that typically means you have some significant holes/weaknesses with your LR foundations/fundamental skills and/or are trying to shortcut the analysis process/cut corners to save time.

When approaching a fresh LR question, I find it easier and more fluid to just read the stimulus first with the intent of taking in and absorbing the information with an open mind/no particular agenda of trying to focus in on and prioritize looking for any particular things that could cause my initial read to be myopically focused. This way my brain is in 'observe and absorb what's presented' mode without any mental filters in place so that my brain is open to noticing everything logically significant in the full package and to seeing the big picture and scope of the stuff presented in the stimulus. In this open minded, observe what's presented without myopically just looking for certain things approach during first read, my brain naturally notices most of the important logical features of the substance such as whether it's an argument or not, what types of logical relationships and information is presented (conditional logic, cause and effect relationships, comparisons, correlations, the logical force of each statement, whether pieces are objective fact or claims/opinions, etc.), my brain doesn't overly analyze any particular parts/aspects of it, and I don't overlook/ignore things that turn out to be important because I was overly focused on looking for other particular types things. Reading the stem after observing and taking in the basics of what's presented with an open mind during first read then tells my brain which direction of more detailed/in depth analysis of the stimulus I should do to form a good pre-phrase or whatever for the question type before heading into the answer choices. This way I stay flexible and open minded during my initial read to avoid possibly over analyzing or over prioritizing looking for certain things at the expense of others because of attention bias caused by reading the stem first. Then I use the stem to determine which direction to go in for any further more detailed analysis and breakdown of the logically significant things in the stimulus I noticed on first read if necessary to prepare myself and get into the right mindset for reading and analyzing the answer choices for whatever question type is being asked.

Sometimes I'll take a look at the stem first under certain circumstances, such as when there's a two speaker argument stimulus or a really long stimulus where knowing the question type first is more likely to be beneficial for streamlining my focus when there are many different possible directions of time consuming focus and analysis that could be taken unnecessarily during first read due to the large amount of information in the stimulus to process and not knowing what the test writers want me to do with it without reading the stem first so I don't risk wasting time over analyzing and trying to remember everything on first read when the stem could help me determine a more streamlined first read approach.

From my years of experience teaching and tutoring people for the LSAT, I've worked with, seen and know of many people that have achieved high scores using either method, meaning that stem first or stim first isn't something that determines or has much if any influence on whether you'll achieve a high score or not. It's a rather trivial matter that really boils down to personal preference and what works best for you once you've got a good foundation going with the important LR skills. There's no super score boosting magic with one over the other of the two methods, plenty of people score high with each of the two methods and plenty of people score poorly with each of the two methods and same thing across the entire spectrum of scaled scores. Get good at the logic involved in LR questions and doing the analysis and don't expect to find magic in gimmicky trivial things like this issue that's mainly a matter of personal choice and preference that's separate and unrelated to ones underlying LR analysis skills and abilities. That's my long $0.02 about the issue.




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