5 reasons why the LSAT can help your GMAT score

In an earlier post, I profiled the amazing Ms. HP, who completed a mind-blowing quantity of critical reasoning and reading comprehension questions before earning a 750 on the GMAT.  Astute readers might have noticed that most of her practice questions—roughly 3,225 out of the 4,000 that she completed—came from the LSAT, not the GMAT.

And you might be wondering:  is it really worthwhile to use LSAT materials, when you have absolutely no intention of suffering through law school?  Does the LSAT really help you to succeed on the GMAT?

For most of my GMAT students—especially the high-achieving, hard-studying types who are aiming for at least a 650—the answer is an enthusiastic yes.  And here are five reasons why the LSAT might be a worthwhile supplement to your GMAT study materials:

Reason #1:  It’s all about reading carefully

At their core, the reading comprehension and critical reasoning questions on the GMAT and the LSAT require exactly the same skills.  Success on either exam requires the ability to read complicated (and often boring) texts, carefully understand the nuances of those texts, and flawlessly evaluate the arguments in the texts, without bringing in outside information.

If you pick up a mass-market GMAT test-prep book, you’ll see plenty of lessons on the different “types” of critical reasoning and reading comprehension questions.  You could learn the strategies and mapping techniques for different question types, and your score might improve as a result.   But if you can’t comprehend the nuances of the (often miserably convoluted) texts on the exam, you’re in trouble.  The key to verbal success—on both the GMAT and the LSAT—is understanding the text EXACTLY is it’s written on the page.

So sure, it’s worthwhile to think about certain ways to analyze or “map” particular question types on CR and RC; those techniques can be useful for some students.  But success on the GMAT verbal section is mostly about the precision of your reading, and your ability to battle your way through the miserable CR and RC passages that appear on the exam.  And the LSAT, with its spectacularly dense language, helps you build this skill at least as well as GMAT questions.

Reason #2:  Official GMAT RC and CR questions are in short supply

The bad news is that the total supply of official GMAT questions really isn’t all that large, even if you purchase everything you can get your hands on.  If you do every single publicly available GMAT question (by, say, purchasing GMAC’s repeat-heavy test-prep package for $263.80), you might amass a grand total of approximately 400 distinct critical reasoning questions and 400 reading comprehension questions, give or take a few dozen.  For many of you, that’s more than enough.  For others, it’s nowhere near sufficient to reach your peak performance on the GMAT.  If you’re in the latter category, you could definitely use some help from the LSAT.

But there’s another problem with the official GMAT questions: some of them are far too easy if your goal is a 650 or above.  GMAC publishes a reasonably representative cross-section of questions in their guides, ranging from the very easiest (“200-level questions,” in theory) to the very toughest (“800-level questions,” if such a thing exists).  If you’re shooting for a top-tier GMAT score, the easiest RC and CR questions might be a waste of your time.  Perhaps only the toughest 50% of GMAT Official Guide questions will give you an adequate verbal workout.

Fortunately, the supply of official LSAT questions is nearly limitless.  Last time I checked, the fine folks who produce the LSAT have, at one time or another, published more than 60 official LSAT exams, each of which contains roughly 50 critical reasoning questions (called “logical reasoning” on the LSAT) and 25 reading comprehension questions, for a grand total of more than 4500 usable questions.

The bottom line:  if you need extra critical reasoning or reading comprehension practice, you’ll never run out of LSAT questions—even if you’re as wildly ambitious as the incredible Ms. HP.

Reason #3:  official LSAT questions are far better than “knockoff” GMAT questions

In theory, you could use “non-official” GMAT questions (written by GMAT test-prep firms) instead of official LSAT questions.  But no matter what GMAT test-prep companies may tell you, official LSAT questions are far more useful than any “knockoff” questions written by GMAT test-prep companies.

Verbal questions—on both the GMAT and the LSAT—are incredibly nuanced, and it’s unbelievably difficult for GMAT test-prep companies to even begin to replicate those nuances.  Every official LSAT or GMAT test question is edited, tested, re-edited, and re-tested by small army of standardized test experts.  By the time an official question appears in an actual exam (or in the GMAT Official Guide), it will be incredibly nuanced… and 100% error-free.

Simply put, it’s impossible for test-prep companies to perfectly replicate the precision of “real” LSAT or GMAT verbal questions, and knockoffs from test-prep companies can be a dangerous substitute for the real thing.  At best, non-official verbal questions will be a benign waste of your time, since they won’t really sharpen your ability to identify the nuances of official LSAT and GMAT questions; at worst, non-official RC and CR questions will teach you to identify the wrong nuances, and your skills will actually decline.  Put another way, “knockoff” questions are often difficult in ways that do not accurately reflect the real GMAT test.

For more on the dangers of overreliance on “knockoff” GMAT questions, please visit another crusty old GMAT Ninja blog post:  Beware the Knockoffs.

Reason #4:  official LSAT questions are harder than the GMAT

This is arguably the best reason to use LSAT reading comprehension and critical reasoning questions for your GMAT studies: LSAT questions are more difficult than most GMAT questions.

If you open up an official LSAT book, you’ll immediately notice that the passages are longer and the language is more challenging than anything you’ve ever seen on the GMAT.  And that’s wonderful, especially if your goal is to score above a 700.  Even if your natural reading ability is absolutely spectacular, I promise that the hardest LSAT critical reasoning and reading comprehension questions will make you sweat.

Please forgive my use of a sports cliché here, but using LSAT questions for GMAT studies is comparable to a baseball player taking practice swings with a weighted bat before stepping to the plate:  by the time the batter (or the test-taker) actually swings a real bat (or takes a real GMAT), the task of swinging (or answering GMAT verbal questions) will feel at least somewhat easier.

Again, the single most important skill tested on GMAT CR and RC questions is your ability to battle your way through dense language and to understand the passage exactly as it’s written.  So if you want to work out your reading muscles, nothing in the test-prep world is better than retired LSAT exams.

 Reason #5:  the differences between LSAT and GMAT questions are mostly cosmetic

As mentioned above, the single biggest difference between LSAT and GMAT questions is that the LSAT questions are, on average, wordier and more difficult.  But if you skim through the questions in an LSAT critical reasoning section, you’ll find some question styles that rarely appear on the GMAT.

The most obvious example is the LSAT’s “parallel reasoning” questions, which ask you to identify the answer choice with the logical pattern that most closely resembles the original passage.  Parallel reasoning questions do appear occasionally on the GMAT, but they’re exceedingly rare.

We could split hairs over a few other differences between LSAT and GMAT verbal questions, but nearly all of those differences are minor.  The GMAT seems to prefer realistic-sounding critical reasoning passages about business and politics, while the LSAT often strays into philosophical discourses, abstract logic, and legal topics.  Many LSAT answer choices arguably sound like “legalese,” with plenty of mumbo-jumbo about premises and conclusions and patterns of reasoning.  And the GMAT’s “boldfaced” critical reasoning questions never appear on the LSAT, at least not exactly in the same format.

Though these differences might be off-putting if you’re not used to the LSAT, the skills required to succeed on the LSAT are exactly the same as those needed to beat the GMAT.  You need to read the critical reasoning and reading comprehension passages with pinpoint precision.  You need to have a flawless understanding of the scope of each CR passage, and you need to ensure that outside information doesn’t stray into your thought process.  The minor stylistic differences do nothing to change the core skills required for success on both exams.

I’m the first to admit that a pile of LSAT books won’t magically cure all of your GMAT verbal ailments, and I’ll happily concede that the LSAT isn’t a perfect replica of the GMAT.  But if you need a challenge on critical reasoning or if you’ve exhausted the supply of official GMAT reading comprehension questions, then a stack of LSAT books is the next-best thing.  Fresh LSAT questions will help your GMAT score more than redoing GMAT questions for a second time, and official LSAT questions are infinitely better than an endless diet of “knockoff” materials from GMAT test-prep companies.

So no, the LSAT isn’t perfect.  But if you’re dedicated to maximizing your GMAT verbal score, then the LSAT can be an outstanding complement to the official GMAT materials.

11 responses to “5 reasons why the LSAT can help your GMAT score

  1. Hi Charles,

    Great entry. What do you think are some good LSAT prep materials that are most relevant to GMAT? And if you can rank them in order of relevance, that’d be great.

    Thanks.

    • Thank you, Quan! The good thing about the LSAT is that all of the official practice tests are awfully similar, so you really can’t go wrong if you’re looking for practice materials. You can generally find LSAT pdf files online, or you could purchase any of the following (very similar-sounding) LSAT books: 10 Actual, Official LSAT PrepTests; The Next 10 Actual, Official LSAT PrepTests; or 10 More Actual, Official LSAT PrepTests.

      Yes, the LSAT publishers are very creative with their book titles. 🙂

      My personal favorite is The Official LSAT SuperPrep, but it only contains 3 LSAT exams, and I usually use it as a diagnostic for new GMAT students. If anybody is reading this who *might* decide to hire me as a tutor, I’d recommend staying away from The Official LSAT SuperPrep, so that I can still spring it on you during our first couple of sessions as a tool for evaluating your strengths and weaknesses. But if you’re doing self-study, feel free to use the SuperPrep book–it also has explanations that the other official LSAT books lack, along with the LSAT-writers’ very dense attempt at offering test-taking advice for CR and RC. Not everybody finds that stuff helpful, but it’s arguably worth the purchase if you’re working on your own.

      Thanks again for the comment, Quan!

  2. Wonderful article Charles. I am a huge fan of your articles and tips. And I was greatly motivated by the incredible Ms. HP story. I have been practicing LSAT CR for quite a while with good accuracy rate. However, I am really struggling with LSAT RC passages. Although my question is probably very vague, can you please let me know on what would be a good accuracy rate on LSAT RC for someone aiming to score 45+ in verbal on GMAT. 😉

    • Charles Bibilos

      Thank you, Yuvraj! Glad to hear that you’re enjoying the blog.

      For whatever it’s worth, I’m not sure that anybody ever really needs to get a 45+ on the GMAT verbal section. That’s an insanely high score, and it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which a 45 verbal gets you into a top MBA program, but a 40 verbal would keep you out. So don’t get too mad at yourself if you “only” get a 40 or a 42.

      To get a 45+ on the GMAT verbal section, you’d have to be awfully close to perfection–probably somewhere between 2 and 5 errors on the entire section. So your LSAT sets would have to be consistently amazing, too. Like, no more than two errors per set of 25 questions… and you’d also have to be nearly perfect at sentence correction.

      But again, be happy anytime you’re in the low 40s on the GMAT verbal section.

      Good luck with your studies, Yuvraj!

  3. This is excellent advice! I took the LSAT more than 5 years ago but never went to law school. I took the GMAT last week and sailed through the verbal section, scoring a 45 and finishing with more than 20 minutes left, mostly I think because I had prepped for the LSAT and so the CR and RC questions on the GMAT felt like a walk in the park. I would advise anyone wanting to up their Verbal score to not only practice LSAT questions but also to go through some of the LSAT test prep material for CR and RC from various prep companies – the explanations of question types and of the “nuances” described here seem to be far superior in LSAT prep materials than in GMAT prep.

  4. This post is amazing. I’ve already bought the books that you’ve mentioned. I have a question though, whenever we do practice with the LSAT LR questions, do we follow the advised timing of 35 minutes per section (25 questions)?

    • Thank you for the kind words, Franco! And if you’re only aiming to take the GMAT, don’t worry about the LSAT’s 35-minute limit — that’s blazingly fast, and the GMAT doesn’t test reading speed in quite the same way as the LSAT. If you can do an LSAT section in 45-60 minutes, you’ll probably be OK on the GMAT, as long as your sentence correction isn’t too slow.

      Have fun studying!

      • Franco Imperial

        Oh, alright. I was actually wondering whether doing so would add even heavier weights to my bat.

        Anyway, thanks again Charles!

      • Charles Bibilos

        Nope, the LSAT questions themselves are pretty much the heaviest thing you can add to your GMAT bat — if anything, you could risk getting into some dangerously sloppy habits if you obsess over the LSAT’s time limit when you’re studying for the GMAT. Just focus on maximizing your accuracy, and don’t worry about the 35-minute limit on the LSAT.

  5. Hi Charles,
    Which is the best book of LSAT CR with maximum practice questions?

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