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.