Most people read the question stem second (after they have read the argument or stimulus for that LSAT question)
Before we get into the issue, here’s a quick look at what the stimulus and stem are: (or you can skip ahead)
What’s a stimulus?
The stimulus is a short argument or set of facts and is the first thing presented to you in every logical reasoning LSAT question.
What’s a question stem?
The question stem is the actual question e.g. What is the main point of the argument above?
The question stem is presented second, after the stimulus, in every logical reasoning LSAT question.
There has been some debate over whether to read the question stem first or stimulus first when reading a logical reasoning LSAT question.
Here are the pros for reading the question stem first:
- It makes it clear what you are looking for when you read the stimulus. e.g. if the stem asks for the main point you can focus only on the main point and not worry about looking for flaws or assumptions in the argument.
- It gives you something to think about and analyze for while you read so that you are not reading and daydreaming or thinking of something else.
- It helps you focus on the issue while you read (a combination of 1 & 2 above).
- If you have a pre-determined strategy for each question type you can now use that strategy as you read the question.
- It can confuse you by making you think about the question stem and the stimulus at the same time.
- It can take more time as you may read the question stem twice. Once before the stimulus and once after.
Here are the pros for the conventional strategy, reading the stimulus first and then the question stem:
- It’s the natural order and so you are likely to fall back to this order often.
- If allows you to absorb and understand the entire argument before biasing your view with a question stem.
- You read the argument with a clear mind not clouded by a particular question. Thinking about only the stimulus may help you understand it better.
- You need to analyze the stimulus for many things: flaws, assumptions, conclusion, premises, format and structure and more – as you have no idea what you will be asked about
- You may need to read the stimulus again after you have read the question in order to go back and find what the question stem was looking for.
When we look at the pros and cons it seem fairly equal, if not slightly in favor of reading the question stem first.
The reality is that the right approach depends on you the student. We have received feedback from hundreds of students on this issue and some perform better with stems first and other with stimuli first. Although most actually score higher using the stimulus first method.
So what should you do?
Take two Logical Reasoning LSAT sections reading the stems first, and two reading the stimuli first. If you do much better using one or the other method go with that method from now on.
If the stem method seems too awkward or you don’t like it, stay away from it and go with the stimulus first.
If the the results are very similar then go with the stimulus first method.
If you’re not sure or don’t want to try the stem first method then go with the stimulus first method.
Once you pick a method, every few weeks or so try a section or two using the other method. It can help you to look at the questions in a different light and often allows insights that can help increase your score.
For a much more detailed look at LSAT strategies, try our online LSAT prep course.