[This is a lesson excerpt from our online course, for which we invite you to enroll.]
Let's be clear about one critical aspect of this LSAT course—and my commitment to you.
I will define terms clearly and precisely and I will use those defined terms consistently. I will also make an effort to be accurate and exact with how I use most words. If I take the effort to define a word, please understand that every time I use that word, I mean exactly what I defined and nothing else. Why am I so uptight about this?
Because it’s good for you.
Being clear, precise, and consistent with how you use your words is fundamental to having a clear, precise, and consistent mind. That’s the kind of mind that will break the LSAT.
Please humor me and consider this extreme example:
Let’s pretend that the word “cheeseburger” shall henceforth be defined as human baby. Then I say, “Boy, I’m famished – I’d love to munch down a cheeseburger with a side of fries.” Using the terms as we’ve defined them, here are three possible reactions:
- You are appalled that I’d want to eat a human baby.
- You are appalled that I think french fries are a suitable side for a human baby entree.
- You are also hungry for some human baby.
All three are acceptable because in all three, the word “cheeseburger” is understood to mean “human baby.” You should not be thinking about cheese or ground beef or burger buns.
Besides the reason stated above, this is also extremely important because I want to make sure I am communicating clearly with you. When I say a word, I can’t have you thinking one definition when I mean another. Everyone has slightly different ideas for what words or phrases mean. As lawyers, the tools of your trade are words. You have to know what it means to be precise with words. Other people can only understand what you mean by reading or hearing your words, so it is paramount to select those words carefully. You must say and write the words that best represent what you mean. Nothing more, nothing less. If that weren’t the case, you’d end up as an unwitting accomplice to my lunchtime
The flip side of this is that you have to take words at face value. The LSAT writers are great at saying exactly what they mean. Of course, this doesn’t imply that what they mean is ever clear from a first reading. Actually, they don’t care to make it particularly easy for you understand what they’re saying. What do we call it when an author doesn’t care to make his writing easy for a reader to understand? I think we call it bad writing. Yup, the LSAT is poorly written. But, it’s not the usual kind of bad. Most bad writing derives from the author being confused about what they want to say. The LSAT is not that kind of bad – they know exactly what they want to say. It’s bad because of its overly complex and convoluted sentence structures riddled with multiple subjunctive clauses, often one embedded in another, without warning or even purpose, as it may seem sometime, the frequent use of pronouns whose referents are obscured by said convolution and the highly detailed oriented descriptions of logical relationships. Kind of like the sentence you just read. All this contributes to the difficulty. But,once you wade through the words and structure, you’ll find that the meaning is exactingly clear.
Definitions are very important because as a lawyer you will need to use words with surgical precision. I try to be consistent with words. I try extra hard to be consistent with words that I bother to define. So does the LSAT. You ought to also.
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