Two quick questions from one of my online students

Here's an email from one of my students that includes two issues I think most LSAT students can benefit from:

Hi Nathan,

I have two quick questions.

First, for questions that ask you to identify, "which of the following arguments is most similar in its pattern of reasoning to the argument above", I've noticed that some of these question specifically state "flawed reasoning" and some do not. And so far, the ones that I have come across that do not emphasize on flawed reasoning have all been logically valid. As a rule of thumb, can I thereby assume that those that do not emphasize flawed reasoning are logically valid or is it still better to check?  (i ask this because it would be helpful if i can know right off the bat that the answer choice I need will be one that is logically valid)

Second, would it be helpful to first read the question before I read into the main argument to get a better grasp of what I should be looking for, or is this order counter-productive?

Thanks for writing. I'm glad you asked both of these questions... I feel strongly about both of them!
The answer to your first question is a resounding NO! You're correct that Matching Flaw questions always present a flawed argument, and always tell you that the argument is flawed up front. Like "Which one of the following exhibits the same flawed pattern of reasoning as the argument above?" Since they're telling you there's a flaw, you have to identify that flaw, then pick an answer that exhibits the exact same flaw. That's fairly straightforward. Matching Pattern questions, on the other hand, don't mention anything about a flaw. They ask simply "Which one of the following exhibits the same pattern of reasoning as the argument above?" It might be true that the arguments are usually logically valid, but sometimes the given argument in this type of question will be logically flawed, even though they didn't tell you it's flawed. Tricky, right? Well, it's still not that tough. For Matching Pattern questions, you should always 1) Identify whether or not the argument is valid, 2) if it's flawed, think about what type of a flaw it is, and 3) find an answer that exhibits the same pattern of reasoning, whether good or bad.
As a general rule, you can't assume anything on the LSAT.
As for your second question, I feel very strongly that you should always read the argument first, then the "question" (or "question stem" as some people call it). Some other companies do teach students to read the question first, but I believe that this is the single-most damaging piece of advice that's commonly taught to students. I think it's counterproductive, and I also don't believe there's anything to be gained from it.
It's counterproductive. No matter what type of question you're presented with, it's always critical that you understand the argument. But if you read the question stem first, you might go into the argument looking for something (an assumption, for example) instead of listening to the speaker. Frequently, this will cause your comprehension of the argument to decrease. Rather than listening to the speaker, and trying to figure out what's wrong with the speaker's argument, you're looking for "the answer." Well, the speaker isn't there to show you "the answer." The speaker is there to try to prove a point! If you don't pay attention to (and criticize) the argument as you read, then you're not going to be able to answer the question.
There's nothing to be gained. Check out this post, where I start with an "argument" (culled from one of my favorite rap songs) and then show how the LSAC could ask four different types of LSAT questions based on the same exact argument. The question types are wildly different, but the point of each of them is the same:  Did you understand the argument? Did you notice that there was something missing? I believe that there's simply no point in knowing what type of question you're going to be answering in advance... the technique of "Always argue with the speaker" will work no matter what type of question you end up being asked.
Thanks again for your questions! Please drop me a line at fox.edit@gmail.com, or simply comment on this post, if there's anything else I can help with.