Update: I've decided to try to become a hedge fund manager a la Dr. Michael Burry
of The Big Short
; you can find my thoughts on various topics (but especially finance/investing) at my website: http://www.nathanwailes.com
. The topics covered are mostly related to finance/investing, but there are also other misc topics of interest to a wide audience
such as how to choose a career
, how to be happy
, philosophical questions
, etc.TLS1776's Thoughts on the LSATTable of ContentsA little about me
1) What score did you get?
2) What books did you use? (Kaplan, Powerscore LRB, Powerscore LGB, etc)
3) What prep courses did you take (if any)? Full length, weekend?
4) How long did you study for, and under what conditions? (during school, during the summer, etc)
5) How many preptests did you do?
6) What would you change if you were to do it again?
The Importance of Getting and Staying Motivated
How To Increase or Maintain Your Motivation
Creating or Following a Specific Study Plan (e.g. Pithypike’s Guide)
The Importance of Proper Nutrition, Warm-Up, and Sleep
How I Used Advice from TLS
Other Advice I Used
Organizing Your LSAT Documents
Using a Spreadsheet
The Importance of Proper Timing (including the Importance of Having Time to Correct Mistakes)
Choosing a Testing Location
Preparing for Test-Day
How to Interpret ‘Unless’ Statements
Indicating Your Confidence in Your Answer
Transferring Answers to the Answer Sheet ('Bubbling')
What to Do With Your PTs After You've Taken Them
An Alternative Approach to Categorizing LR MistakesA little about me:
During my senior year of college I began looking into law school and discovered that my GPA would qualify me for HYS. However, my GPA was closer to their 25th percentiles than their 75th, and from a school with a good-but-not-outstanding reputation. After reading about how the US News rankings work (and how influential they are in admissions decisions) I figured that with an LSAT score above the 75th percentile I would be a competitive applicant.
I also read that 1) law schools don’t typically care when you apply, 2) they prefer to see one LSAT score rather than a gradual increase over the course of several scores, and 3) a dramatic increase in your LSAT score is possible if you devote an immense amount of time to the test. All of this information suggested a particular ideal strategy for being accepted by HYS: focus completely on the LSAT until I thought I could get a score above the 75th percentile, and then spend as much time as necessary to get whatever work experience would make me an attractive applicant (assuming my numbers were still not sufficient). As time went on and I became better acquainted with the test, I learned that, because of frequent test-day drops in score, I could be PTing at the 176 level and end up with a 172 on test day from bad luck. So I dropped the “176+” mindset and started shooting instead for a perfect score.
My intended audience for this guide is people who are in a similar situation; people shooting for a perfect score. Certain things I label as “must-have” or “must-do” may not be necessary for someone who is just shooting for a 165 (or even a 175). I’m going to start the guide by following the format of the “How to Get a 160+ on the LSAT” thread, and then I’ll move on to some thoughts on various other aspects of prep that I consider important.1) What score did you get?
A 180. However, I don’t think a person's score necessarily determines the usefulness of his experience; while prepping for the test I found that the best thing about advice on TLS was that it 1) motivated me to study harder, and 2) gave me study method ideas that I could use in my prep. I think this article is perfectly capable of meeting both of those criteria for others regardless of the fact that I got a 180.2) What books did you use? (Kaplan, Powerscore LRB, Powerscore LGB, etc)
I’m going to divide the material into three categories: “Phase 1”, “Phase 2”, and “Other Stuff”, to reflect a general trend I observed in my LSAT prep. In the first phase of LSAT prep I learned everything that the test-prep companies could teach me; in the second phase I had to move beyond test-prep material and learn things about the test that nobody had put in a prep book yet, or things that can’t really be taught but must be learned through lots of time spent with the test. Someone observing me would have seen me gradually shift from spending all of my time with test-prep books to all of my time with official preptests. “Other Stuff’ has material that doesn’t fit into the previous two categories, including supplementary material.Phase 1 (“Learning the Ropes”)
Phase 2 (“You’re On Your Own Now”)
- Powerscore Logic Games Bible (LGB) – Must-have for those who start off weak in LG. Beware, though: I think it places far too much emphasis on making initial inferences. You will also need to be able to attack games by using hypothetical arrangements of the variables (hypos); Master the LSAT almost exclusively uses hypos, and thus is the Yin to the LGB’s Yang. I went through the LGB twice.
.....Also: I tried and failed to memorize their categories (something they recommend doing). I wouldn’t worry about that; to use an analogy from my own life: you don’t need to be able to read music to be able to play a few particular piano pieces beautifully. In fact, when I’ve tried to play the same pieces by muscle-memory and then by referring to the music, I find that the latter makes me far less effective. To bring the analogy back: if you memorize the categories and then rely on them to decide on an approach to each game, you may end up taking longer and being less flexible than if you just learn what approach to take through repetition.
- Powerscore Logical Reasoning Bible (LRB) – Must-have for the sections on conditional reasoning and what it calls “formal logic”. The rest of the book is recommended but not necessarily “must-have”. I went through the book twice.
- Powerscore Reading Comprehension Bible (RCB) – Recommended. I never bought this; instead I went through part of my study partner’s copy. I also never went through the whole thing. Nevertheless I would recommend you go through it just so that you give RC the time it needs. If you’re shooting for a 180 you may end up in a situation similar to many others, in which you spend so much study time focusing on LR and LG that you neglect RC and lose a disproportionate number of points there.
- Powerscore LGB Flash Cards – Recommended. I went through the flash cards once, set aside the ones that I had trouble with, and then went through those difficult ones a few more times. I think it was helpful, but it was definitely one of the more expensive parts of my prep ($25 for not many hours’ worth of prep). My biggest problems with the cards are that 1) I found a lot of them too easy to be helpful, and 2) the deck doesn’t contain some things from the Bible that I was hoping to use the flash cards to learn. Nevertheless, I think it’s probably worth going through them once after your first or second pass through the LGB just to test yourself and make sure you’ve absorbed everything.
- Powerscore LRB Flash Cards – Recommended. I must warn you: I bought these but never really used them. However, I just flipped through a few and think it’s probably worth going through them once after your first or second pass through the LRB just to test yourself and make sure you’ve absorbed everything. My biggest problem with the cards is how much they cost ($25).
- Master the LSAT – Must-have for those who start off weak in LG, for its emphasis on a hypo-centric approach to LG. Many games will require you to use hypos rather than make initial global inferences, so you can’t rely solely on the LGB’s approach. Just make sure you actually read his explanations if you want to get the benefit of seeing a different approach. I didn’t go through this book until well after I’d gone through the LGB twice.
- I got this book on the recommendation of a 180er, but not specifically for its LG section. To be honest, I was instead interested in its RC section, which I’d heard good things about. In hindsight I don’t remember that section being helpful, but it was worth going through it anyway.
- The book was written back in the ‘90s and uses fake questions to teach the material; I approached it as a supplementary text and would not recommend it as someone’s sole source of test-prep material.
- According to Steve Schwartz of LSAT Blog, the preptests in the back of the book are 7, 8, and 9 respectively, while the split-up one is preptest 2. This book was the way I was able to take preptests 2 and 8.
- Kaplan’s LSAT 180 – Not Recommended. This is the first LSAT test-prep book I looked at; I checked it out of my local library, did a few of the LG and LR sections, and then didn’t use it again because they were too hard for me at the time (it uses fake questions that are often more difficult than anything actually on the LSAT). I gave it a second look later on in my prep and decided not to use it because the fake questions seemed too dissimilar from those found on the LSAT. Nevertheless, if you’re shooting for a 180 I’d recommend you look at it at some point and decide for yourself whether to use it.
- Informal Logic (Walton) – Not recommended. I got this because JDewey, a 180er, recommended it. I already had a good grasp of logical fallacies and so didn’t find this helpful (if you don't have a good grasp of logical fallacies, search Google for one of the many compilations of them). Nevertheless, if you’re shooting for a 180 you should probably check it out from a library anyway and see if it does anything for you.
- 10 Actual, Official LSAT Preptests (PTs 7, 9-16, 18) – Must-have. Yes, the tests feel different (for new people: there is a common belief that PTs have changed a lot over the years). In hindsight I probably would have put them to better use as experimental sections for the next two books (see below).
- 10 More Actual, Official LSAT Preptests (PTs 19-28) – Must-have. I ended up buying two copies: One for an initial pass (many months before game-day), and a second copy for a second accelerated pass within weeks of game-day.
- The Next 10 Actual, Official LSAT Preptests (PTs 29-38) – Must-have. I bought two copies and went through this twice as well (see above).
- 10 New Actual, Official LSAT PrepTests(PTs 52-61) - Must have. This book wasn't out when I was studying, so I bought the tests individually.
- The Official LSAT SuperPrep – Must-have. The long introductory section is well worth reading for insights into the test (the test-makers acknowledge that they try to trick you in certain ways); I didn’t end up reading most of the explanations for the questions because I didn’t find them especially helpful, although I probably should have read them all anyway just in case there was some nugget of wisdom I could’ve gleaned. The games sections from PTs B and C are the hardest official games sections I encountered in my prep.
- Individual Preptests (eg 39-51, 62+) – Must-have. I was able to get hard copies of every PT except 39, which I ended up printing out at Kinkos from a pdf I got off the Internet. Amazon has a 4-for-3 deal; I also got a bunch off craigslist.
- ACE The LSAT Logic Games – Must-have. It contains 14 sections with explanations, and the games will make almost anything LSAC throws at you seem like a piece of cake. The trick is to get good enough that you can finish the section and fill in the answer sheet within 35 minutes (rather than just do each game individually and take as long as you want). It may not be a good idea to use this book until you’re already very good at LG. I had already gone through the LGB twice, Master the LSAT, and many PTs before I started using this. I got this book after hearing about it from bgc, who got a 179 and went to Yale. I ended up using the sections as my warm-up before each 5-section test I took, and it was a very, very good idea. DISCLAIMER: This book is NOT perfect; I'm recommending it because I found it extremely helpful despite its flaws.
- LSAT Proctor DVD – Must-have. It isn't perfect, but it's well worth the money. I used this DVD every time I took a PT, and even when I was taking individual sections (e.g. my warm-up ACE section before PTs). It will get you VERY comfortable with having a proctor announce time (rather than using a watch to keep track yourself). Aside from choosing the option to take a full 5-section test (with 10 minute break), the DVD also lets you jump in during any one of the sections (via a chapter menu), or lets you take the 5 sections in a noisy environment (sneezing, people entering and leaving the test room, people tapping on the desks, etc.).
- You can find free timers online or in Apple's app store, but I'm not aware of any that include a video that shows what it will look like to be in a test room with people sitting in front of you and with a proctor at the front. I would be willing to pay the extra $25 to have that extra bit of realism. The closer you can get your practice exams to the real test, the fewer variables there are that can screw up your test-day performance. Here's an analogous example: part of the admissions process for Teach For America involves giving a sample lesson in front of your evaluators, and it is a very smart idea to rehearse the lesson in front of a group of your friends to take away any nervousness you may feel when being in front of a group of people. Again: The closer you can get your practice exams to the real test, the fewer variables there are that can screw up your test-day performance.
- I ended up being very happy that the DVD simulated a 10-minute break, because on the real LSAT I got a 15-minute break. A 10-minute break forces you to eat and use the bathroom about as fast as you can, which makes a 15-minute break feel like a lot of time. Had I been using my own timer and taking 20 minute breaks, though, that 15-minute break may have felt like no time at all. Remember this basic idea: your training should at least occasionally be tougher than the actual test.
3) What prep courses did you take (if any)? Full length, weekend?
- Will Shortz’ Ultra Easy Pocket Sudoku – Recommended. I learned Sudoku because I saw it recommended in a post by Scott Schwartz. I found Sudoku boring but useful for learning certain lessons: First, the importance of double-checking your work: if you make a mistake in Sudoku and don’t immediately notice it you will have to start over again from the beginning. I eventually learned that the best way to prevent this from happening was to double-check every number I filled in; I carried this lesson over to the LSAT’s LG section by double-checking my hypos against the rules as frequently as time permitted. The second important lesson was that it is important to develop the ability to hold various bits of information in your mind at once. I discovered this after a 180er recommended that I do the puzzles without writing any notes down; eventually I got good enough with LG that I was able to visualize some hypos without having to draw them out (but this method can be very liable to mistakes, so be careful).
- USA Today Everyday Logic: 200 Puzzles – Recommended. Like Sudoku, I found this book boring but useful. It includes a variety of puzzles that are very different from LSAT logic games, but the ones that are most similar to the LSAT games are useful for learning certain lessons. First, I learned the importance of paying close attention to details in the clues; USA Today puzzles will invariably try to sneak in bits of information without your noticing it, and learning to spot those tricks made me more likely to look back at the rules in an LSAT game to make sure I had a correct understanding of them. Second, I learned the importance of returning repeatedly to the clues to see what the next step is in the chain of inferences that will lead you to the solution. You’ll have to make many passes through all of the clues to solve an entire USA Today game; likewise, on the LSAT there are often times when you need to make multiple passes through the rules to see how a certain given piece of information eventually forces certain variables into certain positions. You can see an example of this in the scanned LG section later in this guide.
- Kaplan LSAT Writing Workbook – Recommended. Most people advise that you not spend much (or any) time preparing for the writing sample portion of the LSAT; most people are also not going to get into HYS. Take the writing sample seriously. That said, I didn’t buy this book and I didn’t read most of it (the parts that focus on common errors in grammar, spelling, and composition); I found the book’s most useful advice to be a step-by-step method to follow when approaching the writing sample, and this can be condensed to a page or two (which I copied into a word document and used to refresh my memory). The other useful part of this book is the collection of several prompts and completed writing samples they offer; I copied one prompt and sample response into a word document and used it as a stylistic comparison for my own practice samples (e.g. Did I spend too much space discussing the first criterion? Was my language too informal? Did I touch on all of the major issues?). I doubt my writing samples were outstanding examples of argumentation, but I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to walk into the LSAT without having practiced at least a few times to get the timing down and learn what basic elements to include.
- The Economist & Scientific American – Recommended. The LSAT seems to take a lot of its RC passages and LR topics from articles in the Economist and Scientific American. Even the prose style of the LSAT seems to echo those magazines (especially the Economist). I probably read fewer than 10 magazines’ worth of articles during my prep, and wasn’t able to fulfill my goal of reading every current copy of the Economist from cover-to-cover leading up to the test (it simply took too long and I got bored). I instead tried to find books that I found interesting and would be excited to read.
- Other Reading Material – Above all you should look for books that you find interesting (as long as they aren’t fluffy), but if you need recommendations then you might be able to make use of this list of books that I read while I was prepping: Guns Germs & Steel (very relevant to LR and RC passages about Native Americans and our evolutionary ancestors), Anna Karenina, Consider the Lobster and Other Essays (very engaging), Economics in One Lesson (a bit dry but very useful; its short chapters make it easier to stay motivated), essays in Chomsky’s For Reasons of State that caught my eye (his writing makes RC passages look like a joke), selections from Feinberg & Coleman’s Philosophy of Law that caught my eye (some of these, too, make RC passages look like a joke), Law’s Order, Ivy Briefs, The Monk and the Riddle (highly recommended), Good to Great, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Being an Entrepreneur, and probably others that I can’t remember.
None. It’s often asked whether taking a prep course a good idea. I think the answer probably depends on an individual’s situation. I must admit that, of all the people I’ve seen who’ve gotten a 178+, I can’t recall any who did it solely by attending a prep course. I have seen the instructor profile of a guy who works for Blueprint which says he got a 180 after taking a Blueprint course, but Blueprint sounded so excited about it in the profile that I can’t help but wonder how much of it was Blueprint’s doing and how much of it was a result of lots of individual time spent with the test. I think a prep course may be useful to move more quickly through the first phase of LSAT prep (“learning the ropes”), but if you’re serious about a 180 you’ll probably end up wanting to read the various test-prep books out there anyway to pick up any bits of advice that your prep course didn't include (or that they did include and you forgot about).4) How long did you study for, and under what conditions? (during school, during the summer, etc)
I sat for my first PT on a whim, without preparing at all, at a Kaplan event at my college in March 2009; I got a 161. I sat for the actual exam in June 2010. I studied intensely during my Spring break of ’09 and then almost not at all during the rest of the semester. I graduated in early May of that year and then basically centered my life around my LSAT prep. I had a one-day-a-week internship from June till November (of ’09) and then got a job as a substitute teacher in January of 2010, but otherwise had no commitments. This is not to suggest that I was studying 20+ hours a week for a full year; I was definitely more relaxed through most of the process than I would have been if I was operating on a 3 or even 6 month schedule. In fact, I often went for weeks in the summer without cracking any books. However, even using a relaxed schedule I was able to devote a larger total number of hours to my prep than people who study for 3 or even 6 months (see below for my estimate of total time spent prepping).5) How many preptests did you do?
That depends on what you mean by “do”.
- If we’re talking about the number of PTs I saw, the answer is 57. I did almost every widely-available preptest. I did not do 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, or 17 because I didn’t know of an easy way to get my hands on them, but I did the rest from 2 to 59, including A, B, C, and 51.5 (June 2007).
- If we’re talking about the number of times I simulated the test-day experience (3 sections, break, then 2 sections, on a test I haven’t seen before), the answer is 37 times, at an average rate of about once a week.
- If we’re talking about the number of times I did 4 or more sections in a row (where “in a row” includes 5 or 8 section tests with a 10 minute break after section 3 or 4 respectively): the answer is 56. The 37 tests listed above plus the 19 I retook leading up to the test.
To get more general:
- If we’re talking about the number of times I did a full section at once, including full tests, individual sections, and repeats, I would estimate the answer would be 85+ PTs’ worth of sections (so 340+ sections). I’m getting this estimate by adding the 57 PTs I went through plus the 19 PTs I retook, plus the 14 sections from ACE The Logic Games book (about half of which I took twice), plus individual sections that I did with my study partner at Borders, plus a few other sections I can remember doing.
- If we’re using the question to get an idea of the total number of hours of my life that I’ve traded for my score on the LSAT, I would estimate the answer would be somewhere between 300 and 400 (hours). I’ll now explain how I came up with this range:
198 – The 340-section estimate above results in 198 hours’ worth of studying.
50 - I also went through the LGB twice, the LRB twice, and Master the LSAT once (if we estimate each takes an average of 10 hours to get through, that’s 50 hours total). So now we’re up to around 250 hours.
25 - I did ~150 sudoku puzzles, and if we estimate 10 minutes a puzzle that gives us another 25 hours, bringing it to 275 hours.
10 - I’d estimate I spent at least another 10 hours on the USA Today puzzle book, bringing it to 285.
5 - At least 5 hours going through typed-up LR questions that I’d gotten wrong, bringing it to 290.
10 – At least 10 hours (and almost certainly more) spent searching TLS for advice, compiling it, reading it, and rereading it (I’m not including time wasted on TLS perusing amusing-but-useless threads). That brings the estimate to at least 300 hours.
On top of all that there was a lot of miscellaneous studying (e.g. staring at a logic game, LR question, or RC passage for an hour to figure out how it worked), time spent traveling to and from various study locations (Borders, libraries, Kaplan centers for practice tests), time spent at Kinkos printing and cutting out dozens of LR questions, and probably other things that aren’t coming to me.6) What would you change if you were to do it again?
- I did not spend as much time preparing for the writing sample as I probably should have, mostly because I hated practicing for it: I’m a deliberate writer and don't like writing under extreme time constraints (obviously I’ll have to get over this when the time comes to prepare for law school exams). I was also worried about spending too much time focusing on the writing sample (to the detriment of my actual score). I should have been doing one practice writing sample each week from the very beginning of my prep, and I should have focused less on the timing at the beginning than on having good form (i.e. following the steps outlined in the Kaplan book, such as having an outline of all the ideas you will mention and then sticking to it). In that sense the writing sample can be approached a lot like the LG section of the test.
- I did not spend as much time preparing for RC as I probably should have, mostly because I was so concerned about LG and LR. If I could do it over again, I probably would have started using old RC sections to warm up before my 5-section PTs rather than ACE LG sections (once I got good enough at LG to tackle ACE sections without trouble).7) Any other misc comments/suggestions.
Here I’ll discuss various topics that I think are important to think/know about:The Importance of Getting and Staying Motivated
If I could only give one piece of advice to someone who wanted to get a 180 on the LSAT (or accomplish something else difficult), it would be this: Figure out how to get highly motivated. You will face many obstacles in your journey to a 180, each of which may require a completely different approach to be overcome; I can’t give you a single piece of advice that will tell you how to solve each problem you face. But if you are highly motivated you will try everything that you possibly can to get what you want; you will look under every rock, ask everyone you know for help, claw your way to your goal. The real trick is figuring out how to increase your motivation.How To Increase or Maintain Your Motivation
I’m no expert, but it seems to me that the best way to increase or maintain your motivation is by manipulating your environment. I’ll spend the rest of this section discussing examples I saw during my LSAT prep.Removing demotivating sources of pleasure
- For the year I spent studying the LSAT I did not watch TV, play video-games, go to the movies, or even spend much time hanging out with friends. To be honest, I didn't do most of those things anyway (except hanging out with friends), but on top of that I noticed that after spending time watching a movie or hanging out with friends I tended to temporarily lose motivation to study. My motivation would usually come back after being on my own for a while.
Am I saying that anyone who wants to get a 180 should spurn the world outside TLS? No, not at all. All I am trying to do is point out something I noticed. If you are able to get the score you want while watching TV, feel free to do it. But if you’re spending lots of time watching TV and also having trouble staying motivated enough to make the progress you want to make on the LSAT, you should be aware that TV may be part of the reason.
I also tried to avoid books that discussed bad experiences that people had had during/after law school (e.g. “One L”, “Double Billing”). I had applied to Teach for America my senior year in college and read two books that painted grim pictures of the experience while I was in the application process; I think they may have undermined my desire to spend time preparing for the final interview, and I did a poor job on it and wasn’t accepted, while I had several friends who WERE accepted but who had also not done the amount of research that I had (i.e. they hadn't read any books on TFA). I didn’t want to make the same mistake twice (assuming it should be called a mistake).Focusing on sources of pleasure that will reinforce your motivation to study
– If you’re studying for the LSAT and relax by browsing the TLS forums, in a way you’re still prepping while you relax. You’re prepping by spending time connecting with people who share your goals and value what you are trying to accomplish, which may very well increase or maintain your motivation to study. I doubt you even have to talk about the LSAT to get that benefit; just knowing that you’re part of the same club is probably enough. In contrast, consider what happens when you meet up with some old friends and everyone ends talking about some TV show you’ve never seen. Suddenly you’re basically in a different subculture, and the effort you’ve spent on the LSAT is useless for connecting with these people; if you want to relate to them, you’re going to have to watch the show. That seems less likely to be an experience that will raise your motivation to study.
Another way to motivate yourself while relaxing is to read books about people who were glad they went to law school. I read Barack Obama’s biography, “Dreams From My Father”, as well as “The Monk and the Riddle”, two books by HLS alum who went on to be pretty happy (as far as I can tell).Finding a Study Partner (or Two)
– This is a very, very important topic that was originally going to be its own main section. When I was studying for the LSAT I had two study partners: one that I met in person about once a week, and another that I communicated with via PMs on the TLS forums. Study partners are a very, very effective way to stay motivated.
An excellent article on training partners can be found at the link below. If you're studying long-term, consider printing this out and taping it to your wall.http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/zaino19.htm
I'll briefly describe my training partner experience in terms of the characteristics the article recommends looking for:Share the Same Goals
- In one sense, my in-person partner did not have the same goal as me (HYS) because she didn't have the GPA for it, but my online partner did. In another sense, we all had similar goals (a top LSAT score), although my goal was still probably a little more ambitious than my in-person partner's (i.e. a 180 vs. ~172-175). I think it probably helps to be paired up with someone with the same goal, but I can't say it's a necessary characteristic to look for, because my in-person partner was useful despite not having the exact same goal.Same Passion and Drive
- See above; it seems like it's probably very helpful, but it may not be necessary to have someone as highly motivated as you are. One thing you definitely DON'T want, though, is someone who will meet up with you and then detract from your ability to study (by chatting with you, for example). Note: I was able to get some of the benefit of this characteristic from reading the advice in the "How to Get a 160+" thread.DEPENDABLE
- This is probably one of the most important characteristics to look for in an in-person study partner. My in-person partner and I met at least one or two other people at the Borders where we studied (and talked to several others on TLS), but all of them stopped coming (or never showed up in the first place). Be ready for this; it's probably a good idea to meet up with people as close to your house/apartment as possible, so that you won't be too inconvenienced by people not showing up. Being on time is another important thing, although both I and my partner were lazy at times. Try to have at least 3-4 hours free whenever you plan to meet up with others, because it may well be an hour after your arranged meeting time before the other person shows up and you're both done using the bathroom and eating.Share Suggestions and Opinions
- You can get a lot of this benefit from reading the advice of high-scorers and by asking for advice in the forums. On the other hand, I tried to always focus on this aspect of my training partner relationships, because I thought that the best way for us to improve would be to reflect on our mistakes and try to think of ways to avoid those mistakes in the future. There were also times when my partners and I made suggestions that I never saw in a forum.Honest and Critical
- The importance of this can go either way; it is important to have a partner who can help you spot weaknesses in your study method or test-taking method, but it is also important to have someone who won't be overly critical and hurt your morale. I was probably more critical than my in-person partner (probably because I had more time to study and thus found it easier to put out a big effort), and frequently told her when I thought she was wasting her time with a particular method or not studying hard enough. It seemed to annoy her at times, which is when I would back off. Ultimately, though, I think the combination of my criticism and my own hard work (which she could see for herself) may have motivated her to study harder than she would have if I wasn't paired up with her. For example, in the last month or two before the test she said she was putting out an enormous effort including taking a PT a day, which is not an easy thing to do for more than a few days.Size Doesn't Always Matter
- If your study partner is motivating you to try harder, it probably isn't a big deal if that person isn't doing very well on the LSAT. Both my study partners were shooting for top scores (170+), but after a few months my in-person study partner seemed to be on the receiving end of advice more often than not (mostly because I had far more time to study and thus could make more progress). I nevertheless found it very helpful to meet up with her; I've heard it from at least two 180ers and another 175+ scorer that they were able to learn more about the test by teaching it to other people.Provide Friendly Competition
- I have to admit that when I first started meeting with my in-person partner I was struck by a strong competitive impulse which gave me a lot of motivation to study. Competition can have a downside, too, though, if you get stuck in a rut and see your partner continuing to move forward. I was bummed when stuck in the 174-176 range and my online partner was getting consistent 178s and 179s. It's probably better to have a partner you're competitive with, though, than to have one who is doing so badly or so well that you both end up complacent.Get A Personal Trainer
- The reason to get a personal trainer (i.e. experienced mentor) is to save yourself time by adopting effective practices earlier. The question is, should you pay for it?
- The argument to not pay for it - I did a 30-minute session with a 180er in NYC and didn't find it to be worth the money ($100/hr). Since I didn't have a job I didn't have a lot of spare money to be spending, and I also didn't want to have to make the long commute every weekend to go meet up with the tutor. My in-person training partner used two different tutors and found one of them to be helpful and the other to not be helpful; both were expensive. And you can find many high-scorers on the TLS forums who are perfectly happy to share their advice for free.
- The argument to pay for it - I was extremely motivated to get a perfect score on the LSAT; this kind of motivation is unusual, and can make tutors less useful than if you are less motivated. For example, I have a friend who went to Williams College and is now at UPenn Vet School (one of the most selective in the nation); his younger brother is now at Yale College. Soon after I graduated college I spoke with their mother about how they succeeded at their admission tests, and she said that she had them take one practice test a week for a full year before the actual exam, and paid a tutor to come to their house once a week and talk about the test with them (they each had their own tutors). She said it made it a lot easier for her sons to study and stay motivated. This could be done with a training partner, but finding a good training partner can take a lot of time and effort, and there's no guarantee that you'll find someone good. By using a tutor you have some assurance that the person you're working with knows the test well and will provide value when you have discussions. And while people on TLS can be helpful, the downside is that you will probably have to figure out for yourself what your problems are before searching for others' advice on how to fix those problems. It's unlikely that someone will volunteer 30 minutes of their time to figure out why you're stuck in the high 160s. A good tutor can quickly diagnose your problem areas and give advice on how to best use your study time. In addition, I've found that seeing someone do a logic game in front of you is one of the best ways to learn how to approach them; I learned some techniques from my in-person study partner (who in turn learned them from her SLS-tutor) which I never saw in any LG book or on TLS.Have More Than One Training Partner
- I highly recommend doing what I did (having an in-person partner and an online partner). There were times when one of my training partners would be uncommunicative or busy, and it was helpful to have the other partner there to continue talking to. It was also good to have two different personalities to work with; my in-person partner was very reliable, supportive, and generous (lending me her RC Bible, for example), but didn't have as aggressive an attitude toward the test as I or my online partner did. On the other hand, my online partner's combination of nonchalance and high PT scores could be intimidating. Again, the point of mentioning these differences in personality is to demonstrate the kinds of benefits you can get from having more than one partner.Creating or Following a Specific Study Plan (e.g. Pithypike’s Guide)
Study plans seem to be very popular on TLS, so I thought I'd include some brief thoughts on them. As I described in the "About Me" section, in June of 2009 I did have a basic plan for tackling the LSAT: "study for the LSAT until you think you can get an LSAT score that will give you a shot at HYS, but aim to take the LSAT in a year (June of 2010)". However, I can't confidently say that I had a more specific plan than that throughout the whole process. I certainly did NOT have a specific day-to-day, hour-to-hour study plan. There were times when I would study for many hours each day for a week straight and times where I would go for a week or two without looking at any material. My motivation to study (like my motivation to write up this guide) came and went.
At several points in my prep I tried to follow specific study schedules, but I always failed to stick to them. For example, during the summer of 2009 I used Google Calendar to designate certain days of the week as being dedicated to LR, RC, or LG (and maybe even a day for the writing sample; I don't remember). My idea was to spend an hour each day focused on that particular section. It didn't work. Another example: That fall I started meeting up with my in-person partner and we set up a schedule to meet every Tuesday and Sunday, but that, too, became sloppy after a while. Eventually we were meeting up every other week. Another example: in the spring of 2010 I resolved to spend 10 minutes each night going through LR questions I had gotten wrong. That, too, quickly stopped.
Given these failures to stick to a specific plan, I was originally planning to write in this guide that such plans are not necessary or realistic. After having thought about it some more, though, I think that they may have benefited me even if I wasn't able to stick to them. I think that the very act of creating study plans was a way for me to think about the problems that I still had on the test, and I may have derived some motivation from the plans even if I only stuck with each one for a short time.The Importance of Proper Nutrition, Warm-Up, and Sleep
While preparing for the LSAT I also prepared for and ran in the NYC Marathon (it was my first marathon); one of the things I learned while doing my daily run was that if I didn't have enough calories in my system my body would simply shut down and refuse to keep going. In other words, I learned what it felt like to "run out of gas".
This experience carried over to the LSAT as I began to pay close attention to how I felt while taking my PTs. Certain variables seemed to have an especially large influence on how much energy I had / how easy it was to concentrate / how easy it was to process information (all ways of describing the same thing). I'll go through those variables now, discussing them in the order of importance that I would rank them:Nutrition
- Just as in running, it is important to have lots of calories in your system if you're going to be taking a PT. But not only is it important to have lots of calories, it is also important to choose your calorie sources wisely. I personally found a combination of the following foods to be ideal: oatmeal (I used Quaker Oats Old-Fashioned), tuna (I used Starkist White Albacore), apples (I used Red Delicious), green peas (I used Shop-Rite Steam-In-Bag peas), muenster cheese (I used the Shop-Rite brand). Learning what it feels like to be low on calories and learning the effects of various foods on your ability to concentrate is something that will come with time.
Water - I also found it important to make sure I had enough water in my system; if I didn't, I found it hard to think (heck, you might be best off trying to take a PT while very thirsty and seeing how you feel). On the other hand, I didn't want to drink too much, as there was a very real danger of having to go to the bathroom in the middle of the test. I would generally try to stay hydrated in the hours leading up to the test, use the bathroom as often as possible in the 30 minutes leading up to the test, and then have a few sips of water before starting.
Caffeine - I experimented with caffeine (Red Bull) and found that it seemed to initially boost my late-night PT scores. However, I eventually came to the conclusion that 1) caffeine wasn't as helpful if I didn't also eat a lot of food, and 2) eating a lot of food was usually an effective way of waking myself up. Because I was also afraid of the unpredictability that caffeine withdrawal would introduce to my test-taking ability, I ultimately decided to stay away from it (my online partner said he had some long-lasting withdrawal symptoms as he tried to get off caffeine toward the end of his prep, although he'd been using it much more often). If you're shooting for a 180 I would recommend that you experiment with it and decide for yourself whether to use it; if you're taking a morning test it may be worth rehearsing the test with caffeine one or two times to see if it would be an effective way to wake yourself up in an emergency (e.g. not having enough time to wake yourself up naturally).Warm-Up
- I noticed on many, many PTs that I felt better during the third, fourth, or even fifth sections than I did on my first. I also noticed that the time of day at which I took a PT tended to affect how warmed-up I felt (or in other words, how groggy I felt).
- To overcome the first problem (i.e. groggy first section) I began taking a warm-up section before every simulated LSAT (i.e. a 5-section test with experimental); I used sections from the ACE LG book and found it very, very helpful. After taking a section from the ACE book the real LG section almost invariably felt easier. Before my actual LSAT (June 7th) I took 2 sections: an ACE LG section and a tough old RC section. The two sections did a great job of warming me up, and my real LG and RC sections felt much easier than my warm-up sections (which probably did a LOT to relax me).
- To overcome the second problem (i.e. time of day grogginess) you can get up earlier or try to wake yourself up by watching TV, listening to music, walking around, etc. The "How to Get a 160+" thread includes the account of one 180er who reversed his sleep schedule for a morning exam (i.e. sleeping from 6pm-1am), so that he took his test in his "afternoon", and he said he was glad he did it. One benefit of taking the June test is that you don't have to make such a drastic change to your sleep schedule to get that benefit. You could simply start sleeping from 10pm-5am 2 weeks before the test.Sleep
- Throughout my prep period I was able to get about as much sleep as I wanted, so my comments here may not be as helpful to someone who has a full-time job and can't get as much sleep each night as he would like. Nevertheless, the amount of sleep I'd gotten the night before generally didn't seem to be as influential as the number of calories in my system while taking the test. I found that being low on calories tended to make me feel sleepy, while loading up on calories woke me up. On the other hand, on one or two occasions I went into a PT thinking, "Wow, I feel very well-rested", and I remember finding it easier to concentrate and process text on those occasions. And I'm sure that if I had done some PTs after having gotten no sleep whatsoever the previous night I probably would have done worse on them. But overall I didn't stress out about sleep as much as nutrition and warm-up.How I Used Advice from TLS
I doubt I would have gotten a 180 without TLS; the advice from previous high-scorers motivated me to study hard and gave me ideas that would have taken a lot of trial and error to discover on my own. In this section I'll briefly discuss how I used TLS in my prep.
I discovered TLS in May of 2009 and over the course of about a week read through the entire "How to Get a 160+" thread; two or three months later I re-read the thread while copying the posts by the highest scorers into a word document. When I copied the posts over I also made a point of bolding any ideas in their advice that I found particularly significant; for example, if a high-scorer mentioned a particular book that I hadn't used yet, I would bold that sentence. If the high-scorer stressed the importance of something, I would bold it. I kept the document on my computer for a while, but two things made me decide to print it out and tape it to my wall: first, after re-reading the document one day I noticed that there were pieces of advice in the document that I didn't remember from the first time I had read it. Basically, I had failed to soak in the advice as well as possible on the first pass. The second thing that made me tape the advice to my wall was the realization that I tended to forget about the document when it was on my computer; if it was taped to my wall, however, I knew I would likely re-read it more often.
Here is a copy of that document:People Who Did Exceptionally Well on the LSAT
You can get an idea of the techniques that I used just by looking at the bolded sections of that document, but I'll briefly mention a few that I found particularly helpful:Typing up LR questions
- Chai_166 (179) and Roo (178) both cut out the LR questions they had gotten wrong and then went over them when they had a big stack. In the spring of 2010 I decided to do the same thing, except type up the LR questions instead of cut them out. It took some time for me to get the formatting close, so you can save some time by working off my template
. I spent many, many hours reviewing these stacks, and I think it had a big impact on my LR ability. I want to stress, something, though: While I found this method very helpful, it is also very boring. The reason I was able to spend so many hours reviewing these questions was that I reviewed them while working as a substitute teacher. Substitute teaching is a very boring job that requires that you sit at a desk for many hours each day; I had also been asked not to read books for pleasure. I was never reprimanded for studying while on the job, though, and so I ended up spending a lot of time reviewing PTs and my LR stack because there was nothing else to do.Taking PTs for multiple days in a row
- Several high-scorers mentioned that they took PTs every day for a period of time; for the first 3/4 of my prep I was taking my PTs at a rate of at most one a week, but in the spring of 2010 I experimented with taking PTs for several days in row (you can see this on my spreadsheet). The first time I did it, I took a five-section test for six days, and then checked my scores on all the tests on the last day. What I noticed (and this is important) was that after a few days in a row of taking a full five-section test I found it easier to process the text of the test
. My PT scores on those tests seem to confirm that observation: my first two PT scores were 174s, but then I jumped up to 178s. I used this observation to prepare for the actual June test by taking a PT the night before the exam.Taking Two PTs back-to-back
- Several high scorers recommended this, so I tried it when I was retaking PTs at the very end of my prep. I definitely think it helped; after taking 8 sections with a 20 minute break, the real test felt like a breeze. I definitely never felt fatigued, which is something others complain about.
Aside from those techniques, I also looked at some other advice (links below); the most prominent was probably Voyager's RC strategy, which I taped to my bathroom door. I ultimately ended up not using his strategy (which involves lots of note-taking) because I found that writing notes took up too much time, but I'm glad I tried his strategy.Voyager's LR AdviceVoyager's LSAT Prep PlanVoyager's RC StrategyPeople Who Didn't Do As Well As They WantedOther Advice I UsedWriting Sample Advice from an Experienced Debater
I had a friend going to HYS Law who was an amazing parliamentary debater in college, so I emailed him my copy of the Kaplan writing sample advice and asked if he would be willing to offer any additional advice (on the assumption that the skills he'd gained from debate carried over to the writing sample). Here's what he said:
I am certainly not an authority on constructing a writing sample, but I have a few thoughts about Kaplan's method. Generally it seems fine. Of course, it seems to say little more than, "prepare to write an argument, and then write it well." But I suppose that's OK when the goal is—as it seems like it should be—merely to avoid looking like you did not take the assignment seriously.
I think I did two things in my writing sample—of uncertain value—that are not mentioned in the Kaplan method.
First, I made an argument about why one value was more important than the other. My sense is that the prompt provides two choices and two criteria, with the preferable choice largely depending on the criterion through which you evaluate it. That allowed me to turn the entire essay into a "downplay opposing views" type of thing. I was able to say:
1. My choice wins on the first criterion.
2. This criterion is more important, so even if I lose the second criterion, I'm still right.
3. I win (or at least don't lose) the second criterion.
(The order of #1 and #2 isn't super important). Implicit in this strategy is choosing the "according to the criteria" approach. I think that's the right choice. It's much easier to make a focused argument when you have something on which to focus.
Second, I made a proposal. I knew that the band I chose was weak on the "demographic composition" criterion. Rather than just BSing why they would meet the 33% kids requirement, I said: set aside 1/3 of the tickets for kids. It was consistent with the option that I chose. It was reasonable. And I think it made the argument more persuasive.
Here is his writing sample (with all personal information censored): Advice on Avoiding Mistakes from a Mathematician
While in high school I had a friend who competed in mathematics competitions, and he ended up working for a particular website which was basically the TLS for those competitions. While browsing that website one day I found a very well-written article on avoiding stupid mistakes, and while studying for the LSAT I printed it out and taped it to my kitchen wall.A Mathematician on Avoiding Stupid MistakesGeneral Study Advice from a Chess Player
I've had a long-standing interest in chess (although I've never devoted much time to improving my game), and one day came across a short book in Barnes & Noble written by a guy who had dramatically improved his chess rating in a relatively short period of time (which was previously unheard-of in the chess world). I soon found out that the book was based on an article he had written and which was available online for free, so I downloaded it. You can find the link below.
The biggest lesson I got from this book was the importance of seeing the LSAT as testing pattern recognition. The guy who wrote this article got better at chess by exposing himself to so many chess puzzles that his brain automatically absorbed the patterns found in the game. He could look at a new chess problem and quickly see the necessary move because he had exposed himself to so many prior problems. Similarly, on the LSAT you can follow the same strategy by trying to submerge yourself in the material, exposing yourself to every available PT and then running through them all again. I would just advise, if you're going to be running through material several times, that you always run through the thought process necessary to get the correct answer. Don't just look at the question, think to yourself, "Ah, the answer is 'A' in this one", and move on.400 Points in 400 Days