The McGruff Method: A Few Lessons From My Battle to 180

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McGruff
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The McGruff Method: A Few Lessons From My Battle to 180

Postby McGruff » Mon Feb 10, 2014 11:42 am

Contents:
1. About Me
2. Getting Started, pt.1: get pumped
3. Getting Started, pt.2: jump in
4. PHASE I: Learn the general skills without PTing
-Logic Games
-Logical Reasoning
-Reading Comprehension
5. PHASE II: Learning to Perform
6. The most important part of your prep: Review.
7. Resources


Disclaimer: I'm a rambly writer and can easily get off-script so I apologize in advance for long-windedness. I’d also like to say upfront that I don't think I'm exceptionally bright or a naturally good LSAT-taker. I'm writing this guide because I think my experience can benefit others and, if I thought I was exceptional, there'd be little point in writing a guide as my experience would, for most test-takers, be irrelevant. I'm confident that anyone who works smart and hard for long enough will see more improvement than they might think is possible, and I think my method might help some future test-takers in finding their own road to improvement, which is ultimately the goal of all training.

1. About Me
I started studying for the LSAT in February of 2013, intending to take the test that June. My LSAC GPA was/is pretty abysmal, so early on in my prep I decided my target score was a 180. This ultimately meant delaying and taking in October instead of June, since I wasn’t yet in my target range. I took the test in October, got a 180, and now that I have slightly more time on my hands, I want to give back to the TLS community that helped me out so much by making an in-depth description of how I prepared. I really hope it helps you on your own path to LSAT domination, any questions feel free to PM or post here, etc.

2. Getting Started, pt.1: get pumped
I just now dug through my desk and, under a couple feet of printed out Cambridge packs, practice tests, written up reviews and guides, I found my original diagnostic. I scored it as 164 but almost certainly deserved to be in the 140s due to the fact that I basically took it untimed. I didn’t know whether my fake 164 was good, so I googled ‘lsat scores’, found TLS, discovered that 164 wasn’t too bad for a diagnostic, and decided to take the LSAT for reals. In retrospect, it was a blessing that I didn’t take the test under strict conditions that day, because the score I deserved would have discouraged me, and I probably wouldn’t have thought there was hope for me to get a top score.

I started by reading the four “How I Got a 180 on the LSAT” guides on TLS, (one of which is, I think, a reformatted and abridged version of) TLS1776’s guide (which, despite being somewhat out-of-date as far as resource suggestions, is the best guide I’ve ever read. If you only read one, make it his and not mine. Then again, if you only read one, change your mind and don’t only read one), pithypike’s guide, spending a lot of time googling people talking about the importance of the LSAT, looking at law school profiles on TLS, and daydreaming about schools I (fortunately, for my motivation level) didn’t know had GPA floors. I made it a point, like TLS1776, to avoid anything that hurt my motivation.

There is, as we all know, a bunch of stuff on what a scam law school is, and how you shouldn’t go, and all sorts of other stuff that will sap you of your motivation. Avoid it. You need to need to get a top score. When I was at my peak of motivation, which I managed to maintain for months, I wanted a 180 more than I wanted a Game Boy when I was 7, a guitar when I was 11, a girlfriend when I was 13, a car when I was 15; in short, I wanted a 180 with everything I had. If I could single out one factor as being the most important to your success, especially early on, I’d pick motivation. I don’t care how you get and stay pumped, day in and day out, but it will ultimately be the reason you do how you do. Luck, officially, accounts for +/- 2.6pts. The rest is up to you.

I should mention here that I believe that, barring mental disabilities which make going to law school a questionable idea, anyone who works hard enough can improve their score substantially. How much work it takes, and how much improvement you see, are unknowns, but that you will see some improvement with the right kind of work is beyond any doubt for me. If you hear a voice in the back of your head right now, saying that you aren’t smart enough, or you can’t read fast enough, or you’re just wired a different way, I invite you to spend some time meditating on the sound of that voice, and focusing on the source of that voice, so that you can kill it. The corny “whether you think you can or can’t; you’re right” is at least right with the “can’t” part, a belief that moderates the amount of effort you’re willing to put forth and thus directly affects learning skills and practicing performance, which is all we’re doing here.

3. Getting Started, pt.2: jump in
I’m going to assume you’ve taken a diagnostic. If not, I wouldn’t take one, honestly. Either way, you’ve got lots of areas to improve in, so it’s not as important where you begin as it is that you begin.

This is your “familiarity” phase, and you should go through a program. My suggestion to a beginner would be to buy the LSAT Trainer and all the Manhattan guides, to start lurking in the Manhattan forum and the TLS LSAT forum while going through the LSAT Trainer, and then after going through the whole LSAT Trainer, go through the Guides unless you’re already comfortably within a few points of your target score. I hate talk of target scores, though, we really should all have the same target score.

Anyways just get cracking on the books, and don’t look to start taking PTs regularly until you’ve done at least a full LSAT program (see my ‘resources’ section for my thoughts on different companies).
4. PHASE I: Learn the general skills without PTing
-Logic Games:
As Mike Kim, author of the stellar LSAT Trainer, put it, “For many LSAT students, the Logic Games section is the first obsession, and the Reading Comprehension section is the last.” and, for me that was pretty true. I would recommend starting Logic Games ASAP since I think much of the LG proficiency you’re aiming for is a matter of how long you’ve worked with the games. Here’s my Logic Games spiel-

“Why is this on the LSAT?”
Never mind that. You’ll be glad it’s on the LSAT after you master them and they become the least mentally draining section. Early on I heard someone mention that, for them, Logic Games were a chance to give their brain a rest during the test. I didn’t really believe them. Months later, I realized that’s exactly what happened to me, and find it funny that the one question I missed on the real deal was on the games, which was my most consistently flawless section. You can never improve too much, I guess.

I started with the Logic Games Bible, because several (old) guides praised it, and it was probably good that I did. Then I did Ace The LSAT’s LG section, because TLS liked it, and I still respect their hypo-heavy approach, even though they don’t use all real games (which is generally something to avoid) because sometimes hypos will save your life. Setups and inferences are great for most games, and most of the games you see will be regular, eventually easy and straightforward. When you come across something weird and hard, though, you’ll want to be very comfortable whipping out hypo after hypo and doing it quickly.

Then I went through Manhattan’s LG, though I kinda didn’t do the whole book, because I was realizing at the same time that the 7Sage method was getting me the best results. So I spent most of my LG time from then on out working with the Cambridge pack games, printing off a few copies of a particular type/pack, and watching the 7sage games. I got a lot faster and a lot better that way, and ultimately I was doing hard games flawlessly in under 8 minutes, easy games in under 4. I say “ultimately” and urge you to keep in mind that this took huuuundreds of hours. It also required vigilance. After a week or two off, I was definitely rusty, and I did at least one hard game before every PT, but more on warm-up later.

-Logical Reasoning: The Meaty Part of the Test
You have no option but to learn a bunch of skills for the LR section. Go through the Manhattan LR book. I did that after going through the Powerscore LR Bible, and I strongly endorse Manhattan over Powerscore, though ultimately it’s going to be whatever works for you. An example of that principle is in whether or not you should read the stem or the stim first. Manhattan says (I think) that you should read the question first, Powerscore says you should read the stimulus first. I tried both, and ended up doing what worked best for me. Personally it made most sense to me to let my brain go for whatever it wanted, so I started reading questions chronologically, but if I got confused, I might stop what I was reading and look for the flaw. I’m not sure I’m describing my personal method well, so here’s what I wrote someone in a PM:

“I started my prep by reading the question in order, and then later I tried to read other stuff first, like the part that reveals what kind of question it is (sorry, I never got good at remembering what stimulus and stem referred to) but it ultimately seemed too weird to read it out of order. Like you said, it can be harder to focus on the argument when you're thinking "okay, I'm looking for a flaw", when you should really be thinking, "okay, I'm looking for an ARGUMENT." It's all about the argument. (the following is for "assumption family questions")I was into underlining conclusions, because once you've got a conclusion you can look for its support, and then you've got everything you need to track the question. It asks for a flaw, you find the flaw, it asks for a role of a piece, you've got it in your head already. Much easier than setting out to look for a flaw in an argument you haven't even put together in your head yet.”

But that’s just one way that it’s important to pick your own method. LR is like a dozen different kinds of tasks that you have to do, and each requires its own method. My method for getting better at LR was as follows:
1. Go through books on LR and drill by type (Kaplan Mastery or Cambridge packs for question-types) until you can go -3ish consistently/section. If you aren’t there yet, look specifically at which question types are causing you trouble, re-read the section in your books on those question types, read guides online about those question types, and type up your own guide to yourself, about that question type. If you aren’t improving, find out which books you haven’t gone through and go through them.

You’re trying to learn how you approach these questions, and what you’re doing wrong. I think a lot of people try to learn methods, rather than learn how to use them, propositional knowledge instead of know-how. The point is that it is much more important that you are able to do something than that you understand what you’re doing. The latter is almost always necessary, but only as a means to the end of ability. Studying your performance makes for good practice, and good practice makes perfect. More on performance later.

2. Keep hammering down your problem areas while working on LG and RC to get them to a similar level of proficiency. I’d say you should be in the mid-to-high 160s before going into the PT and Review phase of your prep, so keep drilling and reading/writing guides, and practicing question types to solidify your theoretical knowledge into actual know-how. Manhattan’s forum was a great area to read explanations for specific questions, the best I came across, but that may change in the future.

Reading Comprehension: Unrealistically Hard and Consistently Esoteric
Everyone hates RC. I ended up being pretty good at RC and I still loathed it with a passion. It took me 3-4 months of going through several books on RC and doing dozens of sections before I was averaging ~-5/RC section and then another 3-4 months before I could reliably do -1/2 and, up until the end, it was always the most volatile section (i.e. the only one I could randomly miss 5 on). Hopefully for future test-takers it doesn’t get any worse, because it’s already terrible.

That said, it’s doable. It’s hard as nails but it’s doable. My method was similar to LR:

1. Go through books (I used them all and, while Manhattan gave me my biggest gains, I think LSAT trainer earns its reputation as top dog here. It helped me work out my last few kinks) and do sections. until you’re doing the best you can. You don’t need to demand -3 from yourself, just try to improve as much as you can. So for Phase 1, just pick a book and get through it. Then take a PT and see if you're close enough to your target to get to step 2.
2. PT and Review Phase. We'll get to that shortly, but first a recap.

Recap on Methods So Far:
I can’t imagine a way to get through this first part, of learning general skills, that doesn’t take months. You need to do books, guides, forums, notes, videos, and tons and tons of practice until you’re within striking distance of your goal score. For me, I was around 170 when I moved into my phase 2, and it got me my last 10 points. During this phase I studied 40 hours a week easily, some weeks almost double that, and it still took me probably 3 months to get through everything. You might be a better reader or improve more quickly or it may only take one set of books (I’d start with Manhattan and see what still needs improvement) so YMMV but take your time because the returns only get more diminishing from here on out.
Last edited by McGruff on Sun May 31, 2015 8:47 am, edited 6 times in total.

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Re: The McGruff Method: A Few Lessons From My Battle to 180

Postby McGruff » Mon Feb 10, 2014 11:50 am

5. PHASE II: Learning to Perform

So. You’re almost perfect. You’ve just got a few weak spots to work on, and in order to work on them, you need to know what they are. That’s where this phase comes in. But before I ramble about the importance of review, I want to ramble on the importance of the performance aspect.

I think almost everyone, in spending most of their energies on learning the skills that the LSAT explicitly requires, misses the simple fact that the LSAT is an execution, a performance, a recital. Another way to put this would be that there are really two sets of skill that the LSAT tests, one explicit set and one implicit set. The first set is what you’re already spending time on: strategies to answer questions correctly, strategies to get points. Learning all the necessary strategies means becoming able (when your mind and body are sharp, well-rested, and “in the zone”) to answer every kind of LSAT question correctly in the time allotted. DON’T MISS THE IMPORTANCE OF THAT PARENTHETICAL! Do not look at being well-rested, sharp, and “in the zone” as chance circumstances! It is not a matter of luck whether you are sharp on test day. There is luck involved, as there always is, but the effect of luck is overestimated by the excuse-inclined and mitigated by the successful.

It comes down to how you feel and where you’re at during the handful of hours that you’re in that room with a brand-new test in front of you. If you gave me a brand-new LSAT right now, I could maybe crack 170 on it. Maybe even 175, but I’d be surprised. I’m simply not in test shape, mentally, and that’s okay because when I sat down in October, I was. I ate, slept, exercised, and prepped all on a schedule that I designed to make me feel my sharpest and my strongest for the few hours I’d be bubbling a scantron, and if you want to maximize your potential then I strongly suggest that you consider doing the same.

I cannot tell you what factors you will have to consider in deciding how to prep, but I can tell you what I considered. I tracked my diet, my sleep, my exercise, my location, my clothes, my pencils, and, most importantly by far, my study habits leading into each practice test. I constantly and thoroughly combed the data for trends. I found that a benadryl the night before had a groggy effect in the morning but that melatonin didn’t. I found that a fatty breakfast usually helped with mental stamina but that I shouldn’t have more than 2-3 cups of coffee. I found that 6 hours of sleep was plenty, but that it mattered when I got them. I found that a short warm-up was crucial for my RC performance, but that studying the day before a practice test was very harmful.

In order to learn this test, you must teach yourself this test, and in order to teach yourself this test you must learn yourself. This is a not a platitude. You will, in studying for this test, learn who you are and how you react to all sorts of things, or you will not get the highest score of which you are capable.

I’ve discovered, by spending enough time on TLS and talking to other students, that everyone reacts differently to things like food, sleep, study habits, drugs, et cetera so that’s why this bit of self-knowledge is key to the whole endeavor. If I thought I was representative of most people studying for the LSAT I’d just tell you to do exactly what I did, but I don’t so I won’t. The answer to so many questions about how to prep comes down to this: you need to know it will affect you. Should you PT once a week or every day? Should you do a warm-up? Should you study the day before the test? Only you can find out the answers the these questions, and you can do it most reliably by analyzing data about your performance.

6. The most important part of your prep: Review. (or, “taking the PT is the easy part”)

I’m going to quote myself at length from a discussion where people were arguing over whether or not taking a PT every day was a good idea:

“1) Review is much more important than just grinding out PTs, which, without a bunch of accompanying review, is a pretty big waste of time and effort. The purpose of a PT is to get a snapshot of your weaknesses, so that you can spend time working on those weaknesses and hammering out your technique. Most of your improvement will not happen while you're PTing, it will happen when you review and drill things that, in your review, you find out needs work. If you spend all your time PTing you won't see nearly as big an improvement as if you spent AT LEAST HALF of your time reviewing. Maybe this isn't true for everyone, but it's definitely true for me and there are lots of others on this board who feel similarly.

2) I found that over-PTing was the worst thing I could do for my scores, because I have an (apparently, compared to other people in the LSAT Study threads I traversed) especially low threshold for burnout. Each time I spread out my PTs a little, and even each time I took a break from LSAT entirely, I jumped. Conversely, whenever I started PTing more frequently, my scores started to dip. It was tremendously difficult to slow my PT roll, since I felt lazy and like I wasn't working hard enough, but the data telling me to slow down was staring me in the face. Not saying that will be your case, but either way you need to listen to your scores and look at your progress and not just work a certain way because it works for others. I took detailed notes on how I slept, what I ate, physical activity etc. and was always looking for trends in my performances. The LSAT is, above all, a performance. As such it is susceptible to influence from all sorts of factors (like how many PTs you've taken recently and similar sources of fatigue).

That said, I started prepping for October eight months before the test, probably averaging over 30 hours a week, so I had the luxury of a long enough road to take breaks, and spread out my prep, and so forth. I didn't want to take the test until I was averaging 178+ and still wouldn't if I hadn't.

None of this is the golden rule by which you must abide. For all I know, taking tests every day is what will work best for you. Your mind and body will respond in their own unique way to all your training and you need to keep a careful eye on what helps you and what doesn't.”

Here's an example of one of my post-test write-ups. Most were longer because I missed more, but it was all this sort of thing. A lot of the question-specific stuff I just copied from Manhattan’s amazingly helpful forum. If I noticed that I struggled (not necessarily missed, but found difficult) with a particular question-type, I'd do a whole pack of those question types, re-read (and sometimes even write) guides on that question type, etc. I printed each write-up out and read it several time throughout the week, finally reading through it before taking my next PT. I found this helpful and read my write-up for the last PT I took before I walked into the test center.


7. Resources
Disclaimer: I'd done most of my prep by the time that the LSAT Trainer came out, and I suspect I would have used it more and saved myself some time if I could have started with it. I also never used Velocity or Blueprint, but not because they aren’t amazing, great programs. I’m sure they are. Lots of smart and high-scoring people make them and use them. I just never got around to trying them. I can only personally recommend the materials that I used, but there are also some that I both didn’t use and have reason to suspect are suboptimal, but rather than bash them, I’m just not mentioning them here. They’re big names, though, we’ll say that. Anyways, here’s what I used:

LSAC: Tests and SuperPrep
I bought tests off amazon, and the SuperPrep was very helpful. Not “omg I finally hacked the lsat” helpful, but definitely worth buying.

Powerscore: Guides and notecards
I honestly don’t know how much I like these. I did them all, and I improved, but my hunch is that they’re suboptimal. In the beginning, you improve so long as you have an approach and you work at it, so it’s hard to know how helpful these really were. I wouldn’t buy them if I was going back and doing it all over again, probably.

Manhattan: Guides and Community
Indispensible. Even if you don’t like all their methods, you need to read all three guides so that you know their methods, and spend a good amount of time on the forums, at least for the questions you got wrong and ideally for any that weren't easy.

7Sage: Videos
Also indispensable. I was too broke to pay for a 7sage account but I wouldn't doubt that it’s very worth it if you have the money. If you don’t have a game down, and I mean DOWN, do the 7sage method ( detailed here: http://7sage.com/how-to-get-a-perfect-s ... gic-games/)

I doubt I’d have done as well if it weren’t for this one company and their comprehensive set of logic game domination youtube videos.

Cambridge: LR packs and LG packs
Probably the best way to get the games and possibly the other types as well (there might be options now but in my day we did Cambridge packs) and, if you have access to a printer, just printing them off and drilling. DRILL.

TLS: Guides and Community
Our study group had several 180s and the median score of an avid TLSer is probably multiple standard deviations above the general median. If you want a high score, this is where you belong. There are lots of awesome guides and the community is constantly working on how to better prep for this thing.

Data Trackers: Zen of 180/LSATqa/7sage
This is probably the fastest changing area of prep resources and for that reason I feel the least qualified to comment. I used LSATqa initially but it seems terribly out-of-date already. I didn't use 7sage because I had my data in Zen of 180 already but I'm willing to bet that 7sage is great just judging from the quality of their stuff that I've seen. I will say this, though, on the subject: YOU have to comb your data for trends. Tools are great for compiling and arranging the data but learning from it is YOUR job. On the importance of finding trends: someone wrote me in a PM insisting that while they were consistently missing 'hard' questions, they weren't having trouble with any question types. My response:
I wrote:You're kinda having trouble with all the question types then, not none of them, right? It's natural that you have more trouble with harder questions, I think that's generally the case for everyone, but if you're having trouble with these questions, it's not random. You apparently have difficulty with that problem type. Don't look at a 3/4[3-star difficulty] Flaw question and a 3/4 Parallel question as similar because they're 3 stars, you're going to have to develop strategies for these questions that are unique to you and to your strengths and weakness, but you need to remember that they're ALSO going to be different from question type to question type. LR is, after all, not a single sort of question, it's a bunch of them. Even more than the bandied-about divisions would suggest, by a wide margin, as said earlier. Have you tried the 'Difficult Questions' pack from Cambridge yet? http://www.cambridgelsat.com/problem-se ... reasoning/ That really helped me. Also YOU need to make the subsets, lsatqa and zen won't do it for you. The subsets aren't like "Flaw - Weaken" they're like "Flaw - Weaken - TCR brings in outside information that I hadn't considered because I was looking at the conclusion as obviously explained by the premise they provided when in fact there could be multiple causes" or "Flaw - Weaken - TCR reveals that the causality in the initial argument could just as feasibly run the other way" etc etc.
the tl;dr of that quote is that tracking services are helpful but that YOU must find the trends. They can help you compile and organize the data, but they cannot tell you what you need to learn from it.

This is pretty rough and poorly structured ATM but I’ll be grateful for any comments/questions you guys have while I clean it up over the next few weeks. I really hope this helps someone at least a little, I’m just a dood who did battle with the LSAT tryna give back. Good luck and keep grindin. -McGruff
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Re: The McGruff Method: A Few Lessons From My Battle to 180

Postby cpamom » Mon Feb 10, 2014 5:27 pm

Wow!

Thank you for such a comprehensive review of your prep. I'm going to print it out!

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Postby 10052014 » Mon Feb 10, 2014 6:27 pm

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Re: The McGruff Method: A Few Lessons From My Battle to 180

Postby Clyde Frog » Tue Feb 11, 2014 7:21 am

Thanks for the contribution, McGruff, and congrats on the 180.

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Re: The McGruff Method: A Few Lessons From My Battle to 180

Postby alexrodriguez » Tue Feb 11, 2014 8:31 am

You say you're not exceptional, but most people who take the test untimed still can't manage a 164.

I'd say your exceptional.

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Re: The McGruff Method: A Few Lessons From My Battle to 180

Postby McGruff » Tue Feb 11, 2014 1:08 pm

jaylawyer09 wrote:Thanks

you mention that yo were compelled to keep doing pts non stop, but said that waiting so you avoid burn out will improve your score.

My question: Wont you forget strategies if you take a break for a couple days and not do anything, then take a pt?

In my experience, just the opposite. Again, you need to know what works for you but, for me, I took two full-on vacations where I didn't look at the test and, after a slight warm-up to get through the inevitable rusty return, each one boosted my average score a little. Also I made a VERY tough decision to spread out my PTs twice (first from every-other-day to twice/week and later from twice/week to once/week) and each time I saw a boost. I should mention that my girlfriend was amazing in keeping me positive through all this because I felt like a lazy bum each time I lightened my load and just living with the nagging feeling that I was wasting time was genuinely harder than continuing to drill and take PTs. Note that not taking PTs doesn't necessarily mean doing nothing, though.

An average week toward the end of Phase 2 (PT-review) might have looked roughly like this for me:
Sunday: PT. Do 7sage Blind Review. Type up full review report (see linked example in OP).
Monday: Read through Review Report. Type up guide for LR Flaw type since RR showed I struggled with them. Drill games for an hour.
Tuesday: Read through RR. Read LR Flaw guide I wrote yesterday, do some flaw questions, Drill games for an hour.
Wednesday: Read through RR. Read LR Flaw guide I wrote yesterday, do some flaw questions, Drill games for an hour or two. Do Reading comp section, review.
Thursday: Read LR Flaw guide I wrote yesterday, do some flaw questions, Drill games for an hour.
Friday: Read RR and drill games. Rest, mostly.
Saturday: No LSAT whatsoever.
Sunday: read RR and do game or two, a few Flaw questions, and 1 RC passage for warm-up. Then PT/Blind Review/Type up new RR for PT.

The strategies are in there, and IN MY EXPERIENCE, FOR ME the risk of messing up because I was too burnt out was much higher than the risk of forgetting strategies.
louierodriguez wrote:You say you're not exceptional, but most people who take the test untimed still can't manage a 164.

I'd say your exceptional.

It'd be really hard to know the bolded for sure (you're probably speculating, which is fair since we don't have any reliable/uniform data on it). My thing is that I would have MAYBE hit 150 if I took it timed (untimed for me meant spending like 6 hours picking at the damned test so it was really no proper diagnostic at all) and, for a lot of people, a score in the 140s is a "I probably won't ever be able to hit 175+"-feeling diagnostic. I think that's nonsense, and will say this about the aftermath of getting the hallowed 180:

If given the chance, people will almost always choose to compliment your innate talent over your learned skill. Mike Kim had a quote on his website that I can't find now, but it was like, "may your curse in life be that people constantly mistake your hard work for talent". A price of success is hearing people explain away your accomplishments as luck or good fortune and it's a price worth paying but it's also bullshit. The reason people will want to compliment you on your innate ability over the fact that you sacrificed weekend after weekend for months on end is that, if it comes down to who worked the hardest, their excuse has to go from "I wasn't born exceptionally brilliant like you" to "I can't/won't work as hard as you". We may not all have the same level of memory, or reasoning and focusing skills, but we can sacrifice the time that we ALL have to improve those skills, sharpen that memory, and progress to a new level. The willingness to make or not to make these sacrifices, the motivation level that pushes you to keep trying different things in the face of a slump or to keep getting up early when the air's getting colder and the bed's getting warmer, or the lack thereof, will be the single greatest reason you see whatever number you see in that email from the LSAC. I didn't mean to get on this rant but I'll leave it here because I think it's roughly important.

In other news, a response I wrote someone via PM this morning helped me remember a couple things I left out. I'll integrate it later but for the moment:

I wrote:Regarding stupid mistakes, http://www.artofproblemsolving.com/Reso ... e=mistakes is a great article called "Stop Making Stupid Mistakes" that TLS1776 links to in his guide. I taped it up next to my desk and reviewed it constantly and I am confident that it saved me points on the exam because, at a certain point, thoughtless mistakes become your biggest problem. That article's advice, particularly the 'Read problem – do question – check that your solution is exactly what the question asks for – mark your answer – next question' sequence, is hard to follow rigorously and easy to cut corners on. DON'T CUT CORNERS. Practice this sequence, the simple method of double-checking that you read the question correctly before marking your answer, on simple questions/games before doing it on mentally taxing ones solely for the purpose of getting the technique down.

BUT - a caveat - be VERY careful when simply dismissing something as a "stupid mistake". It is all too easy to say "oh I missed this question because I wasn't thinking" or "I missed this question because I got confused" but such descriptions are really damaging to your progress because they make you THINK you're understanding what tripped you up when really you're failing to explain anything. For EVERY wrong answer, you need to know 1) why the wrong answers that tempted you weren't obviously wrong and 2) why the right answer wasn't obviously right. There are, really, no stupid mistakes. Every mistake can be more specifically and more helpfully described by looking at the particulars of what tripped you up. Sometimes it's hard to remember what tripped you up about a specific question, which is why same-day type-up is really helpful. You want to go over what made you mess up while it's still fresh in your mind, and to articulate what made you mess up AS THOROUGHLY AS POSSIBLE so that you can read it later and further solidify in your mind what to watch out for in the future.

Regarding [poor performances shortly before the test], let me tell you that on the last PT I ever took, one week before my official test, I got a 174. I knew at that point to not be worried, from looking at all the graphs and data I had (I used LSATQA and Zen of 180 but this field is changing rapidly so the 7sage tracker or others might be better already), since my scores had dipped circumstantially before and this PT had some circumstances. Also, I had read (in word doc that TLS1776 compiled, "People who did exceptionally well on the LSAT" ( http://www.mediafire.com/?yg45zjnqloz ) stories of people who did well on the real thing after a pre-administration dip.

The cliffs of that quote is 1) That linked article is a good way to minimize stupid mistakes but 2) Don't just call any mistakes 'stupid mistakes' and leave it at that, DIG IN and review what your mindset was and ANY generalizations you can abstract from your experience, which is why 3) doing the first review type-up is best done the same day as when you take the PT, so you can type up the lessons of each mistake most comprehensively and go over it later and, finally, 4) don't let a dip scare you, it's TRENDS that matter, and that's where DATA DELIVERS.
Last edited by McGruff on Tue Feb 11, 2014 3:24 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: The McGruff Method: A Few Lessons From My Battle to 180

Postby lawschool2014hopeful » Tue Feb 11, 2014 1:18 pm

I think one ought to take note that the hardest section to improve on, R.C, the OP had no problem with it when starting.

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Re: The McGruff Method: A Few Lessons From My Battle to 180

Postby McGruff » Tue Feb 11, 2014 1:31 pm

lawschool2014hopeful wrote:I think one ought to take note that the hardest section to improve on, R.C, the OP had no problem with it when starting.


Please let me know what part of the guide seems to imply this so I can take it out (srsly) because it actually took me 3-4months of going through several books on RC and doing dozens of sections before I was averaging ~-5/RC section. It took me another 3-4 months from then before I could reliably do -1/2 and, up until the end, it was always the most volatile section (i.e. the only one I could randomly miss 5 on).

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Re: The McGruff Method: A Few Lessons From My Battle to 180

Postby lawschool2014hopeful » Tue Feb 11, 2014 1:52 pm

McGruff wrote:
lawschool2014hopeful wrote:I think one ought to take note that the hardest section to improve on, R.C, the OP had no problem with it when starting.


Please let me know what part of the guide seems to imply this so I can take it out (srsly) because it actually took me 3-4months of going through several books on RC and doing dozens of sections before I was averaging ~-5/RC section. It took me another 3-4 months from then before I could reliably do -1/2 and, up until the end, it was always the most volatile section (i.e. the only one I could randomly miss 5 on).



Reading Comprehension: Unrealistically Hard and Consistently Esoteric
Everyone hates RC. I went -0 consistently, and I still loathed it with a passion. When Voyager wrote his (nonetheless decent) guide, RC wasn’t quite the ungodly beast that it is today. Hopefully for future test-takers it doesn’t get any worse, because it’s already terrible.


When that is your first sentence discussing RC, it seems to imply you were pretty good to start with.

I think is good you wrote a guide detailing your learning. But I find the message you are communicating, if you work hard enough you will get 180 bit too optimistic.

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Re: The McGruff Method: A Few Lessons From My Battle to 180

Postby Straw_Mandible » Tue Feb 11, 2014 2:08 pm

McGruff wrote:If given the chance, people will almost always choose to compliment your innate talent over your learned skill. Mike Kim had a quote on his website that I can't find now, but it was like, "may your curse in life be that people constantly mistake your hard work for talent". A price of success is hearing people explain away your accomplishments as luck or good fortune and it's a price worth paying but it's also bullshit. The reason people will want to compliment you on your innate ability over the fact that you sacrificed weekend after weekend for months on end is that, if it comes down to who worked the hardest, their excuse has to go from "I wasn't born exceptionally brilliant like you" to "I can't/won't work as hard as you". We may not all have the same level of memory, or reasoning and focusing skills, but we can sacrifice the time that we ALL have to improve those skills, sharpen that memory, and progress to a new level. The willingness to make or not to make these sacrifices, the motivation level that pushes you to keep trying different things in the face of a slump or to keep getting up early when the air's getting colder and the bed's getting warmer, or the lack thereof, will be the single greatest reason you see whatever number you see in that email from the LSAC. I didn't mean to get on this rant but I'll leave it here because I think it's roughly important.


You're a visionary, McGruff. Thank you so much for writing about your experience, and for demonstrating such a keen understanding of the way achievement actually works. People are so quick to write off another person's success as being a function of "innate ability" because it allows them to sweep the fragments their own untapped potential under the rug. It's a comforting delusion to believe that only those with "innate ability" are capable of scoring a 180--it protects us self-proclaimed "mere mortals" against the discomfort of having to aim for such a lofty goal. Rather than looking inward, examining our own weaknesses, and searching for ways to move past our perceived limitations, we prefer to call ourselves "incapable" and move on with our lives. I don't know you personally, but I'm willing to bet that you were always a very introspective person, and that you have plenty of experience using your self-awareness as a tool to help you grow. There's an vital lesson in this, for anyone striving to make the kinds of drastic changes in their cognitive ability that a 150 - 180 jump requires: Self-awareness is key.

This is something that a recent 145 - 170 guide illuminates as well, albeit in a slightly different way: Simply learning strategies, methods, tricks about how to approach the test will never be sufficient for mastery. Hours of practice alone will also never be sufficient for mastery. Mastery requires a thorough understanding of self, and a willingness to be flexible and responsive to the changes and trends in your own performance and ability.

Thank you for sharing that.

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Postby mornincounselor » Tue Feb 11, 2014 2:35 pm

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Re: The McGruff Method: A Few Lessons From My Battle to 180

Postby McGruff » Tue Feb 11, 2014 2:37 pm

lawschool2014hopeful wrote:
McGruff wrote:
lawschool2014hopeful wrote:I think one ought to take note that the hardest section to improve on, R.C, the OP had no problem with it when starting.
Please let me know what part of the guide seems to imply this so I can take it out (srsly) because it actually took me 3-4months of going through several books on RC and doing dozens of sections before I was averaging ~-5/RC section. It took me another 3-4 months from then before I could reliably do -1/2 and, up until the end, it was always the most volatile section (i.e. the only one I could randomly miss 5 on).
Reading Comprehension: Unrealistically Hard and Consistently Esoteric
Everyone hates RC. I went -0 consistently, and I still loathed it with a passion. When Voyager wrote his (nonetheless decent) guide, RC wasn’t quite the ungodly beast that it is today. Hopefully for future test-takers it doesn’t get any worse, because it’s already terrible.


When that is your first sentence discussing RC, it seems to imply you were pretty good to start with.

I think is good you wrote a guide detailing your learning. But I find the message you are communicating, if you work hard enough you will get 180 bit too optimistic.

Thanks for letting me know how that came off, I edited the OP so others don't get the same impression.

I agree that "if you work hard enough you will get 180" is a bit too optimistic, which is why nowhere in my guide do I say it. Some things I actually do say, though, are that "anyone who works smart and hard for long enough will see more improvement than they might think is possible" and that "I believe that, barring mental disabilities which make going to law school a questionable idea, anyone who works hard enough can improve their score substantially. How much work it takes, and how much improvement you see, are unknowns, but that you will see some improvement with the right kind of work is beyond any doubt for me."

Whether you get a 180 is actually largely a question of luck once you're in the 178+ score band. Whether or not you worked as hard and as smart as you possibly could have in preparing yourself, however, isn't.

This is a perennial issue on these forums and my only real position is that people should err on the side of courage since there's less to be lost from being overly ambitious than there is from being overly timid. There will always be lotus-eaters and there's no narcotic so tempting as an excuse, but if you push past the excuses and continue looking for areas to improve, if even the slightest improvement motivates you like your life depends on it, you will progress. This is, at the very least, the successful mindset to adopt.

Here's a relevant excerpt from an NYT article on people who get insanely good at memorizing stuff:
In the 1960s, the psychologists Paul Fitts and Michael Posner tried to answer this question by describing the three stages of acquiring a new skill. During the first phase, known as the cognitive phase, we intellectualize the task and discover new strategies to accomplish it more proficiently. During the second, the associative phase, we concentrate less, making fewer major errors, and become more efficient. Finally we reach what Fitts and Posner called the autonomous phase, when we’re as good as we need to be at the task and we basically run on autopilot. Most of the time that’s a good thing. The less we have to focus on the repetitive tasks of everyday life, the more we can concentrate on the stuff that really matters. You can actually see this phase shift take place in f.M.R.I.’s of subjects as they learn new tasks: the parts of the brain involved in conscious reasoning become less active, and other parts of the brain take over. You could call it the O.K. plateau.

Psychologists used to think that O.K. plateaus marked the upper bounds of innate ability. In his 1869 book “Hereditary Genius,” Sir Francis Galton argued that a person could improve at mental and physical activities until he hit a wall, which “he cannot by any education or exertion overpass.” In other words, the best we can do is simply the best we can do. But Ericsson and his colleagues have found over and over again that with the right kind of effort, that’s rarely the case. They believe that Galton’s wall often has much less to do with our innate limits than with what we consider an acceptable level of performance. They’ve found that top achievers typically follow the same general pattern. They develop strategies for keeping out of the autonomous stage by doing three things: focusing on their technique, staying goal-oriented and getting immediate feedback on their performance. Amateur musicians, for example, tend to spend their practice time playing music, whereas pros tend to work through tedious exercises or focus on difficult parts of pieces. Similarly, the best ice skaters spend more of their practice time trying jumps that they land less often, while lesser skaters work more on jumps they’ve already mastered. In other words, regular practice simply isn’t enough. To improve, we have to be constantly pushing ourselves beyond where we think our limits lie and then pay attention to how and why we fail. That’s what I needed to do if I was going to improve my memory.
[...]
More than anything, what differentiates top memorizers from the second tier is that they approach memorization like a science. They develop hypotheses about their limitations; they conduct experiments and track data. “It’s like you’re developing a piece of technology or working on a scientific theory,” the three-time world champ Andi Bell once told me. “You have to analyze what you’re doing.”

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Re: The McGruff Method: A Few Lessons From My Battle to 180

Postby cpamom » Tue Feb 11, 2014 3:15 pm

Is "The art of problem solving" link is incomplete, I think. It does not lead to the article.

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Re: The McGruff Method: A Few Lessons From My Battle to 180

Postby McGruff » Tue Feb 11, 2014 3:25 pm

cpamom wrote:Is "The art of problem solving" link is incomplete, I think. It does not lead to the article.


Whoops, thanks. Should be fixed now.

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Re: The McGruff Method: A Few Lessons From My Battle to 180

Postby canterlol » Tue Feb 11, 2014 3:46 pm

lawschool2014hopeful wrote:
McGruff wrote:
lawschool2014hopeful wrote:
I think is good you wrote a guide detailing your learning. But I find the message you are communicating, if you work hard enough you will get 180 bit too optimistic.


Don't understand where you got such a platonic ideal from McGruff's post :roll:

OP, Thank you for such an eloquent guide. The writing style kept me going, the insight made me think.

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Re: The McGruff Method: A Few Lessons From My Battle to 180

Postby HouseTargaryen » Tue Feb 11, 2014 4:05 pm

Having undergone the LSAT prep grind recently, I can't stress enough how well reasoned and grounded this guide is. Very nice job.

One piece I'll add some perspective on. In discussing the importance of not over-PT'ing, McGruff says "The purpose of a PT is to get a snapshot of your weaknesses." No doubt this is true. However, PT'ing has another benefit that unfortunately is at odds with the goal of not over-PT'ing: endurance. The more PTs you take, the better you are at sitting in a chair and reading annoying passages and stems for 5 hours. But again, you don't want to burn yourself out, get "bored" of taking the test, etc. Here are a couple of things you could do to help build that endurance without over-PT'ing:

1) Do a few extra sections after each PT you do take. For example, I would do a full 4-section PT, and then do 3 random sections from older tests. This way, I wasn't wasting sections from valuable PTs or increasing the frequency of taking PTs, but still building endurance.

2) Find nontraditional ways to build LSAT skills/endurance. Read Economist articles. Do Lumosity for extended periods of time. Read dense scholarly articles. Find something that's different and enjoyable. Do it early in the process and do it consistently. You'll train some of the same skills needed to succeed on the LSAT, but you won't burn out your LSAT-taking abilities and motivation.

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Re: The McGruff Method: A Few Lessons From My Battle to 180

Postby McGruff » Tue Feb 11, 2014 5:02 pm

HouseTargaryen wrote:Having undergone the LSAT prep grind recently, I can't stress enough how well reasoned and grounded this guide is. Very nice job.

One piece I'll add some perspective on. In discussing the importance of not over-PT'ing, McGruff says "The purpose of a PT is to get a snapshot of your weaknesses." No doubt this is true. However, PT'ing has another benefit that unfortunately is at odds with the goal of not over-PT'ing: endurance. The more PTs you take, the better you are at sitting in a chair and reading annoying passages and stems for 5 hours. But again, you don't want to burn yourself out, get "bored" of taking the test, etc. Here are a couple of things you could do to help build that endurance without over-PT'ing:

1) Do a few extra sections after each PT you do take. For example, I would do a full 4-section PT, and then do 3 random sections from older tests. This way, I wasn't wasting sections from valuable PTs or increasing the frequency of taking PTs, but still building endurance.

2) Find nontraditional ways to build LSAT skills/endurance. Read Economist articles. Do Lumosity for extended periods of time. Read dense scholarly articles. Find something that's different and enjoyable. Do it early in the process and do it consistently. You'll train some of the same skills needed to succeed on the LSAT, but you won't burn out your LSAT-taking abilities and motivation.


Thanks for bringing this up, I totally agree. I always did at least one experimental (I varied whether I did it first, second, or third), sometimes did some 'wind-down' sections, and I read dense scholarly articles on the regular.

Also thanks to others for the kind words, makes me feel good knowing I can give back.

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Re: The McGruff Method: A Few Lessons From My Battle to 180

Postby Clyde Frog » Tue Feb 11, 2014 8:44 pm

louierodriguez wrote:You say you're not exceptional, but most people who take the test untimed still can't manage a 164.

I'd say your exceptional.


I'd attribute his success to hard work and dedication. A 164 untimed is nothing to brag about, considering you have extraordinary individuals scoring above 170 on their first timed tests. You can't ever have the attitude that things can't be done because you weren't blessed with natural talent.

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Re: The McGruff Method: A Few Lessons From My Battle to 180

Postby MDJ2588 » Tue Feb 11, 2014 10:01 pm

McGruff wrote:Contents:
Disclaimers
1. About Me
2. Getting Started, pt.1: get pumped
3. Getting Started, pt.2: jump in
4. Learn the general skills without PTing
-Logic Games
-Logical Reasoning
-Reading Comprehension
5. Learning to Perform
6. The most important part of your prep: Review.
7. Resources


Disclaimer1: This is very much a rough draft, I'll revise it over the next few weeks but, since I meant to get it posted months ago, wanted to go ahead and put it up even though it's still a little crude. Please critique it and offer suggestions if you want, the idea is to help future test-takers with as many perspectives on the LSAT as possible. I'll remove this disclaimer when it's in its final form.

Disclaimer2: I'm a rambly writer and can easily get off-script so I apologize in advance for long-windedness. I’d also like to say upfront that I don't think I'm exceptionally bright or a naturally good LSAT-taker. I'm writing this guide because I think my experience can benefit others and, if I thought I was exceptional, there'd be little point in writing a guide as my experience would, for most test-takers, be irrelevant. I'm confident that anyone who works smart and hard for long enough will see more improvement than they might think is possible, and I think my method might help some future test-takers in finding their own road to improvement, which is ultimately the goal of all training.

1. About Me
I started studying for the LSAT in February of 2013, intending to take the test that June. My LSAC GPA was/is pretty abysmal, so early on in my prep I decided my target score was a 180. This ultimately meant delaying and taking in October instead of June, since I wasn’t yet in my target range. I took the test in October, got a 180, and now that I have slightly more time on my hands, I want to give back to the TLS community that helped me out so much by making an in-depth description of how I prepared. I really hope it helps you on your own path to LSAT domination, any questions feel free to PM or post here, etc.

2. Getting Started, pt.1: get pumped
I just now dug through my desk and, under a couple feet of printed out Cambridge packs, practice tests, written up reviews and guides, I found my original diagnostic. I scored it as 164 but almost certainly deserved to be in the 140s due to the fact that I basically took it untimed. I didn’t know whether my fake 164 was good, so I googled ‘lsat scores’, found TLS, discovered that 164 wasn’t too bad for a diagnostic, and decided to take the LSAT for reals. In retrospect, it was a blessing that I didn’t take the test under strict conditions that day, because the score I deserved would have discouraged me, and I probably wouldn’t have thought there was hope for me to get a top score.

I started by reading the four “How I Got a 180 on the LSAT” guides on TLS, (one of which is, I think, a reformatted and abridged version of) TLS1776’s guide (which, despite being somewhat out-of-date as far as resource suggestions, is the best guide I’ve ever read. If you only read one, make it his and not mine. Then again, if you only read one, change your mind and don’t only read one), pithypike’s guide, spending a lot of time googling people talking about the importance of the LSAT, looking at law school profiles on TLS, and daydreaming about schools I (fortunately, for my motivation level) didn’t know had GPA floors. I made it a point, like TLS1776, to avoid anything that hurt my motivation.

There is, as we all know, a bunch of stuff on what a scam law school is, and how you shouldn’t go, and all sorts of other stuff that will sap you of your motivation. Avoid it. You need to need to get a top score. When I was at my peak of motivation, which I managed to maintain for months, I wanted a 180 more than I wanted a Game Boy when I was 7, a guitar when I was 11, a girlfriend when I was 13, a car when I was 15; in short, I wanted a 180 with everything I had. If I could single out one factor as being the most important to your success, especially early on, I’d pick motivation. I don’t care how you get and stay pumped, day in and day out, but it will ultimately be the reason you do how you do. Luck, officially, accounts for +/- 2.6pts. The rest is up to you.

I should mention here that I believe that, barring mental disabilities which make going to law school a questionable idea, anyone who works hard enough can improve their score substantially. How much work it takes, and how much improvement you see, are unknowns, but that you will see some improvement with the right kind of work is beyond any doubt for me. If you hear a voice in the back of your head right now, saying that you aren’t smart enough, or you can’t read fast enough, or you’re just wired a different way, I invite you to spend some time meditating on the sound of that voice, and focusing on the source of that voice, so that you can kill it. The corny “whether you think you can or can’t; you’re right” is at least right with the “can’t” part, a belief that moderates the amount of effort you’re willing to put forth and thus directly affects learning skills and practicing performance, which is all we’re doing here.

3. Getting Started, pt.2: jump in
I’m going to assume you’ve taken a diagnostic. If not, I wouldn’t take one, honestly. Either way, you’ve got lots of areas to improve in, so it’s not as important where you begin as it is that you begin.

This is your “familiarity” phase, and you should go through a program. My suggestion to a beginner would be to buy the LSAT Trainer and all the Manhattan guides, to start lurking in the Manhattan forum and the TLS LSAT forum while going through the LSAT Trainer, and then after going through the whole LSAT Trainer, go through the Guides unless you’re already comfortably within a few points of your target score. I hate talk of target scores, though, we really should all have the same target score.

Anyways just get cracking on the books, and don’t look to start taking PTs regularly until you’ve done at least a full LSAT program (see my ‘resources’ section for my thoughts on different companies).
4. Learn the general skills without PTing
-Logic Games:
As Mike Kim, author of the stellar LSAT Trainer, put it, “For many LSAT students, the Logic Games section is the first obsession, and the Reading Comprehension section is the last.” and, for me that was pretty true. I would recommend starting Logic Games ASAP since I think much of the LG proficiency you’re aiming for is a matter of how long you’ve worked with the games. Here’s my Logic Games spiel-

“Why is this on the LSAT?”
Never mind that. You’ll be glad it’s on the LSAT after you master them and they become the least mentally draining section. Early on I heard someone mention that, for them, Logic Games were a chance to give their brain a rest during the test. I didn’t really believe them. Months later, I realized that’s exactly what happened to me, and find it funny that the one question I missed on the real deal was on the games, which was my most consistently flawless section. You can never improve too much, I guess.

I started with the Logic Games Bible, because several (old) guides praised it, and it was probably good that I did. Then I did Ace The LSAT’s LG section, because TLS liked it, and I still respect their hypo-heavy approach, even though they don’t use all real games (which is generally something to avoid) because sometimes hypos will save your life. Setups and inferences are great for most games, and most of the games you see will be regular, eventually easy and straightforward. When you come across something weird and hard, though, you’ll want to be very comfortable whipping out hypo after hypo and doing it quickly.

Then I went through Manhattan’s LG, though I kinda didn’t do the whole book, because I was realizing at the same time that the 7Sage method was getting me the best results. So I spent most of my LG time from then on out working with the Cambridge pack games, printing off a few copies of a particular type/pack, and watching the 7sage games. I got a lot faster and a lot better that way, and ultimately I was doing hard games flawlessly in under 8 minutes, easy games in under 4. I say “ultimately” and urge you to keep in mind that this took huuuundreds of hours. It also required vigilance. After a week or two off, I was definitely rusty, and I did at least one hard game before every PT, but more on warm-up later.

-Logical Reasoning: The Meaty Part of the Test
You have no option but to learn a bunch of skills for the LR section. Go through the Manhattan LR book. I did that after going through the Powerscore LR Bible, and I strongly endorse Manhattan over Powerscore, though ultimately it’s going to be whatever works for you. An example of that principle is in whether or not you should read the stem or the stim first. Manhattan says (I think) that you should read the question first, Powerscore says you should read the stimulus first. I tried both, and ended up doing what worked best for me. Personally it made most sense to me to let my brain go for whatever it wanted, so I started reading questions chronologically, but if I got confused, I might stop what I was reading and look for the flaw. I’m not sure I’m describing my personal method well, so here’s what I wrote someone in a PM:

“I started my prep by reading the question in order, and then later I tried to read other stuff first, like the part that reveals what kind of question it is (sorry, I never got good at remembering what stimulus and stem referred to) but it ultimately seemed too weird to read it out of order. Like you said, it can be harder to focus on the argument when you're thinking "okay, I'm looking for a flaw", when you should really be thinking, "okay, I'm looking for an ARGUMENT." It's all about the argument. (the following is for "assumption family questions")I was into underlining conclusions, because once you've got a conclusion you can look for its support, and then you've got everything you need to track the question. It asks for a flaw, you find the flaw, it asks for a role of a piece, you've got it in your head already. Much easier than setting out to look for a flaw in an argument you haven't even put together in your head yet.”

But that’s just one way that it’s important to pick your own method. LR is like a dozen different kinds of tasks that you have to do, and each requires its own method. My method for getting better at LR was as follows:
1. Go through books on LR and drill by type (Kaplan Mastery or Cambridge packs for question-types) until you can go -3ish consistently/section. If you aren’t there yet, look specifically at which question types are causing you trouble, re-read the section in your books on those question types, read guides online about those question types, and type up your own guide to yourself, about that question type. If you aren’t improving, find out which books you haven’t gone through and go through them.

You’re trying to learn how you approach these questions, and what you’re doing wrong. I think a lot of people try to learn methods, rather than learn how to use them, propositional knowledge instead of know-how. The point is that it is much more important that you are able to do something than that you understand what you’re doing. The latter is almost always necessary, but only as a means to the end of ability. Studying your performance makes for good practice, and good practice makes perfect. More on performance later.

2. Keep hammering down your problem areas while working on LG and RC to get them to a similar level of proficiency. I’d say you should be in the mid-to-high 160s before going into the PT and Review phase of your prep, so keep drilling and reading/writing guides, and practicing question types to solidify your theoretical knowledge into actual know-how. Manhattan’s forum was a great area to read explanations for specific questions, the best I came across, but that may change in the future.

Reading Comprehension: Unrealistically Hard and Consistently Esoteric
Everyone hates RC. I ended up being pretty good at RC and I still loathed it with a passion. It took me 3-4 months of going through several books on RC and doing dozens of sections before I was averaging ~-5/RC section and then another 3-4 months before I could reliably do -1/2 and, up until the end, it was always the most volatile section (i.e. the only one I could randomly miss 5 on). Hopefully for future test-takers it doesn’t get any worse, because it’s already terrible.

That said, it’s doable. It’s hard as nails but it’s doable. My method was similar to LR:

1. Go through books (I used them all and, while Manhattan gave me my biggest gains, I think LSAT trainer earns its reputation as top dog here. It helped me work out my last few kinks) and do sections. until you’re doing the best you can. You don’t need to demand -3 from yourself, just try to improve as much as you can. So for Phase 1, just pick a book and get through it. Then take a PT and see if you're close enough to your target to get to step 2.
2. PT and Review Phase. We'll get to that shortly, but first a recap.

Recap on Methods So Far:
I can’t imagine a way to get through this first part, of learning general skills, that doesn’t take months. You need to do books, guides, forums, notes, videos, and tons and tons of practice until you’re within striking distance of your goal score. For me, I was around 170 when I moved into my phase 2, and it got me my last 10 points. During this phase I studied 40 hours a week easily, some weeks almost double that, and it still took me probably 3 months to get through everything. You might be a better reader or improve more quickly or it may only take one set of books (I’d start with Manhattan and see what still needs improvement) so YMMV but take your time because the returns only get more diminishing from here on out.

5. Learning to Perform

So. You’re almost perfect. You’ve just got a few weak spots to work on, and in order to work on them, you need to know what they are. That’s where this phase comes in. But before I ramble about the importance of review, I want to ramble on the importance of the performance aspect.

I think almost everyone, in spending most of their energies on learning the skills that the LSAT explicitly requires, misses the simple fact that the LSAT is an execution, a performance, a recital. Another way to put this would be that there are really two sets of skill that the LSAT tests, one explicit set and one implicit set. The first set is what you’re already spending time on: strategies to answer questions correctly, strategies to get points. Learning all the necessary strategies means becoming able (when your mind and body are sharp, well-rested, and “in the zone”) to answer every kind of LSAT question correctly in the time allotted. DON’T MISS THE IMPORTANCE OF THAT PARENTHETICAL! Do not look at being well-rested, sharp, and “in the zone” as chance circumstances! It is not a matter of luck whether you are sharp on test day. There is luck involved, as there always is, but the effect of luck is overestimated by the excuse-inclined and mitigated by the successful.

It comes down to how you feel and where you’re at during the handful of hours that you’re in that room with a brand-new test in front of you. If you gave me a brand-new LSAT right now, I could maybe crack 170 on it. Maybe even 175, but I’d be surprised. I’m simply not in test shape, mentally, and that’s okay because when I sat down in October, I was. I ate, slept, exercised, and prepped all on a schedule that I designed to make me feel my sharpest and my strongest for the few hours I’d be bubbling a scantron, and if you want to maximize your potential then I strongly suggest that you consider doing the same.

I cannot tell you what factors you will have to consider in deciding how to prep, but I can tell you what I considered. I tracked my diet, my sleep, my exercise, my location, my clothes, my pencils, and, most importantly by far, my study habits leading into each practice test. I constantly and thoroughly combed the data for trends. I found that a benadryl the night before had a groggy effect in the morning but that melatonin didn’t. I found that a fatty breakfast usually helped with mental stamina but that I shouldn’t have more than 2-3 cups of coffee. I found that 6 hours of sleep was plenty, but that it mattered when I got them. I found that a short warm-up was crucial for my RC performance, but that studying the day before a practice test was very harmful.

In order to learn this test, you must teach yourself this test, and in order to teach yourself this test you must learn yourself. This is a not a platitude. You will, in studying for this test, learn who you are and how you react to all sorts of things, or you will not get the highest score of which you are capable.

I’ve discovered, by spending enough time on TLS and talking to other students, that everyone reacts differently to things like food, sleep, study habits, drugs, et cetera so that’s why this bit of self-knowledge is key to the whole endeavor. If I thought I was representative of most people studying for the LSAT I’d just tell you to do exactly what I did, but I don’t so I won’t. The answer to so many questions about how to prep comes down to this: you need to know it will affect you. Should you PT once a week or every day? Should you do a warm-up? Should you study the day before the test? Only you can find out the answers the these questions, and you can do it most reliably by analyzing data about your performance.

6. The most important part of your prep: Review. (or, “taking the PT is the easy part”)

I’m going to quote myself at length from a discussion where people were arguing over whether or not taking a PT every day was a good idea:

“1) Review is much more important than just grinding out PTs, which, without a bunch of accompanying review, is a pretty big waste of time and effort. The purpose of a PT is to get a snapshot of your weaknesses, so that you can spend time working on those weaknesses and hammering out your technique. Most of your improvement will not happen while you're PTing, it will happen when you review and drill things that, in your review, you find out needs work. If you spend all your time PTing you won't see nearly as big an improvement as if you spent AT LEAST HALF of your time reviewing. Maybe this isn't true for everyone, but it's definitely true for me and there are lots of others on this board who feel similarly.

2) I found that over-PTing was the worst thing I could do for my scores, because I have an (apparently, compared to other people in the LSAT Study threads I traversed) especially low threshold for burnout. Each time I spread out my PTs a little, and even each time I took a break from LSAT entirely, I jumped. Conversely, whenever I started PTing more frequently, my scores started to dip. It was tremendously difficult to slow my PT roll, since I felt lazy and like I wasn't working hard enough, but the data telling me to slow down was staring me in the face. Not saying that will be your case, but either way you need to listen to your scores and look at your progress and not just work a certain way because it works for others. I took detailed notes on how I slept, what I ate, physical activity etc. and was always looking for trends in my performances. The LSAT is, above all, a performance. As such it is susceptible to influence from all sorts of factors (like how many PTs you've taken recently and similar sources of fatigue).

That said, I started prepping for October eight months before the test, probably averaging over 30 hours a week, so I had the luxury of a long enough road to take breaks, and spread out my prep, and so forth. I didn't want to take the test until I was averaging 178+ and still wouldn't if I hadn't.

None of this is the golden rule by which you must abide. For all I know, taking tests every day is what will work best for you. Your mind and body will respond in their own unique way to all your training and you need to keep a careful eye on what helps you and what doesn't.”

Here's an example of one of my post-test write-ups. Most were longer because I missed more, but it was all this sort of thing. A lot of the question-specific stuff I just copied from Manhattan’s amazingly helpful forum. If I noticed that I struggled (not necessarily missed, but found difficult) with a particular question-type, I'd do a whole pack of those question types, re-read (and sometimes even write) guides on that question type, etc. I printed each write-up out and read it several time throughout the week, finally reading through it before taking my next PT. I found this helpful and read my write-up for the last PT I took before I walked into the test center.


7. Resources
Disclaimer: I'd done most of my prep by the time that the LSAT Trainer came out, and I suspect I would have used it more and saved myself some time if I could have started with it. I also never used Velocity or Blueprint, but not because they aren’t amazing, great programs. I’m sure they are. Lots of smart and high-scoring people make them and use them. I just never got around to trying them. I can only personally recommend the materials that I used, but there are also some that I both didn’t use and have reason to suspect are suboptimal, but rather than bash them, I’m just not mentioning them here. They’re big names, though, we’ll say that. Anyways, here’s what I used:

LSAC: Tests and SuperPrep
I bought tests off amazon, and the SuperPrep was very helpful. Not “omg I finally hacked the lsat” helpful, but definitely worth buying.

Powerscore: Guides and notecards
I honestly don’t know how much I like these. I did them all, and I improved, but my hunch is that they’re suboptimal. In the beginning, you improve so long as you have an approach and you work at it, so it’s hard to know how helpful these really were. I wouldn’t buy them if I was going back and doing it all over again, probably.

Manhattan: Guides and Community
Indispensible. Even if you don’t like all their methods, you need to read all three guides so that you know their methods, and spend a good amount of time on the forums, at least for the questions you got wrong and ideally for any that weren't easy.

7Sage: Videos
Also indispensable. I was too broke to pay for a 7sage account but I wouldn't doubt that it’s very worth it if you have the money. JY got a 180 and it shows, the dude is an LSAT master. If you don’t have a game down, and I mean DOWN, do the 7sage method ( detailed here: http://7sage.com/how-to-get-a-perfect-s ... gic-games/)

I doubt I’d have done as well if it weren’t for this one dude and his comprehensive and free explication of logic game domination.

Cambridge: LR packs and LG packs
Probably the best way to get the games and possibly the other types as well (there might be options now but in my day we did Cambridge packs) and, if you have access to a printer, just printing them off and drilling. DRILL.

TLS: Guides and Community
Our study group had several 180s and the median score of an avid TLSer is probably multiple standard deviations above the general median. If you want a high score, this is where you belong. There are lots of awesome guides and the community is constantly working on how to better prep for this thing.

This is pretty rough and poorly structured ATM but I’ll be grateful for any comments/questions you guys have while I clean it up over the next few weeks. I really hope this helps someone at least a little, I’m just a dood who did battle with the LSAT tryna give back. Good luck and keep grindin. -McGruff


What you have posted has truly inspired me, and brought my motivation back to its greatest level yet. Someone on here posted a "Guide" on TLS a few days ago, and made me doubt myself a great deal due to my low Cold Diagnostic Score. Ive had to keep telling myself that I am unique, and that not every individual will score the same way, nor prep the same way, and the concentrating on what other people do, or did is a waste of time. Finally there is someone who confirms all my theories, my current studying format is tailored to my own needs, and in accordance with my weekly goals. I use TLS, and all my Prep Material for a basic foundation not for pure mimicking. I truly thank you for restoring my confidence.

ScrewMick180
Posts: 24
Joined: Fri Jan 31, 2014 5:00 pm

Re: The McGruff Method: A Few Lessons From My Battle to 180

Postby ScrewMick180 » Wed Feb 12, 2014 10:54 am

Wow, unbelievable guide. Shows that with hard work and dedication anything is possible.

Two questions:

1) How did you learn to make RC a consistent -0? You said it took a few months for you to really understand the section. Did you make improvements simply by reading the guides and doing RC sections?

2) Also, would you be able to PM me a few of your post-test write-ups? Would find them very helpful since I want to do something similar.

Thanks!

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McGruff
Posts: 187
Joined: Wed Sep 25, 2013 3:16 pm

Re: The McGruff Method: A Few Lessons From My Battle to 180

Postby McGruff » Wed Feb 12, 2014 11:58 am

ScrewMick180 wrote:Wow, unbelievable guide. Shows that with hard work and dedication anything is possible.

Two questions:

1) How did you learn to make RC a consistent -0? You said it took a few months for you to really understand the section. Did you make improvements simply by reading the guides and doing RC sections?

2) Also, would you be able to PM me a few of your post-test write-ups? Would find them very helpful since I want to do something similar.

Thanks!

1) I think the guides were the biggest factors, probably Manhattan was biggest for me but LSAT Trainer might be even better. I bought LSAT Trainer pretty much just for the RC and was impressed. I printed out this LSAT Trainer site article and read it before my last few tests (including the real thing) because it really helped me understand what the section was about, I think. Honestly though it's a beast. I liked Voyager's guide and I like a lot of the comments that get made around this forum (Mike Kim is the RC guru I think), but it's also just DAMNED hard. Oh, and one last thing - stay interested. Like, REALLY interested. OMG AFRICAN FEMINIST SCULPTING THAT'S MY FAVORITE! It will make or break you, because you need to feel the passage. RC was the most intuition-related section by far, though obviously on the LSAT you want as little reliance on intuition as possible. good luck!

2) PM'd

cpamom
Posts: 40
Joined: Fri Apr 20, 2012 11:48 am

Re: The McGruff Method: A Few Lessons From My Battle to 180

Postby cpamom » Thu Feb 13, 2014 5:09 pm

Another question on motivation/confidence.

LSAT is unlike any other test. When I study for any other exam, I know I’m learning something. When I study for LSAT, I cannot be sure of anything- I can study for days and not improve a single point, or loose points. Or just have a random "bad test" and underperform. It's easy to feel motivated when you succeed. But what about when you’re failing?

What was your reaction to a discouraging result? Except for a more thorough write up? Take a break from PT? I know you had a dip in scores right before the actual test, how did you not let it get to you?

Thanks.

ETA: Nevermind, I found the answer.
Last edited by cpamom on Wed Feb 19, 2014 10:49 am, edited 1 time in total.

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CocoSunshine
Posts: 54
Joined: Thu Oct 31, 2013 10:59 pm

Re: The McGruff Method: A Few Lessons From My Battle to 180

Postby CocoSunshine » Tue Feb 18, 2014 12:37 pm

Could you please elaborate your strategy on RC a bit more? For example, how much time do you spend on reading the passages and doing questions respectively? Do you heavily annotate and underline (Since you mentioned Voyager's guide, I assume you do)? Do you refer back to text frequently or trust your memory more? How do you work on timing? etc. Thanks!




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