There’s No LSAT Magic Bullet, Either

Best LSAT PreparationThe May 17 New Yorker has an article by the always-interesting Malcolm Gladwell called “The Treatment”  (If you’re a New Yorker online subscriber, you can click through to get the full article; otherwise, you’ll get an abstract.)  Gladwell describes the search for a magic bullet in cancer research.  Drawing from the history of successful treatment of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), a form of childhood leukemia, he concludes that “perhaps there isn’t a master code.  Perhaps there is only what can be uncovered, one step at a time.”  The breakthrough treatment of ALL involved a constant adjustment of drugs, dosages, time of treatment and a host of other variables.  There was a theory but it was perpetually fine-tuned based on practical results.

We’re a culture in search of magic bullets.  They’re easier to fund, explain and execute.  They’re just plain easier.  We love them; that we call them “magic” doesn’t dim our hopes that we’ll find one for our financial, medical, romantic or other problems.

There’s only one drawback: magic bullets almost never fire.  While preparing for a major exam like the LSAT doesn’t carry the stakes of cancer research, there are plenty of people promising magic bullets for it.  I recently heard a representative of a test prep company strongly imply that he (or whoever ended up teaching those he was talking to) could teach students to answer any logical reasoning question in 45 seconds.

I got a perfect score on the LSAT; one reason for my success is that I never believed those who said they had magic bullets, miracle beans or secret sauce.  The LSAT is not that easy.  Yes, some questions can and should be answered in 45 seconds (or less); some can’t and shouldn’t.  More important, which is which depends in large part on who you are.

LSAT preparation is a constant calibration between your understanding of content and being able to apply your understanding efficiently.  “Efficiently” isn’t always the same as “quickly”—often it’s more efficient to stop and think for a moment.  Like medical protocols, some techniques just don’t work; others work well for many people most of the time; some work perfectly but only for some people.  Moreover, what works for you changes over time.

The best LSAT preparation is a constant tailoring process.  You may be able to pick some low-hanging fruit without a lot of fiddling.  But if you want your highest LSAT score, you will have to refine and adjust.  Sometimes thinking about virtually the same technique in slightly different terms is a “breakthrough” moment.  Sometimes what didn’t work when you began your preparation suddenly falls into place when it’s reintroduced to you.  And just as drugs can lose their efficacy for certain patients over time, some LSAT techniques that once worked gradually fail you, which is frustrating but is really just a step along the way to a new solution.

What will produce your best LSAT prep is that it responds to you.  It doesn’t help you if a technique or framing device is taught because it’s effective for 80% of test-takers but you’re a member of the 20% for whom it’s a time-suck or a mystery; if one isn’t taught because it only works for 10% of LSAT takers and you’d be in that 10%; if your advisor isn’t paying close enough attention to recognize that what used to work for you isn’t working as well now; or that one technique  is getting in the way of another, more effective one; or if she or he doesn’t realize that now is the time to emphasize for you a procedure or type of question (in other words, if your advisor doesn’t know you and where you are at any given time).  Recognizing that there is no magic bullet encourages finding a series of small-scale solutions and adjustments that work together to maximize your understanding and efficiency—and your LSAT score.

It’s too bad that there’s no magic to getting your best LSAT score—but we knew there wasn’t when we had to call it magic.  There’s just adjustment, innovation and creative application of a base of knowledge based on your changing abilities and tendencies.   There’s “only what can be uncovered, one step at a time.”

~ by Kyle Pasewark at Advise-in Solutions on June 6, 2010.

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