Your Best LSAT Score: The “Closer” Approach to LSAT Preparation

It’s always nice when your rooting interest dovetails with your vocation.  There’s a terrific article in this week’s New York Times Magazine on Mariano Rivera, the great closer for my beloved Yankees.  Even players for the Boston Red Sox, among the few teams to have some success against Mo, concede that there’s no one else like him (unlike many Yankees fans, I have a lot of admiration for the Red Sox—worse in some quarters, I root for the New York Mets, too).

What’s distinctive about Mariano Rivera’s success, and how could it possibly apply to your LSAT preparation?

First, Rivera throws one pitch about 80% of the time.  And because he throws it so often, he’s got fantastic command of it.  So, lesson one for LSAT preparation: you need simple, repeatable techniques that can be applied automatically (I know, I’ve said this before; I’ll surely say it again because it’s paramount).  It’s not that you can use one technique on 80% of LSAT questions.  But there are not that many question types and you need one simple technique for each such type (better still, certain types do admit of the same technique).  The key is to find the right techniques for you, which takes time, insight and personal guidance (Mariano Rivera didn’t just fall off a truck as the best ever).

That goes to a bug-a-boo in many LSAT preparation classes and programs.  People often tell me—and they told me as a professor and a lawyer—that they just don’t understand what their instructor, tutor, lawyer or advisor is telling them even though they concede that person’s intelligence.  My reaction has always been the same.  Someone who is really good at something complex can explain it simply and adapt her or his message to your style of learning and experience.  There are limits, of course; it takes time, effort and commitment on both sides of the table.  For example, I’m no economist but I recently read an elegant book by two Nobel Prize winners that was a marvel of clarity.  It took Nobel Prize winners to decomplexify that well.

In LSAT prep, it just doesn’t matter whether, in the abstract, your instructor or tutor is brilliant or not.  It matters only whether you’re getting prepared at the highest level you can and (if you don’t understand after working to do so) whether your counterpart has sufficient commitment to you to find ways to make things clear.  You’re the person who has to take the LSAT; if you don’t understand what you’re being told, you’re wasting time and money, both during your prep and into your future.     

Simplicity and repeatability are related to a second point: invulnerability to pressure.  One of Rivera’s teammates, the fellow future Hall-of-Famer Alex Rodriguez, says of Rivera “I don’t think he knows what pressure means.”  LSAT exam day is pressure-filled and if, as most people are, you’re prone to feel that pressure, it will reduce your efficiency and accuracy.  Everyone knows that most LSAT takers’ scores drop from their highest LSAT score in practice.

Now Rivera’s calm is constitutional and related to his character, which has been 40 years in the making.  But poise can also, to a large extent, be acquired, even if it doesn’t come naturally.  There are LSAT study techniques that can help; some work for some people and others for others.  Calm is partly a question of practice and finding the best technique for you.

It’s also a matter of focus.  Forget the frequently overblown and often simply wrong chatter about the LSAT you find on the internet and elsewhere, and block out factors that are extraneous to simply getting your best LSAT score.  It’s damaging to your highest LSAT score to fret about anything, much less anything (however ultimately important to your law school application) that doesn’t have to do with your best LSAT preparation.

I tell my clients that they should focus on two, and only two, things (in addition to their normal school coursework, if they’re still students) relating to their law school future during our 10-week LSAT preparation program.  Both are strictly LSAT issues.  Worrying about everything else is my job and their worrying about all those other issues can only hurt their LSAT preparation.

Not feeling the pressure is related to simplicity.  A bunch of complicated techniques that you have to think twice, thrice, four times about—or techniques that you have to translate into plain English—will destroy your focus on the one thing that really matters, which is the question in front of you.  An example of “translation”:  You identify the question as, for example, a “Type 13 question.”  But that’s not English.  You’ll now need to translate that into simple English, e.g., it’s an assumption question.  Then you need to remember what you’re supposed to do on a Type 13 or assumption question.  There is at least extra step here (more likely, two) that wastes time you don’t have in excess and gives you more opportunity to make a translating mistake and lose your composure.  There’s no need for obfuscating jargon.  Start with English and end with it.

Finally, even Mariano Rivera makes mistakes.  Some have come at crucial times.  But being roughed up in big situations has not damaged his long-term success, as it has some other relief pitchers.  He forgets his mistakes and successes and just does the job in front of him.  Similarly, no one helps themselves by thinking about the last LSAT question that they might have missed.  With few exceptions, it doesn’t matter.  You already threw that pitch; forget it and move on.    

Mo is the best ever.  Some of the things that make him the superstar are directly applicable to preparing to be your best on LSAT exam day: keep it simple and repeatable, focus on a few right things, and don’t think about the last question.

~ by Kyle Pasewark at Advise-in Solutions on July 7, 2010.

One Response to “Your Best LSAT Score: The “Closer” Approach to LSAT Preparation”

  1. […] season, I held up Mo as what LSAT takers should aspire to—a simple, unvarying, flawless approach to his craft, game after game.  This past Tuesday, he […]

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