The Importance of Cognitive Science for Obtaining Your Best LSAT Score

I’m proud of the success of Advise-In’s LSAT prep program. The average increase in my clients’ score is over 12 points and 30 percentiles. That’s very high. It’s especially high since about half of my clients come from other LSAT prep programs, so that any gains from those programs aren’t attributed to Advise-In Solutions. Any company can point to successes and would rather not point to shortcomings. That’s why averages are important, since they incorporate the results of students companies would rather not (and generally don’t) tell you about. I will tell you: our average is 12 points and 30 percentiles.

That’s not because I employ miraculous occult incantations (not that I’d be averse to them if they worked); it’s because my clients and I work hard, and in the right way. Still, I’m always looking for ways to help my clients gain even more points on their actual LSAT score. In a law admissions market that is as compressed as this one, a few points or percentiles can make a significant difference in where you start in law school admissions options and law school financial aid offers. Our average is very high; I want it to be higher.

I’ve long been convinced that familiarity with cognitive research is vital for understanding how to obtain your best LSAT score. I don’t think there’s another LSAT prep blog that discusses cognitive research as much as Advise-In’s, and I’m pretty sure that means that the mass LSAT prep market just doesn’t think about such things to the extent I do. Their cavalier, it’s-good-enough-the-way-it-is-as-long-as-we’re-paid approach is one reason I believed that LSAT prep classes and tutors would be counterproductive for my own LSAT prep, and my perfect 180 score in a self-developed prep program that was sensitive to cognitive research is compelling evidence that I was right about that.

A few weeks ago, I went to hear Sian Beilock, associate professor of psychology at The University of Chicago and one of the really bright lights in contemporary cognitive research. Her research is focused on a simple question: Why do people “choke” in high-stress situations and underperform in relation to their capabilities? I’ve read her last book, of course, and commend it, whether you’re worried about choking on the LSAT or not.

I confess to being pretty pleased that the vast majority of what Dr. Beilock discussed (but not everything, see below) is already incorporated into each Advise-In client’s LSAT prep program—from reducing the “perceived stress” of any high-pressure situation; practice under “game” conditions; calibrating the right amount of practice; simplifying the LSAT and LSAT study techniques rather than making LSAT prep an obtuse “your instructor is smarter than you” jargonfest of “contrapositive,” “stimulus,” “question type 33,” etc.; what I call “focused” practice as distinct from just more of the same; etc.

Of course, that’s not enough.  Cognitive research is pretty good at generalities, but the trick is to figure out what each individual needs and when they need it. To do that, you need a deeper knowledge of a person than classroom or per-hour tutorial programs allow.  Cognitive research is integrated into each of my client’s programs in unique ways tailored for that person’s needs and difficulties.  It’s one reason I take a limited number of LSAT prep clients—the difficulty of finding the best solution for specific individuals is matched only by the importance of finding it. How to avoid underperforming, choking on the LSAT on exam day, is a big part of that.

Dr. Beilock presented two research findings that were newly enlightening to me. The first is that it’s actually people with the greatest cognitive capability whose performance suffers the most in testing situations (they still may score higher but they underperform to a greater degree). That’s not shocking, I suppose; it’s related to a point I’ve made before, which is that thinking of the LSAT as an intelligence test is a mistake. The LSAT is largely a technical challenge that’s even more challenging for those with higher cognitive horsepower. The most “intelligent” people often have the greatest trouble on the LSAT. (By the way, dealing with that fact is tied to reducing the perceived stress of the LSAT.)

The second finding was more surprising to me, partly because I’ve never been a fan of catharsis theory. But I’ve checked out the research and it’s pretty compelling. Since I’m naturally a skeptic, I’ll introduce this new technique to my clients deliberately but the research indicates that test scores can increase by as much as 10%, although I suspect the marginal value will be less if, as in Advise-In’s LSAT prep program, the rest of the best of cognitive research findings are already included in my clients’ programs. I try to leave no stone unturned in the quest for a client’s highest LSAT score. Part of that involves finding new stones, and I’m grateful to Dr. Beilock for pointing me toward another corner of the quarry.

~ by Kyle Pasewark at Advise-in Solutions on March 15, 2011.

4 Responses to “The Importance of Cognitive Science for Obtaining Your Best LSAT Score”

  1. […] The “a lot” part is that reacting well to stressful situations is a key difference between “good” and “excellent” in both.  Indeed, in cognitive pressure situations such as taking the LSAT, cognitive research shows that it’s the people with the greatest cognitive horsepower whose performances declines the most. […]

  2. […] to help you get your highest LSAT score.  A lot of what Advise-In Solutions does is informed by cognitive research and I think we’re unique in paying such close attention to the latest findings in cognitive […]

  3. […] only success stories, which encourages people to think that these are “typical” (in contrast, Advise-In discloses average increases, in both points and percentile terms, simply because I think that’s more meaningful and truthful […]

  4. […] works with a limited number of clients.  Not only is that the best way to get the measurable LSAT and admission results my clients and I want but it also invests me in their success in a way that […]

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