More on the “Closer” Approach to LSAT Preparation: Recovering from a Difficult LSAT Question (or a Blown Save)

Baseball is back!  I’m probably happier about that than many of you, but I wasn’t very pleased when, the night before last, Mariano Rivera, known as “Mo” and acknowledged as the best “closer” in the history of baseball, blew a save for the Yankees.

Last 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 showed that even the best don’t always get it right.  There he was doing the same thing that works on virtually every other night, but getting hammered.

But the key to Mo’s success isn’t that he hasn’t blown a save or lost a game in his long career—it’s that he successfully puts behind him a bad outing and goes out and saves or wins his next opportunity.  In other words, he doesn’t let a bad game or two affect the next game.

That’s a problem for many LSAT takers, especially those who have the capability of getting a high score.  You hit a hard question and, instead of just missing that question, you bring your frustration/uncertainty/irritation into the next few questions and miss a bunch in a row.  If that happens a few times during the LSAT, you’ve effectively damaged your performance by 7-10 (or more points).

Not so bad, right?  Wrong.  The median LSAT scores among candidates accepted for law schools are tightly clustered.  For example, the median LSAT score last year at top-ranked Yale Law was a 173; at 20th-ranked Minnesota, a 167.  That’s about an 8-question difference.  The difference between Minnesota’s median LSAT score and 40th-ranked George Mason’s 163—even less, about 6 questions.  A few lapses of concentration, one or two small runs because you didn’t recover properly from a tough question—that’s enough to seriously damage your LSAT score and your chances of admission (to say nothing of merit-based financial aid).

A difference of 6-8 right answers isn’t a question of intelligence, it’s one of composure.  That’s why Advise-In’s LSAT preparation program is structured to focus as much or more on focus-recovery and test-taking procedures as on “understanding.”  They’re related, of course—the simpler your approach, the less likely your performance is to suffer.  But even if you have the right approach, you need to have the tools—and the composure and confidence—to recover from a difficult question.

Here’s the bottom line—Mo will blow a save every now and again and you will miss questions on the LSAT.  I got a perfect 180 score on my first and only LSAT but missed questions (unsubstantiated rumor has it that no one has ever gotten every question right).  I’d love to say that that shows I’m smarter than everyone who got a 170 or 165 but it doesn’t.  What it shows is that I was able to put questions that were difficult or about which I was uncertain behind me and move on to the next question—I didn’t let one error turn into 5 or more.  The approach helped, of course.  I knew that the simple methods I was using worked before, and they would work now.  So, I just had to do what I knew how to do, 125 times, and not let a rough spot affect what I was doing on the question that was now in front of me.  And that’s a skill that every LSAT needs to learn to have her or his best performance on exam day, and that LSAT review courses should spend a lot more effort on than most of them do.  A mistake is a mistake—you can’t let it become several mistakes, especially because a few needless errors can be very, very damaging.

~ by Kyle Pasewark at Advise-in Solutions on April 21, 2011.

2 Responses to “More on the “Closer” Approach to LSAT Preparation: Recovering from a Difficult LSAT Question (or a Blown Save)”

  1. Kyle:

    Once again, a great post. In my experience achieving a maximum LSAT score is 50% ability and 50% emotional mastery. This important aspect of LSAT prep is ignored in most forms of LSAT preparation. Part of being able to recover from a “bad moment” is being able to focus on the simple principles that will keep you pointed in the right direction. As you have pointed out in previous posts: “Simply, simply, simplify”.

    Much of life is about momentum. Much of the wisdom in the world is on billboards. I recently saw a billboard that read:

    “Don’t let yesterday use up too much of today.”

    On a final note:

    This principle is particularly important for those who are taking the LSAT a second time. As I pointed out in a post I wrote on LSAT retakes:

    “Prepping for a second LSAT involves a different mindset than preparing for your first LSAT. If you are taking the LSAT a second time, you are approaching the LSAT with the knowledge that it didn’t go will the first time. This is not helpful.”

    Thanks again for a great post!

    John Richardson – Toronto, Canada

  2. Thank you, John, I agree with everything you say and very much appreciate the comment. As I’ve said many times on this blog, it’s better to do the LSAT once and get it right the first time, partly for the reason you suggest, that the second time around, there’s an additional confidence issue that takers have to confront. And the “emotional” factors are something that’s hard for a lot of LSAT takers to deal with (or sometimes even see) unless they have an advisor who takes the necessary time with them.

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