The Virtues of Simplicity on the LSAT

•October 4, 2017 • Leave a Comment

One of my LSAT clients recently told me about a debate he had with a couple of co-workers who were also planning to take the LSAT. He was helping them with a certain kind of question in logical reasoning that they were having trouble with.

He showed them how to get the correct answer on a few sample questions, and immediately ran into resistance. Both of his co-workers were in a big-box company classroom LSAT prep course, and they pressed my client with, “But what about these techniques [which they’d been taught]—you didn’t use any of them, and what about the contrapositive…?”

My client’s answer cut through the jargon-y malarkey—“Whatever, I got them right and you didn’t. Take my word that this is the way to do these or not but…”

Now, my client, by this point, was very, very good at the LSAT—he got that good by keeping his analysis and attack simple and straightforward. As I’ve said before, the LSAT is a hard test because the writers are very good at writing tests. What makes it hard is just that—not that it’s complicated because it’s not. The writers have a clear theory of argument in mind and they stick to it; no tricks, no sneak attacks, no changing of the rules; they play by the rules and are simply asking you whether you can play by the same rules they do, and can do it as well as they do. If you can, you get the answer; if you can’t, you don’t.

I got a perfect score on the LSAT the only time I took it because I understood that—and I understood that all the jargon and complicated techniques employed by various programs (which I didn’t use exactly because of the jargon and complications) get in the way of understanding and breaking down the argument that’s sitting on the page, and accepting and rejecting answers for the right reasons—not because they feel right or don’t but because they work or don’t. Simplicity has two virtues: it makes you both more accurate and more efficient.

My client understood all that, too. He doesn’t have his score back yet, but I’m very confident that he did very well, at least matching my clients’ average near-12-point and 25-percentile improvement from their initial test or their last test in other programs. Although I’ll never know, I’m pretty sure he’ll have done better than the co-workers who made the test as complicated as possible because it made them feel like they had some secret knowledge that the guy who got the right answers didn’t have. Whether they sound less sophisticated or clever than others, clients who buy into what I do will settle for getting the answers right. And I’ll settle for helping show them how to do that.

LSAT Home Stretch: What You Should (and Should Not) Be Doing

•September 5, 2017 • Leave a Comment

With a little under two weeks to go before you walk into the room to take you LSAT, you should be at a certain stage in your preparation. To finish your preparation in the best way, there are things you should and should not be doing so that you’ll be at your best on test day.

What You Should Not Be Doing:

  • Starting Your Preparation. Unless you are unusually in tune with the test, you should have been preparing seriously for some time now. If you haven’t, consider postponing your test date to a time when you’ll be able to do better advance work. You should have been training like an elite athlete, and no elite athlete just picks up the ball two weeks before game day.
  • Making Major Changes in Your Preparation or its Schedule. Related to the first point, the LSAT is not a test that rewards cramming. It rewards diligent, disciplined preparation, not sleepless nights and major changes. No panic. A little more work in the last couple of weeks is ok, a lot more is generally not. If you need a lot more work in the last couple of weeks, that means you haven’t used your time well in the last month or two, and there is no way to make up for that. You want to be basically comfortable with what you’re doing by now, and you don’t want to make major changes that you have to acclimate yourself to in the short time remaining.

What You Should Be Doing:

  • Continued Preparation. While you don’t want to become hyper-intense during the last couple of weeks, you also don’t want to slack off. If your approach has yielded positive results so far, keep doing what you’ve been doing, so that you’ll stay sharp.
  • Fine-tuning. You should have a core comfort with how to approach every type of question, as well as timing, etc. But every additional question you get right helps you get your best LSAT score, so if there are particular types of questions or analytical reasoning games that you fight with a little more than others, put a little extra focus on those to try to hone your technique and method to a finer point. A little extra focus, not a lot, because it’s important to stay sharp on your strengths as well. Too much attention to weaknesses, and strengths begin to dissolve.
  • Get into Exam-Week Schedule. I don’t just mean LSAT prep here, but everything—when you go to sleep, when and (basically) what you’re eating and drinking, your R&R time, and when you’re doing your LSAT prep. You want to already be in your daily rhythm when you walk into the testing room, and this is a good time to start the beat.
  • Minimize Distractions. Related to the scheduling point, everything outside of executing the next step on the next question correctly and efficiently, and keeping your body and brain sharp, is a distraction. You do want down time, of course, so planned distractions are necessary and fine. But unplanned distractions take you out of rhythm, so ask your friends and family to pick up a few extra burdens for the next couple of weeks. You can make it up to them later. You can’t eliminate unplanned distractions (they are unplanned) but you can and should put yourself in position to minimize them.
  • Get Plenty of Rest. The LSAT is a challenge; the people who write the LSAT aren’t tricksters but they are very good at what they do. They are sharp, you need to be equally sharp, so making sure that you are well rested and that your energy level is high throughout the next couple of weeks is important.

LSAT Unbound: Cap Removed on Number of LSAT Attempts, Is That a Good Thing?

•July 26, 2017 • Leave a Comment

The Law School Admission Council recently removed the cap on the number of times you can take the LSAT. That reverses a policy of a few years ago. The rationale seems to be to increase the number of test-takers and it may have worked, the June 2017 test showing a sharp increase in test sitters from a year ago.

The LSAC’s policy is good for them—you have to pay each time you take the LSAT—and good for the LSAT prep industry, since a lot of people will pay for multiple prep programs over the course of trying to get the LSAT score they want.

So you can now take the LSAT as many times as you like. But should you? The short answer is, No. With one qualification.

As I’ve written several times on this blog, retaking the LSAT is a decision you should make carefully, not simply because you’re dissatisfied with your score.

There are risks and problems involved in retaking. The most obvious risk is your score can decline (or stay the same) as well as rise, and few retakers (around 10%) actually show a significant jump in their score. You want to carefully consider why you think you will be in that roughly 10%. Statistically, chances are that you won’t be. You need to understand exactly what was wrong with your preparation and/or your test day performance, and be fully confident that you can correct those specific issues while keeping in place what you did well. A general feeling that you could have done better is, I’m sorry to say, not enough. If that’s all you have, you will be in the 90%.

You also need to be confident that the performance you weren’t happy with will not psychologically impair doing better the next time. Clients who come to me after an initially unsatisfying performance often have this issue—we spend a good deal of our time together confronting those barriers and undoing bad habits.

The reason all that matters is because, although most law schools only report the high LSAT score to the ABA, they look at all scores and evaluate your application on the basis of all scores. Taking the test multiple times invites admissions committees to look for markers of suboptimal judgment and other issues in your application. The more times you take the LSAT, the closer they look—you would do that if you were on an admissions committee, too; your question would be, well, why didn’t this applicant do the LSAT the right way the first time?

That means that the optimal number of times to take the LSAT is once. Next best is twice. After that, the utility—both in terms of your likelihood of improved performance and your admissions package—sharply declines.

Now the qualification, which is implied in the reasons why you should carefully consider whether you want to retake the LSAT. If you know that you didn’t get your best LSAT score, and you know why, and you have an effective plan to address those reasons, then sure, take it again. You will want to do an addendum in your application explaining the increased score but that’s a good problem to have.

Number of LSAT Takers Jumps Sharply: Who’s That Good For?

•July 19, 2017 • 1 Comment

Karen Sloan of the National Law Journal reported recently that the year-over-year number of LSAT takers rose by 20% in the 2017-17 cycle. Since that portends an increase in law school applications as well, that’s good news for law schools, some of whom have struggled in the last few years with declining admission numbers and declining standards for remaining admissions.

It’s moderately bad news for applicants, who—at least compared to the last few years—are likely to face a more competitive admissions market. That effect may be dulled somewhat if law schools respond by increasing their class size a bit but still, the market will be somewhat less favorable for applicants.

The less favorable market for applicants means that it’s more important to get your best LSAT score and assemble your best application package. Otherwise, you are likely to see fewer opportunities for admission and financial aid that you would have just a few years ago.

That much is obvious. What’s less obvious is why the numbers have increased so sharply, so quickly. Ms. Sloan hypothesizes a “Trump bump” but who knows. And it doesn’t really matter.

What does matter is that it’s hard to believe that 20% more people have suddenly investigated law school and a legal career and have decided that it’s a great idea. It’s quite likely that some of the increase is the result of a whim (or some kind of bump, if you will).

I always advise potential clients, sometimes to my financial detriment, to have a clear idea of why they want to go to law school, and an equally clear idea of the benefits (and drawbacks) of a legal career. With few exceptions, law school tuition is flat between schools, that is, you’ll pay almost the same amount for a law school which will provide significant career opportunities than from one that, well, doesn’t. A recent report on Ohio law schools shows how dangerous that can be. A lot of law school graduates are scuffling with high debt and, to say the least, not the income they expected.

I am a big booster of legal education and a career as a lawyer. They are extremely valuable, both for lawyers and society at large. But they’re not for everybody. Nor are they easy. Nor do you want to do most of your work just to pay off your student loan debt. So, you want to understand what legal careers are like and be pretty sure that that is what you want. If it is, then you want to do the smart things that will minimize your debt and maximize your opportunities—strengthen your grade point average if you’re still in college, do the best test preparation you can do, and produce a compelling application package, so that you’ll be in a position to trade off and negotiate financial aid and opportunity.

Retaking the LSAT: Factors (and Facts) You Should Consider

•June 13, 2017 • Leave a Comment

When I first started Advise-In Solutions, one of my first blog posts—and advice I’ve given to countless prospective LSAT re-takers since—was about the factors you should consider when thinking about whether to retake the LSAT if you were not satisfied with your initial score.

The general points: avoid confirmation bias, and avoid thinking you are an exception to the data without clearly understanding why you think so.

I reread that post recently. I stand by everything I said there; it is all still true and important for people thinking about retaking the test to consider. The fact that test retake success data has barely budged in the intervening years simply confirms what I said there. Here’s the link.

LSAT Annual Testing Dates Increase in 2018-2019: What the Change Means (So Far)

•June 6, 2017 • Leave a Comment

For years, the LSAT has been offered 4 times per cycle, in June, September/October, December and February. The Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) recently changed that. In 2018-2019, the test will be offered in June, September and November 2018, and January and March 2019. The list of dates is available from LSAC.

LSAC has essentially moved the fall test to early September, shifted the December test to mid-November (before U.S. Thanksgiving), done away with the February test and substituted both January and March for it.

What does this mean for law school applicants who are planning to take the LSAT? The first thing it means it that you’ll have more options. You should still plan carefully, something far too few applicants do. Think a few months in front of the exam to try to ensure that you’ll be able to dedicate blocks of time for your LSAT prep. You may have a full-time job, as I did, or classes, but you should try to reduce your commitments as much as you can during your LSAT prep.

For those with full-time work, there isn’t really any general plus or minus to the new times, since there really isn’t any general work schedule in the contemporary economy. But the increased number of dates does allow you a little more flexibility in your planning.

For college students, the new early September date is probably generally better than the later September/early October date was. Since the test is now the Saturday after Labor Day in the U.S., for American students especially, many will now only bump up against their first week of classes rather than their first four or 5 weeks. That’s good all the way around, and will allow students to focus on the LSAT and then their classes rather than navigating a divided focus. It was always manageable to do that, but so much the better that it will not need to be managed anymore.

The other changes seem less consequential and really depend, for students, on when classes and finals end in the fall. Colleges and universities are varied in their end dates so, as with fulltime workers, the new options for either January or March do make things a little more flexible.

One unanswered question is what law schools will do. Previously, it was better from an admissions perspective to take the June or fall LSATs, with December being a little less desirable (but still ok, depending on your situation and how much better you were confident you could do on the December LSAT) and February being much less desirable for fall of the same year. I advise my February cycle clients that their admissions and financial aid opportunities will be stronger if they apply for the fall of the next year rather than the current year—so, for example, a February 2017 score has more value in the fall 2018 admissions cycle than the fall 2017 cycle.

It is not clear whether that will be true of both the new January and March dates, just the March date, or neither. Law schools will surely announce policies and it’s worth paying close attention to what those policies say and—sometimes—do not say. We’ll stay tuned, too.

On balance, the new scheduling options provide just that—more options, and that’s generally good for law school applicants, so long as applicants use them as an opportunity to plan when they can achieve their best LSAT score.

June 2017 LSAT Two Weeks Away: Why it’s Time for Consolidation, Not Innovation

•May 30, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Two weeks in front of the LSAT, test-takers understandably start to feel a little nervous. If you’ve properly prepared for the test, your nerves should be more in anticipation than fear. It’s time to consolidate what you’ve done and fine-tune it; it’s not time to innovate or develop entirely new strategies. If you need to do the latter, it may be because you haven’t done what you need to have done up until now, and you might consider whether the June test date is the right one for your to obtain your best LSAT score .

The reason is integral to the demands of the LSAT. A test-taker needs to have two related but distinct abilities. First, you have to understand the content of the test—what you are supposed to do to get the correct answer on any question. The second element is test-taking. Understanding what you are supposed to do doesn’t help you unless you can actually do it.

It is shocking how many points people leave on the table not because they don’t know what to do but because they don’t do it consistently. Equally shocking is that very few LSAT prep programs (to my knowledge, none other than Advise-In) focus on test-taking at all. It’s one of the reasons I didn’t use any LSAT prep programs when I prepared for the LSAT and it’s why Advise-In programs put a lot of attention and labor into test-taking.

And this is why consolidation and fine-tuning should be the principal foci of the last couple of weeks of preparation before taking the LSAT. You should have been paying attention to both understanding and test-taking all the way through your preparation, but the emphasis changes over time. When you start, you have to focus more on understanding content and the proper process for getting to the right answer.

But by this point, you should be clear on content—how to recognize what type of question you have in front of you and the steps you use to attack it so that your process yields the correct answer. You can fine-tune some of that in the last couple of weeks but your understanding of content should be firm.

What the last few weeks of LSAT preparation should be focused on is test-taking, consolidating what you know and executing it efficiently. If you’re not in position to shift emphasis, you may not be in position to take the test to obtain your highest LSAT score.

You should also be getting yourself into your exam week schedule—to the extent possible (it’s not always possible to do it perfectly, since you may have a job or classes or exams), you want to get into a routine that you will follow through to test day, so the same meal times, same bedtime and wakeup time, same preparation times, etc. You want test day to feel, as much as it can, like just another day, when you can go in, show what you can do and walk out with your best LSAT score.

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