Ghost Ranch, just north of Santa Fe, New Mexico, is a sight to behold. When you stand in the midst of its small buildings, you’re surrounded by mountains. Some peaks are 10,000 feet high, covered in snow. Some are between 5,000 and 7,000 feet, rose-red and rocky, reminiscent of the Martian surface. The expansive grandeur of the mountainous vistas combines with the minute details of the arid soil and its unique flora to overwhelm your senses. It’s impossible to take it in all at once. You’ve got to organize the input and marshal your senses to get the most out of the experience.
It turns out that I’m not the only person to feel this way. Photographer Ansel Adams, a frequent visitor to Ghost Ranch, said that “…the skies and land are so enormous, and the detail so precise and exquisite that wherever you are you are isolated in a glowing world between the macro and the micro.” Artist Georgia O'Keefe, who owned a small home just a few miles from the Ranch, reportedly said that the "cliffs over there are almost painted for you—you think—until you try to paint them." Apparently, even those with the remarkable ability to capture and communicate the visual could fully express their appreciation of the scene only through words in addition to their art.
The beauty and grandeur of Ghost Ranch may seem a strange source of insight into the LSAT, but the feeling of being lost between the macro and the micro has plagued many preparing for the test. This tension between the big picture and the detail occurs on many levels.
For instance, it is common for someone taking the LSAT to be overwhelmed by the feeling that their future depends on perfectly parsing the next sentence of the stimulus or diagramming without error the next rule of a logic game. The perceived importance of the test is so enormous that it can be overwhelming, while favorable results seem to require exquisite precision achievable by only a few.
But tension between the macro and the micro can yield incredibly helpful insight to those with the proper perspective. The LSAT itself has a long history, with even its modern era now extending nearly 25 years. Looking back across those years and thousands of questions, an expert eye can tease out details and relationships that tell a story. Like a stratigrapher studying the mountains surrounding Ghost Ranch, we can organize prior tests and their questions into distinctive, useful, mappable units based on their inherent attributes. By understanding the distribution and the relationships of these units to each other over time we can interpret the test's history, like a stratigrapher teases out the geologic history of the Earth.
As we approach each stimulus, game, passage, question, and answer choice, increasing the magnification of the lens through which we parse the language and focus on conceptual relationships can help us identify and classify the nature of that unit, like a paleontologist examines a fossil. With sufficient preparation, good organization, and proper focus, we can profitably combine our LSAT disciplines. Just like the paleontologist works with the geologist and the evolutionary biologist to draw inferences about fossils found in the cliff face or canyon bottom, on the LSAT we can combine our understanding of a minute, discrete characteristic of a test item and our view of the patterns played out over the history of the test to develop a degree of predictive intuition that can elevate our confidence, our performance, and our scores.
As to the LSAT, the tension between the macro and the micro is real. If we fail to recognize and understand that tension and its origins, clinging to the macro and the micro each by a separate hand, those seemingly dichotomous forces can rip us apart. However, by channeling our focus, marhsalling our senses, and engaging the multiple disciplines of our LSAT preparation, we can recognize that the tension is not, in fact, dichotomous. Instead, effective preparation reveals the bridge that connects the macro to the micro on the LSAT. We can travel between the two, using our understanding of the macro to develop a proper understanding of the micro, using our understanding of the history of the test, its overarching themes and methods to help us put into action the proper approach to any question.
I encourage you to spend some time thinking about the idea of the macro and the micro as it relates to the LSAT. There are many more applications of this concept, in terms of test mentality, preparation, test strategy, and individual techniques. Like Ansel Adams, Georgia O'Keefe, and the paleontologist, make use of all of your LSAT disciplines to discover and express your full potential on test day.
Image: "Ghost Ranch" by Rebecca Gore, Birch Lake Designs