LSAT Lessons from Native American Trail Trees

    LSAT Prep

    TrailTreeA few weeks ago my family visited the Ozark mountains in Arkansas. While zip-lining through a forest, we noticed a tree that was bent at an unusual, 90 degree angle. Our guide told us that it was a "bench tree," and that its trunk's right angle resulted from intentional shaping by members of the Cherokee Nation a very long time ago. The Cherokee would shape these trees by the sustained application of focused pressure over a long period of time. Once the trees had grown with the proper shape -- and pointing in the desired direction -- they could be used as trail markers, pointing to shelter, water, minerals, food, safe river crossings, etc. In truth, these markers, taken together, formed a wide-spread land and water navigation system before the first European settlers appeared in the area. Naturally, as anyone does while zipping above the forested hills of the Ozarks, my thoughts turned to the lessons these "trail trees" can teach us about our LSAT preparation.

    The Effect of the Sustained Application of Focused Effort

    The trail trees grew into their unique shape because of the sustained effort of the Cherokee. From a tree's infancy, the people shaping it ensured it was constantly under the specific kind of pressure that could both shape the tree and point it in a specific direction. This took a tremendous amount of forethought, dedication, and effort. It meant checking in on the tree frequently, to make sure that nothing had happened to release the pressure on it. If the pressure had been released prior to its shape having become permanently fixed, the whole project would have come undone. And the result would have been worse than if they had never begun to shape the tree in the first place, because now the tree would have been partially bent, and perhaps would point in the wrong direction. Rather than being a helpful trail marker, it could confuse the people who were relying on its accuracy.

    Just like with the trail tree, you have to shape yourself into an optimal LSAT test taker through the sustained application of focused effort. It's not enough to decide that you're going to prepare for the LSAT and then dabble in the materials, almost like you're dipping your toes into the water. You've got to commit to focused effort, every day.

    First, you need a plan. Just like the Cherokee knew in advance their purpose in bending the tree, the materials they would need, and the direction in which the tree needed to point, you have to be intentional about your LSAT Preparation. You have to know what your objective is and gather the proper materials before you can truly begin your study. To help you do that, check out our free Self Help Study Guide.

    Then, you have to commit to sustained, consistent, focused effort. It's easy to feel overwhelmed, but if you focus on small, incremental gains, you'll be able to gain momentum and keep moving and achieving your study goals. Don't let temporary failures bog you down, and be sure to focus your study on the areas that you find difficult, rather than the concepts that are easier and even comfortable for you. Over time, you'll shape yourself into a overwhelming force of LSAT awesomeness, which is something to behold.

    Find What You Need By Learning to Read the Signs

    For someone like me, who had never heard of a trail tree before, seeing a tree bent into a 90-degree angle was just a curiosity. It held no other meaning for me. But for the Cherokee (and later on, allegedly, for Jesse James, Civil War deserters, and bootleggers), trail trees held great meaning. They pointed the way to water and shelter. They were markers that those in the know could understand and follow.

    The LSAT has its own "trail trees" too. If you come across a Logical Reasoning stimulus that starts off with something like "Some researchers claim...," or "Some critics argue...," that is a marker pointing you to the stimulus author's conclusion, which almost invariably will tell you that the researchers or the critics are wrong. If you see a conclusion in a Justify the Conclusion question that has a brand new term in it, something that was never discussed in the argument's premises, then that new information is a marker pointing you to the correct answer choice, which will definitely include that new information together with information from the premises that prove the conclusion is valid.

    There are many examples of these LSAT "trail trees" that LSAC has shaped with the consistent application of effort throughout the modern history of the test. By using these same techniques consistently for more than twnty years now, LSAC has developed a logical and analytical navigation system that you can use to find your way quickly and efficiently to the safety of the correct answer choice. Those in the know see the markers for what they are, while those who haven't spent the time learning how to recognize the markers see only curiosities, if they notice the markers at all.

    So, take the time to learn how LSAC has marked the test with "trail trees." When you take a test, focus your attention on recognizing those trees when then occur, rather than just racing through the forest of the stimulus blind to what's around you. You'll be amazed by how less lost you'll feel when you learn to read LSAC's map.


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