First things first, a little about myself. I graduated from college in 2013 and have a fantastic support system around me. I’m from Houston Texas, the greatest city in the world (go Astros). My undergrad GPA leaves a lot to be desired, so if I want to get into a solid law school, I have to crush my LSAT. I’m not trying to get into an Ivy League school or even a top 25 school. Realistically, a school in the top 50 range is ideal for me.
I’ve been talking with Dave Killoran on Twitter since January of 2017, asking him random questions about the LSAT. I’ve bounced ideas off of him about my prep and the patterns I saw on PTs and I’ve gotten feedback from him. I took PowerScore’s in-person prep course in December 2016, and I loved it. The professor I had was amazing. I plan on taking the September LSAT in 2017, so I am still on my grind just like everyone else. Through our months of conversations I’ve given some constructive criticism of PowerScore, pointed out what I loved about the class, and what I thought they could do to improve. He felt that what I was sharing was valuable enough to be blogged about. So here I am.
What I’ve Learned
Many of the things I’ve learned took me 2 months to fully grasp. Many sleepless nights, many days forgetting to eat, hours reading blogs and doing research, many missed questions and overlooked assumptions. Let my pain and agony be the shining light in your path. I absolutely believe that this test is learnable. You can master it. Everyone has a different situation. You may be working, in school, or have kids. Some of you are dealing with all three! Even with obstacles that exist in everyday life, I absolutely believe there’s a path for everyone to master this test. You just have to approach this right and be efficient with your time.
When I first walked into the PowerScore class, I knew nothing about the LSAT. Seriously, at the time I couldn’t even tell you what the LSAT stood for and I certainly didn’t know what it tested. For all I knew, the test was just different variations of tick tack toe and crossword puzzles. I got a 147 on the diagnostic exam but, I didn’t put too much stock in that score. It just meant that I could only go up. As of June 2017, my high score is a 166. My last 9 practice tests are hovering in the 161-166 range. My target score is a 170 and I still have about 3 months to fully prepare for the September LSAT. You may not need that high of a score, though! So, do your research and see what your chances are with your GPA and potential LSAT score.
I always love looking for shortcuts. I have my entire life. I’m no stranger to hard work, but I’d always try to find the easiest route to do any- and everything. Why get up to turn off the light when I can throw a shoe at the light switch? Why read the whole book when Spark Notes has all I need? I don’t like taking the long route with anything unless I know for certain there aren’t any loopholes or shortcuts to exploit.
Let me save you some time and trouble in regard to this LSAT prep. There are no shortcuts or loopholes when it comes to the LSAT. I’ve checked high and low, near and far. As you progress, you’ll see there are definitely ways to find the right answer and eliminate the wrong ones more easily. Getting there, however, is a journey you have to embark on.
Be an Open-Minded Sponge
For me, my journey started with walking into the prep course with the assumption that I knew nothing. I went with the mindset that I was there to learn and absorb as much as I could. I was there because I wanted to be there. My ego was left at the door and went in with the goal of maxing out my time and money. I was a sponge, soaking up everything.
It’s risky to prep for the test with a fixed date on when you want to go to law school and/or take the LSAT. The test doesn’t care about your life plans. It will expose your weaknesses if you aren’t prepared. Be open about when you will take the test! This leaves room for the proper chance to master the material and get your target score. I’ll break studying down into two different stages of prep. The first stage is what to do while learning the foundations and core curriculum. Everything going forward is what to do while still learning the material. I’ll make it obvious when to go into phase two. The second stage is what to do after you finish the curriculum.
Get your mind and body in the position to learn. This is a factor most people overlook when prepping for the LSAT. Here’s what you can do to prepare yourself for prep.
- Eat healthier and drink more water. Junk food makes you lethargic and excess sugar gives you an insulin spike that makes you crash and isn’t conducive to learning. Focus on foods that are beneficial to your energy.
- Exercise! This test is a marathon, forcing you to focus for an excessive amount of time. Even a 20-minute jog or bike ride every day helps. Do yoga, lift weights, anything! Many studies show that exercise improves cognitive function and focus. I lift weights and it helps with my mental endurance. I can’t begin to tell you how much easier it is to sit in a chair and take a 4-plus hour test after I became more active.
- Stay positive. Dave, in his videos and books, harp on this over and over. You will get answers wrong that you swore you got right. You’ll see answer choices that you’d bet your right arm are wrong and will turn out to be right. It’ll make you want to throw a brick through LSAC’s window, but you have to stay positive. Don’t let that frustration get to you. Pick yourself right back up after getting knocked down. Use the questions you get wrong and caring that you did as fuel to never get the question (or another like it) wrong again.
- Stay sober. Minimize your alcohol intake or stay away from alcohol entirely. This especially important in the final 2 months of your prep.
- Be consistent! With everything! A soldier doesn’t go into battle with weapons he’s not comfortable with. It takes a plethora of things to go right on test day for the test to go well, but only one thing to go wrong for a catastrophe.
- Understand that the test-makers are brilliant. Brilliant isn’t even the word. Sometimes I will see a question that just feeds on our everyday assumptions. They make you a pawn to their schemes. Understanding this allows you to give these test-makers the respect they deserve and approach the questions accordingly.
- The LSAT matters more than your GPA. It took four years or more to get a 2 digit number on your transcript and it matters less than the 3 digit number you get from one test. If this one test matters more than something you took 4 years to earn, don’t you think you should approach it with the magnitude the test really has?
Taking a Course
Here are some of the things I did when I was taking the PowerScore course to help me get the most out of it. Pay attention, ask questions, and take notes in class. After each class, re-read the chapter and do all the homework. Don’t worry, I have advice for tackling homework in a bit. Watch the virtual modules on the website for each lesson. These modules are long, but I was willing to not leave a single stone unturned. Ignoring the modules meant I could be missing valuable information. Eliminate the what-ifs! If you have resources, use them. Also, I know it’s tempting, but don’t read ahead before attending your next lesson.
How to Approach Homework
When doing the homework and answering questions, you’ll come across questions you don’t get. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is running to the answer and explanation too soon. Give yourself a chance to get the answer right and figure it out. There will be times where you just don’t see the answer and you have to look to the answer sheet, but don’t give in so quickly.
If you truly cannot see the right answer, write down an explanation for why the 4 wrong answers you think are wrong are wrong. Then, write an explanation of why you think the last answer is correct. If the stimulus is an argument, break down that argument. The premise is this, the conclusion is that, context is this, question stem is that, etc. After all of that, then go look at the answer and explanations. This is where true learning happens. You can see if your reasoning is correct for the right and wrong answers. This method is T E D I O U S. But again, there are no shortcuts.
When it comes to the LSAT, there are two ways to get an answer right. Either eliminate the 4 wrong answers or simply pick the right answer. If you get an answer wrong, look at it as though you got the answer wrong twice. Not only did you pick the wrong answer, you were wrong in eliminating the 4 wrong answers. Analyzing wrong answer choices is crucial. One reason is that that answer could absolutely be the correct answer for different questions.
In the Mindset
Pace yourselves and figure out what works for you. I only study when I’m in a condition to study. If I have a headache or my mind is wandering, I don’t study. Take a nap, grab some food, chill out, walk your dog, then get back at it once you recharge your batteries. I enjoy this journey because it has more than solidified my desire to go to law school. It never actually feels like work. I enjoy arguments and logic, I enjoy putting myself in a position to crack this LSAT code. It’s also good knowing that once I take the test I won’t have to take it ever again… assuming I get the score I want.
This paragraph probably could have been put at the top of the page in bold and all caps. I have no statistical evidence to back this up, this is from what I’ve gathered from my class, my studies, my conversations with Dave, and my own research. But I am fairly confident in what I’m about to say.
If you score below a 150 on your diagnostic test and your goal is a 165 or higher on the LSAT, it’s highly unlikely that you can achieve a 165 or more with only 3 months of prep.
I only use the term “highly unlikely” because there are exceptions. Unfortunately, if you’re reading this, you are not the exception. Sorry to break it to you. I’m sure your family loves you dearly and lets you know the world revolves around you, but the LSAT certainly does not. I don’t care if you have 0 obligations outside of prep. I don’t care if all your bills are paid by a genie and your only job is studying. You will NOT get that 165 or higher in only 3 months. This test is made by brilliant people and they are conditioned to expose the ill-prepared.
One hard hurdle to overcome with this prep is understanding the effort it takes to make *incremental* improvements. Everyone just wants results in all facets of life. It’s frustrating to put in hours and hours and weeks on weeks of work just to see a 2 point increase, but that’s just what this prep is. But remember this, it’s not one big swing of the ax that brings the tree down, it’s the constant swing after swing that finally brings the tree down. No single swing looks like it’s doing all that much to affect the tree, but each is doing the damage necessary to cause it to fall.
In the next part of this series, I take you through the method I use after finishing the foundational curriculum. Don’t miss it! I break down the true skills that the LSAT values on each section and how to put yourself in a position to master those skills.