Articles published in November 2011

Food for Thought This Thanksgiving

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Just a little food for thought over this long holiday weekend:

The Commander in Chief does not have the authority to pardon poor LSAT score (we checked!)

So much has been written in the mainstream media this year about the decision to go to law school: is it a waste of time and money given the current state of the economy?  As I theorized recently, it seems that each time the economy goes in to the tank, the number of law school aspirants rises. I’m assuming the reasoning is something like this: why NOT avoid the increasingly difficult job market by spending time furthering one’s credentials?

While I could certainly poke holes in that logic all day, I thought this recent article that I came across on the jobs section of the AOL (yes, AOL still exists) website made an interesting case for why it is not a smart decision to go straight to law school from undergrad.

Here’s hoping that everyone enjoys their turkey, football, and time spent with family and friends – and may logic creep stay clear of your Thanksgiving table!

Number of LSAT Takers in Decline

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New statistics released by LSAC show that the number of LSAT-takers has declined over the past few years.

According to the statistics recently posted on LSAC’s website, there was a 16.9% decrease in LSAT ‘administrations’ (LSAC’s term for tests given) in October 2011 compared to October 2010. The number of October 2010 LSAT administrations was also down 10.5% from the previous year (when a record number of students–60,746– took the exam). October administrations aside, the data shows that overall, there have been fewer LSATs administered over the last two years:

Law School Aspirations, in Line Graph Form

Notice that there are two major “spikes” in LSAT administrations over the years.  Did law school suddenly become the “in” thing to do? Did LSAC and the ABA run some sort of blockbuster ad campaign for law school in 2002 and 2009?  Not quite. In 2002, right after the ‘dotcom bubble’ burst, LSAT administrations were up a whopping 23.5%!  In 2009, shortly after our economy plunged into a recession (that we’re still trying to climb out of), LSAT administrations increased by 19.8%. Correlation certainly does not mean causation, but hey – this isn’t an LSAT question – and I’m proud of my theory!

One explanation for these increases could be that during times of economic uncertainty, people are more attracted to careers that are seen to be secure routes to a comfortable income. Historically, a career in law has been held in this regard (although the New York Times would disagree). Perhaps this mini-dip in administrations means the recession is finally over!?

What does this news mean for you, the prospective law school student?  Well, you’re probably encouraged by these trends, as this likely means that there are fewer students applying for those coveted 1L spots in our nation’s law schools–here’s hoping!

What do you think?  Is the spike in LSAT-takers during times of economic hardship strictly coincidence? Are you feeling better about your chances based on this data?  Or do you think competition for the top law schools will be as stiff as it’s ever been?

 

What do YOU think of the Socratic method??

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There was a very interesting news story on the web this week about a professor from Utah who has been denied tenure (and is now bringing a suit against his former University) due to negative evaluations submitted by his students. In the negative evaluations, students cited discontent with the professor “calling on them when they did not raise their hands” and “forcing them to work in groups”. The audacity! Don’t these profs know that being called on involuntarily could cause one to lose a hand on pokerstars.com?!

Beware: this is what could happen to your brain if you sit in a non-interactive, lecture style LSAT class!

The method of teaching used by this professor, most commonly referred to as the Socratic method, is designed to engage students in discussion in order to put the focus on a dialogue that uses argument and debate as the main process for coming to meaningful, logical understanding. If the words ‘arguments’ and ‘logical’ are setting your LSAT senses aflutter, this is for good reason: the Socratic method  is incredibly useful in fostering the skills necessary achieve top scores on the LSAT.

If you’ve taken even a cursory gander at our website, you’ll likely have noticed that we tout our classes as “Interactive” and requiring “Hard Work”. If you read further than that, you’ll have seen us explicitly mention our use of the Socratic teaching method to best sharpen and build skills relevant to LSAT success. Read more

The Complete LSAT Retake Manifesto

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LSAT Cat

Was this your reaction when you saw your LSAT score? Yes? Keep reading.

Every time LSAT scores are released, there are thousands of test-takers who are less than satisfied with their results. Luckily, you are allowed to take the LSAT again — you may actually take the exam up to three times in any two year period. Unluckily for those with unsatisfactory scores, the decision as to whether it is worth it (or even a good idea) to retake is hardly a straightforward one. Enter the Manhattan LSAT Retake Manifesto.

In the coming paragraphs, we hope to address all of the concerns that a potential LSAT retaker may have – in fact, should have – before deciding what their next course of action is.

Initial Considerations

Let’s start with a dose of reality. Most people see very little improvement in their LSAT score after retaking (an average of roughly two points for folks who scored between 150 and 167 the first time), and some actually see a decrease in their score. Take a look at the below chart for some analysis of the success of 2010-2011 ‘retakers’ with various initial scores:

LSAT Retake Chart

*Data courtesy of LSAC.org’s 2010-2011 “repeater” statistics (pdf).

The most important take away from this data is the marginal nature of the score increases that repeat LSAT takers tend to achieve. This is simply an average, though, so by no means am I saying that substantial score increases are impossible to achieve when retaking the LSAT. There may have been very legitimate circumstances that applied to your first attempt at the LSAT that prevented you from realizing your full potential.

When considering a retake, it is important to make an honest assessment of your efforts the first time around. Here are the important questions you must ask yourself in order to avoid becoming the next sad repeater statistic:

Did I study like hell the first time I took the exam?

There are a large number of test takers who underestimate the beast that is the LSAT. The LSAT is a very difficult exam, and in taking it you should assume you are competing with the upper quartile of college students nationwide. If you approached your LSAT prep with the same fervor as your SAT prep, you’re in trouble. That would be the equivalent of jogging two miles a day to train for a marathon. Simply put, you should ask yourself whether you underestimated this test. If your answer is yes, you are a prime candidate for a retake. If your answer is no, you did not underestimate the LSAT and really did study like hell the first time, read on.

Did I have a “bad day” when I took the exam?

When we say “bad day” here, we’re referring to everything from the completely and totally disastrous, to the mildly distracting. First, the completely disastrous: if Murphy’s Law inconveniently applied itself to your test day experience, you should have a good sense of this and how it negatively affected your score. Were you late for your exam? Did you get very sick that weekend? Did a motorcycle gang decide to ride up and down the street your test center was located on during the Logic Games section? Was there a guy nervously tapping his foot on your chair throughout the test? Did the proctor flirt with you during the break and totally mess with your concentration? Were you abducted by Aliens during the break? If your answer is yes, hopefully you had the foresight to “cancel” (most extra terrestrials should have had internet access you could use), and are rightly plotting your course toward the next exam date.

Unlike the completely disastrous scenarios, slight distractions are more likely to rear their ugly heads again in future test implementations. If you found yourself slightly distracted on test day, you need to decide whether or not you believe you can overcome similar scenarios in the future. Was it really your neighbor tapping his or her pencil on their desk that destroyed your focus, or are you predisposed to test anxiety? Identifying whether truly external and unpredictable factors negatively affected your test experience is a crucial component to your retake decision. It can be unnerving to take such a high stakes test in a tense room full of prospective lawyers, but unfortunately that is part of the game day experience.

I prepped really hard, but did I prep long enough?

The LSAT is one of the harder or the hardest standardized exam that many people ever face. The skills it assesses are not only learned in 3 months of prep—they’re gained through a decade of rigorous high school and college courses. That’s not to say that someone who spent college staring at the bottom of a beer mug can’t do well on the LSAT, but it does mean that it may take some people longer than the usual 3-4 months to get to their best score. Tips and tricks can get you only a few points, really hitting your top means cleaning up and speeding up your thinking—and that’s not done in a weekend workshop!

I prepped really hard, but did I prep smart?

If you’ve read this far, I’m going to assume that you put in an earnest effort in prepping for your first LSAT, things went more or less OK for you on test day (no abductions, no illnesses), and you’re simply wondering if there’s hope of a score increase for you the next time around. The question to ask yourself now is: was that effort I put in to studying for the LSAT my first time around the best use of my time? In other words (and more to the point) did my LSAT prep suck?

Let’s face it, there are many, many options out there for preparing for the LSAT. It could be that you signed up for the first course that caught your eye (or perhaps the cheapest available option), and it simply did not work for you. A sub par instructor on an exam like the LSAT can make all the difference. At Manhattan LSAT, we firmly believe that the second most important factor in one’s LSAT prep, after their own hard work, is the quality of the instruction and the materials that they use to study. Finding a better prep program (or a more effective way to study) can occasionally be the missing piece of the puzzle.

If you studied on your own, perhaps you lacked the structure necessary to really maximize your study time.  We have seen countless examples of structure alone being a “make or break” factor in one’s LSAT prep. Working through the quality material in the order that a 99th percentile professional LSAT tutor/curriculum developer has put together can make a significant impact on the result of that work put in. For some people, maybe you just need to take a class (or a different class, if you took one that didn’t work for you) to sharpen up on the skills necessary to dominate the exam.

Whatever your situation may be, do not think that you can continue to study for your next LSAT the same way that you studied for your initial test and receive greater results – provided you did put indeed put in the effort that first time. Doing so is the definition of insanity!

The Next Things to Consider

Admissions Policies of Your Target Law School

So you’ve taken the LSAT, did not cancel, and are not 100% satisfied with your score. You have reflected on what happened on test day, as well as on your LSAT prep. You’re convinced you have a higher score in you. Does that mean you should register today for the next exam administration? Not quite. You need to think about the schools that you’re trying to get in to, and what their policies on multiple LSAT scores are.

Earlier this year we did some research on what top law schools admission policies pertaining to multiple LSAT scores are. Four of the top ten (from US News and World Report’s 2010 rankings) said they would consider only the highest LSAT score on an applicant’s score report. Two schools said they would take an average, and four considered their review of applications to be a “holistic” approach (whatever that means – it’s a safe assumption is that they would consider more than just your top score).

Knowing the policies of the schools you are applying to is a crucial consideration in your retake decision. If your top two schools are only considering your highest LSAT score, you might be more inclined to have another go at the exam. If you’re looking at schools that consider an average, you’ll want to seriously evaluate whether or not external factors ruined your first test – or whether there are tangible fixes that you can make to your prep this time around, as coming in with a lower score could damage your chances of admission.

Your Timeline

If you are applying for admission to law school for the fall of a given year, you will need to have taken the LSAT satisfactorily by December of the prior calendar year at the latest. The February LSAT is too late to use on an application to law school if you intend to start later that same year.

Do you have enough time to take the LSAT again? A thorough LSAT prep takes 3-5 months. If you are realizing in the middle of October that you did not optimize your LSAT prep the first time around (or perhaps completely underestimated it), will the six weeks remaining until the December test give you enough time to really dive in?

All things considered, what should I do?!

You’ve done a frank assessment of what went wrong for you during your unsatisfactory LSAT(s). You’ve evaluated your prior LSAT prep, the policies of the schools you will be applying to, and your admissions timeline, but you’re still not sure what to do. Here is our over simplified recommendation:

Retake if…

If tangible, identifiable factors contributed to your unsatisfactory initial score(s), you are in a solid position for a retake, provided that there is still time. Valid examples of these factors are:

  • Freak happenings on test day (ie. late to the exam, sickness, proctor from hell)
  • Lack of preparation
  • Poor preparation

Do not retake if…

  • You don’t have time to work hard on your prep.
  • You re-study but are still doing about as well as you did on timed PTs before the first LSAT you took
  • You have no idea what went wrong leading up to/during your unsatisfactory exam

As we saw in the re-take score table above, most students score only marginally better when retaking the LSAT. As hard as it may be to come to grips with, there does come a point in time when one needs to leave well enough alone, and move on to the next phase of getting in to law school (applications) – or reevaluate one’s plans completely.

Often we see students frustrated by stagnant scores after months and months of quality LSAT prep. The leading cause of this is typically fundamental issues with their reading and/or language skills. There is no doubt that the LSAT rewards people who can read dense material quickly. Conversely, the test can be brutal for very bright students who are not strong readers and/or are not native English speakers. For these students, the root of their problems may not be something that can be addressed in a few months time.

Here’s a little flowchart we put together once upon a time to illustrate some of the points we’ve made. This should be taken with a grain of salt, but not too much.

LSAT Retake Flowchart

I hope you found this exercise helpful. As always, if you have any questions, shoot them over to us at [email protected]/lsat/. Happy studying!

LSAT Retake Manifesto, Part 2

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This is Part 2 our our LSAT Retake Manifesto. You can read part 1 HERE.

When considering a retake, it is important to make an honest assessment of your efforts the first time around. Here are the important questions you must ask yourself in order to avoid becoming the next sad repeater statistic:

Did I study like hell the first time I took the exam?

There are a large number of test takers who underestimate the beast that is the LSAT. The LSAT is a very difficult exam, and in taking it you should assume you are competing with the upper quartile of college students nationwide. If you approached your LSAT prep with the same fervor as your SAT prep, you’re in trouble. That would be the equivalent of jogging a two miles a day to train for a marathon. Simply put, you should ask yourself whether you underestimated this test. If your answer is yes, you are a prime candidate for a retake. If your answer is no, read on. Read more