No application is perfect, but you can take steps to mitigate negatives and emphasize positives. During the first half of this webinar, Admit Advantage’s Director of Law Admissions will review how to deal with real-life negatives on your law school application.
Are you also getting ready to sit for the February 2015 LSAT? Veteran Manhattan LSAT instructor and curriculum developer, Matt Sherman, will focus on what kind of prep to do in the last weeks leading up to the test. One of the key points here is to be prepared to adapt to little twists that you didn’t expect. Matt will teach you a hard LSAT game where that’s important. Detailed Q&A to follow.
Breaking Down Law School Part II: Addressing the Negatives in Your Application & Strategy for the February LSAT
Monday, January 12 (7:30 – 9:30 PM EST), Meets ONLINE
By now if you’ve been studying for a while, either on your own, in a course or with a tutor, you’ve encountered the ubiquitous “quantity terms” scattered throughout the test: some, most, majority, etc. You may have been surprised to learn that “many” does not mean “most” and that “some” can include “all.” (You may even have slammed down your pencil at this discovery.)
The quirkiness of LSAT quantity terms can be frustrating when you first encounter it, but it isn’t as counterintuitive or labyrinthine as it initially appears to many (but not most). The key question to keep in mind at all times when it comes to a quantity term is: what’s its maximum, and what’s its minimum?
Here’s a useful guide. Once you commit this to memory, you should be in good shape to take down the LSAT on its own quantity terms (har har):
|Some/sometimes||more than one||all|
|Many/often/frequently||more than one||all|
|Most/usually/typically/ordinarily||more than half (more than 50%)||all|
|Majority||more than half (more than 50%)||all|
|Vast majority||more than half (more than 50%)||all|
|More often than not||more than 50% of the time||up to 100% of the time|
|Likely||more than 50% chance||up to 100% chance|
|Unlikely||zero/nothing||less than 50% chance|
|Not unlikely||50% chance or higher will occur||up to 100% chance|
|Less than likely||zero/nothing||up to 50% (not more, but could just be at 50%)|
1. Thinking that if you underline it, you’ll remember it. Annotating passages works very well for many people, and I usually encourage it, or at least that people try it. But I like to suggest alternative annotation methods to underlining for two reasons: (1) underlines (particularly in pencil) are harder than circles and squares and scribbles to spot later on, when you need to return to the passage to re-read a portion of it, and (2) underliners have the liberty of being less choosy about what they underline. If you are a circler, you have to choose which words to circle. If you are an underliner, you could–and many people do–underline a whole paragraph if you wanted. Since the purposes of annotating are (1) to help you understand the passage better as you read it, and (2) to make yourself a “map” to use later when you have to return to it, don’t fall for the trap of believing that if you underline, you’re safe. You probably aren’t optimizing your annotation practice.
2. Believing that if you don’t look at the time, it’s not passing. How many times have you thought, “If I just had thirteen minutes on this passage, I could get them all right!” Sometimes, we can become so determined to “get them all right” that we turn off our sense of time passing. It’s a form of stubbornness: I’m not moving on until I get this one, because I know I can! This attitude is an asset to a certain extent; it keeps you motivated to push forward on the hard ones, and it indicates a healthy confidence. But there’s a time to cut bait, and you won’t know it if you’re determined not to look at the clock. If it’s been two minutes and you’re not making progress (or maybe not even that long, depending on how the section is going for you), bid the doozie adieu and take a guess, wild or educated (or infuriated). There are more, faster points to be had.
3. Mistakenly focus on what you don’t know on hard passages. You’ve reached the third paragraph of “the hard” passage, and all you can think about is how little of it you’ve understood so far. You’re so focused on what you haven’t understood, you’re not at all thinking about what you have understood. In my experience, this is where many students become their own worst enemies in reading comp; they don’t realize that they actually understand more than they think, and that if they focus on what they do get, they’ll not only be more likely to answer some questions correctly, they’ll be less anxious, which will make their overall mental state stronger for the rest of the passage, the section, and the test overall. Sure, hard passages stink, and knowing all that you don’t know is terrifying. But there is some that you can get: what is the general subject matter, and what does the author think about it–is she pro, con, or neutral? Who disagrees? What are a few key terms, and are they defined? Ask yourself these questions, arm yourself with the basic answers, and move forward.
The LSAT is an exam uniquely suited to make studying difficult. Despite the fact that you’ve successfully made it (or almost made it) through college exams, many people find that they study and study but don’t improve their LSAT score. The simple reason behind that is the LSAT is designed to test how you think, not what you know or even how you apply what you know. Beware of failing into these very common, and very useless, studying strategies.
1. Taking every test you can find
I have to admit, when I first started studying for the LSAT, I started by buying a book with 10 LSATs in it and plowing through them all, one every other day or so. My score on the last test was virtually identical to my score on the first test. The reason this strategy fails so completely is that the LSAT is designed to monitor whether and to what extent you can think logically. Repeatedly measuring this is just like stepping on the scale every day and not understand why you’re not losing weight.
2. Cramming the night (or month) before
Logical thinking is not something that can be learned quickly. It requires significant analytical skills, both about the argument and about your own thought processes. Because it is a difficult and complex skill set, it’s not something that can be learned quickly. You can certainly pick up a few tricks and improve your score somewhat in a short time span, but to really excel, you need to invest a large chunk of time. Think of this process as similar to learning a physical skill. You can’t become a pro basketball star by practicing non-stop for the month before a game. The skills build gradually and with concentrated effort over time.
There are several benefits to creating a study group: accountability, companionship, people to bounce things off of when you’re not sure you understand them. But there is another benefit that isn’t as obvious, and education writer Annie Murphy Paul writes about it in this week’s edition of her newsletter The Brilliant Report. Teaching others material actually helps you learn it better:
“Students enlisted to tutor others work harder to understand the material, recall it more accurately and apply it more effectively. In a phenomenon that scientists have dubbed “the protégé effect,” student teachers score higher on tests than pupils who are learning only for their own sake … A pair of articles published in 2007 in the journals Science and Intelligence concluded that first-born children are more intelligent than their later-born brothers and sisters and suggested that their higher IQs result from the time they spend showing their younger siblings the ropes.”
Read the rest of the article if it interests you–she discusses some fascinating projects underway at several universities to harness this phenomenon. But when it comes to your LSAT preparation, this research presents a great opportunity to take your learning to the next level. Some ideas:
1. Find a partner or group to study with, and teach other the material. Don’t just wait for confusion to arise naturally (I mean, you can, but why when you don’t have to?); design sessions around having to teach each other hard questions.
2. Teach your little brother, or the kids you babysit. Can’t find a study partner? Really challenge yourself by taking on the task of convincing a child in your life that you’re going to play a fun game called “lessons in logic.” This may be too hard.
3. Teach a parent. If (2) doesn’t work out, teach a loved one who is old enough to drive. When I was auditioning to teach for Manhattan LSAT, I practiced on my mom and was impressed with how quickly she learned the material–and how preparing to teach her forced me to learn the question inside and out. (She also was impressed with herself. At the end of our lesson she said, “Maybe I should go to law school!”).
Now when your teacher put you into groups and asks you to teach each another, you won’t be surprised. More importantly, you’ll know why.
Here’s a beautiful fantasy: you walk into your first LSAT class, and you’re given a set of books full of LSAT secrets. Over the next six to twelve weeks, you memorize these little treasures, which are like decadent bite-size morsels, and you leave your last class knowing exactly what you need to regurgitate in order to score a 180. It was merely a matter of getting down all the tricks! You scribbled them in your notebook, took a snapshot with your brain, and that’s all there was to it.
When you take a Manhattan LSAT course, at some point your instructor will likely deliver the bad news that this fantasy is just that. There isn’t a magic pill to make you do well on this test–but there are certainly things you can do in order to perform better, and when you get to a certain level, it’s no longer about memorization.
If I memorized all the rules of good writing–be specific! have vivid characters! create conflict!–does that mean that if I just sit down and apply all of those rules, I’m going to write a great story? A story that’s in the top 1% of all stories?
No. If I actually apply everything I’ve learned, and if it’s good information, then I’ll probably write a pretty decent story–a better one than I’d written before. But in order to move from decent to outstanding, I’ve got to have something else: flexibility. I’ve got to be able to know where the rules stop and my own sense of the story’s logic takes over, because there is no perfect formula that applies to every tale ever written or to be written.
The same is true of the LSAT. If you work hard to learn rules and apply them, your score will likely go up. It may go up a lot. You may score a 165 or a 168. But people who score 175 are not just applying rules; they know how to think on their feet to interpret unfamiliar questions, and to come up with variations on the principles they understand well.
The beauty of the LSAT is that it’s a logic test, and logic can be learned. But logic is also not something you can fool your way through for four 35-minute sections. To score in the 99th percentile, you should absolutely study methods, general rules, and tips. These will get you far. But to reach those extra few points, you are going to have to work at making yourself better at logical thinking. And there’s no shortcut for that.
Do you struggle with assumption and flaw questions? Do you often choose answers that seem right, or relevant, but end up being wrong? This may help.
Consider the following argument:
Many respected entrepreneurs assert that insufficient capital, capital required to cover operating expenses in addition to initial start-up costs, is inevitably a factor in the failure of start-up businesses. However, all of the failed start-ups with which I’ve been involved have failed as a result of executives’ lack of expertise in the product or service that the company provides. Thus, insufficient capital is not a factor in causing start-up businesses to fail.
If this were followed by a question that asked you to choose an assumption, this would be a pretty tough question. The average test-taker attempts to memorize, or “learn” the entire argument, and then gets distracted by answer choices that seem relevant to some particular part of the argument that ends up not mattering so much. This leads to wrong answers. Read more
If you’re an LSAT forum poster/reader, you know that the good majority (almost all, in fact) of content-related LSAT posts focus on Logic Games and Logical Reasoning. This makes perfect sense. It’s easy to submit a post about a setup for a tough logic game, and it’s very easy to discuss the underlying logic present in one short LR question. LG and LR questions come in nice, neat packages. They are forum-friendly. Additionally, future LSAT test-takers seem to see and appreciate the immediate impact of a well-designed setup or a clever way to think about a piece of LR logic. The payoff is quick, and often immediate.
Reading comprehension, on the other hand, is messy. In order to have a serious, in-depth discussion about an RC passage, everyone in the conversation needs to be coming directly from a focused read of the passage. It doesn’t work to try to remember back to the passage, or to read a quick summary. For this reason, not many like to talk about it or ask about it. It’s inconvenient. Furthermore, there never seems to be a quick, easy payoff when it comes to RC. There’s not one inference that can be made to change confusion to understanding, there’s no quick gimmick that can be posted concisely to help someone become a better reader. There’s simply no quick fix, no immediate gratification. So why spend time on it? Most people don’t.
These are the people you are competing against. The better you do relative to them, the higher your LSAT score. Make their RC weakness your strength and you’ll put yourself in a position to gain upwards of 4 raw points on the field. Before you decide to make RC your LSAT version of a powerful forehand, you need to be in the right mindset. Read more
Top Five Tips for Studying for the LSAT
1. Practice As You Play. Don’t go into test day with only one or two practice tests under your belt. Make sure you do a minimum of five practice tests – and do those under actual timed conditions with only one short break between sections three and four. Since the LSAC (the company that writes and administers the LSAT) adds an extra, experimental section to everyone’s test, make sure to add in your own extra section to simulate the actual length of the exam.
2. Wrong Isn’t Everything. Most students only review the questions they answered incorrectly on their practice tests. Instead, as you take your practice test note the questions that give you trouble or take too long. Give those questions extra review along with the ones you get wrong. In short, if you’re not confident about your answer, consider it a “mistake,” and learn from it.
3. Work from Wrong to Right. For the logical reasoning and reading comprehension sections, note which answers you can easily eliminate, and leave unmarked those which are somewhat attractive to you. When you review your work, go back and figure out why each tempting wrong answer is wrong. There are only so many ways to create an attractive incorrect answer. Learn the different types of wrong answers and you’ll find it much easier to eliminate them going forward. Top test-takers generally focus on eliminating wrong answers since the correct answer may be far from ideal but be the last one standing.
4. Play it Again. One of the most under-utilized study techniques for logic games is to re-solve them a second and third time. When you face a tough game, review it soon afterwards to consider what you wished you had done. Figure out the diagram you wish you had made and what inferences did you overlook. Then let the game sit for a week and then try it again. This can dramatically improve your speed.
5. Give it a Break. The 3-day marathon before test day isn’t the best idea! Don’t take any full-length practice tests within the week preceding test day. Your brain is a muscle, and it needs to rest. The last few days should include only a couple hours of practice work, and the night before, watch Legally Blonde to get your mind off the big day.