Reply To: Where to start?..Again.

December 10, 2015 at 5:45 pm #1028
Mike Kim

I think highly driven students can have a tough time pausing to appreciate what they’ve already accomplished — this may not apply to you — maybe you are at the extreme opposite end and totally full of yourself (I doubt it) — but you certainly need to pat yourself on the back once in a while —

Okay, so with all that said, let’s get to the fun stuff —

I am going to apologize in advance for the length of this — it’s a topic I think about all the time and don’t get to discuss too often, so I may get a bit out of hand —

Some background —

You may know I helped create Manhattan LSAT, and as one part of this I interviewed a lot of prospective instructors. At that time (not sure if it’s still true now) Manhattan Prep offered the best training, treatment, and pay in the test prep industry, and so there was great demand for these teaching jobs, and it put me in a unique position to meet with and study a large group of top teachers and scorers —

Here are some of my thoughts about them that you might find interesting —

1) At the 99% and beyond score level there are so few problems that separate out different scores that someone who is normally able to get a 173 can get a 177 on a good day and a 170 on a bad one without really performing differently —

2) There is an “elite” level of test taker who has pretty much totally mastered the exam and can consistently score a 180 (or close to it) whenever they are in “test-taking shape” (even for these individuals, most need to be in a regular practicing/testing rhythm to perform at their best).

I think this is the level that you are interested in and asking about.

3) People at this score level tend to have a varied and full set of understanding and abilities —

I’ve seen certain people rise to the 99% with, for example, solid reading skills + exceptional reasoning skills + exceptional mental discipline (or whatever other rubric you feel like using), but the people at the level you are asking about tend to be exceptionally strong at all the facets of the exam —

Such top scorers tend to have both exceptional reading and reasoning skills, and, at the higher score levels, it is my opinion that reading aptitude is a greater differentiating factor than reasoning aptitude.

4) People at this score level tend to be very comfortable at combining the various elements of their skillset.

This is much harder than it may at first appear, and it really lies at the heart of what makes standardized tests feel so elusive and frustrating — the quintessential standardize test problem is the mathematical word problem. We can all do math and we can all read but bring the two together and for a lot of us the challenge becomes exponentially more difficult.

People at this score level are individuals who are very comfortable bringing together the skills required by the LSAT (though, please bear in mind that this does not mean these people necessarily do this on a conscious level — many top scorers, especially “naturals,” are very, very poor judges of what makes them good at the test — a big reason why many top scorers don’t necessarily make for good teachers) — again, on the broadest level, this means there is a smooth working together of their reading abilities and reasoning abilities.

5) People at this score level tend to have both effective habits + a great deal of flexibility

So, for example, they will very consistently, every single time, work hard to get to an exact understanding of an argument conclusion (though again, they may not do this on a conscious level), but also be very comfortable, when problems doesn’t go as planned (and this is often what defines the design of more difficult q’s), reaching for a variety of alternative tools as necessary (and at the right times).

6) they have ability to control their focus

Again, this doesn’t necessarily have to do with conscious effort in the moment — it’s not like they are trying to focus harder — it’s that they tend to be better at focusing on the right things, and retaining focus (while also being open to new stimuli) is easier.

7) they have confidence

For anecdotal evidence of this, take a quick scan of the types of individuals who teach this exam — I don’t think I’m going out on much of a limb when I say that we tend to be, on average, a confident (arrogant) group.

8) they have efficiency

People at this score level tend to be fast enough so that, for the most part, they have to worry about time far less than others do — this allows them to slow down and approach the hardest questions carefully.

Please note that, as I stress a ton in the trainer, their speed doesn’t tend to come from “thinking faster” but rather having the right focus so that what they are thinking about is far more likely to be relevant for arriving at the right answer — the biggest defining factor (time-wise) of top scorers is that they know not to waste time on the unimportant.

So, those are some thoughts that come to mind — I hope that the list perhaps helps get your juices flowing in terms of thinking about what you need / what you can do to get to that final level —

Here are some suggestions that I have for you — please keep in mind that these are very general, and you know yourself best — especially at your score level, it’s clear that you understand how to get a lot out of yourself in respect to this exam, and if any of what I mention doesn’t mesh with your way of thinking, by all means please feel free to ignore me —

1) Do what you can to “own” your understanding of the test — what I mean by that is that you want to get to a point where your view of the exam, while certainly influenced and (hopefully) helped by what you study, is entirely your own, and, for you at least, provides a comprehensive explanation / comprehensive strategies that you can completely rely on — in order to be one of the best you have to be able to trust your own brain —

So, one thing I suggest is that before you get deep into the Trainer, you write out for yourself (preferably without looking over your other study materials) a summary of what you know — what you know about the test as a whole, different problems, effective strategies, and so on —

Then, as you are going through my book, reflect carefully on how it matches up with/contrasts with the understanding you came in with, and make adjustments as you see fit (change your understanding/ignore me :)) —

Another suggestion is to limit yourself as much as possible from reaching for answer keys or other people’s solutions — imagine getting to a point where you don’t need an answer key to tell you whether you’ve gotten a question right or wrong, and you don’t need some another person’s explanation to understand what you could have or should have done better — I believe you can get closer to those ideals and do so faster the less you allow yourself to look up the right answer or look up a solution or explanation. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t value others’ advice — it just means you want to use study methods that allow you to develop trust in yourself.

2) Do what you can to create the right organization/hierarchy for your understanding and methods — this is something I find to be hugely important and something I constantly obsess over — to illustrate with a practical example —

A lot of prep companies teach / a lot of students learn Logic Games in what I would describe as a “linear” fashion — that is, one game type at a time — to most students, this seems totally fine “in the moment” because you are building up your list of game types that you are good at, but in terms of building the “proper scaffolding” in your mind, in my opinion it’s a very inefficient and ineffective study strategy (I also feel it causes a whole mess of other unnecessary problems, such as the challenge students have of needing to adapt when games don’t fit into the categories that they were taught, or when diagramming strategies conflict with one another) —

To get true mastery of games, you need to develop second level thinking about them — the ability to “look down from far above” and see how each type of game and game challenge fits into the bigger scheme of things —

So, as you learn more and try more problems, I encourage you to constantly study and consider how they all relate to one another — the more you can see games as variations on a few different themes, the more you can see correctly see commonalities among the different RC passages, the more, essentially, that you can see every LSAT as being roughly the same as every other LSAT, the wiser you will be about it —

3) Use your understanding and strategies, and, more importantly, your skills and your habits, as your gauge of preparedness — I talk a lot about this in the trainer, but basically, that summary sheet I suggested in #1 — think of that as also being your “to-do” list — if you feel strong about your understanding and strategies for each of those issues/challenges listed, and if you are happy with your skill set and the habits you’ve developed for applying them correctly, then you are ready to perform at your best — on the flip side, the areas where you can’t answer yes to those rhetorical questions are the areas where you need to focus most.

No amount of practice exams or hours spent studying are going to give you that feeling of being ready that you desire — because those are, at best, indirect measurements — the only thing that can give you the peace of mind that you can get that type of score is a feeling of total understanding and confidence that you have the right methods and habits for dealing with any and all challenges — so use your study time to flesh out and investigate any and all such challenges you can find, and work to make sure you feel confident in your ability to handle all of them —

4) Seek out and strengthen areas you haven’t yet adequately addressed — I think this is one area that the Trainer may be especially useful for — use it to check to see whether you’ve given yourself a chance to think about the test in a varied ways and to develop a full complement of skills — during your practice, instead of worrying a ton about scores, try things to strengthen your weaker areas — for example, if you generally solve LR by just seeking out the right answer and not relying much on elimination process, see how well you can do on an entire section just using elimination skills and not thinking at all about confirming the right choice — if you are great at games you set up well but struggle when you can’t set up well, practice playing games for a while with more minimal setups to develop your in-question skills — perhaps most importantly, I suggest, if you haven’t done so, that you think of the test primarily as a reading exam, and see how putting a primary focus on reading correctly (as opposed to reasoning correctly) impacts your performance/strengthens your overall skillset — as I mentioned, in my opinion, at your score level, the reading concerns are the more important issues —

Of course you don’t have to use the rubrics I mentioned — you can think about the test in whatever way is most comfortable to you, but the point is that you want to work to develop a full complement of skills.

5) Finally, some more practical advice (sorry you had to wait so long to get some :)) — not sure how you’ve studied up to this point, but it sounds like what might be a good idea for you is to, after you do the self-diagnostic/summary discussed above — go through the 8 week trainer sched, as you said, but, as you said, feel free to have a ton of flexibility in terms of speeding up or slowing down as you see fit — keep in mind the schedule already accounts for adding drilling and pt work to your book work, so you don’t have to worry about getting the entire schedule done in a month — instead, you can use it as a base for your entire study period, and just add stuff on top of it (extra drilling than is assigned, for example), when you feel it’d be good for you —

Lastly, here’s a story of someone who was in a position similar to yours that you might find motivating —

Whew! So sorry for the length, but I hope you found at least some of that helpful — if you have any follow up just let me know, and I promise I won’t be so wordy the next time around —