December 15, 2015 at 9:19 am #1049
Mike Kim

Hey LTownsJr —

Appreciate you sharing your situation, and I hope that some of my advice helps you figure out how to get unstuck —

Before I get going, I recommend that you read the first chapter of the trainer, which is available for free here —

It offers general tips for how to prepare for the exam, and I think it can be a useful rubric against which you can evaluate what you’ve been doing so far —

Now only my message — sorry in advance for the length and typos — if I had more time it would be shorter and cleaner, but in any case, I can certain feel your pain and it seems clear to me that you are caught in a bad cycle –

To use an analogy, you are having trouble seeing target and you are having trouble hitting it —

If you could see it better you could get better at hitting it, and if you could hit it better you could get better at understanding where the target is — but you aren’t getting enough from either end to allow things to develop and move forward, and, hence, you are stuck.

Of course — that’s probably not how you experience the situation — it doesn’t feel like that — rather, it feels like there are a million things to master and as soon as you learn one thing another pops up, as soon as you address one weakness another appears, and so on — while this may make it seem like the LSAT is impossibly unpredictable or there are a 1,000,000 things to learn, the reality is that you haven’t developed the proper mental structure necessary to see how everything relates and grow.

What I recommend for you is that you stop everything you are doing and just focus, for however long it takes, on growing and strengthening your understanding of the exam. Only when you feel comfortable enough with your understanding move on to focusing on getting better and better at problems — the simple idea is that you are first going to work on seeing the target more clearly, and, once you do that first, it’ll be far easier for you to work on getting better and better at hitting it —

Suggestions for developing your understanding —

1) Whether you use the trainer or not, focus on figuring out what is most important, and focus on understanding things as correctly as you possibly can. Duh. But what I mean is to prioritize those two things and NOT worry too much about trying to learn everything there is to learn / use every product there is to use / try every problem there is to try, etc. — you’ve given yourself enough variety — that’s not the issue — focus only on quality — the best way to solve a problem, the cleanest and most correct ways to understand concepts, and so on —

2) recognize that getting good at the LSAT is less about gaining external knowledge and far more about fine tuning how you utilize skills you already have and things you already know.

I’m not trying to sound like Yoda and if you were studying for a different sort of exam (say, a calculus test) my advice would be very different —

But the beauty of the LSAT is that it poses incredibly difficult challenges, but does so based on incredibly simple and fundamental rules that govern how we think and how we communicate.

3) evaluate your mastery using 1 exam worth of q’s –

As the gauge for your understanding, I recommend that you try to completely master one exam worth of q’s.

Try to understand every single question inside and out so that you understand exactly why the right answer is what it is, exactly what makes each wrong answer incorrect (and what the wrong answers tell you about the bad habits you want to avoid), what strategies would help you focus on the right issues, all of that — try to master these 100 q’s to the point that should you see any of them again, you have zero worry you could possibly miss it.

I want to make this just a bit more visceral by making you do a little bit of math (sorry) — please go ahead and try these two problems —

1. The product of 8 and 4 is…

(A) 2
(B) 12
(C) 24
(D) 32

2. Janice drives 120 miles away to a vacation spot and drives back the same distance. She drives 60 mph on the way there, and 40 mph on the way back. What was her average speed?

(A) 48 mph
(B) 50 mph
(C) 100 mph

The correct answer for #1 is (D).

If you were to review it, you would know that the fundamental issue behind it is multiplication, that you needed to understand what “product” meant in order to see that, and you needed to, more specifically, understand that multiplying 8 and 4 = 32. When you study the q more deeply, you can see, especially in the wrong answers, the bad habits the test is designed to punish — you would select (A) if you mistakenly divide, (B) if you mistakenly add, and (C) if you mistakenly take just three 8’s instead of four.

Ideally, you want to be able to understand every LSAT q with that level of clarity — knowing what is right and why, the key things one needs to know to arrive at that right answer, and the false steps that are discouraged and lead to wrong answers.

The second problem is a bit tougher and the right answer for that is (A), 48 mph. The math for that works out as follows: Average speed = total distance / total time. Traveling at 60 mph it took her 2 hours to get there and 3 hours back. 240 / 5 = 48.

This second q is certainly harder, but why? Not because it contains difficult math concepts (average speed is something most people understand fairly well) but because it requires you to be exact in utilizing your understanding (go through the steps of actually calculating average speed per its exact definition: total distance / total time) and because the trap answer (50 mph) is far more attractive, and, in order to avoid it, you have to prevent yourself from being mentally lazy/making false assumptions.

Hard LSAT q’s work in exactly the same way — at the end of the day, they rarely require you to do things or think ideas far more advanced than the easier q’s do — they just make it much harder for you to do things correctly.

So again, however long it takes and whatever methods you use, I encourage you to work to understand just 1 test worth of problems as thoroughly as we discussed the two math questions above. Use whatever learning products you feel are most helpful and take however long you need, but don’t move on until your understanding has gotten strong enough for you to be able to do this.

In my opinion, per what you’ve told me, doing this before you continue on with more drilling and practice exams is the best way to stop this bad cycle and the best way for you to naturally teach yourself better ways to master the LSAT —

Again, resist the temptation to focus on hardest q’s, resist the temptation to equate # of q’s drilled or pt’s taken with expected improvement, and instead focus on understanding and solving problems exactly and correctly. Start with the easiest ones and work your way up — and if you do this correctly, once you’ve finished one exam, when you go to look at the next one, you will come to find that there is very little that is truly different about it, and the next one even less so, and so on.

Finally, just want to end with a quote from one of my personal heroes — Ralph Waldo Emerson — I think that every single one of these lines is remarkably relevant when it comes to LSAT prep —

Without ambition one starts nothing.
Without work one finishes nothing.
The prize will not be sent to you.
You have to win it.
The man who knows how will always have a job.
The man who also knows why will always be his boss.
As to methods there may be a million and then some,
But principles are few.
The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods.
The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.

Studying for the LSAT is tough and it’s very easy for even the best of students to lose sight of what they are supposed to try to accomplish, and it’s natural, in this situation, to try method after method to see if something clicks, and maybe that’s what you need to keep doing — but again, it’s my recommendation that you stop practicing for the sake of practice and focus all your energy on understanding the test as well as you possibly can, and then after than you can move on to drilling and trying to get better and better, and I expect that you’ll have an easier time seeing your scores go up and up.

I hope some of that helps, and whether you get the trainer or not, if you have any follow up or need me just let me know —