Reply To: Building Automaticity & Accuracy in LG

March 1, 2016 at 3:44 pm #1547
Mike Kim

Hi Adam,

Nice to meet you online and thank you so much for your comments – that’s all awfully nice of you to say.

I’m also very excited to hear about your ambitious LG goals — I don’t see any reason you can’t get there, and I’m happy to do whatever I can to help —

Here are some thoughts you might find useful — as I always say, you know yourself best, so feel free to use what you’d like and discard the rest.

As I mention elsewhere, I think the best gut-check you can do is picture yourself on test day, with the LG section about to begin. All of the things that cause you concern are things you want to make sure to address during your studies. And on the flip side, it can be very helpful to think about what it would for you to feel exactly the way you want to feel when the section begins — what it’ll take for you to be very comfortable in thinking that, no matter what happens, you’ve put yourself in the best position you can to represent your skills well.

The way I think about games, I believe there are really 3 main skills and habits essential for consistent games success —

1) an ability to picture any game scenario, and, consequently, create the right framework for thinking about the game

The vast, vast majority of LSAT takers go in with an understanding of certain types of games, and a great deal of misunderstanding and fear about what else could be — about the “bizarre” game that they can’t anticipate, and then, when one appears, they can’t adjust to.

To be able to be consistently perfect or near perfect, and not feel that fear, you need to have a sense that you have a big picture view of all that can happen in games — doesn’t mean you are going to react perfectly every time and doesn’t mean that some scenarios aren’t still going to make you say, “What the ..?!?!?” the first time you read them, but it does mean you will have total confidence that once you read the scenario and rules and give yourself a chance to settle in, you’ll be very comfortable playing the game because you’ll be able to relate it to others you’ve played and mastered during your practice.

It’s extremely useful to separate games out and drill like-games together, and obviously I encourage students to do that, but at the same time, you always want to be careful not to get too segmented (for example, it’s a bad idea to develop one diagramming system for one type of game and a totally different diagramming system for a different of game, to such a degree of difference that, if you get a mix of those two types of games, you will be screwed–a lot of bad LSAT teaching systems are defined by these sorts of conflicting diagramming strategies), you want to keep track of games that seem bizarre to you and keep, as you develop your understanding more and more, cycling through them until you can feel comfortable knowing they aren’t “one offs” and in fact can be related to other games you are studying, and, finally, you just always want to be very conscious of trying to consider how different types of games relate to one another — again, you have to study things in isolation, but always work to try and see how everything you are learning and working comes together.

I believe that is the longest sentence I’ve ever written. Sorry about that.

2) Ability to utilize diagramming

There are certain naturals who are able to get to a high level of LG mastery without strong diagramming skills, but for everyone else who has to work to get there, diagramming ability is the key currency for your improvement.

Think of the ability to diagram accurately as being the equivalent of being able to write down math in equations. Without being able to write out math problems, most of us are very limited in how complex a problem we can solve — being able to put things down on paper and use symbols and so on makes us all 1000 times more powerful, when it comes to mathlete power that is, and it’s the same way with LG diagramming —

To improve to a top, top score, you need to get your diagramming to a point where you can represent every rule accurately, and have so much experience doing so that you don’t have to think about your diagramming at all, in the same way you don’t have to think about how you write out addition or multiplication q’s — this way, you can just focus on the work of thinking about the actual game and the actual problem.

With months to study, this is totally do-able, and yet very, very few students will go into the exam with such practiced diagramming skills. Again, know that they set the base for how you play games, and once you become automatic at diagramming, you’ll find that you no longer have to worry about a lot of other LG concerns you may have had before.

So, I know you’ve got a lot on your list that relates to focusing on this exact thing, and just want to encourage you 100% with that. It matters far less how you choose to diagram (as long as you don’t follow the advice of someone terrible) and it matters far more how good you get at whatever you decide on.

3) The ability to focus on what you know and to use that to differentiate from what you don’t

Most top scorers don’t think of their skills in this way, and it’s certainly not something you have to think about much, especially if it just seems too abstract, but in terms of how I study students and what I notice, students who have the right instincts for the general design of all LG q’s have an intuitive focus on trying to see clearly what is known, and, as I say above, using this to differentiate from that which is not known.

To illustrate what I mean, imagine that you are playing a game where your job is to correctly identify what a certain picture is about. The way the game works is that at the beginning the entire picture is covered up, and then slowly, one piece at a time, parts of the picture are revealed to you.

There are several different ways in which this game can work. One, it can keep revealing pieces until you can figure out what the entire picture is of, and your goal can be to try to figure it out in as few pieces as possible. Two, it can stop after revealing just certain parts of the picture, and then test your ability to make reasonable guesses about the parts that are still covered up. Or three, it can stop after revealing just a part of the picture and test your ability to differentiate between what you can definitely be seen, per what’s been revealed, and what cannot.

In the same way, the LSAT could be designed so that one is eventually expected to find one exact way for a game to work, it can be designed to test your ability to consider negative space — which of a series of uncertain outcomes is more or less likely per the given information — or it can do what it actually does now — give you partial information about a game, then test, using q’s that differentiate what must be true from what could be false and what must be false from what could be true and so on — your ability to identify clearly what can be known about a game and what cannot.

Again, I don’t think anyone else thinks about games in this way and there is no need for them to, but, when someone is really good at games, whether they realize it or not, their thinking processes focus on recognizing that difference as clearly and correctly as possible.

Far more importantly, when students struggle to develop the right fundamental instincts — when they learn what they are supposed to do in solving q’s but find themselves having to fight their own good sense to carry these strategies out — it can often be because they, again, without realizing it, are focused on the wrong goals — trying to figure out the entire game or being over-eager about trying to know more about the unknown or not stressing “exactness” enough in how they separate out what they know vs. what they don’t.

A chief cause of the above is the temptation to go above and beyond in terms of knowing a lot about a game, or trying too hard to outsmart a game by using ridiculous complex systems to arrive at unnecessary inferences and so on —

It’s critical for you to be good at seeing inferences and figuring stuff out about games and so on, but you always want to work to simultaneously develop and strengthen accuracy — in my experience, most students unnecessarily sacrifice accuracy for cleverness that they can do fine without — so keep that in mind and really try to be as exact as possible in terms of separating out what you know for sure from what you don’t.

Lastly, here are a couple of suggestions about the mindset necessary to get that sort of LG level —

1) You need to be your own authority

So, it’s great to utilize the trainer and 7sage and whatever else you find useful, but a bittersweet truth for me is knowing that if I do my job well you won’t need me anymore (then you create your own LSAT learning systems and talk about what an idiot I am and so on :)) —

The LSAT is a high-pressure performance based exam and you need to be able to trust in your own instincts. You can’t get to that level if you focus is on trying to think about the game in a way that someone else might.

So make sure you work to develop your own sense of authority. Never just do something because someone like me tells you to — take in as much instruction as you can, but at the end of the day make sure that you take it upon yourself to decide what’s best.

On a more practical level, try to develop as much of a personal sense of right and wrong as possible, and one great way to do this is to try to become less and less reliant on the answer key. Ideally, you want to get to a point where you don’t really feel you need the answer key at all, and, if it were to tell you something different from what you see yourself in your own review, you’d be shocked.

So, in reviewing your work after a drill or PT, make sure to always confirm for yourself the right and wrong answers for every problem, and, whenever your own scoring is somehow different from the actual answer key, take that as a huge red flag and study why that happened intensely.

2) You need to seek wisdom not knowledge

Here’s a very simple way to think about the difference between wisdom and knowledge — knowledge is information in your mind, and wisdom is the proper organization of that information (and by the way, when I talk about information here I’m talking about understanding, strategies, skills, everything) —

Most exams we are given in life are knowledge-based exams — you have to memorize a bunch of information and then regurgitate it in the way they tell you to —

Per the way I’ve defined these terms, a test like the LSAT is a wisdom based exam (and just to be clear, I’m talking about wisdom about the LSAT, not wisdom about anything actually important) — there isn’t that much to know, and knowing information isn’t what differentiates one test taker from another (at least at the score level you are talking about) — instead, because of the way the test is designed, the key to success is wisdom — you need to see how all the various things you’ve learned, the strategies you’ve developed, the skills you have, and so on can come together, and most critically, you need to able to apply the right understanding, skills, and strategies at the right times and in the right way (what I talk of as right habits in the trainer) — and in order to be able to do that consistently, you need wisdom about the LSAT — a correct and advanced sense of how everything you are learning and getting better at comes together.

That’s a big reason why it’s so important for you to work to become your own authority — you just can’t get to that level if you can’t trust in yourself. And it’s a big reason why, as I discussed above, you always want to work to see how different types of games relate to one another, how different types of q’s relate to one another, how different types of rules relate to one another, what’s critical to success and what is secondary, and so on.

Okay, this may be the longest response I’ve ever written. I am very, very sorry for letting it get so out of hand, and I hope you are still reading — if so, let me now actually address some of your more specific points —

Overall, your plan sounds awesome, and it’s very hard to imagine that, should you execute it all, you won’t, at the end of it, be all set when it comes to games — a few smaller suggestions —

1) In general, I suggest that students use drilling for most of their improvement and then switch to pts in order to firm up skills/habits and get ready for test day. Keep in mind that within this suggestion I include drilling of mixed games, doing full LG sections and so on — so, having said that, saving that many games for full PT’s might be overkill.

2) In addition, games have evolved a bit over time, and I think it’d be a mistake to focus purely on older games during drilling and newer during pt’s — I agree with the idea of, in general, saving more recent exams for full pt’s, but you have plenty of tests and so you may want to consider sprinkling in a few of the more recent exams into your drilling so that you don’t feel blindsided later on.

3) It also seems like a ton of work overall, and, one thing to keep in mind is that each time you play a game, you are developing habits, both good and bad, and so you don’t want to play a ton of games unless you know for certain that you are using them to build up good habits — and the truth is, if you are learning all you can from every game you play, it should not, ideally, take you that many games to get to your max level — doesn’t mean you can’t go above and beyond just to do everything you can, but make sure you aren’t just doing game after game expecting your score to magically go up — if you aren’t using each and every game to change and grow, you are just firming up a lot of bad habits that will limit how good you can get.

4) Related to #3, and per all I’m sure you heard to death at 7sage — play the same games again and again until you feel mastery, and know that it’s better to really study the hell out of 10 games than it is to burn through 100 —

5) Finally, always remember that doing a certain amount of work won’t guarantee a certain score — it’s a means to an end, and, in the big picture view of things, what you want to make sure to focus on is developing the right skills and the right habits, and judging yourself/holding yourself accountable on those terms.

Sorry again for the length (that’s what you get for writing such a flattering q), and I hope it worth your time to read it all — again, if any of that advice doesn’t seem to apply to you, feel free to ignore it —

I hope you’ll share some of your experiences along the way here on Lsatters — there are a lot of people trying to reach the same goals you are trying to accomplish, and I think that seeing you write about the work you are putting in can inspire them, and, in turn, they may be able to offer some perspective that helps you as well.

And, if you need me, I’ll always be here and I’ll be happy to help in any way I can–

Take care — MK