February 29, 2016 at 7:21 pm #1544
Hi, Mike! First and foremost, I want to thank you for your wonderfully crafted book, The LSAT Trainer, and for your tremendously thoughtful posts here on Lsatters. It’s evident to me that not only are you a wizard at the test and that you have a tremendous talent for explaining it well; you are also clearly a great guy who seems to genuinely care about helping people reach their LSAT goals, not just makin’ a few bucks.
In that spirit, I was hoping that you could offer me some guidance as I move from theory and learning in “Phase 1” to learning and drilling in “Phase 2/3”. Specifically, I aim to build automaticity and accuracy in LG by intensely drilling then next two months, then begin practice testing in May. I’m taking the LSAT in September, but here’s where I’m at now:
- I’ve been studying conditional logic on 7Sage (which I absolutely adore) and will now begin using The Trainer‘s methods in the coming months, as well.
- I’ve read that LG is the most “learnable” section and that if one hopes to get a 170+ score (and hell yes, I do), then scoring a -0 or -1 is a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for doing so. (See, all of that conditional logic learning is paying off! 🙂
- Here’s a quick breakdown of my plan for studying LG:
- First, I made a packet of all of the LG drills in The Trainer. I will take the next week to methodically complete all of them, then re-do them again and again for as long as it takes until my fundamentals are very strong.
- Second, I purchased the LG bundle from Cambridge LSAT for PTs 1-38, sorted by the type of game (e.g. spatial sequencing, in/out grouping, etc.). I will complete and review each type of game within each category until all of them are mastered. Then, I will complete them all again a second time, this time mixing up the order, difficulty, and type of game. I’m saving all LG games for 39-77 for “Phase 4”, i.e. practice testing.
- Third, while completing “A” and “B” above, I will simultaneously be using flashcards for conditional logic key words (e.g. the difference between “or” and “or, but not both”) and your “Table of Common Notations” from pg. 206 of The Trainer. I will be doing this to aid both LG and LR, since conditional logic fluency is absolutely critical for pretty much everything on the LSAT.
- By doing A-C above, I hope to get to the point where each time I see a new LG during the practice test phase, I will always be able to:
- Immediately recognize the game type within the taxonomy and diagram the game board accordingly.
- Quickly and comprehensively notate all rules for the given positions/elements.
- Cultivate habits of mastery, like knowing when to split a game board or not, being able to read diagrams of chained rules fluently backwards as well as I do forwards, etc.
- After completing a PT under real-life conditions, I will “blind review” all of the LG questions, code my errors according to your advice in The Trainer and on this Lsatters post, then use 7Sage’s wonderful video explanations for each game of the test.
Well, there it is, Mike. What do you think? Is there some kind of fatal flaw in my master plan? Are there any glaring omissions from this list? Basically, if you were in my position with 7Sage and The Trainer at your disposal, what would you do? Come to think of it, “W.W.M.K.D.” is actually something I should be asking myself more often as I study, haha.
Thanks in advance for any wisdom you can impart, Mike.
March 1, 2016 at 3:44 pm #1547
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
March 2, 2016 at 4:07 am #1548
Mike, never apologize for lengthy posts. Anyone lucky enough to read them — and for free, no less! — should be grateful for all of the work you put into them. Again, that’s what makes you different; you care enough to share so much with your readers because you obviously want to help them as much as possible. And that, of course, is very commendable.
Your general “3 main skills” section is applicable to all Lsatters out there and we’re very grateful for it. Regarding your more specific “a few smaller suggestions” relative to me, though, I fear I may have unintentionally mislead you in the previous post. I’m not going to be PT’ing all #39-77. Instead, I’m just saving those as “clean” tests for practice testing and using #1-38 for LG drilling. In total, I’m guessing that I’ll take 20-25 PTs before the “big day” in September. Moreover, I was planning on cycling through old and new PTs and do a higher number of tests in the 70’s closer to that actual test day. (For example: 40, 45, 50, 55, 60, 65, 70, 75, 41, 46, 51, 56, 61, 66, 71, 72, 73, 74, 76, and 77). If a re-take in December became necessary, then I’d dip back into those “clean” PTs to practice again.
That being said, I would like to ask a follow-up question based on something important you stated in your reply. Specifically, you said that you “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”. I was originally going to spend 3 months drilling (March – May) and 3 1/2 months PTing (June – August/Early Sept).
- Do you think it might be advisable to spend 4 months drilling instead and 2 1/2 months PTing? In either case, of course, I will always review what I go wrong, why I got it wrong, and trying to correct it on the subsequent drill/PT.
- Also, do you think it’s okay if I do stick with #1-38 LG games and I can cover the newer LG games during the PT phase? Or, should I just use up some of those “clean” PTs for the drilling stage instead? My only concern with the latter is using up too many PTs if I decide to re-take in December. I’m doing the usual “hope for the best, plan for the worst” approach.
Thanks again for your advice on these two questions! I hope other Lsatters are reading this post and finding it relevant to their LG approach, as well. 🙂
March 3, 2016 at 10:09 am #1581
Oh I see — okay —
First the answers to your q’s —
1) I do think it’s better to shift more time and problems to drilling than to pt’s, but that’s just per the way I teach the test, and the caveat is that plenty of people have prepped just fine doing way more drilling than PT’s — so, know that this more of a choice than a set rule, and feel free to split up however you’d like best. Just as importantly, make sure to build in and allow for flexibility, so that, for example, if you find the drilling really helpful or find you need to drill a certain game type more than you had initially planned, you won’t have to stress about falling behind and you’ll have some extra resources/time to give yourself as needed (or, on the flip side, if you aren’t finding the drilling as helpful as you’d thought, you can choose to move on to full tests earlier).
2) Here I do have a stronger opinion – I think it’s important and helpful to expose yourself to more recent developments in the test during your drilling stage. If you don’t, I think you’ll just make things maybe 3% harder for yourself, because you’ll have to make subtle changes to your instincts when you get to the newer exams.
I definitely understand and agree with the instinct to keep most new tests fresh for PT’s, and to keep some “unseen” in case you want to retake —
If we think of tests 52 and on as being the most recent modern era of exams, you’ve got 26 published tests (and the June test will, I believe be out for you as well) — I think if you, say, give yourself 6 of those for drilling, save 6 for retake, and use 14 for full pts, that might be a smart allocation.
Now some extra thoughts —
1) Just to over-clarify — when I discuss drilling, I also include, in my mind at least, drilling mixed sets which basically end up being full sections.
For example, the way the Trainer schedules are designed, students are assigned 3 “rounds” of drills, and each time the questions get more and more mixed up — so you go from focusing just on one q type to having to apply a variety of your skills.
2) Speaking of the above, you may want to check out the free schedules on the trainer site — in particular the 16 week one using exams 29-71 might fit you well. The schedules are very easy to adjust, so if you want to switch out certain tests for others, or add in extra work here or there, it’ll be very easy for you to.
The trainer schedules account for work in the book, drilling, and full PT’s, so they are a good starting point, even if you want to personalize your schedule more (and you can also just start w/the DIY Trainer schedule if you’d like as well).
3) Just want to mention that I definitely support your instinct to keep tests fresh in case of retake. A retake is not a bad thing at all — imagine being at an NBA game, getting called to the court at halftime, and getting 3 chances, instead of just one chance, to make a half-court shot to win a million bucks.
You certainly want to give it your best with each shot, but at the same time, you want take full advantage of being given multiple opportunities and shouldn’t feel bad about using them.
So, on a more practical level, you do definitely want to make sure to keep some tests fresh for drilling and pt’ing should you need to study again — again, I know you are already thinking this, but just wanted to support you on it. And the great news is that you really don’t need to use 70 pts worth of q’s to get yourself fully ready (in fact, having to use so many, if anything, is a sign that your study process isn’t as efficient as it could be).
Related to that —
4) The last point I want to make is just to emphasize again the importance of maxing out the use of each exam.
Every LSAT is very, very much like every other LSAT, and if you have the capacity to be absolutely perfect on just one exam, then you have the capacity to be absolutely perfect on the next. So, especially when you are at the stage of your prep where you feel you know most of everything there is to know and you expect a high level of performance from yourself, make sure not to keep moving on and taking new exams without fully taking control of all the ones you have already worked on.
HTH clarify things — if you have any follow up just let me know, and, as always, don’t hesitate to reach out if you need me — MK
March 4, 2016 at 10:22 am #1582
Great idea, Mike. I just downloaded the 16-week schedule and I will follow it faithfully. And yes, you definitely clarified my thinking around how to structure my deliberate practice through drilling and PTs. I’ve already begun, but I’ll definitely let you know if there is anything else that would be relevant to other LSAT aficionados out there, as well.
Thanks again for your time. 🙂
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