Tips for Retakers

    • June 16, 2017 at 8:36 am #3138
      Mike Kim

      Hey everyone —

      Sorry if the timing of this seems a bit off, considering we just had the June exam, but I’ve been getting a slew of emails already from students asking for a variety of retake suggestions, and I thought I’d compile some of my thoughts and post them here —

      My primary suggestions for retakers are the same as they are for people studying the first time, and I encourage you to, in light of your experiences, revisit and consider anew the various study suggestions presented in the first chapter (and elsewhere in the book, of course) —

      Here are some additional suggestions to layer onto everything that’s already mentioned in the Trainer — as I always say, you know yourself best, so feel free to utilize or ignore as you see fit —

      1) Assessing Your Study Process

      What did you do well, what did you not address as carefully as you should have, where did things break down or where you were inefficient, etc.?

      I think a great (albeit very dorky) way to think about the effectiveness of your study process is to imagine something I call, for the lack of a better name, the “Spinning wheel of improvement”

      Picture a 3 spoke wheel — the components being LEARNING, PRACTICE, and ASSESSMENT —

      The wheel spins and gains speed when you get stronger in an area and then connect that to the other spokes — for example, when you learn something and then practice it —

      And the spinning of the wheel = your improvement.

      And you improve faster and faster the better your wheel “spins” and when you find yourself not moving forward despite putting in the time and effort, there is something blocking the wheel from spinning — you are failing to connect what you learn to what you do, or missing something in terms of assessment your performance, etc. —

      So, take a minute to think about how you studied the last time around relative to this spinning wheel —

      1) did you devote enough time and energy to pumping up each of the three components — learning, practice, and self-assessment &

      2) did you experience positive momentum from those three components influencing one another?

      And, in thinking about and planning the work you have ahead, consider how you might address any imbalances and facilitate better connection between learning, practice, and assessment.

      2) Setting Goals

      In terms of focusing your learning and practice and assessing yourself, I think it’s very important to set useful goals — here are a few to consider —

      1) Work to achieve an earned sense of personal authority

      Imagine that there are 3 “levels of knowing” something:

      1) Understanding — understanding is knowing a piece of information — so, for example, maybe you understand how to translate a particular conditional statement into notation.

      2) Wisdom — wisdom is having a sense of how what you know connects together — so, for example, knowing of several different ways to word the same conditional relationship or knowing the connection between a conditional statement and its contrapositive could be considered, by this definition, a type of wisdom about the test.

      3) An earned sense of personal authority — of course, this is very subjective and, because it’s a “feeling,” it’s different for everyone — but I would define this as having the sense that you yourself know exactly how something works, and this understanding is not in any way based on “because my teacher/book said said” or “because I memorized that it is so” but rather based on your own good sense and your own correct instinct for how something ought to work —

      Imagine I told you that 5 + 2 = 8 and spent paragraph after paragraph trying to convince you of this — no matter how good a job I did, you wouldn’t buy it, because you have a sense of personal authority about 5 + 2.

      You want to make it your goal to get to this third level of knowing — so, for example, when you read something in the Trainer this second time around, you don’t want to be satisfied with just understanding what you are reading, or having a few “aha!” moments about how what you are reading connects to something else — you want to try your best to study with the expectation that at the end of the day your goal is to feel this sense of truly knowing the issues that are being discussed to a level of feeling personal authority over the subject matter — obviously easier said than done, but I really think setting the bar to this level can be a huge key for pushing your improvement forward faster.

      2) Make sure to develop skills and habits related to both a) specific situations and b) jumping from situation to situation and determining what you ought to do.

      Generally speaking, drilling is great for developing situation-specific habits, and taking full sections or tests is best for practicing going from one thing to another and determining what you ought to do.

      I mention in the book that hard LSAT problems so often feel like jokes or riddles in that the hardest part about isn’t understanding why the right answer is right after the fact — it’s figuring it out in the moment —

      And so it is with games and passages and such in that after the fact you can see what you should have done or paid attention to and such, but it’s much, much harder to consistently do that in the moment.

      One thing you can do to significantly improve on this during your studies is simply to always be cognizant of the challenge — so, for every problem you solve, you always want consider not just the strategies you ought to have employed, but also “how should I have known what to think about and how should I have acted on that?” — and the more you practice looking for the clues that tell you what to focus on, how, and when, the more you’ll see them everywhere.

      3. Practical Tips

      Okay, with those goals laid out, here are some specific suggestions for how to achieve them —

      Tips for studying / Rereading the Trainer

      1) Create evolving notes for every key topic —

      For example, for, say, Sufficient Assumption Q’s (and every other type of LR Q) — take a large piece of paper (preferably 11 by 17 or bigger) — don’t worry about being neat, but do worry about keeping things as simple as possible, and create a page where you write out the key things you need to know for that problem type — reminders to keep in mind, strategies, the challenges you need to get better at etc. —

      And, as you read through the Trainer or practice problems etc., constantly be evaluating this sheet of yours, and update it as you see fit — again, make sure to avoid just adding more and more information — always work to revise, prioritize, clarify, and simplify.

      In this way, these sheets can stand in for your developing sense of personal authority — make one for every challenge you want to master, and, instead of always going back to the Trainer, use the Trainer to create a reference for yourself that you rely on.

      2) Take full advantage of the boldeds, pull-quotes, and so on —

      When I designed the book, I made a concerted effort to make every key point stand out, so that a student wouldn’t have to worry he/she was going to miss some critical piece of information buried obscurely within a paragraph.

      If you take any chapter from the Trainer and do a quick scan just focusing on boldeds and other highlighted components, you can get a very good sense for of what is going to be discussed — don’t waste time thinking you have to read through everything twice — instead, again, think about it in terms of the level of authority you feel — feel free to go faster in those areas where you feel more authority, and, on the flip side, do your best to study carefully again those areas where you don’t feel a strong sense of authority. Likewise, for drills in areas where you feel strong, feel free to not do every problem in the exercise — but on the flip side, for areas where you don’t feel a sense of authority, don’t finish practicing and studying that drill until, ideally, you get to that point.

      3) Beware of your blind spots —

      There is a big difference between moving fast through a chapter because you’ve already mastered the content, and moving fast through the chapter because you don’t think it’s very important or helpful — those latter actions can be particularly harmful to your studies —

      In my experience, most students have blind spots — they recognize that certain topics are important and so they work to master those topics, but they, often because of a lack of time or experience, don’t notice that other topics are also important to master —

      A common example is to think of the LSAT as just being a test of reasoning ability, and, when students work off this instinct, they fail to account for and adequately prepare for all of the reading challenges presented —

      So, when you run into a lesson or a part of a lesson that doesn’t seem important to you — well, maybe you are right and it isn’t important — however, be very mindful of the fact that by dismissing the instruction you might be missing out on something you are not seeing —

      Pay particular attention when you have trouble with the mini-drills and drills that are in the book — if you find one to be particularly difficult or confusing, of course it may be my fault, but it can also be a sign that perhaps you aren’t seeing something that, if you were to see it, would make the test easier for you.

      Tips for Practicing

      This should really go without saying, but just to make sure it’s on record — if you are not practicing by using a combination of drilling and practice sections/tests, I strongly encourage you to do so.

      In particular, you want to avoid the pitfalls of falling into either of the two extremes — drilling too much and not getting enough mixed practice, or, and this is in my experience more common and also more harmful — practicing test after test without doing all of the other things necessary to improve.

      In general, you want to think of drilling as your chance to build up strong muscle memory.

      And this second time around in your studies, your criteria shouldn’t just be that you understand a good way to solve a problem, but ideally, that you are able to intuitively apply your strategies by habit without having to force yourself to — so that you can just focus on the actual problem.

      And make sure you expect not just to think through issues correctly, but also constantly work hard to recognize the signs that indicate what it is you ought to be thinking about.

      And in general, you want to use your full section / pt work as a chance to assess and build up your ability to recognize when you ought to think about what and your ability to jump from one type of task to another.

      Repeating work you’ve done or re-solving problems is terrific work, but only when coupled with the right expectations — expect to get significantly better every new attempt, and evaluate yourself very critically if something causes you trouble more than once or twice.

      Finally, make sure not to just take pt after pt, especially if your score isn’t where you want it to be — remember that when you do that, you are building up both good and bad habits, and if you continue to practice without the proper amount of reflection and improvement, your bad habits will get stronger and stronger, making it harder and harder for you to actually improve. Again, if it helps, think about that spinning wheel of improvement and make sure you are doing what you can to keep it going around —

      Whew! — I will stop myself there —

      I realize a lot of that was very meta and perhaps confusing — in addition, I apologize for the length and the typos/grammar errors — if I had more time it would be cleaner, clearer and shorter — but I do hope at least some of you find at least some of that helpful — and, if you have any follow up or need any advice about your specific situation, please don’t hesitate to ask below —


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