Where to start?..Again.

    • December 8, 2015 at 11:38 pm #1013

      Hey Mike,

      I opted for the February test being that I am yet where I want/need to be (179-180).  I have endured numerous hours of review and have covered multiple books/courses and am now in the mid 170’s, however, sitting here, attempting to gear up for 2 more months of studying, I am unsure where to begin.  Leading up to the December test I was simply banging out LG after LG and Timed LR sections like crazy after finishing the trainer and other books, along with a course.  Now given all of this extra time to truly master the exam, I am unsure if I should simply try to cover every problem the LSAT has released in similar fashion or to follow one of your 8 week programs and finish within the first month, as a way to absolutely solidify my base, and then go back to endless PT’s, timed sections, and Games until the February test.  I have taken leave from work and have replaced it with LSAT.. 9-5 Monday through Saturday. I am unsure as to what would be the best approach. Any thoughts are greatly appreciated!

    • December 9, 2015 at 4:11 pm #1019

      It’s really, really hard to “train” to be above 175. You can train up to that score, but above there, I think it really comes down to luck. Not every question will agree or sit well with you all the time and missing a question can really just boil down to that. Are there LSAT super masters and unicorns who always get above a 175? Sure—but for your purposes, you might relax that goal score to become a goal range … and it sounds like you’re already at target.

      Furthermore, I don’t really think anyone “needs” 179-180. Even if you’re a super-splitter with a GPA well below 3.0, you still can go to at least the lower half of the T14 with a mid-170’s score. HYSCCN are likely out for anyone with a sub-3.0 but the rest of them don’t require you to get a 179/180. So I’m not super sure where that goal score came from 🙂

    • December 10, 2015 at 2:17 am #1026
      Mike Kim

      Hey — just wanted to mention that I’m working on a response for you that’s ended up getting a bit longer than I planned — I’ll get it to you by tomorrow — sorry for the delay — Mike

    • 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 — http://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/R188D6S5E5E8WT/ref=cm_cr_pr_rvw_ttl?ie=UTF8&ASIN=0989081508

      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 —


    • December 10, 2015 at 9:14 pm #1033

      Really great advice ??  Useful for anyone – who wants to score above 170, no matter at which point in their prep they happen to be. After reading this I have so much clarity on how I should be approaching LSAT. Thanks Mike.

    • December 10, 2015 at 9:43 pm #1029

      That was simply phenomenal and certainly unexpected! Thank you Mike! What you have provided is more than helpful and is something that everyone studying should see.


    • December 14, 2015 at 10:21 am #1042

      Just wanted to drop in and say that in the very short time since Mike shared this, I have made brilliant progress.  Its as simple as ripping out and tossing away all answer keys and truly tearing the test apart and trusting yourself.  Thanks again Mike!

    • December 14, 2015 at 5:33 pm #1048
      Mike Kim

      I’m so glad to hear that you found it useful — excited to see how things go for both of you and if there is anything else you need help with just let me know —


    • December 18, 2015 at 11:56 am #1074

      Also, just to throw it out there and hear your thoughts on the process.  Just recently, I have started to take pt’s and place sticky notes over all of the Stems and Choices and then write everything I gather from the stimulus and then make predictions, for each question type I believe the stimulus could be.  What do you think Mike?

      You’re the man!


    • December 21, 2015 at 10:50 am #1081
      Mike Kim

      Hey Kyle —

      My best guess, per what you wrote, is that you read the stimulus first — just so you know, in my instructional products, I recommend students read the q stem first — having said that, of course, I understand that tons of students get top scores reading stimulus first, and you are obviously having a lot of success with that, so I’m happy to give my thoughts and try to help —

      But in order to do so better — let me ask you first — what are the benefits, exactly, that you want to gain with the sticky note method? I could think of a few, but again, I think hearing your intentions will help me give more useful thoughts — MK

    • December 28, 2015 at 1:23 pm #1110

      Hey Mike,

      I do indeed read the Q stem first, all in thanks to the mighty trainer, but I have incorporated using the sticky note method to, I guess you can say, place myself in the position of a test writer.  I do enjoy this method since it allows me to tweak and move components of a stimulus around in order to shape it into many different types of questions, which then enables me to answer those very questions I have created.  I have found that I am now veiwing all questions as not just material in which my goal is to conquer and select the correct choice, but I am now viewing all questions as why exactly each choice is wrong, how this entire stimulus could have been improved, how this lets say a particular Strengthen question could be made into a N.A. question.  One can look at it as if I am attempting to be my own LSAC test-editor.

      I would love to hear what you would add to this practice.

      Thanks again Mike,


    • January 4, 2016 at 11:05 am #1189
      Mike Kim

      Sorry for the delay (holidays) —

      I think that spending time on such an exercises is a great idea, and it certainly makes sense for you to keep going with it, especially if you continue to find it useful —

      I do a lot of similar sort of stuff myself, and I think the 1 Argument/10 Answers exercise on Page 285 is a direct consequence of such work —

      Here are some thoughts that may help you get as much as possible out of such exercises; as always, you know yourself best, so feel free to use what is helpful and ignore what isn’t —

      I think the benefits of doing that type of studying can be roughly broken into two general areas:

      a) it is useful for developing and assessing your understanding

      b) it has an impact on how you develop habits — here the impact can be positive or negative

      More on how it can help with understanding

      – great for getting big-picture view of issues that underlie variety of problem-types
      – great for developing more accurate sense of what each different type of question stem is really asking
      – great for developing better sense of how different question types relate to one another
      – great for developing better sense of when you can/ought to predict answers and when you can/ought to only predict certain characteristics of answers
      – great for evaluating whether/when how you think about a stimulus matches or doesn’t match how test writer thinks of stimulus

      I’m sure there are many other key benefits but those are just a few off the top of my head.

      More on how it can impact habits

      With the type of score you are going for, you want to go above and beyond to try and develop the most effective, razor-sharp habits you possibly can — a big problem we all face is that you can’t just tell your brain what habits to develop and for what — if you tend to spend a lot of time and mental energy thinking about questions in a certain way, even if you think about the questions in this way only while you are reviewing, during the actual test, your mind can end up thinking about q’s in those same ways just because it’s used to it — you want to be very careful of this, and you want to make sure that the work you do, even during your review, doesn’t end up causing you to develop unwanted habits —

      To emphasize this point with more specific examples —

      1) One thing to notice is that LR problems never assign you the task of determining whether an argument in the stimulus is flawed or not. They will either tell you the argument is flawed (and ask you to address this flaw in some way) or they will ask you to evaluate the stimulus objectively — that is, without judging the validity of the reasoning.

      So, you never have to think about whether a given argument is valid or not during the test. But it’s something that all we naturally commonly think about, and that we may think about during the course of doing an exercise like the one you mentioned. During the exam, it’s a distraction and a waste of time — so, make sure not to incorporate “is this valid or not” thinking into your exercises.

      2) Another thing to notice is that certain question types are, by their nature, designed to have more predictable answers, and others are designed to have less predictable answers. Furthermore, the test writers often make a right answer more difficult to find by making it less predictable. So, for example, you should almost always be able to predict the substance (though not the wording) of a flaw answer, but you shouldn’t expect to be able to predict the right answer to an inference q, because there are always tons of inferences one could make from any given stimulus, and again, by nature, harder inference q’s will often have right answers that were among the less predictable options.

      If your review exercises help you gain a clearer understanding of when you ought to and ought not be able to predict answers, and thus helps you develop smarter instincts about when you are in control of a stimulus vs when you are not, that’s a great benefit you can gain from the exercise.

      What you want to avoid is develop the (misguided) generalized sense that if you can’t predict an answer, or if answers don’t match your predictions, there is something wrong. I’ve seen this happen again and again with students — they guess an answer is going to be there, it isn’t, and it distracts them so that they either miss an obvious right choice they could have easily seen otherwise, or fall for a tempting wrong answer that seems like what they predicted.

      So, just be careful that you use the review exercises to develop the right expectations about when you ought to predict the right answer, and what such a prediction (or the inability to make or match one) says about you or the problem.

      (by the way, you may already be doing this, but I suggest you make sure to work on predicting the reasons why some of the wrong answers could be wrong — as I often say, the wrong answers give amazing insight into what the test writers care about, and if you can get to a point where all the wrong answers are significantly more obvious and predictable, well, you aren’t going to need me anymore.)

      3) Finally, it’s really important to keep in mind that the test writers reward, again and again, those who can think of understanding and judging as two distinct tasks — to me, the most obvious way they do this is with the way they design the problems which do not require judgment — questions like ID the Conclusion or Inference — so very often, the most tempting wrong answers are ones that we are attracted to because they relate to opinions we might form (when we have been told not to form opinions) and right answers are tough to see because they may not relate to these opinions, or even seemingly contradict them.

      Every person I know, including myself, is guilty of constantly mixing together evaluation and judgement — we cannot actually be 100% objective, ever, because how we view things is always impacted by our opinions about the world. So you have to understand that this is a natural instinct that you need to actively work to quell in order to improve at the exam — this is why working on habits can be so important (and my opinions about this stuff are a huge part of why I relate the LR q’s to one another the way I do, suggest reading q stem first, etc.) —

      Be very careful about making sure that the work you do fully fleshing out every stimulus and thinking about how it could be used for various q’s and so on doesn’t have a negative impact on your ability to keep separate, as much as possible, your objective evaluation and your judgment.

      So again, those are the caveats — as I mentioned above, I definitely think there is a ton of benefit to gain from such review, and I tend to do a lot of that sort of work myself — my general suggestion is just be aware of how it can impact habits and make sure to avoid developing bad habits, and you should be all good —

      HTH — sorry again for the delay (and the length) — let me know if you have any follow-up –mk

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