Monday, January 12, 2009

LSAT prep

I just got an email from a reader asking what I did for LSAT prep, and I figured that since this blog is occasionally about law, others might be interested as well. As always, take this with a grain of salt and feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments to make this post more useful to those who stumble upon it.

I think the most important part of any test prep is to know your strengths and weaknesses. I know that I am a good test taker, it is just one of my God-given talents. I would have liked to be a dancer, but instead I got a large frame, two left feet, and a gift for test scores I don't deserve. Knowing this, I was probably on the lower end of the LSAT prep work scale.

First of all it's a test-taking test and not a knowledge-based test. The MCAT is a knowledge test- you have to really know physics, chemistry, biology, and organic chemistry. Because of this I had just spent thousands on a Princeton Review course promising to teach me everything I needed to know for that awful test I ended up dropping halfway through (not that I got a refund on the review class). The SAT and LSAT are test-taking tests; other than learning the types of questions asked and practicing them a bit, I'm not sure there's much you can do. I didn't study for the SAT beyond reading the information packet of practice questions you got when you signed up and did very well, so I didn't get too worked up over the LSAT. I think the lack of fear helped as much as anything (I feel this way to some extent about the Bar too, even though that's very knowledge based, you can get a lot of points just by not being one of the people paralyzed with fear on the day of). I'm not trying to minimize the LSAT, it's just that after spending nearly a year preparing for the MCAT, the LSAT just didn't seem all that scary. Sort of like how the history majors thought law school was a whole lot harder than the engineering majors did- it's all perspective.

The first thing I did was take a full practice test about two months before the test date. I went to my local used bookstore and found an unmarked compilation of old tests from someone who apparently didn't end up taking the test (or just ended up not studying for it). On the first try I did pretty well on the reading comprehension, okay on the logical reasoning (arguments) section, and absolutely abysmal on the analytical reasoning (logic games) section- I'm not even sure I got one question right. That was upsetting. I googled something along the lines of "how to study for logic games section of LSAT" and came across this little book: The Logic Games Bible. It saved my life. (And just so you don't think I'm biased, I have not ever and will not ever accept advertising money for this site, anything I say is purely my opinion.) I worked through it cover to cover, forced my brain to reject any of its own thoughts in this area, and relied on their method 100%. It worked- I didn't miss a single question on the logic games section of the LSAT when I took it in June.

Other than the Logic Games Bible my prep consisted of working through the whole book of practice tests, one a day or so, flying to Hawaii for a family vacation the week before the big day (I actually think this helped, no time to get freaked), flying back in to Houston and driving straight to Austin very late the night before (once again, no time to take a last minute practice test and panic if my score had dropped), taking it the next morning, and then flying out to Vegas hours later with JP, where I promptly forgot all about the LSAT until I returned three days later. I brought a Shape magazine and granola bars to the test and felt a little embarrassed when everyone else had flash cards and special test day goodie bags from their review courses. But they also looked very stressed and I probably got more enjoyment out of reading 10 articles promising I could lose weight without diet or exercise than I would have been helped by last minute cramming. After all, I'm not really sure what you can do to cram for that test- it's a lot of reading and reasoning. After the test I did spend a lot of time on my personal statement, sending it out to everyone I knew and asking them for comments and whether or not they thought it was a good reflection of me. I'd highly recommend doing that, hard as it was to subject it to public scrutiny.

So that's what I did. As I said, you just have to know yourself and your test-taking needs. If you are someone who gets very nervous about standardized tests or has been burned by them before (like JP) then a class might be very helpful to make you feel as prepared as possible and comfortable with the test. Or you may just like the structure and camaraderie of a class (I tend to find that stressful because I realize everyone is doing more than me, one of the million reasons I loved the barbri self-study iPod option). If taking that many practice tests and putting that much emphasis on it would only freak you out, then try to avoid over preparing- I think it's easy to get to a point where your practice test scores start going down and that is scary right before the real thing. I think my biggest challenge on the LSAT was time. I'm a fast reader and never had an issue with time on tests but on two sections of the LSAT I was finishing just as the proctor said pencils down- that rattled me a bit. I'd recommend actually timing those practice tests if you do them at home. Hope that helps- good luck!


  1. I also have a tiny bit of advice since I used to tutor LSAT takers and did very well on my own--if it won't make you panic (and anxiety-management is really the most important element of test prep), take a copy of an easy logic game that you've already done to the test and work in it if you get there early. It shouldn't stress you out because it's easy and you already know the answer, but it will help get you "warmed up" for the test if you're not one of those people who is always at the top of your game first thing in the morning :).

  2. Excellent advice and a better title for this post: "LSAT Anxiety-Management." I really do think that's key.

  3. OMG, this is EXACTLY how I prepped. I took the free test that is available on the LSDAS website, cold, with no idea what the test was like, noted my score and wrote off the idea of taking a course. And then I bought the Logic Games Bible and several practice test books, and worked through them. (I did miss ONE Logic Games question on the actual test. Alas.)

    I think there are people who need the accountability of a class, and for whom test prep is inherently stressful without someone to guide them; for those people, I uniformly recommend a class, any class. But if you are not generally stressed out by standardized tests (which I also am not), a class is probably a waste of money.

    I also did a lot of studying at Opal Divine's, with a beer in hand. I can't not recommend that method, either. :)

  4. Thank you! That is great info. I was prepping for the December LSAT, but had to postpone when I got pregnant. I, too, took the pre-test and then went through exercises in a couple of study books. I found working during lunch, at my desk, was a great way to study. Of course, since I didn't get to test, I don't have any idea of how I would have done....

  5. I too used the Logic Games Bible, and like Divine Angst, only missed one games question on the LSAT!! It was a lifesaver.

    As for other tips, I went the route of buying as many ACTUAL previous LSATs as possible and doing them, eventually (and for the most part) timed. It is very important to learn to leave the ones you just can't figure out behind -- and if you're like me, that is really hard to do! I didn't take a class, but I was extremely self-motivated and did a ton of studying on my own. I think I also got the Logical Reasoning Bible, if there is such a thing (thankfully, the LSAT is way behind me).

  6. One more vote for the real practice tests/ Logic Games Bible/ not stressing out method of LSAT prep! I think courses are good if you need help equally in all the areas, but I really needed to focus on logic games.

    My public library had a lot of "Real LSAT" books, so that's an option to check out if you don't mind not being able to write on the page.

  7. Interesting. I bought a book that went through each kind of question and gave you practice on them and found that I was an abysmal failure on the analytial reasoning part. This being (too) many years ago, and without the benefit of the internet, I had no access to the Logic Games Bible.

    To this day, I probably still couldn't do the Analytical Reasoning section. I am not sure if our LSATS are any different here, but the Gods blessed me and I ended up with two different sections on reading comprehension, which just happens to be my God-given strength (such as it is). I could just as easily have ended up with two sections of Analytial Reasoning, in which case I probably would never crossed the threshold of a Law School and wouldn't be reading your blog.

    For the Analystical Reasoning portion, I tried a couple during the test itself and then gave up. Multiple choice answers so I effectively closed my eyes and randomly picked. I actually got about 50% on that portion (do you think someone was looking out for me??) but did well enough on the rest of it...

    Back to your point, though, reading some law school blogs and such, I thought we were stressed and anal but the American system looks a lot more competitive and anxiety-provoking. Deep breaths, don't over-prepare, don't panic and don't let anyone or anything psych you out.

    The first time I went to write the LSAT was my first time in this particular *big city* and I met up with a group of friends who dragged me (almost kicking and screaming) to a bar - just for one drink. Famous last words that. I ended up with a major hangover and called in sick as far as the LSAT went. Went back a year later (and hopefully a little more mature) and took it. Worked for me.

  8. Hi!

    I'm the emailer, and let me say, THANK YOU to everyone for your comments! I'm one of those wierd people who CAN'T really study- I do so much better doing quick review, a little practice on shaky areas and jumping in. If I try and buckle down like I see so many others doing, I inevitably do worse. Go figure! The reassurance here was exactly what I needed- I've been reading all these sites that essentially say that if you don't start studying 6 months out, buy all sorts of books and spend 6 hours a day studying, you're DOOOOOOMED! I'm really glad that the consensus is to stick to what works for you, its not as scary as you think. This is probably the best test prep I could have gotten :)

    3 weeks to go, wish me luck!

  9. 1. Absolutely do what works for you if you know what that is.

    2. Here's what worked for me:
    -I signed up for real, timed practice tests when they were offered near me. (Kaplan offers them free.) You take them in a test setting instead of in your kitchen or on your bed and sometimes getting used to a new environment is half of the anxiety battle. I took maybe...3 of those.
    -I took one of ^those before ever opening a book, 6 months before test day, just to see where I was starting.
    -I bought books with real tests and promptly ignored them for the entire summer while I gallavanted around DC like I owned it. (Best. Summer. Ever.)
    -I finally cracked one of ^those books open, running through one section of a test once or twice a week until I learned how to 'take' the test.
    -Two months before test day I started doing one practice exam a week, timed, with a friend, starting at the time of day the real test starts (because I HATE waking up/thinking early in the morning and I knew my body needed to adjust).
    -I took Tylenol PM and went to bed early before test day because I have HORRIBLE test anxiety and although I normally fall asleep within seconds of getting into bed I knew from my SAT and ACT days that I would toss and turn all night without a sleep aid. (Note: Do NOT use a sleep aid the night before the test if you've never taken it before and aren't aware of the effects it will have on your body. You don't want to oversleep or feel groggy.)
    -I had everything packed in a backpack the night before, because I perpetually run late and knew that running around like a crazy person while my friend waited outside to pick me up would destroy my nerves.
    -I brought yummy snacks (cheese and crackers and a blueberry granola bar.)
    -I didn't talk to anyone on test day (other than the friend who picked me up and he was under strict instructions not to talk about the test) because I had a feeling they were all going to be Crazy People saying "OMG, how much did you study?? OMG, I studied this much!" and then during break "OMG, this section was SO HARD. OMG, I thought it was CAKE!" Avoid all crazy people. Everyone has their own strengths. You don't need them stressing you out so just shut them out. And apologize for being antisocial later. ;)
    -After the test was over I ran like hell to my friend's car where we threw on woolen marching band uniforms. Then we ran like hell half a mile to the football stadium...just in time to march in the halftime show. Whew. But I don't recommend that last bit. :)

  10. I decided to apply to law school two days before the deadline for signing up for the Dec. LSAT, so I certainly didn't have 6 months to study (nor would i have done that even if I had the time). Logic games were my easy section. I have always loved those kinds of puzzles, so I had to force myself not to "study" them since there was no need. The review book I found most helpful were the LSAT 180 book which only has the really hard questions in it. The difference between a 160 and a 180 are the hard questions - so I only practiced those. On test day, there are only a few hard ones, so most of the questions seem easy. I didn't study very much - I naturally do well on standardized tests. I got a really good score on the first practice test I took, so I just did a few questions a few nights a week and took a timed practice test and that worked for me.

  11. For me, time management was the most important thing. Before I ever started LSAT prep, I sat for a timed practice test. Scored in the high 140s because I only finished 3/4 of each section. My score jumped dramatically when I could actually get to all of the questions!

    I'm scarily good at the logic puzzles, but found the reading comprehension to be most difficult. If the passage was on something like science, or just totally boring, I consistently tanked the questions on it. Should have been a clue for me to stay away from law school! ;)

  12. My general advice for LSAT preparation is to realize that (except for the logic games part) there are really only about 6 questions on this test, phrased and rephrased about 150 different ways. Do enough practice questions and you'll usually be able to recognize the 6 questions and the answers that go with them. I was profoundly bad at logic games and never improved at it, but I was good at recognizing which answer was which. Thank God arguments outnumber logic puzzles 2:1.

  13. Egh. Gagamacious. The LSAT was the worst moment of my life and even thinking about it still gives me a stomach ache 4 years later. The one thing I'd tell potential law students is that the LSAT is worse than anything they can inflict on you in law school.