LSAT Diary: Strategies and Tips to Ace the LSAT from 179-Scorer

This installment of LSAT Diaries comes from Brad, who followed my 3-month LSAT study schedule and scored a 179!

He's got tons of LSAT advice for you about how he did it.

If you want to be in LSAT Diaries, please email me at LSATUnplugged@gmail.com. (You can be in LSAT Diaries whether you've taken the exam already or not.)

Thanks to Brad for sharing his experience and advice, and please leave your questions for him below in the comments!

Brad's LSAT Diary:

By the time I had made the decision to apply to law school, I realized that I had a bit of an uphill battle. My first year in college was horrendous, and had a large impact on my GPA. The following 3.5 years were much better and I graduated with a major GPA of 3.6, but a cumulative of 3.16. With a desire to attend a T14 school, I knew that the LSAT would be an incredibly important part of my application, and would possibly make or break my admission. I decided to devote myself entirely to the LSAT. When the results came in, I knew that I had made the right decision.

With that, my first words of wisdom to anyone reading this is to sit down, think long and hard about this test, and make the decision. If you are just starting to kick around the idea of taking the test, and the next administration is in 2 months, I would advise holding out a few more months. If you are set on taking the next administration, know what grit and commitment it requires. This test may in the long run have the largest effect on your future of any test in your life.

The test is not unbeatable, but you have to show a total commitment to beating it. I recently ran into an old acquaintance who told me that he had also taken the LSAT, but shortly before the test started seeing a new lady friend, and thus didn't devote any time to studying logic games. As you can imagine, he was not quite happy with his score.

I originally planned on taking the test in Feb. of 2010, but due to outside circumstances, work, etc. was not comfortable with the amount of studying I had achieved and put it off until June. I did some intermittent studying in the months leading up to and shortly thereafter Feb. but with about three months until the June administration, cleared everything that I could from my schedule and made the LSAT my number one priority. I felt lost, and a bit overwhelmed. I was doing early LSAT PrepTests, but my scores were erratic.

I stumbled across LSAT Blog, read through absolutely everything on the site that I could, and decided that his three month study plan was the best for me. Of all of the information that I found on various blogs and message boards, nothing seemed as comprehensive and structured as Steve's LSAT study plans. I cleared off my large desk calendar and wrote down everything that I needed to do, day by day, over the 3 months. I was about a week and a half behind when I got started, so the day by day breakdown allowed me to condense Steve's schedule a bit, and stay on track. Having a day by day guide kept my studying structured, and forced me to face when I was falling behind, and catch up.

Remember, the point of the study strategies, and of the studying in general is to find something that works for you. By the time you enter the testing center, you should recognize patterns, know there will almost undoubtedly be a question about unemployment rates, and have a good idea as to exactly what 35 minutes feels like. For those three months, I lived and breathed the LSAT.

One of the most important aspects of my studying was pinning down the variations of my mental state during each PrepTest. I'll write a bit more about state of mind when talking about test day, but for the prep work, I cannot stress its importance. I understand that everyone has to study when they can and how they can, but try to make the environment as realistic as possible. That means turning off the tv and the stereo, getting off the couch, and pretending every time that you put pencil to paper, that you are taking a test. I took my comfortable office chair out of the office, and used a kitchen chair.

When I was studying, I didn't smoke, didn't eat, didn't listen to music and turned off my phone. When doing a PrepTest, I used the online LSAT timer so that come test day I wouldn't be surprised to hear someone interrupt my train of thought by saying "5 minutes remaining in this section." (Sounds silly, I know, but the first time I used it I nearly jumped out of my chair I was so thrown off by a sudden interruption.)

On my two days off a week, after my morning routine, I would take a full PrepTest. I began adding on a fifth, and for endurance occasionally a sixth section. I would then take an afternoon break, and return to dissect the test. I began with writing down each problem that I answered wrong, and what type of problem it was so that I knew my weak spots. I would then go through any question that I answered wrong and any question that I answered correctly but had trouble with. For every question that I answered incorrectly I would dissect the question and explain why the right answer was right and the others not. It was through this very time consuming process that I noticed the greatest jump in my score. When I truly understood why a question was wrong, I would be much less likely to repeat a mistake.

My scores consistently hovered around 176 with two important happenings. At first, I realized I was dissecting the questions to an almost absurd degree while testing, so I needed to take a step back, and trust my gut a bit. The other was that the title of one of Steve's posts became my mantra of sorts. "How I learned to stop worrying and love the LSAT." I was at my absolute best when I viewed the test not as a source of frustration, but a puzzle, a code to crack, or a game. I cannot guess how many times I repeated those words to myself.

When I signed up for the testing center, being in a major city, I had my choice between a number of locations. I picked the most expensive private university in the list and am very happy I did. I ended up in a law classroom at Northwestern, a top 14 school with very comfortable amenities, as opposed to my undergrad school which was notorious for terrible classrooms with odd smells, awful florescent lighting, and a number of confusing noises.

So finally, leading up to test day, I took the two days before the test off of work to focus, and most importantly to relax. I did activities during the day that were not test-related, and wouldn't tire me out, ensuring a good night's sleep. I woke up the morning of the test, with my ziplock bag already packed, went through my normal morning routine, and headed out the door. I arrived at the testing center over an hour early, just to ensure that time would not add to my already existing nerves. I brought with me 1 Logic Game, 1 Reading Comp passage, and two pages of Logical Reasoning.

I found a secluded spot, and sat down to relax, calm my nerves, and do a few prep questions. I did not score my questions that morning, as I didn't need to shake my confidence with a few wrong answers immediately before heading into the test. One of the other important mental games was also mentioned by Danielle in her LSAT Diary. I ignored that other people were there to take the test, I didn't need to feel someone else's nerves, or let their casual attitude make me feel unprepared for being so nervous. Make the test about you, and simply focus on you and the test.

Seeing as people seem to be drawn to sports analogies in things like this, what's one more? I remembered watching basketball as a kid, specifically Reggie Miller at the free throw line, and was amazed that someone could be so intently focused with 35,000 screaming fans and millions more watching around the country. In taking the test, I tried to achieve a similar state of zen if you will. When I sat down at the table, I knew that I had done everything I could to prepare. Early mornings, late nights, 8-10 hour days of studying and test taking left me knowing every corner of that exam. When the time came, and the proctor told us to open our books, much like I imagine Reggie Miller did, I stopped thinking about the test, took a deep breath, and simply started to do the test.

Without the full support of my family, friends, and girlfriend, I would not have been able to achieve what I have. They simply had to understand that for three months, barring important obligations, I was off the grid. If that meant that on our one day off together, my girlfriend knew that I would disappear to the office for the majority of the day, that was the sacrifice I had to make, and luckily the sacrifice she was willing to make. It was a rough three months indeed, but I can say without a shred of doubt, absolutely worth it. I jumped 12 points from my first cold test to test day, and hopefully anyone reading this will realize that with the right preparation and resources, a few months of dedication can make a world of difference.




24 comments:

  1. Congrats Brad! Thanks for the post! I just started following the 3 month study plan about 2 weeks ago for the Oct 2010 LSAT. It is definitely a beast, but I actually enjoy playing the games and learning the logic behind many of the questions. I agree that BY FAR the hardest part is putting off friends, family, and the boyfriend, especially since I work full time. At least the bf is in his surgical residency and understands that kind of commitment to a test (cough MCAT cough). Thanks again! Every bit of encouraging info like this helps : )

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  2. Congrats on that killer score! I imagine you will never forget the question(s) you missed for the rest of your life lol. Thank you for the post and best of luck with your apps!

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  3. Congratulations, Brad! This is so inspiring. Good luck with your future endeavors!

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  4. Congrats!!!! Very inspiring for individuals such as myself and the rest of the posters...

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  5. Congrats Brad!! Your story is so inspiring for future LSAT takers. I was wondering if you used other LSAT prep sources, such as LSAT courses to help you prepare? Or did you just use the 3 Month LSAT Schedule?

    Thanks!

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  6. Thanks everyone for all the love. If anyone else has any questions, please let me know I would be happy to help. As for the answer to anonymous' question, no, I didn't use any other courses. I did use, and take a look at other info that I came across, but Steve's 3 month schedule was the base for my studying. The other info was mostly for things that I was having trouble with personally, or general advice for strategies, etc. Like I said regarding the LSAT Bibles, you have to make your studying work for you. Find what is comfortable, and good luck!

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  7. Steve,

    Thanks for the tips and congrats on the great success. A question for you- in your preparations did you notice a difference in test construction for the Preptests in the 40s and 50s as opposed to the preptests from the "10 Official" and "10 Next" guides, and how large was this difference? I'm currently taking the LSAT in October and wondering how much I should weight old tests vs. new tests.

    Thanks.

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  8. Whoops, meant to address the comment to Brad, my apologies!

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  9. Brad,
    I have a similiar UGPA as you. I hope that I can do well as you and get in somewhere good and get some scholarship $$$

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  10. Anonymous,
    Yeah, I did notice a bit of a difference. That is part of the reason I liked Steve's study plan so much. The first sections that you are doing are broken up, so at that point you are focusing more on fundamentals. When you get to the full tests, you will be doing the more recent tests, so just make sure you give yourself plenty of time to do those and make them second nature. Keep in mind the differences aren't huge, and you should be able to handle the problems regardless, so the earlier ones are great practice, but you will notice a bit of a change. Good luck.

    Sandy,
    Great luck on the test, buckle down and you can get it done!

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  11. Brad...it seems like you had a full-time job in the thick of all this, as do I. How did you juggle work with studying so intensely?

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  12. miso,
    It wasn't easy. I had to sacrifice a fair amount of sleep, and damn near all of my free time. If that means studying everyday for a while before work, or doing so on the train on the way to work, you just have to be prepared to make sacrifices. As I said though, it is worth it.

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  13. Brad your situation sounds just like mine! My law school entry depends heavily on my lsat score!!!!! I absolutely love your article and its an inspiration! I'm so glad I found this blog site! and the FIRST THING I will do like you said is get organized and put myself on a schedule because there are a lot of distractions around me and also I'm taking a 15 credit course load before this semester because I graduate May 2011! Cross your fingers for me!

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  14. Wow, what an outstanding score and story! I've actually been trying to pattern my approach to LSAT prep after Ray Allen's meticulous approach to basketball preparation.

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  15. Thanks for sharing your story, Brad. That is one helluva motivational post!

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  16. This is really great. Thanks for sharing. Makes me feel less crazy for wanting to study so much.

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  17. Love your sport analogy.

    I'm wondering what test prep did you do on weekdays? And how many preptest did you dissect before you reach the 176 stage?

    Thanks for sharing!

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  18. Let's keep things in perspective people. He said he jumped 12 points from his first cold test to the test day. That means his first test ever, without seeing an LSAT question in his life, was a 167.

    I too have spent the 8-10 hour days studying, and far longer than three months. As I await my June 2012 score to arrive, I expect it to be between 165-170, but probably no higher.

    Just because you put all that work in doesn't mean you can get a 179 like Brad here. Brad has innate ability. He has quick logical wit that 99.999% of the population don't have.

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  19. Disagree that a 167 proves you have innate ability that 99.999% of population doesn't have. I took my first diagnostic cold and scored a 164, (10 LG wrong), and then struggled for 2 months to break 170 on a practice test. Brad mentions that he realized he "had to go with his gut". I was really going with my gut for a lot of questions on my first diag, and for me it was really difficult to have the discipline to learn the fundamentals- in some ways it is hard to learn the fundamentals when you already have an instinct for what is right. I dropped 7 points after 1.5 months of learning the fundamentals, and only jumped to significantly better scores 2 months later. And ultimately you still go to your gut for some questions, but the truth is you look at things much more intelligently and rigidly even if you think it's your gut. I've studied for about 4 months now. I honestly think if there were another 10 practice tests for me to do (and i still had the patience for this) there is nothing stopping me from getting high 170s. LSAT is not the measure of intelligence a lot of people think it is- and that's a good thing. It's a puzzle with a lot of templates that you can learn with practice. The people that do real well often just put in the effort, are committed, and just go for it. That's probably a good thing.

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  20. Hi Brad, thank you so much for your wonderful diary. It surely is.very encouraging.

    Just one quick question, and I hope you have time to answer this, when you were disecting questions you got wrong and trying to figure out why the right one is right and the wrong one wrong, did you ever come across questions where you just couldnt understand why your answer is indeed wrong?

    I mean, a lot of times I find it hard to "undo" my initial reasoning and objectively reason out why the right is right and wrong one wrong. Often I would vaguely see why my answer is wrong but not so explicitly, for I already spent enough time thrinking it through the first round. If you referred to any references that have been helpful in helping you figure those out, or if you could detail a bit about how that "disecting" you said was so helpful, I would much appreciate it!

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  21. Thanks you for sharing your study plan. Now I know how hard I must work to achieve my objective of getting a good score on the LSAT. I took the test once and failed miserably. I am going to improve. Thanks to you.

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  22. Thanks you for sharing your study plan. Now I know how hard I must work to achieve my objective of getting a good score on the LSAT. I took the test once and failed miserably. I am going to improve. Thanks to you.

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