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February 17, 2011

LSAT Diary: Prep and Score Increase in Canada

LSAT Prep Score Increase CanadaThis installment of LSAT Diaries comes from Dan, who followed one of my LSAT study schedules and went from a 141 to a 168!

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

Dan's LSAT Diary:

Ah, yes, Canada. A country that chose not a bird of prey as its national animal, but instead a rodent, the beaver. A country that prides itself on its cold winters, ice hockey, and ice cold ‘Canadian’ beer (brought to us by American companies of course). From sea to sea we too, must suffer the long hours and mental exertion that is the LSAT. Thank you LSAC!

I am a 23 year-old former international relations student from the University of Toronto. Since attending a high school course on Canadian law the goal of receiving a legal education has been firmly implanted within my psyche. I am the prototypical political science student-wannabe-lawyer who is obsessed with international affairs, legislation, and government. In fact, one of my favorite parts of a recent trip to the beautiful beaches of Florida was the presence of C-SPAN in my hotel room—you get the picture.

So while this description may give you a very rudimentary idea of who I am, what I am not is an LSAT superstar. I am not a Brad, JT, or Jake, and do not shrug off 170s like Kobe shrugs off 30 point games. Furthermore, I did not start off scoring in the high 150s. Heck, scoring in the high 150s was a great achievement!

Two years ago after writing a cold diagnostic I started out with a 141. Not only is 141 a not-so-great score, but also, after having a rather bumpy undergraduate experience in my first two years, my cumulative GPA sits at a 3.5. Hence, as is the case for many of those who have written diaries for the site, a good LSAT score was going to be integral in my law school application being a competitive one. Wanting to begin law school in the fall of 2011, I planned to write the exam in October. Before beginning my studies I wrote one more prep test to set a reference point and scored a 145. Finding LSAT Blog in June, I started with the 4 month study schedule and aimed for a 165.

Oh man did I put off studying! By the end of June I had gotten very little done besides some measly attempts at a few logic games while picking through parts of the logic games booklet. But come on, it was summer! While working a full-time job I had very little time to fit in the LSAT, especially when you take into account the social component that is integral to every summer. I know, I know, this is the LSAT. So I settled down come July and started taking it a bit more seriously, downsizing to Steve’s three-month LSAT study schedule in order to make up for lost time.

However, the next three months were rushed and when it came to September I had not spent much time on reading comprehension questions and my logic games ability was still rough. At this point I decided to press on anyway and begin writing the prep tests as scheduled; this was a poor decision. What happened next was that, although my timing improved, after almost six prep tests I was scoring a 155 and one week later was stuck at a 158. This is when I learned a lesson I took to heart when studying for my second attempt at the LSAT: it is essential that before beginning prep tests you have a very solid grasp on all sections and their respective question types. For myself, it became very apparent that I had not spent a sufficient amount of time studying the logic games. On some occasions I would score perfect or very close to, while on others grinding out sixteen right answers was difficult. It was very clear that grouping games were an issue and that I needed to go back and review them, but I had already spent almost three weeks on prep tests—there was no time. As the final two weeks approached I plugged on writing prep tests and after hovering around a 158 for some time, I reached a 161 on two occasions.

Before heading into the exam I knew that logical reasoning, in which I was scoring -5 or -6, was going to be my strongest area. I also knew that if I was going to make it into the 160s I needed to score perfect in the logic games section as I was losing 9 to 7 marks on reading comprehension. Scoring well on the exam was going to be more about wishful thinking than hard work and skill.

The day before the exam my unpreparedness was exposed by my nervous and anxious demeanor. That night I got very little sleep. The next morning, tired and nerve-racked, I entered the testing room, took my seat, and began the exam. By the end I knew that it did not go as I had hoped.

Sulking as I drove home feeling rather defeated I knew I was going to have to re-write the exam. After pondering the decision for a few days I also decided to cancel my score, to have a fresh start. I took the next week off from the LSAT and then condensed Steve’s three month retaking schedule into two months (that was all the time I had left). Taking Brad’s advice, I scheduled every day I had remaining until Test Day.

I found that on my second attempt using a day-by-day LSAT study schedule was the most important thing. For the previous exam I had simply given myself tasks that were to be completed by the end of the week. With procrastination kicking in here and there, this method often left me behind on my work.

I went back to previous exams and questions and thought very carefully about what sections I needed to improve on and where I could make the biggest gains. First, it became very obvious that I needed to spend time practicing reading comprehension questions. Scoring -9 to -7 on this section just simply wasn’t going to cut it, and I also believed that it was a section that, with time, could become a personal best. I began by reading Steve’s tips on the section and then disciplining myself to writing two timed reading comprehension sections a day beginning with prep test 7 and ending with 46.

As I became more comfortable with the reading comprehension section I found two of Steve’s recommendations to be the most helpful: (1) focus on structure, and (2) be able to support every answer with information from the passage. Repeated practice also allowed me to foresee what areas of the passage would be questioned and thus, my markings became less-often and more precise. In a few weeks I was between -3 to -5 per RC section—a great improvement.

While undertaking two passages a day I was also focusing most of my day on LGs, especially grouping games. Almost 3 weeks before the exam I was able to complete all LG sections from prep tests 19-38 including repeating some of the more difficult questions. When I went back and looked at my previous exams I found that I was not spending enough time analyzing the rules and diagramming some important inferences. Instead, I had developed the bad habit of simply diagramming the game rules and moving on. The result was a very vague understanding of the game as a whole, and left me occupied with each individual question for far too long. Once I began to properly diagram and analyze the game before moving onto the questions, I was able to knock off some of them in a matter of seconds. As a whole, some games I could finish in four minutes.

Again, repetition was key. The more games I threw at myself the more confident I felt and the less likely I was to be thrown off by an especially difficult game. When I moved into writing prep tests I was able to score perfect on almost every games section. Most importantly, grouping games became one of my preferred game types.

When it came to studying LR I decided not to leave myself too much time. I knew that it was my best section and that increased focus here would probably follow the law of diminishing returns. Personally, I also felt that no matter how good I got at these question types some can be so tricky that I doubted if I could ever reach beyond -4. I spent just over a week going over my weakest types: most supported, parallel, and weaken. If time allowed I also took on some assumption questions.

What improved my score the most in this section was the habit of writing out each question I got wrong. I would write out an analysis about half a page at the very most that explained to me why my answer choice was wrong and why the correct one was correct. Not only did this allow me to understand where I had gone wrong and to correct my faulty reasoning, but it also provided me with a mental framework, a process that I used with each logical reasoning question as I talked myself through the wrong answer choices. And I dare to say it again, repetition was key!

On a side note, I also want to mention that as I moved on to study one section of the LSAT, I never left behind another. That is, when I finally began studying LR questions, I continued to include a reading passage and a game or two each day. I felt that this was important as I remained familiar with the other sections and kept on top of my game.

When it came to writing practice tests, I was surprised at the difficulty I encountered. On my first PT I scored a 163. Whether it was due to the pressures of writing a full exam and thinking, “This is it!” or to a lack of endurance, my scores over five sections did not represent what I could do with 35 minutes on just one section. I found that I needed to learn to become relaxed - even a little arrogant in my dialogue with the test - and keep my mind as focused as possible. Taking on this attitude as I wrote 7 practice tests in the two weeks before the exam, I eventually made it into the high 160s, scoring 167s and a 168.

Writing the exam at my alma mater gave me a familiar and comfortable setting. Feeling confident the night before the exam I slept like a baby. The next morning I went through my morning routine of a jog and a solid breakfast, prepped myself with an LG section, and headed to the test center. Sitting in my seat, things felt quite different from my previous experience, and with that I knew I was ready.

This is a great exam and to be honest, I enjoyed every minute of it. The long nights, the aggravations, the mood swings and swearing fits, all become worth it with persistence. I have seen many speak of a “20 point ceiling”, about how, when it comes to the LSAT you “either have it or you don’t”, but this just isn’t so—and my experience can attest to that.

When it comes to this exam it is all about perseverance and positivity. The latter being in abundance on LSAT Blog, I found it very helpful and hope that it continues!



8 comments:

  1. Great write-up.

    I used many of the same techniques that you did; it seems like everyone who does well on the test seems to wind up using the same strategies. There are just no shortcuts to a good LSAT!

    Games every day? Yup. Tons of PTs? Yup. Analyzing every wrong answer? Yup. Understanding the question types? Yup. No shortcuts here!

    Caleb

    PS sorry you live in Canada

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  2. thanks for the encouragement its greatly appreciated!

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  3. This post gives me hope...my diagnostic was a 140. I'm taking the June 2011 LSAT and I hoping to get 170+. Wish me luck :)

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  4. Good luck, Jen!

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  5. Great to hear it IS possible to improve your score. What techniques are good practice on the LR questions? How did writing out the questions help?
    I struggle with this section. If I can do well on this section my LSAT score would increase considerably.
    Any ideas???

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  6. Great job there, Dan! I live in Canada, too, so I kind of have some special feeling about your diary.

    Any ways, good job, and good luck with your further application!

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  7. Thanks for the tips on how to structure a daily study schedule (i.e. while I'm focusing on LR don't forget to do an RC section or two everyday).

    I'm retaking in June. LR is my weakest section which really bites considering we have two sections of it on the exam. However, writing out LR questions has been a great help! It's enabled me to analyze the structure of the argument faster and more accurately, but I'm able to identify familiar patterns in the answer choices. Anyone studying right now - there are patterns to the answer choices. Writing out LR questions is a good way to learn how the test writers think!

    Best of luck with your application, Dan!

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  8. omg this is EXACTLY what happened to me... grouping tasks on a weekly basis, getting stuck in the high 50s and low 60s, sometimes doing well in the LG section but doing very poorly at other times. Thank you for the advice. Will print out your post and take your advice to heart when retaking!

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