LSAT Studying: Learning From GRE Mistakes

This installment of LSAT Diaries comes from LSAT Blog reader Danielle, who scored a 168 on the LSAT after using one of my LSAT study schedules.

Enjoy, and 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 Danielle for sharing her experience and advice, and please leave your questions for her below in the comments!


Danielle's LSAT Diary:

Arriving at the decision to attend law school was a somewhat lengthy process for me. I hold a master's degree and had been teaching at a number of local colleges, piecing together enough credit hours as an adjunct to support myself. The work, however, felt vulnerable--adjuncts can lose their appointments on the first day of the semester if classes don't fill--and I also wished I could engage more actively on the topics I was teaching about, such as land use, environmental health, and human rights.

Beginning in summer 2010, I started talking to as many people as possible to find out what law school is like, what lawyering is really like, and if I had accurate perceptions of where a J.D. might take me. The students, professors, administrators, and practicing lawyers I spoke with offered me a lot of great insight and advice. One encouraged me to "hurry up and take the LSAT" so I could apply to start a law program in Fall 2011. Fortunately that was one bit of advice I didn't take.

It was September and I was teaching five college courses. I knew there was no way I could also study for and do well on the October or even the February LSAT. I had heard that most people can't just walk in and do well on the test. (And when I answered some sample questions on the LSAC website I got most of them wrong.) I'd also heard that applicants who apply earlier in a school's application period have better chances of being accepted and funded. So I kept on reading about law school and talking to people about it, and made plans to take the June test.

If you think you should just hurry up and take the LSAT without being as prepared as possible, I would recommend you rethink your approach. When I applied to masters programs I did so with a so-so GRE score, which I earned after 3 or 4 days of lackluster prep. I really didn't feel like going to grad school when I took the GRE right after college.

A couple years later I suddenly decided to go to grad school--and had a completely average GRE score to work with. I didn't take the time to study and retake the test and therefore was never considered for generous fellowships offered by the institution I ended up attending. I found out years later that I hadn't even been in the running because of that GRE score. I missed out on the chance to compete for tens of thousands of dollars in fellowship support. That experience definitely influenced my approach to LSAT prep. I wanted to do it right this time.

Once I decided to take the June LSAT I wasn't sure what to do next. ("OK, I want to do this right. But what is the right way?") I read about commercial prep courses. Some people liked them while others seemed to think the classes they took were a waste of a lot of money. In their online reviews people talked about books the class instructors had basically just walked through.

I fortunately stumbled onto Steve's blog and his LSAT book recommendations. This seemed to be it! There were helpful reviews, tips, links, detailed study schedules, and so many excellent testimonials. Since it was late December the 5-month weekly LSAT study schedule looked right to me. Then late January rolled around and the 4-month weekly schedule was the one. I ordered all the suggested materials and printed the schedules so I could start in February.

Somehow it became late February and then mid-March. I flipped out and realized I was setting myself up for failure. So I finally started studying in earnest. In mid-March I began the 4-month study schedule, vowing to make up for the 6 weeks I had already missed.

Logic games were terrifying at first. I completed each one at a snail's pace, regularly wiping my sweaty hands. (Gross, I know, but it gives you a sense of how worried I was). I found I couldn't go fast enough to get back on track with the 4-month schedule. I hoped I'd be able to catch up during May when the four classes I was teaching would be over. Gradually, I did get faster and better at logic games but still scoffed when I read that some people find logic games fun.

I studied every weekend and a little bit on weeknights when I could manage. I kept track of the question types I found most difficult. After allowing myself plenty of time to get the hang of the different test sections and the different question types within each section, I started timing my work. I completed several logic games and found it entertaining!

In mid-May I reported grades for my classes and turned my full attention to test prep, all day every day. I had become so much more confident in my abilities by then. I swear I was able to feel my fronto-parietal connections strengthen (see blog post from May 9, 2012, "LSAT Studying Makes You Smarter | Proof?"). Honestly, my LSAT prep books are still stacked by my desk because what if I need them to get smart again?

I ramped up during the last two weeks before test day. I was completing one PrepTest per day. One time I scored a 178 and did three victory laps around my apartment. Some of them I took at home and others I took at our neighborhood coffee shop or deli, just to train myself to deal with noisy, distracting situations. I highly recommend this.

I decided to start taking two tests every day to make up for lost time. I do not recommend this. (The 4-month study schedule suggests completing three PrepTests per week.) On my first two-test day I woke up and started one of the tests immediately. Maybe I drank coffee for 10 minutes. But then I started the test. It went terribly and my diminished score chipped away at my confidence. I tried to take another later that day and only finished one section and did poorly. Eventually I made peace with the fact that several PrepTests in my stack would remain untouched.

On test day I walked to the testing center and became a logic robot. I was definitely nervous and therefore sweating profusely--I was worried the machine wouldn't be able to read my rumpled answer sheet--but something did click in the test-taking part of my brain, allowing it to take over and and quiet every other part of me. I attribute this auto-pilot mode to the ordered, thorough preparation I did, as instructed by the 4-month study schedule.

To sum up the following 11 months, there was a lot of waiting; my score appeared in my inbox (168!); there were many personal statement drafts; and finally acceptance letters and a scholarship offer from my top school arrived. I credit Steve Schwartz's LSAT Blog with giving me the tools and guidance I needed to make this happen. Thank you so much, Steve!

Photo by bobaubuchon



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