LSAT Diaries: The 30-Something Chemist with a Family

LSAT Blog Diary LSAT Studying With FamilyThis installment of LSAT Diaries comes from Jon in Richmond, Virginia. He writes:
I'm a bit of a non-traditional, 32, PhD in chemistry, married, two (little) kids. I work for a Big Pharma company. Oh, and my younger brother is currently in law school. I very much want to beat his LSAT score (161). Well, I really want to crush it.
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Please leave Jon some encouragement and advice below in the comments!


(Quick note: Below, LG=Logic Games, LR=Logical Reasoning, and RC=Reading Comprehension.)

Jon's LSAT Diary:

Day 1:
7:09: Rise and Shine

8:10: The wife and kids are out the door. I toast a Pop-Tart, grab a snack for the kids, pick up my computer bag, and head out myself. My bag is lighter without The Next 10 LSATs book. I finally got a chance to photocopy a couple of games sections. The photocopies are in the bag. I'm going to try to take a couple of ten minute breaks during my day to do a puzzle or two.

5:00: I've been very busy in the lab for the last couple of weeks and today was no different. All morning was spent getting four experiments going. The afternoon was filled with documenting the experiments and attending a meeting that was actually fairly productive. No chance to squeeze in a quick game.

5:10: I took a few minutes to search my email for a message that I have from my brother about his LSAT score. I'm trying to find which test he took. My brother's a 2L at a Boston law school (not Harvard). I have every intention of destroying his LSAT score. I know it's immature, but competition is a good motivator for me. So is shame. He got a 161. I'm aiming for 171+. December 2006. I'll have to find out which PrepTest that is. I plan on taking that test right before my official test in June. He was practicing in the low 170's but only scored a 161? I'll have to ask him about that later.

5:25: I leave work to pick up my two kids and head home for dinner and some family time.

8:50: With the kids in bed and my wife in the garage using our treadmill, I have some time to study. I usually study at the kitchen table, but I'm just not feeling it tonight. I decided to sit in a comfortable chair and review Grouping games. The games are my weakest section in the test. It just takes me too long to to work through them. My chemistry background has trained me to be very deliberate and careful in approaching problems. The time limit's killing me. I've been getting better and am working on improving my pace. I managed to get through a few games.

11:30: I decided to do a quick workout myself instead of getting right to studying after the wife went to bed. Given the progress I made during the early evening, I decide to do Section 1 of PrepTest 34. Ah, reading comprehension (RC). Easily my best section on the test. I whip through it with a minus 2. I'm alright with missing one of them, but I should have gotten the question about the anteaters.

12:20: I decide to call it a night. This is an early night for me.

Day 2:
6:50: My daughter is making sure we get an early start this morning.

8:30: I should have pretty much the same routine at work today. All morning will be at the lab bench with the afternoon full of paperwork. I may be able to find 10 minutes or so to tackle a game.

5:00: I've done all that I need to do today. I'm going to do the first game from PrepTest31. Let's figure out everyone's locker assignments!

5:10: Wow, I zipped through that in 5 minutes. I had done it before, but I didn't really remember it all that well. I'm pleased with how that went.

7:15: I manage to read a few pages of a book about the Seven Days campaign during the Civil War around Richmond, Va while my son is watching Scooby-Doo before heading upstairs to bed. I tell myself I'm doing RC prep.

8:30: I was just sitting down to study when my wife came back in from the garage. She's having some problem with her iPod. It's dead. I wanted a new iPod but it looks like she's going to get one instead. I guess the practice with grouping games will have to wait.

11:30: That's twice. Just as I was getting situated my daughter started crying. I'm at the kitchen table and ready to go again. I'll be really quiet so I don't wake anybody up.

1:00 am: I worked through the grouping game setup exercises and moved onto the first practice game. I have done the PrepTest the game is from already, but the material wasn't too fresh. I made it through the game in about 11 minutes with one stupid mistake. There are 7 or 8 questions so an extra minute or two might not be a real show stopper. It's bedtime.

Day 3:
6:50: This is getting old. I like getting up at 7:10 better.

8:36: My brother's replied to my email about the disparity between his practice LSAT scores and his official score. His story is that some guy next to him was flipping test booklet pages pretty quickly while he was stuck in the same section. He started freaking out that he was going too slow so he started to hurry through his first section (games). It took him a few minutes to remember that the order of the sections aren't the same for everybody. I guess he righted the ship after that, but the damage was already done.

You can only turn the pages a couple of times in the games section, but I guess his mental energies were too focused on the task at hand to realize that. He took the test once before, but he refuses to tell anybody his score. I'm sure that dismal performance was probably on his mind as well.

Noon: I'm going to take the first 15 minutes of my lunch to do game 2 in PrepTest 31, the CD store. I didn't like this game the first time I did it...

12:15: I still don't like it. I just have a hard time managing all of that information. I'm going to stay positive though. I've found something that I'm not good at so that means getting better at it should help my score. I see a good opportunity to to crack a piece of the LSAT code by figuring this one out. That will have to wait for later. I'm hungry.

4:30: I went to a chemistry seminar today. It was pretty boring (surprise), but seeing that I spend pretty much all of my free time on LSAT prep, my mind shifted into that mode during the presentation. I couldn't help but think about how the figures the speaker was using to tell us about his research were similar to games diagrams. Thinking about it during the talk, I realized that I've been so focused on getting the games questions answered in under 35 minutes that I've totally overlooked the key of the section. It's all about understanding how different pieces of information relate to one another.

I was reminded of instances where I've been stuck on a problem at work. I have all of this data in front of me. I know the answer is in the data somewhere, but I just couldn't see it. By changing how I look at the data, the answer I was looking for just jumps out at me. These games are basically the same thing. Once you take those random rules and put them into an order that really makes sense, inferences and question answers are much easier to find. Maybe I can take what I know about how I like to look at problems and add a wrinkle that will improve my score.

5:10: Back at work with a few minutes left until I have to leave to get my kids. There's plenty of time to do game 4 in PrepTest 31, building a partition.

5:25: I worked through this one with an eye to time and did alright, but after I looked at it a second time, I elaborated on one of my diagrams and suddenly all the pieces fell into place. I looked back over the questions and the answers were very easy to find with my improved diagram. I've known that the setup is key, but this example has really shown me that I need to look for ways to make the rules more visual. We'll see if it helps improve my score. Must beat the little bro.

9:30: With the wife in the garage, the kids in bed, and The Office over, I'm back at my study spot, the kitchen table, to work on that CD store game again.

9:50: After flailing around with the arrows in Logic Games and not making much progress, I tried applying my new insight into arranging the game info into a way that helps me see the connections better and get a better sense of how the different rules are connected. I was using the photocopy that I used to do the game earlier in the day so it was all marked up. My previous work was distracting me when I tried to answer the questions. I'll try it again tomorrow night with a new copy. (I need to remember to take "The Next 10" with me to work tomorrow and make some more copies.)

11:30: I'm feeling a little sleepy and my body is tired from the workout that I just finished, but I'll take a crack at a Logical Reasoning (LR) section tonight just to mix things up a little (PrepTest 34 Section 2).

12:30: I should have listened to my gut and gone to bed. I made some very careless mistakes. That's kind of par for the course for me on this section though. I did better back when I first started studying. For whatever reason, I'm not reading the questions and answer options as carefully as I did back then, and I'm really making some stupid mistakes. I went back and looked at one that I missed. I totally skipped the correct answer choice when I was going through them the first time. On another question an assumption in the argument jumped right out at me the second time I read the question, but I totally missed it the first time. I'm going to chalk this -6 performance up to fatigue, but I'm going to take away the lesson that I need to be very deliberate in my reading.

Day 4:
8:05: I'm sure to grab my Next 10 book so I can photocopy some more games for practice. I've decided that's the only thing that will really help me at this point. Practice, practice, practice.

1:15: I had a few things to take care of before I went downstairs to get my experiments up and running again so I'm really behind. I have plenty of other things to do besides run these routine experiments. I need to catch up on some other work, write an abstract for a poster that I plan to present at a national meeting, and get started on a training presentation that will cover some pretty technical information, but getting these experiments going is my top priority everyday. I could work on my abstract or presentation at home in the evening, but I need all the time I can get for studying. Anyway, there is no time to do a game during my lunch.

5:15: I was able to make new copies of a few games. The photocopier is in a lab where only a few people work, all of whom are already out the door. Using the photocopier for non-work purposes isn't why I'm trying to keep people out of my business. I don't want people to start talking about my plans to take the LSAT. Info like that tends to get more distorted the higher up the management ladder it goes. I don't need to deal with rumors right now. I have enough on my plate. These new copies won't be used tonight though. I have other plans for my study time.

10:00: The wife ran out to buy a new iPod, so I decide to take this rare chunk of time in the early evening to do the second LR section of PrepTest 34. I was ruminating about my crappy performance all day so this is my chance to take another crack at an LR section to see if I can improve on my sub-par performance from the night before. It's still pretty early in the evening so I figured I would be a little sharper. I was in the final few difficult questions when my wife got back home. She didn't say anything to me, but I found it harder to concentrate once she was back.

It was another -6 performance. I don't feel like I made any careless mistakes like I did the night before. I actually resisted the temptation to take the trap answer on a couple of questions and worked to the right answer. Nevertheless, it's less than comforting to be stuck in this range. I just keep telling myself that I have plenty of time. Getting over this hump is probably going to be tough so I just have to keep on plugging.

1:00: I pushed the LR frustration back for an hour and a half or so and did a few practice Logic Games. Improving in this section will be the biggest benefit to my score so I need to keep doing what I can to improve. Like I said in this morning's post, practice, practice, practice.

Day 5:
9:00: Today is Saturday and Saturday always starts with a trip out with the family for breakfast followed by our weekly grocery shopping. These trips are usually pretty crazy, remember my kids are 3 and 1 and a half. This morning is no exception. I was up with my daughter for about an hour while we were waiting for some Motrin to kick in to help her with some teething pain. I was up until 1 studying, up with my daughter from 2:30 to 3:30, and up and getting ready for the day at 7:45. I'm should be alright for a little while, but I'm thinking that I'll take a nap while the kids are napping today. I really need the rest. My daughter needs the rest too. She's stubborn on a good day, but she's impossible on a night after she's hasn't slept well. I'm already looking forward to nap time.

12:30: I was falling asleep while I was watching Scooby-Doo with my son before his nap (I used to watch Scooby-Doo when I was his age, it's a strange experience to watch it again with my own kid.). I'm thinking I need to sleep more than I need to do logic games practice.

4:00: Yes, I did need to sleep. Bless my wife for letting me sleep for 3 hours on a Saturday afternoon!

12:00 am: Most of the night has been spent on Daddy duty. My son is getting a bike from the Easter bunny tomorrow and I need to finish putting it together. I'm waiting for the cheap pump that we bought to inflate the tires to cool down from taking care of the front tire before I do the reat tire. I'm tackling the next grouping practice game. It's about researchers learning new languages.

Day 6:
10:45: All day was spent doing family stuff. I'm hoping to do 4 or 5 practice games tonight. I'm planning on doing a timed games section as part of my diary grand finale tomorrow night. Must practice, practice, practice, practice.

12:45: I worked through the last couple grouping games and two grouping/linear combination games. I've discovered that I'm really bad at grouping games where the position of the variables are not defined. I'm not a systematic enough thinker to work through all of the inferences that are the key to that kind of game. Identifying that weakness gives me something very targeted and specific to work on. I have also realized that I take too much time making sure I have the correct answer. I identify an answer that I am confident in, but then I take another minute or two to convince myself that it's correct before moving on to the next one. I'm losing a big chunk of time in that one activity alone. I'll have to pay better attention to that tendency the next time I do a timed section.

Day 7:
8:30: I had a horrible time getting to sleep last night. Right after I feel asleep, my wife woke me up to help her get my daughter settled. I feel asleep holding her in a glider that we keep in her room. I got back in bed around 5. I got 4 fragmented hours of sleep last night. There will be plenty of caffeine in my day. At least I'll be plenty busy at work.

12 pm: I have game 3 from PrepTest 31 in my bag. I know how to do it pretty quickly, but I'm curious to see just how long it will take.

12:10: It took me 5 minutes, and that's after spending way too much time confirming that I had the correct choice identified on one of the questions.

Midnight: I tackled section 4 of PrepTest 31. I am encouraged by my performance. I only missed 2 that I answered and didn't get to 8 of them. This doesn't sound great, but it's an improvement over where I was a month or so ago. The practice is helping. I skipped most of the first game after not being able to make much headway with the questions. When I went back to review the questions I quickly identified that I missed the key rule. I figured everything out pretty quickly after that insight.

I have a good feeling that seeing my mistake will allow me to identify a similar rule in a game that much faster the next time I encounter a similar game. The practice is already helping (I need to make that my mantra for the next couple of weeks). This process of seeing how the rules relate to one another and how to best attack the questions is definitely coming much faster. I could spend 45 minutes trying to figure out one game a few weeks ago. Now I can usually find the key to the game in a minute or two.

You would think my advanced degree (I have a PhD in chemistry) would help me out in this situation, but the way I think about chemistry is much different than the way I have to think about these questions. I am basically training myself to think in an entirely different way. It's definitely a challenge, but I know that I'm up to it. I just have to keep practicing because...The practice is already helping.

As for my pseudo-score on PrepTest 31, a 163. A solid RC section, two alright but could have been better LR sections, and a not so great but better than I've been doing games section. The score is right where I've been for the last couple of PrepTests, but I feel like my grasp of the test is improving. I try not to worry too much about the score at this point. I only calculate it to gauge my progress and to acclimate myself for how the raw score relates to the scaled score. I'll put more value in my score when I start taking four or five sections in a row. I'll probably have to start the test at 10 pm or so some night. I'll wrap up around 12:30. I'm going to take a couple of Saturday afternoons to take a full PrepTest with a fake experimental section, but as this diary shows, I just don't have the luxury of big chunks of time. That's just the reality of my life.

I still need to order PrepTest 51 (that's the test my brother took to get his 161). I know there are plenty of good reasons to study hard, but I am highly motivated by competition. I'll keep practicing whenever I can find the time. Thanks for reading.


Steve's comments:

It sounds like you're in great shape to rock the exam, Jon!

1. The desire to beat your brother's LSAT score is a great motivator. As long as it's effective, it doesn't matter whether the motivation is immature or not.

2. Do yourself a favor and don't study with the TV on. Set aside specific blocks of time to do nothing but study. Studying with the TV. Reminds me of when I used to do my math homework in rapid 3-minute spurts during commercial breaks. It would take a while just to get back into the homework mindset, and before I knew it, the show was on again, and I'd hardly gotten any work done.

3. Also try not to study when you're exhausted. Better to study when you're awake and alert - you'll get more out of your studying that way.

4. Glad to see you're starting to make sense of the Logic Games!

5. It's great to photocopy the logic games and do them several times. You might make new deductions the 3rd or 4th time around.

6. Identifying weaknesses is key. You will learn to become a systematic thinker through practice.

Everyone, please leave Jon some comments and encouragement below!

Photo by sterlic


  1. sounds like you're on track! It's very difficult to study while working full time, that's for sure!

  2. the "i want to CRUSH my brother's score" lit a smile on my face. 161 was my previous target (i'm retaking), and during my initial attempt i would have got on my knees and praised the lord (i'm not very religious) had i got that score.

    4 months after getting my lsat results, 161 is no longer good enough and i'm also looking to crush this test into oblivion!

    for a semi-recent grad, i'm definitely inspired by how you're juggling a full time job and family with the lsat. an old co-worker of mine mentioned how her mom also took the lsat a couple years back. definitely a great read and motivator for myself, good luck!

  3. Mission accomplished. I didn't beat him by 10, but I did my beat my brother's score by a wide margin. I ended up with a 168 (June 09).

  4. Hi jon - certainly inspiring to me as well, and i am seriously contemplating taking the LAST with plans to juggle my newborn and 7 yr old.. Plan to do most of the prep during my maternity time off before i go back to work full time.. Quick question - when did you actually start prepping for the LSAT? since your situation is similar to mine (almost) FT job, family, kids.. just want to make sure i am not being overly ambitious..
    I plan to take the LSAT in Feb -10 and am just collecting info about the LSAT...


  5. I think it's be reassuring for other people who don't have time off to know they aren't alone in their struggles to find time to study AND focus (end of the day is hard!)

  6. Thank you for your great diaries. I am working full-time as well, and prepping for the LSAT at the same time. I thought I was the one busy, but I see now there are people with much more time pressure on their shoulders. Please keep up the good work! Cheers for that competition you have going on with your brother. I'm sure you'll do a lot better. =)

  7. I really enjoyed your diary. Thanks for writing it. I'm also someone working full time and trying to study with the LSAT while running several miles each day. Best of luck!