LSAT Diaries: The 20-Something Grad Student

Danielle is a 25-year-old grad student in Washington DC, and she's taking the September 2009 LSAT.

I'm including Danielle's LSAT Diary below, followed by a few quick comments.

Danielle's LSAT Diary:
1) The way the LSAT Makers pose their questions, the way they present the stimuli, and the way they set up the answer choices is all highly contingent upon some structure that the test taker is supposed to adhere to. How does one adhere to something they know nothing about? My point, exactly.

Thus my schedule:

-7am: get up to drink a glass of water (I drink at least 9 glasses a day)
-7:30am-8am: Ab workout or some quick 30min workout.
-8am-9am: Look for some breakfast. Something light but filling. I need it to get focused on my work day. I eat 4 to 5 times a day to keep energy up, but no carbs after 9!
-9am-12pm: As a technical research analyst, I get to look at 1000s of lines a SAS code and output per day and write about the quality of the data my firm receives. Sounds boring but I love it. It requires extreme attention to detail and organization. (I one snack within this 3 hour period)
-12pm-1pm: 1hour cardio workout and strength training. Helps me relax and relieve the stresses of writing and analyzing code all day.
-1:pm-1:15pm: fix lunch and get back to work
-1:15pm-5pm: work
-5pm-6pm: break to watch the Golden Girls, check on my LSAT TEAM, update twitter, make contacts, check on loved ones. etc.
-6pm-10:00pm: LSAT Prep--I want to sit in front of this material for at least as long as I will have to on the official test day!
-10pm-12am: Jot down meals, adhoc tasks, and watch syndicated TV shows until I fall asleep.

The weekend mirrors closely what I do during the week, except I study longer for the LSAT, rest more, and most importantly, I regain my social status :0). With family and friends all living somewhat far away, and a mom who's undergoing chemo, the stresses of regular life can easily manifest themselves into utter disruption of my structural environment, so I try my best to get my have-to's out of the way in order to have ample time to tend to my need/want-to's.

When I've failed at the LSAT, I never successfully established this environment, and I'm afraid if I don't do it now, I'll never get over this obstacle, and what's worse, despite my success thus far in most every other aspect of my life, whatever it is I'm standing on may start to crumble under me. I can't have that. Just that simple. I have to meet the expectation!

2) Tonight, I focused in on the LR section: implication questions (MBT, MBF, Inferences). Though I am pretty familiar with the every aspect of the test, I approached my preparation very differently this time around. Ever since I realized my biggest weakness: lack of consistent ability to properly identify WHY wrong answers are wrong, I wanted to take time, while I have time on my side, to slow down and get through the easier LSAT questions to see where I was getting tripped up in my deductions.

It actually helped quite a bit. I noticed that the questions that I got wrong were precisely the ones where I failed to explain what was wrong with the answer choice. Either that or I didn't read the answer choice carefully enough. I don't know any other way to resolve this latter problem but to entrench myself in this material. Of course, I'm planning to do just that.

It's amazing to me how simple my mistakes are and how easily these little mistakes can manifest themselves into 3 years of under performance. I'm a 25 year old graduate student attending a top tier institution, and I still get tripped up by reading short paragraphs. lol. Wow, how unfortunate. I pride myself on paying attention to detail, yet I miss many of the most telling clues in the English language of an important inference.

I'm not discouraged. I make very good arguments, otherwise. I just don't have enough practice breaking a part the arguments of those who are paid to make "holey" arguments. lol. But this is a true lesson in being a sharper individual.

I sit in some of my graduate classes and get frustrated as I try to keep up with some of the seemingly irrelevant topics of dispute many of my classmates develop, but I'm starting to realize that I do that because I tune out when an argument doesn't make sense instead of focusing on just what doesn't make sense. Who knew that it would come in handy one day!

September 26th, I've got my future set on you :0) You've been warned.

3) Something I learned today: Logical Opposites
a) must be true (MBT) = cannot be false <--logical opposites--> not necessarily true = could be false

b) must be false (MBF) = cannot be true <--logical opposites -> not necessarily false = could be true

Now, while I typically thought that "could be false" and "could be true" are analogous concepts since something that could be true can ALSO be false, in terms of the LSAT, this isn't really the case. Here's why:

When a question asks us, which of the following "could be false", this means that only 1 answer choice "could be false," while the other 4 choices will be the logical opposite of "could be false." This means that the 4 WRONG answer choices "cannot be false = MBT."

This suggests that "could be false" and "could be true" are not really the same concepts on the LSAT because if the question had INSTEAD asked, which of the following "could be true," then this means that only 1 answer choice "could be true" while the 4 WRONG answer choices "cannot be true = MBF."

It's pretty interesting how they are trying to trip us up like that. After all these years of carefully choosing my words to express myself, apparently according to the LSAT, I still haven't gotten it right!

This is a clear example of why we can't use our "outside" logic on the LSAT. Damn...that's too bad, too. Just when I was getting used to feeling like a goddess of written expression, I've got to learn how to express myself all over again. For the next 19 weeks, It's LSAT Logic Only!

4) One thing I read a lot about in these LSAT prep books is attitude. Though the author's attitude is particularly important in reading LSAT stimuli, what's equally important, if not more, is how we, the test takers approach the material. That's the one thing I've never been able to understand. I remember the first official test I sat for: I was SOOO confident. The next time, for that reason, I was not so confident. But this last time, confident!! Despite those yearly 2 point increases, my enthusiasm toward the material, and the confidence I felt, my score just isn't creeping up like I think it should. I don't quite understand it. And maybe that's it: I don't understand it.

There must be something I'm missing, and I haven't a clue how to fix it. I'm breaking into this test inside-out nowadays. I'm not taking any shortcuts! Not that I did before, but I know I didn't push myself to the limit. How do I exhaust the possibilities in such a short period of time?

Practice. Practice brings insights. And from insights come better instincts. Logical instincts. lol. Oxymoron. Despite what these tests say, I still believe in my abilities. I believe that I'm among the intellectual giants. No one has realized it yet, not even me, because I haven't put it into practice! See!! I can reason! Flawless argument right there! The key there is that just because I believe something doesn't make it least not LSAT world.

In my otherwise, sensible world, if I can think of such a thing; it is. Thanks Descartes!

I believe it! I believe in me, and I'll do what it takes to bring those beliefs to fruition.



5) I'm weighed down today. I did make some progress, but not as much as I anticipated. I got tripped up on Quasars today. I hate that problem, but I will learn to love it. My hope is that it's one of the more difficult problems, but somehow I doubt it. Answer (C) is the choice I wanted.

[Ed. Danielle is referring to PrepTest 29, Section 4, Question 23 - p. 42 of The Next 10 Actual, Official LSAT PrepTests.

My explanation of the question: Quasars' light takes 500 million years to reach Earth, but anything that burns at that rate can't last more than 100 million years. As such, any quasar light you see is from quasars that no longer exist - they've already burned themselves into nonexistence. -Steve]

I was skeptical from the beginning because it closely mirrored what was said in the stimulus.

What was the difference? Sadly, it took me more than 35 minutes to figure it out. As I mentioned, I was suspect because MBT question is in the implication family; it is a deduction that must be made precisely because it isn't stated in the stimulus. So something that sounds exactly the same is most likely to be wrong. Nevertheless, there is a key distinction: location.

"anything that far away to appear [...] the way quasars..." vs. "anything that appears as bright as quasars..."

Anything that appears as bright as quasars may, in fact, be closer or further away than where quasars are actually located. There is nothing in the answer choice that suggests the location of this "anything," but it's explicitly stated in the stimuli as "that far away..." which is a reference to 500million years. It would take at least this long to appear as bright from Earth ONLY IF it was truly THAT far away, but the WRONG answer choice wants to trick us into believing that the location of this "anything" is irrelevant as long as its appearance from Earth is the same. What if it's a tiny little star that's relatively closer? What if? What if?

I made up my own what if, but the fact that I could consider another alternative, solidified the right answer choice for me, despite how long it took.

Real tough work is a thankless job, I'm learning, at least in the beginning stages. One thing I need to prepare myself for is that there will be no parade at the finish line. I'm after a personal triumph here. This is one of them.


6) Today, I focused on basic linear, and general, I don't have problems with it, as long as the rules lead to a healthy dose of deductions. Towards the end, I was spending more and more time and getting a few more wrong because I was spending too much time trying to figure out why I couldn't find a deduction. It gets particularly gruesome in unbalanced linear games, where you have to figure out which variables can be paired up and which ones can't, if it even matters. I feel like it's gotta be better just to start attacking the problems, if there are no obvious deductions, because it's too time consuming to look for universal deductions when things don't "line up" like the one-tier games. I'm looking to average 6 minutes per game, and I don't want too waste more than 2 to 3 minutes on diagramming the rules.

I've also noticed that these games tend to have many scenario/MBT questions. If we're supposed to focus on the individual scenario, then those MBTs will become a little more detailed than in the general diagram, so it makes sense to not focus too much on coming up with our own scenarios to make more deductions before we even approach the questions.

I've also been focusing on could be true/could be false questions in the LGs because I've been trying to deduce what category the 4 other answer choices will fall under. These are particularly useful when there isn't a scenario attached to it, because, for example, if the question asks, which of the following could be true (w/ no scenario attached), then that means that the 4 WRONG answer choices must be false; so, if we're really quick about it, we can build on our original diagram from these MBF statements as we proceed through the rest of the questions. I've noticed that a few questions build off others, so it can't hurt. I'll look for more opportunities to do this tomorrow.



7) "I Think; Therefore, I am...Dangerous"

That's a powerful statement that I'm beginning to understand, especially with regard to the LSAT. I'm learning that it's not just about figuring out what's being said in the stimulus; thinking particularly hard (and fast) on what their asking is the key!

It's my belief that the odds of me sitting and pondering (for roughly 1 min on 100 questions each) what exactly each argument maker is saying is next to none. I don't have that kind of time, and I'm generally uninterested in what people who try purposefully to sound confusing have to say (Yes, that means you, LSAT makers). That's one of my major mistakes on this test: thinking too much on the stimulus to grab something useful, instead of approaching the question with equally as much if not more focus than that which was given to the stimulus.

The question uncovers what's critically important about the stimulus, particularly from the perspective of the LSAT Makers. It gives us insight into a potentially confusing set of words, and it, thus, allows us to look at the stimulus in a more revealing way.

I know... I know. This is a dangerous claim; I'm not about to make the argument that reading the question stem first is the ideal way to go for all test takers. But it is more help than hurt for me. Without that question stem, I'm lost more often than not because my focus isn't on breaking down argument after argument without prompt. It's already bad enough that for at least half the test, we have less than a minute to get through and move from 1 generally uninteresting topic to another 48 to 52 times in under 70 minutes. I've sat this way for 3 times already, and I'm not going to do it again. Not without at least trying something different for once.

In general, I know that people don't ask us questions and THEN tell us to analyze what they're about to say based on those questions. Lawyers don't do this. And if we find that the only way to deconstruct someone's argument is to be prompted with a question first, then we're probably in bad shape. I respect this as true, but it is my belief that each new situation we encounter begs of us some type readjustment; we cannot go through life attacking things the same way all the time. If this were true, where would be today? Here's a better question: would we even BE?

All this to say, that for the purposes of this test, I'm placing more than average attention on the questions going forward, and while some may think it's risky, for the purposes of my prep this summer, it's making my thinking thing MUCH sharper, MUCH more ACCURATE, and MUCH less confused and bogged down. So I'm going with it, unless it begins to pose problems.

Hey there's a conditional statement! If it does not begin to pose a problem, THEN I'm going with it :-)

Peace Out, LSAT Fam!!


* Got Twitter? Follow me.
* Read about my journey to 180 and to a T14.
* Check out the progress of The Official 2009 Summer LSAT Team.

Steve's comments

You're on track to beat this exam into the ground, Danielle!

1. Your daily LSAT schedule is excellent. I'm glad to see you're exercising regularly and finding time to relax with the Golden Girls while keeping a rigorous LSAT schedule.

2. I'm also happy that you've started to notice inferences and fallacies in everyday life.

3. As you study, it is important to puzzle over the nuances of questions like the quasar Logical Reasoning question. Detailed reviews require patience and discipline, but the payoff is that you'll be less likely to get similar questions wrong in the future.

Good luck, and keep up your excellent schedule!


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