LSAT Diary: The 170-Scorer's Focus

LSAT Blog Diary 170 Scorer FocusThis installment of LSAT Diaries comes from Brandon, who followed one of my LSAT study schedules and scored a 170!

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

Here's what he initially wrote to me:

Brandon LSAT Success

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

Brandon's LSAT Diary:

I write this diary entry in retrospect, which means two important things: first, I took the test, and can, with a certain level of objectivity, say what did or didn’t work, and second, I scored in the 97th percentile at a 170 (my practice test average was a 173, high of 178), so I can, in my opinion, be considered somewhat credible.

When I first entertained ideas of law school, I took the June 2007 LSAT PrepTest on a whim. I had no idea what the LSAT entailed, what the score ranges were, or even how heavily it was weighed in the application process (for those that don’t know, it often carries 4 to 5 times the weight of the GPA)—I just wanted to see what it was like. That test destroyed me: I scored a 150. So, a 20-point gain later, I hope to share my experiences to the benefit of those prepping for their own LSAT victory. First, I’ll give a brief background on my circumstances, and then I’ll present lessons-learned in a numbered list.

I was a cadet at a military academy in my senior year with a full academic schedule and an even more full competitive debate schedule. Quite simply, LSAT prep was difficult and sapped what precious spare time I had. I had to make a number of schedule adjustments to facilitate my prep, but I’ll get to that in my numbered list.

The debate thing made a huge difference—it made Logical Reasoning sections relatively easy, as hearing arguments and leveraging an intense understanding of them to evaluate/deconstruct/strengthen, etc., was second nature for me. This won’t be the same for everyone: everyone has a different natural aptitude for this sort of thing. But everyone can make huge strides from their original diagnostics—I firmly believe that, otherwise I wouldn’t spend my time writing this.

For me, I think the key was dedication, which is why I’ll focus on that in my list of tips. In terms of practice techniques, though, I guess the most important part is to go over each question you get wrong, and, taking your time, articulate why you got it wrong, and what the correct answer was. After each mistake, I’d resolve to do something different. For example, I’d say, “next time I think I’m certain on an LR assumption question, I’ll force myself to find the second best answer and compare the two instead of just going with my first instinct.” So long as I stuck to that advice, I was able to eliminate a number of careless or tactical mistakes, and my score averages slowly climbed.

So now, the list:

1. Obsess over the test, but don’t risk your health. I started with Steve’s LSAT Blog and read every article I could before starting with his recommended LSAT books. I learned the history of the LSAT, the purpose, its importance, its trickery and any other minutiae I could find. I day-dreamed about ending up at a “reach school,” or getting a high enough LSAT to have a reasonable shot an Ivy League school. I drove my friends nuts with LSAT trivia and the nuances of the law school application process, and drove myself a little nuts with the same data.

How did this help? Simple—it allowed me to stay motivated for LSAT prep. All of my goals and dreams hinged on one test. Every point on the LSAT would make up for a hundred nights of not studying as hard as I could, or every B on a final exam. When I slacked, I felt guilty and beat myself up over it. When I walked into that building on test day and began talking with other test-takers, I felt unbelievable confidence: some of them hadn’t even taken a PrepTest yet, and I knew LSAC officials’ names.

Furthermore, this structured other parts of my life. I began focusing more on sleep and fitness as a means of preparing my body for the test. I completed homework earlier to have time to study. I drank less to keep my mind sharp. All steps in the direction of maximum performance. Obsession worked for me… I don’t know how to induce it, but if you can get there, the score increase will shortly follow.

2. Logic Games. If I could go back and do it all again, I would focus far more on logic games. I focused on games from PT 19 and up, doing most multiple times. Then, on test day, I got hit with a game that was, as other test takers put it, “reminiscent of early logic games.” I missed 5 on LG that day, versus my PT average of 1 or 2. My advice is to do the LG portion of your prep first, but set aside 30 minutes every day for the rest of your prep to do some logic games. Learn them inside, out, upside-down and backwards. This is the easiest way to gain points—why spend all of that money on prep and test fees if you’re going to ignore the best place to improve? For me, it came to a point where I was working LG into my everyday life—if friends were loading into a car, I designed rules in my mind that would affect who sat next to whom—completely involuntarily. This goes along with point #1, but I can’t stress it enough—LOGIC GAMES!

3. Don’t just study from the LSAT material. Read the material people recommend to prep for Reading Comprehension — The Economist was my preferred material, but science will help. RC gets a LOT harder in the later PTs, so don’t ease off once your scores start improving in the 30s range of PTs.

4. You don't need classes! Maybe they help; I can’t say for certain because I never took one, but the material is there, the tactics are there, and your ability is there. It may be cliché in the world of LSAT prep, but if you can’t hunker down for one test, how will you hit the top of your class in a great law school? Start your self-discipline and work-ethic for your dream of being a lawyer with the LSAT—it will pay dividends, and save you a grand. Don’t get me wrong, advice and individual tutoring has a place in everyone’s prep routine, but those exorbitantly priced prep courses, to me, seem unnecessary.

5. Focus and give yourself adequate time. I studied for 5-6 months on one of Steve’s LSAT study plans, but got distracted when I had to graduate and move cross-country. Don’t mimic my mistake: schedule a test date and make sure you have very little else going on. I took my test in the middle of a trans-America drive, and I am confident the stress of that trip, coupled with the drop-off in studying, lost me a few precious points.

In the end, the study process should consume you. Finishing the test should be the end of a 6-month roller coaster ride. PrepTests left me feeling hopeless or elated, burned out or anxious to go again, but persistence became more and more important as test day drew near. Not everyone can stick with it, which is why not everyone will go to a top school, and realistically, that’s not the end of the world by any means. But if you have the fortitude and devotion, all of the resources are at your fingertips. Don’t make excuses, don’t quit, and remember: you can get tired, but never weak.

Photo by ihtatho


  1. Brandon,

    Great post! This test does have a lot to do with motivation, focus and the determination to succeed no matter what.

    I loved your last line:
    "Don’t make excuses, don’t quit, and remember: you can get tired, but never weak."

    Those words are very true!

    Best of luck to you...wish me luck as I prepare for the 12/11/2010 LSAT.

  2. Been there, am there. But someday I wish to say, done that!

    Your post was very inspiring. Thanks.

  3. Great post! Thank you.

  4. Brandon, I had to ask myself that same question: "if you can’t hunker down for one test, how will you hit the top of your class in a great law school?" The magic isn't in an expensive class but you drive, and determination to be as good and work as hard. This post has led me to reevaluate my approach and has called me to consciousness. Thanks Alot. Time to hit it to a higher gear!

  5. Wow! Thanks for your post. I'm finding myself doing the same things - focusing my entire life around the LSAT (working out every morning when I hadn't since high school, cutting way down on alcohol, and, most recently, even quitting my stressful, distracting job and moving back in with the folks) and, while my scores are increasing steadily from a similar starting point, my friends think I'm completely losing it; none of whom have completed an undergraduate degree. It was incredibly helpful to read your post - it set my head on straight again after leaving a party substantially early last night in order to get up and study, and getting a lot of flack for it. This was a great reminder that I'm not going crazy, and I'm not alone, although I may be a loner for the next three months. :) Thanks again, Brandon!

  6. Great motivation ... unfortunately I'm finding I'm going the opposite way ... from tests 1999 - 2006, I found that I can score between 163 - 169 consistently.

    But from 2007 onwards, I found my scores slowly dwindling from 164 down to 158. :( I'm writing the October LSAT and this is worrying me.

  7. Would your logic games experience justify practicing from games pre-pt19?

  8. I'm studying for the june 2011 LSAT and well, not much studying has gotten done, mainly because of, like you've said, excuses or life has gotten in the way. But, your piece talks about the future and working towards making that future a reality. I trully want to live that reality. I want to go to law school. Thank you for helping me realize that the time to act s now. I hope others read this and feel encouraged as well.

  9. I often get bored halfway on the LR sections, and there's a dramatic difference in how many I get wrong when I'm bored versus not bored. Do you have any tips to get back in focus during the sections?

  10. Thank you so much for your tips! I recently got into a funk with my study plan as well as mentality but this really reminded me of the importance of a strict schedule and dedication. Thanks again!