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LSAT Diary: Lessons from a 170+-Scorer

LSAT Blog Diary Lessons 170+ ScorerThis installment of LSAT Diaries comes from Samson, who scored a 174 on the December 2010 LSAT.

He's got some great LSAT advice for you about how he did it.

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

Samson's LSAT Diary:

I am an investment-banking analyst in New York City. I graduated from Duke in 2009. I decided to enter law school after two years on Wall Street. In fall 2010, I studied for the December LSAT. Balancing work duties with LSAT studies was very challenging. But with hard work and the right resources, I comfortably cleared 170. I will attend Yale Law School this fall.

In my preparation, I benefited from LSAT Blog. Steve has an intimate understanding of the infrastructure of the test. Reading his posts, I came to understand the content and “the texture” of the LSAT.

In this post, I will do two things: (i) I will outline my experience; and (ii) I will list some lessons from my experience.


My experience with the LSAT:

In July 2010, I decided to take the October 2010 test. Work, however, consumed my time in July and August. By September, I had completed only two uninterrupted weekends of studying. This worried me.

My vacation (week of 9/20/10) was an important inflection point. First, I decided not to take the October LSAT (10/9/10); I reset my studies and decided to take the December LSAT (12/11/10). Second, I endured a self-imposed LSAT boot camp. During my vacation week, I studied 14 hours a day.

After “training week” I had a close working knowledge of the test. I was not completing the Logic Games section on time, but I was systematically attacking each game. Logical Reasoning questions played to my academic strengths; Reading Comprehension questions seemed uncomplicated.

Then I returned to work. I knew that I could not let October and November slip, as I did July and August. I let my manager and my teams know about my law school plans. When others learned of my commitment, they were sensitive to my time. Weeknights and weekends were sacred.

October and November were productive months, but by early November, however, I still was not completing the LG section on time. This concerned me. I was five weeks away from the test; I needed to button this up.

Thus came a second inflection point. One Friday in early November, I went to the library after work. I decided that any issues I had with the LG section would be sorted before Monday morning, at any cost. I stayed in the library Friday until 1AM. I returned Saturday at 9AM and stayed until 1AM. I returned Sunday at 9AM and that afternoon, I had a breakthrough: I completed a new LG section with 100% accuracy, with time to spare. Then I did it again. And again. And once more. At this point, I had confidence in my ability to complete this section.

The week before the December test, I took off work. I returned to my hometown of Charlotte. There I had registered to take the test: I was very serious about home-court advantage. A week before the test, I took two practice tests; this was tiring. On the following days, I took only one practice test per day. On the day before the test, I did no practice tests: I occupied my time with some practice LG and LR questions but did not otherwise exert myself. The next morning, I had a full breakfast and walked in fully prepared.


Lessons from my experience with the LSAT:

Show enthusiasm in your preparation efforts. The LSAT is so important that its only purpose is to determine your future. You should treat the test with respect. Be bold in your preparation efforts. If others mock your zeal, cast them aside: they are not your true supporters.

If you are a professional, do not conceal your LSAT plans at work. Transparency is the key to balancing your commitment to the LSAT and your commitment to your job. You will be surprised by how helpful your co-workers are.


Comparative difficulty of the sections. Steve makes a great point that the most difficult section is different for each person. For me, this was the LG section. If you’re like me, you’re in luck: with commitment, this is the section on which you can improve the most. This requires an intensive commitment to learning the architecture of the games and the diagramming techniques. After you have prepared sufficiently, though, your work on this section will be purely mechanical and possibly fun.


Historical difficulty of the sections. I completed most of the practice tests since the mid-1990s. Compared to their predecessors: the current LG section is slightly easier (less abstract); the current LR section is substantially easier (less dense); and the current RC section is slightly more difficult (longer).


More on Logic Games. No single logic game, looking back, was very difficult. The most “difficult” games were those that I had diagrammed incompletely or inefficiently. As Steve has emphasized, your diagram is key. From your diagram, a cascade of deductions will follow. Take several weeks to master your technique. If certain variables “are not in the forest,” derive which variables are in the forest. Recognize the unrestricted variables. Know when to stop diagramming and move on to the questions. Know when to stop working on a question and move on to the next game (agonizing over the last question of a game can be ruinous). If you’re thinking through three levels of abstractions with clauses that start with “if,” you’re thinking too much. There should be an automatic quality to your movement through the LG section. You want to complete this section like a machine.


More on Logical Reasoning. For all LR questions: one and only one choice is suitable; the others are garbage. For me, this was an important guiding principle. I dismissed non-correct choices as nonsense. I barely recognized non-correct choices as coherent English. Mentally pre-phrasing answers can help. But don’t consciously spend time doing this. Pre-phrasing should happen in that split-second when your eyes move from the stimulus to the question. In fact, “pre-phrasing” can occur mentally without words; that is, the idea of the right answer can fill your mind without effort. Thus: reading the stimulus, pre-phrasing, and identifying the credited response can and should occur in a wave. As you practice, identify which types of questions you are answering incorrectly. This is where the taxonomy of the LR Bible helps. I recall initially slipping up on identify-the-assumption questions (I kept selecting what followed from the argument, not what must necessarily precede the argument). Going back to the “theory” of the questions can be quite useful.


More on Reading Comprehension. My approach to the section was to treat the passages like “evidence.” If you can use the text of the passage to anchor your response, your response is probably correct. In addition, several of the questions are answered directly in the text. Isn’t that great?


Miscellaneous notes. Exercise regularly: physical fitness is important for your mental acuity. Do not drink alcohol: even small amounts inhibit peak mental performance. Do not drink coffee or soda: water is superior. Do not take a practice test within an hour of waking up: you will not fully concentrate. Practice with the watch you will use on test day: reset your watch to 12:00 for each section (stay away from bezel watches, which are difficult to read). Practice using wooden pencils: no mechanical pencils are allowed. Do diligence on your test center and visit in advance. Stay calm during the test: you are extremely well prepared. Stay calm after the test: do not visit on-line discussion boards – nobody can approximate what the scale will be.

The above are some key lessons that might be useful to others. Good luck. Do not dream about stained-glass windows [Ed. The topic of a game on the December 2010 LSAT]. But do dream.

Photo by deerleap



27 comments:

  1. Hey Samson,
    Congratutlations on your LSAT score and Yale. I am planning to take the Oct 2011 test and I have not started to prep yet...should I just wait to take the December 2011 test instead? I am looking to score over 170 as well and go to a T-20 school. Thank you again and Best wishes to you!

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  2. Hi, Thomas. Thanks for your question. When I realized I wouldn't be ready for the October LSAT, I panicked. However, a conversation with Duke's pre-law advisor calmed me down. He said that taking the December test would not adversely affect my chances at getting into top schools. I would simply find out admission decisions later. I did not mind this. In addition, he said what's most important is that I am fully prepared to take the test. I agreed.

    That said, he acknowledged broadly the benefits of early application submission, which an October LSAT would afford you. For example, you may hear from schools sooner, which will give you more time to assess financial aid packages.

    In your position, I probably would take the December LSAT. My view is that ideal preparation involves two months of intensive study to get smart on the test and one month to get into battle-mode.

    As a final note, Yale's head of admissions has stated explicitly that timing of your application submission will not affect your chances either way. Based on my experience, the same is probably true for Harvard and Stanford.

    Happy studying.

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  3. Hey Samson,

    Congratulations on your acceptance to Yale! That's an amazing accomplishment.

    I'm a in college right now, and decided about a year ago that I wanted to go to law school. Since making that decision, Yale has been my dream school. I took the June LSAT and scored above Yale's 75% median and I also have a comparable GPA. However, I know that numbers alone do not guarantee admission to YLS.

    Do you have any advice or insights to offer on Yale's admission process? Do you think, for instance, that your employment background, or perhaps a strong personal statement played a decisive role in your being admitted?

    Thanks and congrats again.

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  4. Hi,

    You’re absolutely right that numbers alone do not guarantee admission to YLS. Let me offer: (a) my thoughts on the application in general; and (b) my thoughts on the personal statement in particular. I will conclude with some thoughts on my application to Yale.

    On the application:

    Let's start with the standards of admission that YLS identifies in its application instructions:

    “The small size of Yale Law School--approximately 200 in each entering class--requires an extremely selective admission process. Overall, the Law School seeks the most promising students in terms of professional and academic distinction. We read all applications and take all factors into account. There is no cut-off point for grade point averages or LSAT scores. No one item, such as LSAT score, grade point average, or letter of recommendation, is conclusive. Potential for academic and professional excellence can be demonstrated in many ways. Competition is stiff, but each year some applicants are pleasantly surprised to be admitted.”

    And check out this great article on the process of selecting the class:

    http://www.yaledailynews.com/news/2008/feb/22/serendipity-plays-role-in-yale-law-school/

    YLS students have the highest numbers and, at the same time, have pretty incredible life experiences. In my view, LSAT and GPA are very important threshold considerations. That is, your application will hunt for the simple reason that your numbers are quite strong. But other aspects of your application must radiate light and heat. The personal statement, which I will discuss further, should be revelatory. The 250-word essay should make some important point and have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Speak with your recommenders now, and be very direct about expectations. In your list of extracurricular activities and employment, be precise and comprehensive. Each component of your application should contribute energy to the whole. Envision other applicants lobbing in Hail Mary applications and yourself serving up a bullet pass right at the chest of a faculty wide receiver. Finally, throughout the application, demonstrate that you can write clearly and cogently.

    On the personal statement:

    The personal statement should not summarize your accomplishments or other parts of your application. The personal statement should address (a) who you are at your core and (b) why who-you-are-at-your-core should attend law school. The first part requires years of reflection; the second part is simply a corollary of the first part. The personal statement should be part biographical and part mission statement. Bring the reader into your world. What are the key events? Who are the key characters? Only you can decide what is important. Take your time. Write and re-write. Show that you are multi-dimensional.

    On my application to Yale:

    Aside from my GPA and my LSAT, I devoted the most attention to my personal statement. This was a very important part of my application and, I believe, differentiated my application from others’. I wrote ten substantially different drafts. I showed the drafts to advisors, mentors, faculty, and friends. My personal statement was among the most thoroughly vetted documents I have ever produced.

    Also, I did not squander the 250-word essay. I opined on an important campus issue from my days as a student. I did this to reinforce my connection with the university.

    Finally, it’s unclear whether my current job played a decisive role in my being admitted. I believe my scores, grades, and experiences are strong on a standalone basis. But my application pro forma for investment banking was certainly stronger: my boss wrote one of my letters of recommendation; in addition, my job is inherently very challenging, which Yale might have appreciated.

    Hope this helps. Happy to answer further questions.

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  5. Yes, your advice was very helpful. Thanks for taking the time to share it.

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  6. Samson,

    We are so proud of you!!! We meaning all of us folks who are coming behind you striving to gain good results through hard work.

    Would you please share your work schedule along with your study schedule. I love the way you did knock out sessions on the weekend and got a jump start beginning with your vaca! Kudos!

    I have already started studying but am doing more like two hours a day, yet still have not knocked out a chunk of achievement as far as my skill set. I plan to take the Oct, but will also take the December LSAT. I am getting back into the workforce and will work a total of 62 hours a week. I desperately need advise on how I should structure my study.

    Did you do early mornings (how long) lunch break (how long)evening study (how long)... I know this sounds crazy but how were you able to sit so long on the weekends to knock out your studying. I am still building my stamina to do that, seems like I may just have to take a weekend and do it!

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  7. Hi,

    Running around today. But I will prepare a detailed response for you to review tomorrow morning.

    Regards,
    Samson

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  8. Samson,
    Thank you so much for the informative post! You gave a great amount of helpful advice.

    I know you touched on this with a previous question, but I also am signed up for the October LSAT, as well as the December LSAT. I have actually taken an 8 week leave from work, with the intent of studying 8-10 hours a day. I know you can't speak for me in saying how prepared I will be, so my question is whether taking the LSAT twice (both December and October) will affect how schools look at me?

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  9. To 7/29/11 2:12pm responder:

    Thanks so much for your kind words. Yes, great results following hard work.

    Here is my schedule from last year:

    1. July and August: During the week, my workday ran from 9:00am to 11:00pm (and often later). During the weekend, I typically worked about 20 total hours.

    LSAT: Very few opportunities for prep.

    2. September: Much like July and August, except for my vacation.

    LSAT: One important week-long opportunity for prep.

    3. October and November: During the week, I left work at 5:30pm at least three times per week. During the weekend, I typically did not go to work.

    LSAT: Many opportunities for prep.

    4. December: I took off work the week before the test.

    LSAT: I took a practice test each day, except for the day before the test.

    Here is specific information:

    I did not do early morning or mid-day prep. I focused on work so I could leave early and concentrate on evening prep. In Oct and Nov, I would study five or six hours at a time on the weekdays (at least three times per week); I would study many hours at a time on both weekend days (with some exceptions).

    The key to successful prep is to have a good working knowledge of the “theory” of the test before you start attacking the practice tests. That is, work through the Logic Games Bible and the Logical Reasoning Bible before the practice tests. Refer back to the “theory” to clarify your errors on the practice tests. Also, leverage the practice test explanations. This is an important point I failed to mention in my original post: the practice test explanations should be an integral part of your preparation.

    My strong advice is to try to find more hours to study. Success on the LSAT requires you to have reflected on the full range of LSAT questions. You must allow yourself time to become “intimate” with the test. Do not take the test until you are fully ready, that is, achieving your desired score on strictly timed practice tests. Also, be open with your colleagues about the test. Ideally your manager has full information about your preparation schedule. You want your colleagues informed and on your team.

    How did I push myself to work so long on the weekends? That, in fact, was fairly easy. I was given injections of serum created by a scientist named Howard Stark. I am Captain America. In all seriousness, I was just very keen on doing well on the LSAT. I was ready to crank. I also had the benefit of regular breaks, fresh fruit, and plenty of water.

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  10. To 7/30/11 4:23pm responder:

    My advice would be to give the October LSAT everything you’ve got. Given that you are about to prepare intensively for eight weeks, you will be more facile with the test in October than you will be in December – assuming you return to work after the October test.

    There is limited benefit in taking the test again in December unless your preparation efforts are comparable with your preparation efforts for the October test. That is, it won’t be to your advantage to study intensively, take the October test, study lightly, and then take the December test – your score will not change by much.

    A person can get into the top law schools having taken the LSAT twice. Such a person, however, typically has a second score that represents a substantial improvement over his first score.

    You’ve already blocked off eight weeks to study. Unless you negotiate another eight-week leave from work, your October score will be your fully baked score. Gear up and go all in. If you give the test everything you’ve got, you’ll be in good shape.

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  11. Samson,

    Thanks for sharing your information. You will do well in law school. You mentioned using the right resources. Would you elaborate on that. Did you take a class, have a tutor of just do books and self study. Would you suggest or recommend what you did for others.

    Thanks,

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  12. Thank you. I appreciate that. Here is a list of the right resources:

    - Logic Games Bible (PowerScore)
    - Logical Reasoning Bible (PowerScore)
    - All practice tests ("Prep Tests") with test explanations

    You will not take all the practice tests. But it's quite useful to have them all at your disposal, should you need extra practice on certain sections. Set up your schedule so that you are taking the most recent LSATs just before the test.

    I did not take a class or have a tutor. I used the above resources and self-study. This was the right approach for me for two reasons: (i) my work schedule is very demanding and unpredictable; and (ii) I am reasonably well-disciplined and pick up concepts quickly if the concepts are written down. For me, the class or tutor would have been distracting.

    Think about your own schedule and study habits before paying for a class or a tutor. I generally think classes have limited value outside the texts they provide; one-on-one tutoring can help but only if the tutor is adept and committed (like Steve).

    To the previous two responders, I have posted my replies. They were blocked by a filter (too long). I have asked to Steve to post.

    Good luck, all.

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  13. Samson,

    You're, "The Man"!!! Thanks a million for taking the time to share. I could literally feel your energy as I was reading your posted response. I am confident I will do well, especially after reading your tips, I'm going to follow through with every thing you suggested. I have been at this for a while and was afraid, with work ... well I just could not see the light, but now that I know there is a way and I know that it can be done. I know that I will do this! You've made all the difference my friend. Thank you, thank you and thanks again.

    You are now free to go out and change the world!!! Good Luck to you as well.

    Thank you Samson and Thank you Steve!

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  14. Dear Samson,

    Congrats on your incredible accomplishments--and more to come!--and thanks for sharing your experiences. If you have the time, I'd love to hear more details about your LG dark-weekend-of-the-soul. I'm in a similar situation to yours: LR and RC play to my strengths, but I'm inconsistent with the Games. Some sections I'll breeze through under time; others trip me up and I scramble to get -4/-5 under time.

    So, if you would share, what did you do during your marathon November weekend? After your boot camp week, did you return to the LG Bible this weekend, or did you devote your time exclusively to timed sections?

    Again, thanks for sharing your experiences. Also, thanks for successfully privatizing world peace.

    Best,

    CMR

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  15. Hi, CMR.

    Thanks so much for your kind words. I am in meetings all day today but I will post a detailed response for your review tomorrow morning.

    Best wishes,
    Samson

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  16. Samson,

    No rush, and thanks for your time. I look forward to your response.

    Best,

    CMR

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  17. CMR,

    Thanks very much for your interest. Here are some details about the weekend:

    I was at the library. I had a binder of practice tests. I had access to practice test explanations. My exclusive focus was timed practice sections. I got into the rhythm of completing a section, checking the section, and reviewing the section with the answer explanations. I did this ad nauseam.

    Here are some insights from the weekend:

    1) It's difficult to know precisely how much time to spend drawing inferences before answering the questions. With practice, I discovered a "sweet spot" - i.e., a point at which I've made all the inferences that I can make easily and would need to work laboriously before making further inferences. After I hit this sweet spot I tackled the questions. It's important to find your own sweet spot.

    2) It's important to understand which variables have no restrictions. The variables with restrictions are peculiarly shaped blocks; the variables with no restrictions are like water.

    3) It's important to understand which variables are "in" if certain variables are "out".

    4) It's important to keep track of the number of elements vs. the number of slots. Sometimes the number of surviving elements and open slots is the same, and therein lies your answer.

    5) Questions sometimes feature a new rule. In fact, such questions are popular in the most recent exams. Sometimes they require you to redraw the master diagram; sometimes, not. Be comfortable with these questions.

    6) Be comfortable with the idea that the contrapositive of an "or" statement is an "and" statement (and vice versa). In terms of pure logic, the reasoning is never more difficult than this.

    7) To maximize a total selected you need to minimize a total rejected.

    8) Trial-and-error is very rarely the right approach. Look for more inferences. If you must use trial-and-error, do so at the end of the game.

    9) Doing many games over a short period of time, I was able to refine my diagramming technique in small but meaningful ways. Perhaps you can do the same.

    10) Doing many games over a short period of time, I was able to burn new pathways in my mind. My spatial reasoning skills improved, and I could do some games mentally after preparing the initial diagram. There's some magic in doing many games over a short period of time. You can anticipate the relationships the test is trying to tease out.

    Above are just some insights that were helpful to me. Happy to answer further questions.

    Best,
    Samson

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  18. Samson,

    Thanks so much for your detailed, helpful reply. I'm going to attempt my own marathon LG session this weekend, incorporating your suggestions and taking your advice into account.

    Thanks again,

    CMR

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  19. Wow this is one of the most motivational comment threads I've read in a while!! Thanks, Samson, for sharing your words of wisdom!

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  20. Samson,

    Great job!!! Hopefully with hard work, I can get a score close to yours! I had a quick question however, do you subvocalize when you read? I feel I am having trouble with reading and understanding the questions in a short amount of time. As the LSAT is a "speed test" it’s often very beneficial to read the passage, and completely comprehend it quickly. Doing so will often allow the test-taker to maneuver through the exam much easier. Hence why i was wondering if your reading technique eliminates subvocalizing (reading and pronouncing the words either aloud or in your head). Thanks again, and I hope law school is going well.

    Thanks again,
    Julian

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    Replies
    1. Hi, Julian.

      Thanks for your question. I do not subvocalize when I read LSAT passages. Doing so, I think, would slow me down considerably.

      Best wishes,

      Samson

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  21. Hi, Samson,

    Thanks for sharing - it is very inspirational.

    How do you stay acutely focused when doing LR questions? I notice that, when working on sections, my brain becomes tired after questions 15-16. Sometimes I can get back on track, but sometimes I can't. Does this mean I need to work on endurance?

    Thanks in advance.

    A

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  22. Hi Samson,
    Your LSAT diary has helped me a lot. June 10, 2013 will be my first (and hopefully only) time giving the LSAT exam. I have been preparing on and off for 5 months but have studied properly for past 5 weeks. I started with 144, passed 155 and now I am at 163. However, my target score is 170 and I know what I am doing wrong, mostly missing 4 questions in each sections, most of which are based on carelessness and misunderstanding words. You mentioned how you took time off in the last week, how dramatically did your score improve in that week? Any advice for things to do in this last week to improve my score would mean a lot!

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  23. Samson, you are so thoughtful, diligent and inspiring. Thank you so much!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  24. the world is made in a way that's not fair!!! for both of us!!!


    why !!!

    I'm a Chinese, and all Chinese I know had no problem with LG, we just don't see it! even at the beginning!!

    but the RC is something we could not finish on time easily (here reiterates all your Americans' comments about RC and LR.)

    holy we hope we can help each other?

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  25. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  26. Hey Samson,

    Not sure if you still read this, chances are you might have even forgotten about but I've been perusing google for the answer to my nagging question and I stumbled upon your story and I'm hoping you could help.

    I recently graduated from Columbia and I have a full-time job lined up in I-banking and for the last 3 months I've been studying my butt off for the June LSAT. I started at a 153 and am firmly in the 165 - 168 range. My goal has been to achieve a 170+ and considering the rang I'm at now I don't think I'll be able to take the June test and achieve the score I want (oh btw, the test in in 5 days). Here is my question: Will I have adequate with banking hours and all to continue studying? Am I shooting myself in the foot by skipping the June LSAT and pushing it off until October/ December when I'm in the beginning stages of the banking lifestyle. My plan is to do at least a year of working before I go to law school so ultimately I'm fine with pushing off my test until even Febuary of next year even if that means pushing law school off another year. Hopefully you see this message and thank you in advance for the help

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