LSAT Diary: Getting Past Frustration

LSAT Blog Prep Diary Getting Past Frustration
LSAT Blog reader Ellen has written 2 LSAT Diaries about her experience preparing for the LSAT while using my day-by-day LSAT study plan.

She ended up with a 174 on the June 2011 LSAT and got into Harvard Law!

This is the 1st of a 2-part series containing her story.

If you want to be in LSAT Diaries, please email me at (You can be in LSAT Diaries whether you've taken the exam already or not.)

Thanks to Ellen for sharing her experience and advice, and please leave your questions for her below in the comments!

Ellen's LSAT Diary, Part 1:

So a little about me…

I’m a 24 year old who’s undergoing serious life revisions. I graduated from Stanford with an English degree two years ago, and interned for a big theater in San Francisco in writing and research. This was fun, but I really thought I was a playwright at this point. I had started my own theater company, and written and directed my own work a couple of times. This felt like my thing, and since I have very little patience with myself, I won’t pursue something unless I feel like I’m good at it.

I started an MFA program in playwriting at Rutgers University in fall of 2010. This was one of the biggest disasters of my life. I didn’t connect with anyone, cried all the time, hated the program, my house was broken into twice with my computer stolen both times; basically, I was just miserable. The only bright spot was teaching expository writing to undergraduates, which was a saving grace. I left after a semester to return to my boyfriend and our home in Palo Alto, CA.

Once I got back, I was hopeful about my prospects, but the market sucks for anyone with a humanities degree right now, even if it is from Stanford. So I would apply and apply and apply and get rejected and get rejected and get rejected. I even got rejected from a job at Anthropologie. The clothing store. Seriously.

My entire life I’ve been told I should be a lawyer – basically because I’m smart and can speak well. I’ve received significant pressure from my dad, but have always pushed back because “only assholes go to law school.” While that may still be the case, it’s not a 100% rule, and I eventually realized at a party that I shouldn’t limit my opportunities based on this generalization. I was talking with a public defender at this party, and she had really fun stories so I decided to study for the LSAT in my ubiquitous spare time. I know; I heard fun stories so I decided to study for the LSAT. I’m kind of crazy.

One of my favorite things to do in life is research. I have an obsessive personality so I’ll just go into a bit of a state for like five hours and learn everything I can about a subject. The day after the party I got this way about the LSAT and found Steve’s blog. This made all my researching a lot easier, as I could tell how absurdly competent Steve was immediately. I bought the three month study schedule, every PrepTest after #19, SuperPrep, The Logic Games Bible, The Logical Reasoning Bible, and A Rulebook for Arguments. I only had two and a half months to go through the three month schedule so I was ready to be hardcore until the LSAT.

I didn’t take a diagnostic because I knew I didn’t know enough to do well, and I knew I would freak out and get angry with myself if I deemed my score too low. At first, I was really scared of the games because I haven’t done much quantitative-type stuff since high school, and they looked really intimidating. I was really glad my schedule started with pure sequencing games, and I quickly caught on to them. I started with Steve’s method of diagramming the pure sequencing games, but once I got into timed situations later on I found myself inexplicably getting one question wrong on the pure sequencing games so I switched to the system described in the Logic Games Bible. This worked out a lot better for me and I stopped getting questions wrong on this game type while still completing the game in 5-6 minutes. You need to get to the point where you can do pure sequencing games this fast if you’re trying to get a perfect score (or minus 1 or 2) on the logic games section. There will typically be other games in that section that need more than the 8 or so minutes you’re shooting for.

Linear games took a little longer for me to catch onto, but before I had to start timing things, I just followed the system in the Logic Games Bible (seriously, the best book of all time), and it worked out alright. I would get pretty frustrated when Steve would assign a game type on the schedule before the schedule told me to read about how to solve the game. I would complain to my boyfriend because whenever I find myself not doing well at something I get very upset. He’d calm me down, and then the next day he’d ask me how the linear games were going and I’d say something akin to, “Bitches going down.” He’d then point out how much easier I found the games after struggling so hard the day before. This was when I realized Steve was playing with my mind, and the psychological manipulation was definitely working. I was so much more confident when I was comparing my performance to that of the day before.

It was around this point that I began to really love the LSAT. I know. Crazy, right? I’m one of the only people I know that actually loves the LSAT and misses it now that it’s over. In a way, I feel like the LSAT saved my life. I was stagnating and feeling like I had no control over my life. Rejection is really hard for me since I’m used to working hard and getting what I want. If I’m not perfect at something that I want to be perfect at, I get very upset with myself; so feeling like I’m failing at getting a job and have basically no control over how to better my situation was very unhealthy.

The LSAT was the best thing that could have happened to me. I worked hard and saw tangible results. I could measure them. I could see that I was kicking ass and taking names. I was back on track to who I wanted to be after months of feeling like I didn’t belong. I was back in Palo Alto, my mind was getting exercise, and life was getting better. The LSAT made that happen for me.

This narrative continued through grouping and combination games. Then I started timing myself. This was a bad day. It was taking me 40-45 minutes to get a game section done. I would write down how long it took me to do each game as I went through the section, and then when I would go back and score I would write unhealthy notes to myself like, “Not even close,” “What is wrong with you?” or “COME ON, ELLEN!” I went back over every wrong answer (this applies to every time I would answer any question throughout my entire prep experience) and wrote down why I got it wrong.

I sat at that coffee shop table for a good 4-5 hours doing section after section – way past what Steve had planned for that day. Because I just couldn’t stand up until I got this situation under control – I couldn’t let myself fail. So then on my 6th or so game section of the sitting, something magical happened. I got all the problems right and finished with five minutes to spare. Then I did that again. And again. I actually cried on that 6th game section after I scored it. I called my boyfriend and just cried at how happy I was that I finally figured it out.

Photo by bobaubuchon


  1. Ellen, congrats on the fantastic score! In your next entry, I hope you talk about how you overcame logical reasoning. Thanks for sharing your story.

  2. Aww! Thanks! I do talk about logical reasoning in my next post, but I'm afraid that was the section that came most naturally to me so I don't go into as much detail. What do you find challenging about it?

  3. LR. I don't know wtf is wrong with me here. So I will say this. I do not get stumped by a certain question type. I get screwed by random ones deep into the section. Usually questions 15-20 or so tend to give me the majority of bruises. What the hell? I cannot be consistent with my LR like I am with LG. It's just hit or miss with me. Sometimes I don't read carefully enough, sometimes I do. Mentally, I try to go in prepared, but end up psyching myself out. Other times, I get stumped by a very complex stimulus. The more I perform formal logic LR, the more i HATE them. So what are some tips you can give me to conquer the bs later in the section and destroy it on a regular basis. Question stem or stimulus first? Skip Parallel reasoning or do them? How much time are you finishing LR sections in?

    BTW, good work.

  4. Always stimulus first. ALWAYS. You'll just end up re-reading the question stem and wasting time. Obviously, if you glance at some answers as you're turning the page and see that the answer choices on one question contain huge paragraphs, you know you're going to be dealing with parallel reasoning/flaw, and you're allowed to process that information. I would say you should do the parallel reasoning/flaw questions if you have time, but we all know they take a little longer so if you're running short on time you should skip them and come back to them once you're finished with the rest of the section.

    One thing that will really help me give you a strategy is if you tell me how you're doing time-wise. Are you finishing the section with minutes to spare or barely finishing?

    If you find yourself getting stumped by seemingly random questions, I recommend doing the practice tests in SuperPrep where they have the explanations and levels of difficulty spelled out in the book. You may find that you're just getting questions wrong that are on a higher difficulty level.

  5. Thanks for responding Ellen. I can honestly say that time wise, i've been struggling. Sometimes I get bogged down and run out of time by question #18-19 or so. If i'm able to do it a bit faster, it seems as if i'm sacrificing accuracy for speed, which I don't want to do. I purchased Steve's 5 month LSAT study schedule, so i'm barely getting around to starting the actual prep tests with five full sections. I've been drilling section by section. LR by type etc. I guess it's about time that I start attacking prep tests and thoroughly analyzing my missed questions and such. Btw, what's your most efficient method for tackling RC? I see that it is truly my most difficult section. I've been trying to attack the RC sort of like LR by spotting soft/strong language, and eliminating answers that are partial and not complete (ie. MP). Any help would be appreciated and is considered invaluable to me :)

  6. The best way to attack RC relates to what I said in my next post. You really have to deeply analyze your wrong answers and find the pattern for why you're getting them wrong. It probably won't be obvious, but if you have someone around you that's willing to look at the answers you get wrong (even getting a tutor for a short time to look at this) that would be helpful.

    When you're struggling with time, the thing I've found most helpful is to just do section after section until you get absurdly comfortable, but that applies to my experience with games, not LR.

  7. Hi Ellen, this is a couple of years later and you probably graduated from law school. I am currently studying for the October 2015 LSAT and I am faced with your same frustration. I am no Stanford graduate and you probably have alot more determination and endurance to sit for long hours of studying, but I feel alot better after reading your written piece. I am even bothering to write a comment that you probably won't even read because its been so many years. I am at the point that I understand how to do games but I am not good with time. I feel like throwing down my pencil and declaring being a lawyer isn't for me. However, I will give myself another push and hopefully come out alright. Thank you for letting many of us know that we are not alone in this frustration