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LSAT Diary: Preparing for Test Day

LSAT Blog Preparing Test Day Diary
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 2nd of a 2-part series containing her story. Here's the 1st part.

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

Ellen's LSAT Diary, Part 2:

Logical reasoning wasn’t nearly as dramatic. This section came extremely easily to me. I don’t think I ever got more than four problems wrong on the two sections combined, even in the beginning of my prep. I would do two or three logical reasoning days in one day because they were just so fun and came so naturally. After the games, the core concepts you need to do well in LR are really ingrained. I think this was around the time I read A Rulebook for Arguments, which I really enjoyed even though I knew most it already. I wish this were required reading in high school, since a lot of my college freshmen would have greatly benefited from reading it.

I wish I could give better advice on logical reasoning, but The Logical Reasoning Bible was stellar on that. In my head, I would just read most of the logical reasoning answers as “stupid.” Like I’d read the stimulus then as I’m reading the answers my internal monologue would be, “Stupid, stupid, slightly less stupid, really really stupid, not stupid at all! Circle E. Next question.” Sometimes I would get torn between two possibilities, and I would make my best guess and then circle the problem to go back to it once I finished the rest of the section. I always had copious extra time on this section so I could spend two or three minutes on one problem if I had to, but only after everything else was finished.

At this point I was scoring between 176-178 on tests with just the LR sections and the LG section. I was pretty happy with this because I didn’t think Reading Comprehension would be a problem for me – I was an English major and then a writing teacher, after all. I don’t think I’d gotten a reading comprehension problem wrong on any standardized test in my entire life (and my dad put me into all kinds of extra standardized tests as a child). I was basically on cloud nine at this point in my prep. And then I did a RC section.

When I was doing the first RC section, I thought it was going fine, and then I graded it and got six questions wrong. I think I wrote, “WTF” in really big letters all over the page. I looked at all the questions I got wrong, and thought that my answers were more correct than the right answers in most cases – this is when you know you have a real problem because you have to know why you’re getting questions wrong or else you can never learn how to get them right. I thought I just wasn’t annotating enough, then I thought I was going too fast, then I got into arguments with my friends about how I know better than the LSAT.

None of these things helped my RC score. I went into total panic mode for about a week. Finally, I was arguing with my boyfriend about a question about the tone of a passage. It was the one where the author is seething about modern art or something. My boyfriend finally told me that I need to stop judging the essay and picking the answer that I think is the most correct and just go with the answer that is less of a stretch and more of a given. Like if I think the author is seething, he’s probably more displeased than obstinate. He’s definitely at least displeased and maybe kind of obstinate, even if he’s closer to obstinate on the scale of displeased to obstinate. This revelation completely changed the way I approached the section and brought my wrong answers down to a more acceptable range of 1-2 (sometimes even 0!) on the RC section. Crisis averted.

At this point, I started doing full practice tests almost every day. Getting back into the mindset for games after concentrating so hard on RC was difficult at first, but games seem like going to the gym. You have to do them at least every other day if you don’t want them to be painful. I enjoy games when I get them right – kind of like I enjoy the gym when I move up to a higher weight (damn, I should be at the gym right now…). There’s really no secret to doing practice tests besides always getting a note card to transfer your answers onto so that you can compensate for the amount of time you’ll use for transferring answers onto the scantron on the day of the test. You can even rip out the scantron paper from the practice tests if you’re feeling ambitious, but you should always include that administrative time so you don’t get ambushed on test day with a lost minute.

At one point I got a 180 on a practice test and it may or may not have been one of the high points of the past year. My range was 170-180. In light of that range, I’d like to address the myth that your score will always drop 5-10 on the actual test from what you’re getting on practice tests. This is not true. If this were true 100% of the time, how would anyone ever get above a 175? As long as you don’t have a fit of some kind on test day, you can score within your range if you come into the test day with the right attitude.

I took my test at Alameda Community College near Oakland, CA, which I highly recommend given the large desks and lenient proctors. I got there about three hours early, and was more or less the first person at the test center. I recommend this because it gives you time to focus on you and your mental well-being. I sat on the ground and ate a nectarine, banana, and granola bar for breakfast/lunch. Then I did some light exercise. I also brought my favorite logic game to do in the car, which Steve recommends and I found really helpful. My favorite was the one with Olyphant, Ferrara, Gallagher, and the excavation sites in the 8th, 9th, and 10th centuries, and when I told that to another test taker he recoiled at how hard that problem was which gave me a confidence boost.

As more people started pouring into the test center, I struck up conversations with them. When you get other people talking, you start to forget about yourself and your problems. This kept me really calm and jovial. You definitely want to be the least stressed out person at the test center – you have to play this mental trick on yourself. LSAT test day is not the most important day of your life. This test you’re about to take is just like every other prep test you’ve ever taken, and by this point in your prep you should be really tired of prep tests because they’ve become so routine. I took every prep test after 19 (except for 61), and they had become old hat for me at this point (Sidenote: Taking prep tests in coffee shops is like training with weights on – do it).

Once I got into the test room, I tried to befriend the people next to me and behind me as we were waiting for the tests to be passed out, but no one was game by this point. Everyone around me was clamming up and getting really nervous, but I didn’t let it get to me. Then I took the LSAT. It was exactly like every other prep test.

I was too nervous to open the e-mail when it came so my boyfriend came home from work (It’s only a few blocks away! I’m not that needy!) and read it for me. I got a 174. My average score on the practice tests was a 175. There is no reason your score has to vary from your average by more than a point or two.

I love to talk about the LSAT, so I’m asking you to please e-mail me for any further discussion or if you’d just like a kind ear to vent to. I’m on Gmail and Gchat at ellenwcassidy.)

Finally, I’d like to get to why I even asked to write this diary at all. Steve is a fantastic person and resource for our community, and I want to give him as much good PR as I can. The mere idea that one can avoid a thousand dollar prep course with a $20 study schedule is unreal to me. Actually, the idea that more people don’t take advantage of this is unreal to me. You know you better than any half-baked Kaplan instructor ever will, and you can cater to your own needs far better than they ever will. The books Steve recommends will give you better tips and tricks than they will, and self-discipline is basically required for being a lawyer; so if you don’t have that, why are you taking the LSAT anyway? Buy an LSAT study guide and werq, girl.

Best of luck internet friends… and don’t forget that the LSAT really can be fun.

Photo by bdorfman



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