LSAT Diary: Beginning LSAT Prep

LSAT Blog Diary Beginning LSAT Prep
This LSAT Diary is from Coleman, who's taking the October 2012 LSAT. He writes in with his thoughts on beginning his LSAT prep.

Enjoy, and 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.)

Leave Coleman some encouragement below in the comments!

Coleman's LSAT Diary:

Mood: Reflective

Two days ago, I left my LSAT books and helped brand cows, nine altogether, in our little corral. Dad’s retirement project--raising cattle on a small plot of land (7 acres owned, 20 acres leased)--was launched to the smell of singed cow hair and grilled hamburgers. I’m having trouble devoting hours to the test. This summer I have the chance to learn to ride, to play at being a cowboy, and yet I find myself tethered to books and logic games. It’s maddening. I want to be outside.

Other than being distracted by thoughts of being a cowboy, I’m in an ideal situation for studying. I took a leave of absence from my job--it’s seasonal and they don’t need me back until mid-October--and I’m staying at my parent’s house. Living at home is ideal because 1) it’s free, 2) I haven’t seen them in a couple years, and 3) I’m getting spoiled by Mom like you wouldn’t believe. I don’t even have to do laundry. Basically, I could study 24 hours a day if I wanted to--no obligations whatsoever. Of course, this also means I have no excuses.

The problem is this...I’m a darn good test-taker, but I’m lazy. I perfect scored the SAT without preparation. And yeah, that sounds like bragging (and is a little bit), but it puts my problem somewhat into context. I’ve never had to study for a standardized test. I thought standardized tests were aptitude tests--studying was basically cheating. As a first-generation college student, I didn’t know any better. No one said...hey, you’re supposed to study for these things. Even if someone had, I probably wouldn’t have listened because I wasn’t planning on going anywhere special. I was thinking community college then state school. (I ended up at a top 5 undergraduate after a teacher insisted I take a few miracle shots).

Now I come to the LSAT. For once, I was somewhat stymied. My timed diagnostic was 167. It’s a decent score, but it was decent only because I did well on everything except analytical reasoning. Logical reasoning seemed perfectible, reading comprehension was unexpectedly spotty though not bad, but analytical reason was miserable. I was thrown. I thought it’d be the SAT all over again. I was wrong. I might be good at taking tests, but I wasn’t (yet) good at the LSAT.

The plan of attack was clear. Bringing logical reasoning and reading comprehension up to -0 was doable; LR seemed mostly intuitive (I missed a combined five on the diagnostic) and RC was much the same. The games are my make or break section and that’s where I focused my attention. I started out with the test prep books at the bookstore, and quickly realized their worthlessness. If a technique works for me, I run with it; if it doesn’t, I discard it.

My biggest problem with analytical reasoning has been time...without time pressure I usually average -2 to -0. With time constraints, this drops quite a bit, usually to -7 because I don’t have time to finish the last game and I keep missing gimmes on the other games. I’ve started looking for time-shortcuts (I write down only what is absolutely necessary), but the more pressing difficulty is my tendency to stare at a page blankly for a time before it clicks. The problem seems to be recognition; hopefully it will solve itself as I do more games. At this point, I’ve done about forty games (about 10 sections).

I do games in sections of four, as quickly as possible, because I’ve noticed my brain tends to remember game details afterward if I only do one or two at time. I intend to work through every game more than once and I don’t want my memory to recall the precise intuitive leap I made the first time through. It works for the most part, I replayed the first couple of games I did and the games seemed vaguely familiar, but the rules did not (thus all the reasoning had to be done from scratch).

I’ve also started a collection of note-cards for my screw-ups. Sometimes it’s obvious that I misread the question or accidentally crossed out a different answer than I meant to. Those are test-taking mistakes and I still count them in my minus score for the problem, but they don’t require a card. The cards are for repeated screw-ups or discovered efficiencies.

For example, the top card on the deck right now says “Unless _____.” On the reverse side I’ve diagrammed the Unless procedure along with an example. Periodically I review the cards for spot-on memory, i.e. I know exactly what’s on the reverse side and the implications without looking or thinking about it. I see “Unless _____” and immediately know Unless “marks the Necessary, negate the other term to get the Sufficient; same as Except, Until, Without.” I made the card after the third time I fouled up the Unless rule. I never make the mistake now, but I keep it in the deck as a reminder.

I’m trying to get to the point where I begin interpreting rules without consciously thinking about it. As in, as soon as I read a rule, I know it and its necessary inferences, so all I’m consciously thinking about is its potential interaction with the rest of the setup.

My GPA wasn’t bad (3.7x), but I need to knock the LSAT out of the park to have a decent chance at YHS. be honest, that’s the goal. I’d be happy anywhere in the T10, but I don’t want a standardized test to be the reason I didn’t get in somewhere. Reject me for how I did in four years of college, my non-existent softs (I worked through UG, no extracurriculars), or my PS and DS (heavily blue-collar, but reflecting exactly who I am), not for how I did on one Saturday morning. I refuse to allow a four-hour test to dictate my chances. And this time I’ll even study for it. (Still feels like cheating though, poor test doesn’t seem to have a chance now).

Finally, I’d like to lodge a mild complaint to the universe at large...was it really necessary for me to slog through the last few months of inefficiency only to discover the LSAT Blog now? Most of my ideas were solid, but it was duplicative and I wasted a lot of time doing stupid things. Like doing all my games on scratch paper...for months. I started photocopying the games out of the books shortly after I read Steve’s assessment and I can’t reiterate this enough--IT MAKES A DIFFERENCE. I somewhat think it’s easier than doing games on scratch paper, because I can cross off wrong answers and keep my diagrams closer to the question, but it also made me aware of how wasteful I was being when I was working on a legal pad. You don’t have a lot of space. Learn to write small and neatly. Figure out how to organize your diagrams and stick to it.

Even good test-takers can find the LSAT difficult. It has its own lovable/despicable quirks and it needs to be lovingly crushed beneath the weight of your preparations. It’s not an aptitude test. It’s not an intelligence test. It’s a test of preparation.

--Coleman, 26, the great Northwest

(Coleman is not my real name, a lantern just happened to be on my bookshelf when I picked this email address...along with a banjo and a rifle--yeah, I’m a country boy. I’ll give updates as I go along and probably write a retrospective assessment after I get a score back. Hopefully I won’t have to re-take in December).

Photo by Paul Watson

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