LSAT Diary: How Natalie Scored 180

LSAT Blog Diary How Natalie Scored 180
This installment of LSAT Diaries comes from LSAT Blog reader Natalie, who got a 180 on the December 2012 LSAT after using my 3-month LSAT study schedule!

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 Natalie for sharing her experience and advice!

Natalie's LSAT Diary:

I only started seriously considering law school in my senior year of college, so I wasn't as vigilant about keeping my GPA up as I should have been.  I ended up with okay grades, but I knew I would have to get a high LSAT score to have even a chance of getting into my dream school.  I was originally going to sign up for the October 2012 test, but I only decided to take the LSAT in September.  After doing some more research, I decided to give myself more time to study, and signed up for the December test instead.  Since I also found out that it was advisable to apply early in the cycle, I also decided to take a year or two off after graduating from college, rather than apply in January after my score came out.

I didn't take a cold diagnostic test, because I didn't think taking the test without being familiar with the types of questions would be helpful.  However, after minimal studying I took my first test, and I scored well, but not as well as I wanted.  I started looking for strategy information on the internet, and found LSAT Blog.

I decided to use the three-month LSAT study plan.  I didn't have a lot of free time, so I did most of my studying on the weekends.  I wrote down each step by week so that I could cross off each item after I did it.  I started with logic games.  I had bought the book of PrepTests 29-38, and I went through each type as the plan dictates.

One thing I did differently from what most sources suggest is I came up with my own ways of diagramming games.  I would first try the game and see if I could do it myself, and only if I wasn't sure what to do would I look at the suggested way of diagramming that kind of game.  I think part of the reason that I could do this was that I used to do logic games as a kid (not LSAT ones, a different kind), so they didn't seem strange to me.  This was a problem at first because I was tempted to use the grid diagrams I had learned for those games, but I got over this.  I also didn't pay a lot of attention to the classifications of games, and approached them on intuition instead.  I think the goal of a high scorer should be to get to this point, where you can look at a question and get the answer intuitively, rather than relying on set methods.  This also comes in handy for games like zones (SS: from LSAT PrepTest 67), which don't really fit into a preset type.

After I got through the logic games, I moved on to logical reasoning.  The study plan says to drill by question type, but I just did them section by section. I kept the preptest book with me, and would sit down to do a few questions whenever I had a free moment--in the minutes before a class started, while waiting for someone in a cafe, basically anytime I could do a few problems.

After I got through the LR questions, I tried to look for an overall pattern in the question types I was missing, but my wrong answers seemed pretty evenly spread out over every type of LR questions.  I went over each question I had missed again, and I tried to articulate the reasons why the credited answer was right.  While I was able to get most of the questions right, my score didn't seem to have improved much--I was consistently scoring -2 to -4 on each pair of LR sections.  I was able to see the "flaw" in the arguments, almost like looking at a chain that's missing a link, but I still made a few errors.

At this point, I was scoring pretty high.  There's a big difference in the strategy required to get the score up to 170, and the strategy required to get the score from 170 to 180.  I wasn't focused on learning the the question types or finishing on time, I was focused on hunting down and eliminating every single error.  I could have slacked off at this point, and to some extent I did--I didn't do the recommended number of preptests, but I did try to keep my studying up.

I moved on to full-length practice tests.  The most useful thing I think I did was varying the settings of these tests.  I did some under test conditions, by sitting in my room, not eating or snack during the test, setting strict time limits, and minimizing distractions.  This allowed me to perform at my best and hone my abilities.  I also did some under less ideal conditions, such as on a plane, in a crowded cafe, and with my cat sitting on me.  This trained me to stay focused despite distractions, and it came in extremely handy on test day.

I ended up buying my plastic bag and pencils the morning of the test (bad preparation, I know) and sharpening the pencils on the subway ride there.  I hadn't been to the test location before, but I had printed out a map with directions.  I still felt a little lost without my phone, but luckily I spotted another woman with a ziploc and followed her to the test center.  The test center itself was packed, and though I had worried about being on time there ended up being a long wait.  To calm my nerves, I told myself that the test didn't matter--if I didn't get the score I wanted, I could always take it again in June.

During the test, the lights were on a motion sensor, and they went out very briefly during sections 1 and 3, plunging the room into total darkness and making everyone freak out and wave their hands around to get the lights back on.  This was very disruptive, so I'm glad that I already had practice dealing with distractions.  I also think the adrenaline of the test itself helped me, because I finished with two less errors than my best preptest.

Photo by bobaubuchon


  1. Nicely done. Extremely impressive.

  2. What was your diagnostic score?

    1. I didn't really take a diagnostic, I studied first and didn't take a timed preptest until I was already familiar with the question types.

  3. Wow...congratulations! How many full prep test did you take?

    1. I took about 10, but I also did a lot of individual sections.

  4. Congratulations! Would it be ok if I know what school your dream school is?

    1. Definitely Harvard (sadly my gpa isn't high enough for YS)

    2. Unless your gpa is sub 3.0 then no school is out of reach with a 180 and great softs.

  5. Would it be all right to know your initial score? It would give me a bit of a boost:)

    Also, I'm commenting here because I'm not sure if Steve answers questions from past blog posts, so here I go.
    This is from this blog post a while back.
    "Hi Steve,
    This is really helpful, but I'm still confused on the whole "if, and only if" condition. I understand it is a necessary/sufficient condition, I'm just not sure why it would be a double arrow instead of a one sided arrow.
    Could you do a logical metaphor? Something like the whole LSAT in Manhatten and NYC sentences you did from another blog post? Thanks!"

    1. How about this: The gymnast wins the gold medal IF AND ONLY IF she receives the highest score.

      This can be written as two statements:

      The gymnast wins the gold medal IF she receives the highest score

      If the gymnast gets the highest score, she's guaranteed to win the gold medal. So receiving the highest score is a sufficient condition for winning the gold medal.

      highest score --> gold medal


      The gymnast wins the gold medal ONLY IF she receives the highest score.

      This means that receiving the highest score is the only way to win the gold medal. If the gymnast wins the gold medal, she must have received the highest score. So receiving the highest score is also a necessary condition for winning the gold medal.

      gold medal --> highest score

      So when you combine these two together, you end up with

      gold medal <--> highest score

      This is different from the Manhattan --> New York example. In that one, living in Manhattan is sufficient to prove you live in NY. However, it is not necessary; you could live in Queens or elsewhere in NY.

      On the other hand, with an "if and only if" statement, both conditions are necessary and sufficient for each other. This is why we use a double arrow; the conditional is true going both ways.

    2. This is fantastic! A much better explanation then one would get in any study guide.

      On a personal matter, I was hoping you might be able to provide some advice, in confidence, on how one could manage to perform well on the LSAT while battling disability. Please advise.

  6. Which prep tests did you take? I am debating over which sets or individuals to get and some advise will surely help me.

  7. Your entry is very helpful. What law school are you attending?

  8. Ditto. which law school are you enrolling at?

  9. Awesome story. Gives me motivation!

  10. Amazing!

    However Natalie - practically speaking supposed one with a 180 LSAT did have poor GPA - sub 3.0, what will be the law schools within their reach?

  11. Where did Natalie end up doing law school? :)