Monday, August 29, 2011

7 Deadly Sins of LSAT Prep

The 7 Deadly Sins of LSAT Preparation

My name is Brent Dunn. I am the founder of ACE Test Preparation, and have been helping students prepare for the LSAT for over 15 years. I am not going to bore you with all the cool things that I have been able to be a part of in that time. I probably know some of the people reading this from previous classes. I am going to be as blunt as possible about the mistakes that many LSAT takers make in their study. I realize that there are exceptions to each of these. Many people have a “friend of a friend who just took the test on a whim and got a 177.” If you are going to do well on the LSAT you should probably start by applying your critical reasoning skills to those sorts of stories, and decide if using those as a basis for your preparation is likely to yield the desired result. 

1-Failure To Study
Unlike the SAT and ACT where your schoolwork offers at least a reasonable amount of preparation for the exam the LSAT is a different creature altogether. Not many people take Logic Puzzles 201 as part of their college coursework. Even very intelligent people who have succeeded gloriously in their undergraduate programs are often humbled by the LSAT. There is a reason why the more than half of the LSAT test takers score below 60 percent. College classes generally are not going to prepare you all that well for the test. I tell people in my classes that we love people that go in and take the test cold...someone has to be bottom quartile, and better them than you.

2- Procrastination
This really goes along well with the first deadly sin. People have a tendency to underestimate the amount of time that they will need to put into the test. Those people who have taken the time to gather the data have found that about 300-400 hours of study is what most people need to reach a consistent score pattern that will be close to their diminishing returns point. If you decide to start studying two months before the test that means you would need to be putting in 40 hour weeks studying LSAT. Most students simply don't have that kind of time or stamina.

3- Studying the Wrong Things
There are over 3000 pages of actual previously administered tests available. Books/classes that use their own created questions/tests are just trying to cut costs, but it is your score that will suffer. LSAT tests are extremely nuanced, and people who create their own questions/tests nearly always fail to achieve the same level of intricacy. People who have taken real LSAT questions enough to have achieved high level competency can usually spot a 'fake' LSAT question fairly easily.

4- Trying to 'Game' the Test
This goes along with the previous deadly sin. Doing well on the LSAT isn't a matter of learning how to guess, or trying to create some system for trying to pick out the easiest/hardest questions. People who do well on the LSAT learn to master basic skills of analysis, put in the time to learn the patterns of reasoning, and drill until their skills are habit. Cramming, or taking a 2-3 day class right before the test isn't going to do much for you.

5- Hubris
For those who do put in the time to study, most will encounter questions that they don't like. Even after seeing what the credited response is, they will say, “Well, I still think my answer choice is better.” Newsflash—you don't get to grade the LSAT, so it doesn't really matter what you think. Are you planning on adding an addendum to your application explaining that the admissions committee should add 4 points to your score because you think your answers were better? Good luck with that. What you really need to do is figure out why LSAC thinks that is the better response, and then adjust your thinking to match theirs (at least while taking the tests).

6- Failure to Take Simulated Tests
Based on the data that many different groups have collected, one of the strongest correlations between preparation activities and actual score is based on the number of timed, simulated practice exams. You need to regularly take timed practice tests in conditions as similar to the actual test conditions as you can create. Any good LSAT class will have these as a part of your study, but if you study on your own you should find a group of people and reserve a room for practice tests a least weekly.

7- Choosing the Wrong LSAT Class
I am not going to advocate any particular class, because I obviously have my view on what is best. Instead, I am going to tell you things that you could verify by reading posts on forums, or talking to law students. Look more for a good teacher than at the class itself. Read any chatboard and you will find this popping up over and over. “My teacher for company X was great, and really helped me.” Later on someone will post, “No way, that company sucks, I had a horrible experience.” Find out about the teachers, their background, how long they have been teaching, what sort of student successes have they generated, what sorts of reviews have they received. If possible go sit in on their class. Sometimes it is a matter of a teaching style that matches your learning style. An LSAT class is a big investment. Not just from the roughly $1000 dollars you are going to spend. What you get on the LSAT has the potential to make the price you pay for a class seem like a pittance. Take the time to find the class that gives you the best chance of success.  

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Truth in Advocacy

This summer I had the opportunity to work as a law clerk at a small firm in Scottsdale, Arizona. It was my 1L summer, as well as my first real experience with litigation. I gained much invaluable experience and learned many things they just don’t teach in law school. I shared an office with a young associate that recently passed the bar and with whom I had many conversations regarding Christianity and the LDS church.

One afternoon, as I was drafting a motion to file with the court, I began to realize just how easy it might be to “stretch the truth” a little. I certainly wasn’t doing anything unethical, nor was I being encouraged to do so by anyone at the firm. However, I started to understand that there is often a thin line we walk when we represent our client’s best interests. I voiced this concern to the associate with whom I shared an office, only to discover that she had likewise encountered the same problem. We discussed Luke 11:46 – one of the various places that Christ voices his (not-so-gentle) feelings regarding many lawyers. I realized that being an attorney is a noble calling if it is done correctly, but that is something that can only be learned by experience. As we advocate our client’s interests, we need to strive to follow the example of Our Advocate.

On behalf of all law students and young attorneys, I welcome any advice on how to best achieve this goal.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Optimism at the Start of Classes

Anticipation, angst, hope, and heat exhaustion: this rare mixture of emotion reigned as I stepped into ASU Law School for the first time a year ago this week. The bus stop was farther from the school than I anticipated, and the air conditioning was a welcome relief from the summer sizzle. The first of three days of orientation was starting, but not one familiar face was found. “It’s hot out there, isn’t it?” said the girl who walked in with me as we took our seats in the lecture hall. Confidence soon replaced nerves and my long-awaited journey was set to begin.

One year after the beginning of my 1L year I am much more comfortable walking into the law school. The heat is still just as oppressive as ever, but the pressure in the classrooms is much more manageable. The first day of classes your 2L year is drastically different than the first day of classes your 1L year. The students no longer have a "deer in the headlights" look, and the professors don't open the class by picking on one student and bombarding him or her with the Socratic Method for an hour. I'm sure my 2L year will be no easy ride, but it certainly looks to be more enjoyable than my first year.