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Best LSAT Prep:  It’s Mental Athletics, Prepare That Way (part 1)

Like a lot of law students and lawyers, I watch sports more than play them. I do watch, but I’m more impressed by the training and dedication of elite athletes than I am even the games. All that stuff that looks like confidence and assurance on the field—well, it is, but only because great athletes have put in the time in the training room and practice field. I approached and coach my clients to approach the LSAT as a sport. It has rules established by the LSAC and the test plays by them. My results are excellent; on the other side, I am more and more convinced that the failure to appreciate the LSAT as a sport damages LSAT performance.

To succeed on the LSAT, you have to do two things successfully. First, understanding. You have to understand the rules and play by them. Second, you have to be able to perform what you know to do. The vast majority of LSAT prep programs spend time only on the first.

I am shocked that most prep programs only give clients and students four or five tests, and don’t really do much more with them than online automated analysis. And don’t manage practice in between tests. LSAT prep mostly ignores the second task. But, it doesn’t matter what you know if you don’t do it consistently and efficiently. You can practice tests and exercises all you like but in the end you have to play. Like many athletes, many LSAT takers simply do not perform at game time.

It is astonishing to me, when looking over some prospective clients’ tests, and early in my own programs, how many points people give up not because they don’t know what to do but because…they don’t know how to do it. Test-taking matters. The difference between my 180 and 10 fewer points or so was simply because I prepared—from day 1—to actually take the test.

I’ll talk about a lot of that in subsequent posts. Here, I want to focus on even more basic things that LSAT takers need to do correctly, and often do not.

1. Define your opponent. This seems basic but it isn’t. Your opponent is the LSAT. Period. It isn’t other test takers, others you talk with, the people giving you arrogant nonsense about how prepared they are before the test, you classmates or anyone else. You’re not competing with them—you’re competing with the LSAT. So, tune out how well everyone else says they’re doing (a lot of what people say they’re doing isn’t true anyway, but even if it were, it doesn’t matter to you). Your job is simple. Do YOUR best. Not Jeannie’s best, or Sam’s, or Sahel’s, but yours. Their score doesn’t affect yours. Doing better than your neighbor may matter in a lot of things but it doesn’t matter here—they don’t determine the questions, and no answer they give or don’t give should have any effect on what you do; if it does, you’ve got the wrong opponent, and you will not succeed to your potential because you’ll be focused on the wrong thing.

2. Know the rules. Saying that assumes that there are rules. There are. This is perhaps the most important error that LSAT takers make. It takes a surprisingly long time to talk them out of it, and alas, some—no matter what you say—continue to think that the LSAT is one big piece of trickery. So, people spend a lot of time (overall and even on individual questions) thinking, “This answer is obvious, so it must not be right” and other such things, all of which assume that the LSAT Is trying to trick you.

It isn’t. I won’t go into the statistical reasons why they can’t—they have to play by rules or they wouldn’t have a statistically reliable test—but the LSAT, even more than other so-called standardized tests, has a limited universe of question types that they approach the very same way every single time. They aren’t trying to trick you—but they also don’t mind if your trick yourself. And many people do, they “Princess Bride” themselves into the poison—it’s kind of “the LSAT thinks that I think that they’ll think that I think…” And you get the wrong answer because that is a game you cannot win. But it isn’t the game the LSAT is playing.

3. Know the defense. That’s implied above. The LSAT has published about 80 versions of its playbook, and there are very few differences between any of them—a few new question types here and there, small shifts in the meanings of words over the years, that kind of thing. But this is an open system. You don’t have to worry about what exotic defensive packages the LSAT will come up with on your test. Every…single…defense is available to you. The words are different but there are only 20 question types they have ever used. And if you really understand them, and how to
beat the defense by the rules, you will have largely succeeded in understanding the test.


Easier said than done, of course. Under the best of circumstances, the LSAT Is a hard test—but as I’ve said on this blog before, that’s because they play the game very, very well, subtly at times. Your job is to play their game as well as they do and as well as you can. It isn’t to change the game mentally into something it isn’t. It isn’t to think about tricks because there aren’t any. It isn’t to think about how your friends (or enemies) are doing because they aren’t the people you’re competing with—you’re competing with the LSAT, in a game with fair rules. Hard, yes, but easier if you’re focused on the correct things rather than the rabbit holes of trickery and mistaking who you’re competing against.

  1. Define your opponent. This seems basic but it isn’t. Your opponent is the LSAT. Period. It isn’t other test takers, others you talk with, the people giving you arrogant nonsense about how prepared they are before the test, you classmates or anyone else. You’re not competing with them—you’re competing with the LSAT. So, tune out how well everyone else says they’re doing (a lot of what people say they’re doing isn’t true anyway, but even if it were, it doesn’t matter to you). Your job is simple. Do YOUR best. Not Jeannie’s best, or Sam’s, or Sahel’s, but yours. Their score doesn’t affect yours. Doing better than your neighbor may matter in a lot of things but it doesn’t matter here—they don’t determine the questions, and no answer they give or don’t give should have any effect on what you do; if it does, you’ve got the wrong opponent, and you will not succeed to your potential because you’ll be focused on the wrong thing.
  2. Know the rules. Saying that assumes that there are rules. There are. This is perhaps the most important error that LSAT takers make. It takes a surprisingly long time to talk them out of it, and alas, some—no matter what you say—continue to think that the LSAT is one big piece of trickery. So, people spend a lot of time (overall and even on individual questions) thinking, “This answer is obvious, so it must not be right” and other such things, all of which assume that the LSAT Is trying to trick you. It isn’t. I won’t go into the statistical reasons why they can’t—they have to play by rules or they wouldn’t have a statistically reliable test—but the LSAT, even more than other so-called standardized tests, has a limited universe of question types that they approach the very same way every single time. They aren’t trying to trick you—but they also don’t mind if your trick yourself. And many people do, they “Princess Bride” themselves into the poison—it’s kind of “the LSAT thinks that I think that they’ll think that I think…” And you get the wrong answer because that is a game you cannot win. But it isn’t the game the LSAT is playing.
  3. Know the defense. That’s implied above. The LSAT has published about 80 versions of its playbook, and there are very few differences between any of them—a few new question types here and there, small shifts in the meanings of words over the years, that kind of thing. But this is an open system. You don’t have to worry about what exotic defensive packages the LSAT will come up with on your test. Every…single…defense is available to you. The words are different but there are only 20 question types they have ever used. And if you really understand them, and how to beat the defense by the rules, you will have largely succeeded in understanding the test.

by Kyle Pasewark at Advise-in Solutions on December 10, 2018.

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