Wednesday, July 8, 2009

How to think about the LSAT, Two

You may be reading through LSAT preparation materials and still believe that you are unable to accomplish LSAT perfection due to some factor other than the amount and quality of training you do prior to the test. The persistent and negative effects of that mindset necessitate a discussion of malleable intelligence and how the LSAT responds to practice. Along with the deficits caused by a procedural education, many American students operate under the demonstrably false belief that intelligence (i.e. what they consider to be measured by the LSAT) is a quality fixed at birth or shortly thereafter by some combination of genetics and early childhood development. I cannot emphasize enough how wrong this belief is.
As shown by Jane Elliot in her work since the 1960s, expectations and hard work allow students to grow academically and perform better on tests that measure "intelligence." Conversely, some students believe that intelligence is a quantity that is already fixed, and without strong self-confidence, they avoid difficult and rigorous material because failing means a lack of "enough" intelligence. In fact, tests such as the IQ have been disproved as accurate measures of the true definition of intelligence, i.e. the ability to reason and understand. Most tests, including the LSAT, measure your ability to perform certain mental tasks, NOT the broad and overreaching term intelligence. Just as learning the task of long division takes practice (the procedural knowledge) and an understanding of grouping (the conceptual knowledge), you can learn how to perform the various tasks present in the LSAT.

If you take one thing away from this blog, I want you to understand that what the LSAT measures--the ability to decode and comprehend text and then apply logical and analytical reasoning--can be learned. In statistics language, there is a positive correlation between the quality of test preparation and LSAT score. In simple language, the better you prepare, the better you score.

As any sports coach would tell you, different sports require different training regiments. The best way to train for the LSAT is analogous to the repetition training utilized by track athletes and swimmers: sprints followed by short periods of rest. We'll elaborate more on the specifics in later posts, but the basic analogy is simple: take test sections under timed conditions, pause for a couple of minutes to mark and reflect on missed questions, and then continue to a new section. Training under such conditions builds mental strength, speed, endurance, and allows for corrections in technique.

You may be thinking, "What's the catch? A training system can't be so comprehensive without a downside!" As with sprinters, you train for a longer period than the actual race; it's grueling to take eight LSAT sections over the course of 296 minutes. Which is what it would take for most of us to achieve a 180 on the LSAT!

Such training is by far the most effective method while preparing for a test that combines elements of speed, power, and accuracy. However, to analyze your own mistakes requires self-discipline and constant meta-cognitive processing. Through the course of your training and with the help of this blog, you will learn where, when, why, and how your thought patterns deviate from the expected performance. We will aid you in identifying your stressors and overcoming them with coping mechanisms so that you perform to the best of your ability on the day of the test. Achieving Zen is never easy, but we'll show you how.