Thursday, July 2, 2009

How to think about the LSAT

There are many analogies bandied about for the LSAT. Each section has been described as a sprint, the entire test as a marathon. Although these analogies capture a portion of the concept of the test, they are far from comprehensive and actually may damage your ability to understand how you must perform in order to succeed on the LSAT. The Zen of 180 is built to make you understand, in concrete terms, the way in which to think about and take the LSAT. This is not a means in and of itself, but rather allows you to better structure your preparation and navigate the test day more efficiently.

As a teacher, I understand the difference between learning on the conceptual level and learning on the procedural level. Most of us in the graduating classes from 1980 to 2008 were taught procedurally. That is, we learned to read by reading, to write by writing, and to solve math problems by following steps. While learning can and does take place in a procedural classroom, true mastery requires repetition and constant correction. The other test prep courses teach in the same, inefficient and incomplete manner: how to solve an analytical prompt by the process of HOW you do it. A more complete and efficient teaching method is to require an understanding of the concept behind the question, indeed the concept behind the entire test, in order to frame the process of answering.
I do not consider the LSAT to have a cognate in terms of a running event, or even within the realm of track and field. The best sports analogy I can create is to a timed, all-around gymnastics competition. That is, there are a specific number and type of tasks that your brain is required to perform, with requirements that ensure the quality of each performance. Just as the pommel horse has a set of handles to grasp in order to execute a Wendeswing, an LSAT prompt is designed with flaws for you to be able to execute a given element of logical thought. The difference between an all-around gymnastics event and the LSAT is the stress added by the time limit for each section; while Nadia Comaneci had significant breaks between her events, your brain must be ready to perform accurately at the highest level for over 5 hours.

The demand placed upon your mental and physical faculties by the LSAT is also rarely accurately portrayed. As with any rigorous performance, you must not merely practice or study for the test, you must train. Practice is playing the piano twice a week for thirty minutes. Training is on an entirely different level; it requires greater scope, efficiency, and emphasis on technique while consistently practicing over a long period of time. A training regimen has a clear end goal and proven, identifiable steps to take along the way.

We built the Zen of 180 to show you our training regimen, and give you the tools to make your own LSAT self-study more productive. In future posts we will describe the process in detail, including the full experiences of two students as they navigate their LSAT self-study.