Tuesday, July 28, 2009

I have 2 (or 5) months until the LSAT, what should I be doing?

A lot of people who self-study for the LSAT prepare the same way throughout their training regimen. While they may vary the amount of their practice—as evidenced by people bragging on forums about how in their LSAT prep schedule, they took one real a day for a month leading up to the test—most self-studiers do not adapt their LSAT practice to their individual needs or to maximize the remaining time before the test.

This lack of variation is akin to a professional Olympic distance runner only training by running the actual length of their race. For those of you who are not aware of athletic training regimens, this would never produce results for a world-class athlete; neither will creating an LSAT calendar with only 4 section practices prepare you for the actual test.

In fact, most students will simply plop down with the latest PrepTest and call that an “actual” LSAT, forgetting that while the official LSAC books may be actual questions, they are not actual length. That is, they are missing the experimental section—consistently training your mental endurance at only 80% of the actual test length is a recipe for a fatigue disaster. We call it LSAT training, not prep, at Zen of 180.

Not only do people rarely meaningfully differentiate their practice based on time-to-test, they even more rarely meaningfully adapt their practice to their individual LSAT weaknesses. This is mainly due to a problem of classification; while everyone can say, “I have the most trouble with logic games,” it’s another story entirely to accurately say, “I have difficulty diagramming hybrid sequencing/grouping games.” Not only can LSAT self-studiers not jump the classification hurdle, another two lay beyond: finding material to practice solely those logic games, and accurate instruction or explanation in order to improve strategies.

The question becomes, “I have two months of time-to-test before the September LSAT (or five months of t-t-t for December), how should I be changing my LSAT study?” The answer is going to be different based on what practice you have already done, so we’ll lay out the ideal Zen study calendar, and the talk about how to adapt it based on your personal needs. As we said earlier, merging your personal Google calendar to our public one is the first step to making your you’re on track for the LSAT, and that you’re differentiating your practice to fit your time-to-test and individual LSAT weaknesses.

The Zen calendar has five basic sections:

Pre-study (time-to-test: 1 year to 4 months)

Diagnosing (time-to-test: 4 months to 2 months)

  • Take 1 to 2 full (i.e. with experimental sections) LSATs per week for 5 to 10 weeks, until you have at least 10 full LSATs to analyze
  • Record the questions you miss into some meaningful classification system (either Zen task standards, or by question stem for LR and RC and game type for AR)
Ideally, this phase should be complete or nearing completion for LSAT self-studiers with about two months until the LSAT. In the weeks until the LSAT in September 26, we advocate between 10-20 hours a week in targeted practice. We do not advocate ever taking more than two full tests a week for the first month and a half of your LSAT self-study, as the mental (and physical) toll begin to noticeably wear on your ability to perform. The goal is to build endurance, not reach exhaustion.

Self-correcting (time-to-test: 2 months)

  • Use one weekend to review the LSATs and analyze all of the questions you missed, grouping them by section and then whatever system makes the most sense to you
  • If you don’t have access to a complete classification system, the best way to group LR and RC questions is by question stem. For instance, group all the “follows if assumed” questions into one pile, and so on
  • I prefer an excel spreadsheet for this, but if you’re not computer savvy, simple tally marks will do, and the best way may be to physically cut out the questions and group them into piles
  • Identify your LSAT strengths and weaknesses, celebrating the former and considering explanations for the latter
  • There are tons of free resources online to offer you help on specific question types; search for your LSAT weaknesses by question stem and you’ll find advice on how to tackle that kind of problem
  • Go into a bookstore and browse through the various LSAT prep-books and see which ones, if any, offer solid strategies for the question types you identified as weaknesses
  • Develop an action plan for your weaknesses
  • Write, in your own words, a list of action steps you will take whenever you encounter one of your weaknesses
  • Do not allow these action plans to interfere with your LSAT strengths
  • Examples
  • “When I see a ‘follows if assumed’ question, I’m looking for a principle that justifies the argument”
  • “If the rules say the pieces go one after another and all must be used, it’s a simple sequential game”
Practice your action steps (time-to-test: 2 months to 1 month)

  • Take 2 to 3 concentrated study sessions of only one type of section for 3-5 weeks, alternating within the week between two section types
  • For example, if you have the most trouble with LR and RC, each week create an LSAT made up of four LR sections and another of four RC sections by combining different PrepTests
  • As you come to your weaknesses, consciously recognize them and employ your action steps
  • At the end of each section, spend 5-10 minutes analyzing your mistakes and evaluating your action steps
After practicing your action steps, you may find that you are making systematic mistakes in another question stem or game type, or that your action steps are not accurately addressing the weaknesses. At this point, and if there’s time, you should repeat the self-correcting process and find new explanations that make more sense to you. It may be necessary to rethink your LSAT test date, as you should only have 1 month remaining until the test.

Build endurance (time-to-test: 1 month)

  • For the last month before the test, take two PrepTests (with all three section types) in one sitting, twice a week
  • Use the most recent PrepTests available right before you take the LSAT
  • For example, if you have 4 weeks left, you should be using PrepTests 41-44 in the first week and 53-56 in the last
  • Each session should be eight sections over ~5 hours, with breaks between sections 3-4 and 6-7
  • At the end of each session, analyze your mistakes and evaluate your action steps
If you follow the Zen calendar, not only will you differentiate your LSAT practice by your personal needs and time-to-test, you will also focus your efforts where they are needed most and build enough endurance to prevent fatigue on the test day. If you need help adjusting your personal situation to our LSAT schedule, please don’t hesitate to e-mail at zenof180@gmail.com