Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Zen Student Journal - Online Experience

Welcome to the first entry from our first online client; he was kind enough to offer a post about his LSAT experience and how our initial consultation impacted his LSAT study.
“LSAT? Why, you sure don’t need to worry about the LSAT or even
practice for it. You got perfect scores on all those other standardized exams. You’ll get 175+ just by showing up! You got that verbal gene we don’t have, you know.”
This is what some of my friends told me when I first announced my intention to take the LSAT. At least that’s a fairly accurate translation of what they said in my native language. Without even giving much thought, they all assumed there are some people who just do well on this type of test and that I was one of those people. The thing is I also believed that to be true, partly because these friends had already gotten into so-called top 14 law schools with very good LSAT scores themselves. And here they were saying I’d do naturally ace the test because “it was in me” to do well. So yeah, I thought I’d do ok.

I bring up this story not to go on a self-promotion spectacular but to tell you the first personal lesson I learned during my LSAT preparation: my friends were very, very wrong. Not only did I get a score almost 20 points below my (admittedly lofty) expectations, I also made only a modest progress from that initial nadir 10+ PrepTests and 2 Powerscore Bibles later. In short, I am not a natural at this test. That realization devastated me because this test is designed to assess your thinking abilities and supposedly cannot be learned. I was past the point of doubting myself and was about to move on to something more “learnable.” But recently I’ve discovered a very good reason not to lose hope, and I’m writing a post on this blog because I’m confident I’ve found that reason right here.

I haven’t had much interaction with Mr. Bennett yet, other than one voice chat session and a few email exchanges regarding some of his blog posts. But the knowledge I’ve gleaned from his writings and my consultation with him during this short time span has already transformed my entire approach to this test.

For now, the most obvious mental reconfiguration is coming from the analytical reasoning section, which I’ve always perceived to be my biggest weakness. On virtually all practice tests, I had either given up one or two games to finish within 35 minutes or struggle my way to the end of the section without the time constraint (sometimes spending almost an hour). While I actively sought out strategies to successfully slay this monstrosity (or dinosaurs, or clowns who must get out of cars in a certain sequence), most of these guides seemed to help me at the expense of time, a very scarce resource during the actual LSAT. The guides preemptively comforted me that I would get progressively faster and eventually develop machine-like efficiency as I solve more practice games. But it seemed like trying games according to their suggested solutions only made me more proficient in those particular games only; I found myself staring at the same question and not knowing what to do.

From watching the free pencast explanations on this blog, I’ve learned that the key to overcoming low performance on these games may lie in becoming less of a problem-solving machine and more of a rationally-thinking person. I knew that each game, as it is presented, has all the information necessary to arrive at answers to each question. The problem was I had never tried hard enough to find those clues essential to solving games. Mr. Bennett’s online explanations showed how putting in the majority of your time on understanding the interrelations between the rules can hand you the entire game.

Usually, the most extensive bit of inferences I ended up doing was on those games with several “if…then” rules, to which I just applied the contrapositive to write down some more symbolic rules in the blank space. But that was the machine-like part of me at work; I didn’t really bother making too many inferences because I thought I would discover them while tackling the questions.

But I feel that the approach Mr.Bennett utilizes and advocates seems to be the opposite of what I’ve trained myself to do. You should research the givens and derive all the characteristics and quirks until you see the overall picture emerge. After that, the questions are just a way to double-check you’ve made a correct analysis.

Upon watching the pencast, I tried redoing some games using the approach he used to solve games. On many of the games, I could see what questions and answers were going to be by the time I’ve read and thought about the rules. Although I’ve retried other games before, I couldn’t arrive at an insight like I did by using the new method I learned from this site. I can’t pretend and say I’m no longer worried about the games section. Far from that. However, I’ve made some noticeable, if not yet major, improvement in just one try, and that’s a more significant step forward than anything I’ve done up to this point.

So this is what I’ve learned so far about the LSAT under Zen’s tutelage. I’m clearly not a natural at this test, but I’m reenergized and hopeful that a whole new mindset I’ve begun to cultivate as my own can make me competitive when all is said and done.