Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Zen Student Journal: Task Meta-Awareness

The following is the latest journal entry from one of our distance tutoring clients.

It’s been a series of ups and downs lately when it comes to my LSAT preparation. Well, to look at things objectively, it’s more like the ups representing noticeable improvements in some areas and the downs representing those aspects that seem stubbornly difficult for me to become better at. The first few tutoring sessions and consequent reviews have clearly taught me how to effectively hurdle many of these obstacles; the main difficulty lies in internalizing the strategies I’ve decided to adopt as well as building mental endurance necessary to brave through all the stumbling blocks before they tire me out.

To me, this concern applies to the logical reasoning section the most. Whereas all the questions in the LG and RC section can be answered if I understand four big set-ups entailing them, LR features two sets of about 25 consecutive, mostly-independent tasks, requiring me to contort my brain for each one and reset it for the next. The fact that questions in general become progressively harder within the section didn’t help much.

Difficult as LR may be, though, I think the strategies that Zen advocates have been very sensible and helpful for me to apply. To be honest, I didn’t at first completely buy into the notion that I could discover and correct all my weaknesses by dissecting my missed questions into task standards. I still believe there are some minor areas it could be improved upon. Besides, I thought I was already well-versed in recognizing question types, having read best-selling guidebooks on the logical reasoning section. But some number-crunching from a few PTs I have done revealed that I not only had specific weaknesses that I cannot deny but also how I routinely neglect to see what the LSAT requires me to do for those particular tasks. After looking at the analyzed tendencies of my missed questions, Mr. Bennett suggested several questions, all of the same task type, for me to solve on the spot. Some of them were difficult and others seemed pretty obvious. I figured I would get about 1 or 2 wrong. I actually got most of them wrong. He said I was “very systematic in my errors,” and I felt he was right. I was approaching these questions from the wrong angle and didn’t know it. As a result, I readily jumped into the enticing booby traps the test-makers had planted for me.

Of course, knowing in theory my enemies and which weapons to use against them is different from the actual battle, especially over the course of 50~51 questions. On a couple of PTs I have tried since I got a general review of my weaknesses, I realized the newly-acquired insight into my problematic areas doesn’t always come to me in the heat of the moment during exam time. I wasn’t too surprised at my persistent errors, though, since they are the result of many years of illogic accumulated through thinking and interacting in certain ways. If anything, I’m glad I’ve been able to disable some of the automatic patterns I’ve been using to my disadvantage.

I also realize that internalizing the new skills would also take more than just knowing the objective explanations for a certain answer being right over the other four. The reason why a choice is correct is the same for everyone, but the reason why I got it wrong could very well be different from that for others. During my reviews, therefore, I’m actively going through the steps I took during the PT and remembering what thinking processes led me to choose that particular answer. In other words, I’m trying to become aware of my cognitive tendencies before, during, and after I read each part of the question, seeing if there’s anything that my brain assumes without explicitly stating it to me.

Mastering cognitive skills and employing them appropriately are one aspect of difficulty, but maintaining sharpness across all 5 sections is a whole another one. For today, though, I’m tired enough visiting brown dwarf stars and listening to disputes at town councils, so perhaps later. :)