Saturday, June 18, 2011

Getting over LSAT Mental Roadblocks (and Nightmares)

The following post is part of a series from one of our LSAT tutoring clients. You can read about their experiences by clicking on the "Zen Journal" label above.
My second week of tutoring started off with a BANG (hey - I’m trying my best to make LSAT prep sound dramatic and exciting)! I met Mr. Bennett for two 1-hour sessions for early morning sessions on Tuesday and Thursdays at the Harvard Law School library, which is thankfully empty of bar review students so early in the morning. I’m not naturally a morning person, but I’ll go out of my way to create reasons (whether it’s yoga, running, or LSAT tutoring) to get up before 8. There’s something about the early morning that makes me feel refreshed and renewed; I always think to myself, “It’s a new day! Perhaps I won’t procrastinate today!" Ha.

On Tuesday, we addressed an issue that had been on my mind the week before - the timing of the tutoring sessions. Like the rest of you who are following the Zen schedule for the October LSAT, I had been doing prep tests 23 and 24. I understood that doing prep tests was important for Mr. Bennett’s evaluation of our strengths and weaknesses, I was getting frustrated every time I ran into a hard LG that I couldn’t do. We had only had 2 lessons on sequencing games, and while I could do those relatively well, the panicky feeling came back every time I ran into a more complicated game type, followed by me throwing my pencil across the room. We decided we would spend the next 3 weeks working on LG lessons, so I can learn the material as fast as possible and focus on practice games starting in July.

On top of my frustration with full length Preptests, I had my first LSAT nightmare, in which I was sitting in an exam room, about to take the June 2011 LSAT (which, in real life, had already passed). I kept saying, “No – this is a mistake, I’m not ready yet! I still have 3 more months to prepare!” – but of course, no one listened to me and I ended up being bulldozed by the first section, which was not even LG (I think it was LR). Ouch.

The nightmare was symptomatic of the root cause of my inability to face the LG section: FEAR. After our 1-hour lesson, I revisited the LG sections of Preptest 23 and 24 (where I’d tried out every game but completed very few) and discovered, to my surprise, that I could make my way through them and get at least half of the answers right per game (major progress for me). In our 1-hour session, we covered no more than 3 games (sequencing and assignment types) and while I’d picked up a variety of useful tips on how to approach LGs from Mr. Bennett, I’d also gotten an unexpectedly powerful mental boost. This was partly due to Mr. Bennett’s encouragement and partly due to realization that I could trust and develop my LG “intuition” as I tackled more and more games with his guidance (side note: I wonder how whether the “perceptual knowledge” concept featured in this NYtimes article has anything to do with improvement on the LG section). I need to keep this momentum going.

I was also pleasantly surprised that I actually liked diagramming games in a combination of boxes, circles and arrows using my highlighter and pencil (how crazy is that?). I used to draw a great deal when I was young and to this day, drawing still has a powerful calming effect on me; thus, my newest frustration with LSAC is that I cannot bring rulers into the test to make neat grids. None of this means that I’ve suddenly become a LG whiz, but I think that finding new ways to reduce fear (whether it’s LSAT or anything else in life) will always lead to substantial progress.

Sad hulk, indeed. Check out Chris Uminga's work.
Besides good old hard work, one of the keys to achieving LSAT competence, at least for me, is sacrifice. I’ve given up a few important things that I wanted to do in order to study for the LSAT. I might have mentioned in my last blog post that I originally planned to intern in Kenya this summer for one of the many interesting local NGOs working on justice sector reform. I forced myself to decide in March that I wouldn’t apply for these internships because the mental energy required for adjusting to another country would mean the end of LSAT studying. Several of my classmates are currently interning in Nairobi for the US government and various development organizations; I fume and turn a Hulk shade of envy green every time I see the albums they post on Facebook or read their travel blogs. On top of that, I just turned down a teaching assistant position for the criminal justice class that I took last semester, because the bulk of the responsibilities for organizing student fieldwork happened to fall in August and September. Being a teaching assistant for a professor I admire was something I’d really wanted to do for a long time as a way of deepening my own learning and earning some work-study money, so I was really sad about having to say no.

Of course – the term “sacrifice” is relative; my parents sacrificed all their free time working for the past few decades so I could go to college and one day have the luxury of sitting around complaining about much I’m sacrificing to prepare for the LSAT. But all I’m saying is that it’s not possible to focus on studying for a juggernaut of a test like this without giving up some things you enjoy. For me, that means cutting out time with friends that I really want to see. I’ve had the fortune of going to graduate school in Boston area, where I went to both high school and college. This means that most of my family and social networks are still nearby, which makes focusing on the LSAT more difficult. A 3-hour catch up dinner with a college school friend means that I’ll be too tired to study when I get home. Multiply that a by a few times per week and that means I’ve lost 10 – 15 hours of potential study time. I’m still trying to figure out how to deal with the challenge of simplifying my life in order to maximize my study hours this summer without alienating my friends.

I’d actually love to hear from all of you – whether you’re just starting to think about taking the LSAT or have been taking prep courses or tutoring lessons from Mr. Bennett for a while. What is it about this test really scares you (have you had any LSAT nightmares)? What other challenges get in the way of your studying LSAT? How do you address and overcome these challenges? What do you have to sacrifice to focus on this test? And lastly - why do you want to go to law school, or - in other words – is the LSAT really worth your time? Let’s get it all out there in the open.