Friday, February 15, 2013

LSAT: 8 Rules for your Highlighter

I was wondering, what did you actually use the highlighter for during the [LSAT]?
This question has reached critical mass in my inbox, so I figured this would be time to revisit some good ways to use the highlighter on the LSAT. Well, more specifically, how to use BOTH a pencil and a highlighter: that's right, you're going to learn how to dual wield.

Thanks to for the laugh.

First off, why use a highlighter at all?

Well, of course, you don't have to. As with everything I put up here, these are only suggestions about ways that I've prepped or seen others successfully prep over the years. If the idea of keeping track of what to highlight and what to underline in a Definition Assumption question gives you hives, then, duh, don't do it.

But! The highlighter is powerful at, well, highlighting important things that shouldn't be erased or forgotten; it is a resource you are allowed, and specifically, a resource allowed in an environment that has explicitly restricted your resources.

You have no idea how much kerfuffle I caused when I pulled out some earplugs at my second LSAT. I had stupidly not checked to see if they were on the banned list--they are. Even though I promptly put them away, the level-headed, albeit stressed out, college students around me reverted to full on preschool tattletales and FREAKED OUT.

My point? If you know how to use a highlighter and know how to wield it, you will have a weapon that provides an advantage over other test takers. Let me convince you:

1. Highlight the question type everywhere 
This one applies even when you don't follow our advice to scan the question stem first in Logical Reasoning and Reading Comprehension. I've met with so many clients who said: "Oh, I just forgot this one was a Weaken instead of a Strengthen." "Oh, I didn't see the EXCEPT." "Oh, I forgot it was a Must be True and picked something that could be true."

Don't be that guy. Highlight the keywords once, and suddenly it becomes almost impossible to forget what you're doing. It also makes skipping the question and coming back to it later more efficient, as you spend less time reprocessing the question. 

2. Highlight the conclusion in Logical Reasoning  
Although not every question type cares deeply about the stimulus' conclusion, and indeed some don't even have conclusions, let me share a little statistic I've discovered after doing every single LSAT question multiple times.

Fully one half of the Logical Reasoning questions on a modern LSAT will require you to at least infer what the conclusion is, and all of those tasks become noticeably easier when you positively identify the conclusion. Even if you're good at "remembering" the conclusion with 90% accuracy while reading four excellent distractors, that means you'll miss about 3 questions... just because you didn't highlight the conclusion.

You're going to give up on a 180 just because you're too lazy to actively read the stimulus and highlight the conclusion? Please.

Note: the bridge statement and other structural keywords (however, but, additionally, etc.) are also good candidates. Just don't go overboard and highlight everything. See rule 7 below. 
3. Highlight whatever you're bad at recognizing and remembering in Reading Comprehension Passages
This one obviously requires a bit of experimentation to determine if your weakness is opinion, tone, examples, structure, critics' POV, etc., but I can give my example. I was terrible (terrible!) at recognizing structural keywords and opinion statements when I was reading passages. As I developed strategies, I forced myself to highlight the passage's logical structure, and [bracket] the opinion statements. Suddenly, I didn't miss as many questions, and I  had to refer back to the text less often.

More importantly, when I inevitably DID have to go back and reference the text, I knew where to look. My handy-dandy highlights formed a mini-summary of the passage. Now, I can literally read only the text I've highlighted and answer 90% of Reading Comprehension questions.

That level of familiarity only comes with practice, so starting off with a highlighter can be helpful. However, it is definitely worth it: there are few things more satisfying in self-prep than turning your weaknesses into strengths.

4. Highlight conditional rule triggers in Logic Games 
If J is not in 4, then S and V must come before it... If J is in 4, S and V must come after it.

WHAT? How do I diagram that? AGH!

Optional answer: Draw two diagrams, one for each condition about J. Highlight the "J is (is not) in 4" triggers. Bam. Now you know which situation you're in as soon as you know where J is, and it's really hard to forget what causes each. 

5. Draw your Logic Games slots in highlighter so you can erase experiments  
A client introduced this little innovation to me a couple of years ago, because she was having trouble with our suggestion of having a single diagram for an entire logic game whenever possible.

After drawing out her slots in highlighter instead of pencil, she could furiously test everything she wanted, erase, and repeat: her Logic Games time dropped from 45 minutes to 34, and her accuracy stayed at about 90%. Not a trick for everyone, but worth a shot if you are struggling with only using a single diagram.

6. DON'T highlight or mark until you have a plan  
Drawing attention to the wrong things is worse than just reading the text and leaving it unmarked. Have a plan of what you're going to highlight ahead of time, take a practice test or experiment with a few questions, and see how you did.

Remember, only highlight things that are universally important or you know you have trouble with. Highlighting the preface sentence in a logical reasoning question is probably going to hurt you rather than help, because no LSAT question is going to hinge on your understanding of it.

Similarly, randomly highlighting keywords is only helpful if you have a reason to focus on those types of keywords. Have trouble with opinion statements in Reading Comprehension? Highlight them, great. But don't also highlight the intro and summary sentences of each paragraph, because then your eye won't know where to look for what. Use your pencil or some other method to mark relevantly different concepts.  

7. DON'T highlight everything, or even too much  
This one sounds easy to avoid, but so many clients will say "When I mark up the stimulus, half of it is highlighted!"

Then, simply, you're highlighting too much. Revisit your plan from the previous six rules and scale back on what you think really needs to be highlighted. Maybe put some of it in pencil, but more likely, you should just refocus on the basics in Rules 1 through 4.

8. You might want to highlight cases in law school and your supervisors might want you to highlight documents, so start practicing now
Yeah, this is true for all stages of life after the LSAT. I've seen people use crayons, 7 different color highlighters, and my personal favorite: erasable colored pencils.

Might as well get used to it, as it really can help improve reading comprehension, and crucially, finding and/or recalling the answer quickly when you're cold called the day after reading it. And in law school, it won't be multiple choice.