Unplugged Prep

Caleb’s LSAT Success Story

Caleb increased his LSAT score from 161 to 171 on a retake

I hate wasps. They are literally the crappiest of all God’s creatures. I have thrown babies and old women out of the way as I run shrieking away from a single wasp. I’m a grown man who has gone skydiving, yet I’m afraid of wasps. Weird.

I set aside a little area in my house for full practice tests every Saturday. It was a calm and peaceful area, surrounded on three walls by 6-foot windows. A room that had never, ever seen a single wasp. Until my first practice test leading up to the October LSAT.

During my first PrepTest I glanced up at my analog watch to see how I was doing on time and I felt something hit my head and fall off. I looked on the table and there it was – Waspzilla. Staring at me. Almost like he had a message, but his only communication was a slight twitch of his antennae. I freaked out, mashed him with my “10 official LSAT” book, and finished the test with shaking hands. I gave myself an extra 1 minute to compensate, but I still did lower than average on that particular section.

Everyone laughed when I told them this story, and thought it was strange that a single wasp would attack me on the day of my first full PT. Well, the next Saturday rolled around and guess what? Another test, another wasp. True story. This one was in the window and harder to see, but I’m sure he was looking at me just like the first one. Dumbfounded, I ran to my garage to get one of my (many) cans of Raid and sprayed him down. Then I checked to see if the corpse of last week’s wasp was still around, just to make sure I wasn’t dealing with a zombie-wasp. Nope- there it was. 2 separate wasps. This was getting weird.

I won’t over-dramatize the next 6 weeks, but I promise you that there was a single wasp somewhere in my test room every Saturday for 6 weeks. At first it was frightening, then hilarious, and finally I became suspicious that it had to more than a mere coincidence. What was the message? What was the universe trying to tell me? As test day approached I received a lot of messages on Facebook from people wondering what the wasps were going to do for test day. Obviously I wasn’t going to be home taking a practice test that Saturday so if they were going to make their move it would have to be Friday night. I spoke on the phone about this to a lady-friend the Friday night before the October test and made a decision:

“If I score a 180, I’m going to renounce my wasp-hating forever and never kill another wasp. If I score below my 170 average, I’m going to redouble my efforts to slaughter them mercilessly.”

As my friend laughed, I swear to everything sacred that a wasp flew at my face. RIGHT at my face. I have a witness to this, as the girl I was talking to heard me throw the phone down, scream, run around, and then tell her all about it. It was at this point that things went from “coincidentally creepy” to “downright f*cking supernatural.” In my 2 years living at my house, I had probably only ever seen 2 wasps other than my LSAT wasps. I just don’t allow them around. I spray my entire house, yard, and windows down with several cans of Raid at least twice a year. Mathematically it just wasn’t possible for me to see a single wasp every week for 2 months. No way. Though every wasp so far had stared at me or attacked me, I took it as a sign that my test was going to go great.

I took the test and felt very wasp-confident. My preparation had included over 25 full PTs, many other sections done individually, analysis of every question ever missed, online resources (shout-out to Steve!), and timed tests done under exact test-day procedures. I left the test as confident as I had ever been. I realistically expected around my average of 170, but hoped for a game-day boost to 175+. Four weeks later I received my score… 161.

Son-of-a-b*tching wasps!!

Let me clarify: after studying diligently for months and raising my average to the 98% level, my actual score was as bad as the very first test I took. With no explanation (well, no explanation that didn’t involve supernatural wasps).

I think I hid my disappointment so well because it was hidden beneath a massive layer of genuine shock. I didn’t want to complain and say my score was bad- it wasn’t- but it sucked because it surely didn’t reflect all of my hard work. So I vowed to retake it.

I spent the time between October and December with a much lighter study schedule. I knew I had it already; I just had to sharpen the edges and practice some of the newer tests. The greatest day of my LSAT career came when I took PT 54 and missed 3. A 179. And that, ladies and gentlemen, included an extra 5th section from another test where I didn’t miss any! I was on a roll and had no idea why I was scoring so high on PTs. Then it hit me- I had taken every PT since October at my desk at work instead of my wasp den at home. What? Couldn’t be. What the heck was going on here?

I took the test in December, still wasp-free, and scored a 171. That’s right about my average, which is great, and certainly enough to be competitive at top schools. But now I’m done… no more studying, no more PTs. And you know what? I miss it. I miss the drive, the focus, and the self-efficacy you gain by watching your scores steadily improve. I even still have my excel spreadsheet with all my test scores!

The study tips that Steve puts on this site are spot-on. The LSAT book recommendations are great and I would agree with 95% of them. If you read through other LSAT Diaries and some of Steve’s articles you can find the nuts-and-bolts of effective studying. I could tell you tips like “do a logic game or two every day” but I feel like I would just be re-hashing old advice. What I can offer you is the wisdom imparted to me from the world’s nastiest creatures.

When I got my 161 I was shocked and couldn’t come up with a non-wasp explanation. I was ashamed, disheartened, and defensive. I felt like I had let myself- and my friends and family- down. I had failed. Then it hit me: I was basing my opinion of myself on my test score. I was becoming my LSAT score. One of the simplest of life’s lessons had eluded me and I was equating my self-worth with some stupid test. Something outside of myself. This sudden realization helped me let go of the need to be perfect, de-stress, and take LSAT studying on my terms. My last 3 PTs before the December test were 170, 175, and 179. I even finished one logic game in under 4 minutes. And, more importantly, I had more fun.

Maybe this is what the wasps were telling me. Maybe they were guru-wasps that were letting me know that it was my efforts, not my test score, that were a reflection on me. That, in the end, the LSAT was more for me than for any law school.

Or maybe they just didn’t know where I worked and I’m going to have to kill them all.

Regardless, I wish all of you the best luck in your studies. Give yourself enough time, stay consistent, and always correct your mistakes. Even if you have to complain about a single LR question to anyone who will listen for days until you get it, make sure you understand every missed question. Above all, relax: you’re not your test score.

And please, if you see a wasp, smash him and tell him “Caleb says hi!”

Thanks, Steve!