Unplugged Prep

Samson’s LSAT Success Story

LSAT Unplugged’s strategies on Logic Games helped Samson get a 174 and an acceptance into Yale Law

I am an investment-banking analyst in New York City. I graduated from Duke in 2009. I decided to enter law school after two years on Wall Street. In fall 2010, I studied for the December LSAT. Balancing work duties with LSAT studies was very challenging. But with hard work and the right resources, I comfortably cleared 170. I will attend Yale Law School this fall.

In my preparation, I benefited from LSAT Unplugged. Steve has an intimate understanding of the infrastructure of the test. Reading his articles, I came to understand the content and “the texture” of the LSAT.

In this post, I will do two things: (i) I will outline my experience; and (ii) I will list some lessons from my experience.

My experience with the LSAT:

In July 2010, I decided to take the October 2010 test. Work, however, consumed my time in July and August. By September, I had completed only two uninterrupted weekends of studying. This worried me.

My vacation (week of 9/20/10) was an important inflection point. First, I decided not to take the October LSAT (10/9/10); I reset my studies and decided to take the December LSAT (12/11/10). Second, I endured a self-imposed LSAT boot camp. During my vacation week, I studied 14 hours a day.

After “training week” I had a close working knowledge of the test. I was not completing the Logic Games section on time, but I was systematically attacking each game. Logical Reasoning questions played to my academic strengths; Reading Comprehension questions seemed uncomplicated.

Then I returned to work. I knew that I could not let October and November slip, as I did July and August. I let my manager and my teams know about my law school plans. When others learned of my commitment, they were sensitive to my time. Weeknights and weekends were sacred.

October and November were productive months, but by early November, however, I still was not completing the LG section on time. This concerned me. I was five weeks away from the test; I needed to button this up.

Thus came a second inflection point. One Friday in early November, I went to the library after work. I decided that any issues I had with the LG section would be sorted before Monday morning, at any cost. I stayed in the library Friday until 1AM. I returned Saturday at 9AM and stayed until 1AM. I returned Sunday at 9AM and that afternoon, I had a breakthrough: I completed a new LG section with 100% accuracy, with time to spare. Then I did it again. And again. And once more. At this point, I had confidence in my ability to complete this section.

The week before the December test, I took off work. I returned to my hometown of Charlotte. There I had registered to take the test: I was very serious about home-court advantage. A week before the test, I took two practice tests; this was tiring. On the following days, I took only one practice test per day. On the day before the test, I did no practice tests: I occupied my time with some practice LG and LR questions but did not otherwise exert myself. The next morning, I had a full breakfast and walked in fully prepared.

Lessons from my experience with the LSAT:

Show enthusiasm in your preparation efforts. The LSAT is so important that its only purpose is to determine your future. You should treat the test with respect. Be bold in your preparation efforts. If others mock your zeal, cast them aside: they are not your true supporters.

If you are a professional, do not conceal your LSAT plans at work. Transparency is the key to balancing your commitment to the LSAT and your commitment to your job. You will be surprised by how helpful your co-workers are.

Comparative difficulty of the sections. Steve makes a great point that the most difficult section is different for each person. For me, this was the LG section. If you’re like me, you’re in luck: with commitment, this is the section on which you can improve the most. This requires an intensive commitment to learning the architecture of the games and the diagramming techniques. After you have prepared sufficiently, though, your work on this section will be purely mechanical and possibly fun.

Historical difficulty of the sections. I completed most of the practice tests since the mid-1990s. Compared to their predecessors: the current LG section is slightly easier (less abstract); the current LR section is substantially easier (less dense); and the current RC section is slightly more difficult (longer).

More on Logic Games. No single logic game, looking back, was very difficult. The most “difficult” games were those that I had diagrammed incompletely or inefficiently. As Steve has emphasized, your diagram is key. From your diagram, a cascade of deductions will follow. Take several weeks to master your technique. If certain variables “are not in the forest,” derive which variables are in the forest. Recognize the unrestricted variables. Know when to stop diagramming and move on to the questions. Know when to stop working on a question and move on to the next game (agonizing over the last question of a game can be ruinous). If you’re thinking through three levels of abstractions with clauses that start with “if,” you’re thinking too much. There should be an automatic quality to your movement through the LG section. You want to complete this section like a machine.

More on Logical Reasoning. For all LR questions: one and only one choice is suitable; the others are garbage. For me, this was an important guiding principle. I dismissed non-correct choices as nonsense. I barely recognized non-correct choices as coherent English. Mentally pre-phrasing answers can help. But don’t consciously spend time doing this. Pre-phrasing should happen in that split-second when your eyes move from the stimulus to the question. In fact, “pre-phrasing” can occur mentally without words; that is, the idea of the right answer can fill your mind without effort. Thus: reading the stimulus, pre-phrasing, and identifying the credited response can and should occur in a wave. As you practice, identify which types of questions you are answering incorrectly. This is where the taxonomy of the LR Bible helps. I recall initially slipping up on identify-the-assumption questions (I kept selecting what followed from the argument, not what must necessarily precede the argument). Going back to the “theory” of the questions can be quite useful.

More on Reading Comprehension. My approach to the section was to treat the passages like “evidence.” If you can use the text of the passage to anchor your response, your response is probably correct. In addition, several of the questions are answered directly in the text. Isn’t that great?

Miscellaneous notes. Exercise regularly: physical fitness is important for your mental acuity. Do not drink alcohol: even small amounts inhibit peak mental performance. Do not drink coffee or soda: water is superior. Do not take a practice test within an hour of waking up: you will not fully concentrate. Practice with the watch you will use on test day: reset your watch to 12:00 for each section (stay away from bezel watches, which are difficult to read). Practice using wooden pencils: no mechanical pencils are allowed. Do diligence on your test center and visit in advance. Stay calm during the test: you are extremely well prepared. Stay calm after the test: do not visit on-line discussion boards – nobody can approximate what the scale will be.

The above are some key lessons that might be useful to others. Good luck. Do not dream about stained-glass windows [Ed. The topic of a game on the December 2010 LSAT]. But do dream.