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As an LSAT tutor, one of the question types my students most struggle with is “resolve the paradox.” As a law school applicant, the paradox that most nettled me was a paradox centered on law school itself: given that law school is so arduous, why are application figures so robust? Does law school simply attract masochists (or whiners)? Is the well-trod pathway to wealth and political power what tempts people to accept such a hideous fate?
But these questions assume a basic premise, which is that law school is actually hard. Is this true?
Is Law School Hard?
Sorry to disappoint, but the answer to this question is an emphatic “yes”! Of course law school is hard! Have you never talked with a law student? Observe any 1L during finals, or any bedraggled OCI participant, and you will witness the rigors of law school wrought on the human body. Before law school I was youthful and energetic; by November of my 1L year I looked like the “Before” picture in an eye cream ad, and that was on my good days.
Making the decision to attend law school requires accepting that it will likely be difficult.
Why Is Law School (Usually) Hard?
Some people—veterans, parents, interns for Meryl Streep’s character in “The Devil Wears Prada”—don’t find law school particularly onerous because they have survived tougher gauntlets. But most law students are mostly untested in the ways that law schools challenge their students. Looking at the profile of the typical 1L, this is hardly mystifying: a fairly young, relatively recent humanities grad possessed of an abbreviated work history and a roster of academic successes in a context where they are somewhat easy to come by. Despite the maxim that past outcomes do not guarantee future results, most people enter law school either overconfident, underprepared, or both.
A Tale of Two Law School Experiences
One characterization of law school has it like this: you’ll be thrown into a group of dozens of strangers in a pseudo-professional, contentious setting. You will leave behind a lifetime of continuous and easily-won academic validation for a system in which you are evaluated anonymously, for the first and only time, by a professor whose primary interactions with you will be to point out the weaknesses in your reasoning and comprehension in front of the 50+ snickering strangers whose respect you most covet. Unlike the forgiving grading curves of undergrad, which stretched from lowly B+ to unremarkable A+, desirable grades in law school are in limited supply, and you are competing for them against the people with whom you spend most of your waking hours. Remember also that, like you, these people have probably selected into this profession because of a yen for confrontation and an ability to work hard.
But another characterization has it like this: you have to go to class for between 12 and 17 hours per week, with no other responsibilities. To prepare, you will have to read approximately 25-50 pages per class. In the one-in-twenty chance that you get cold-called and can’t remember every single detail of the case, you can just access one of the many overzealous outlines floating around your school and grow comfortable with CONTROL+F and bullshitting—skills that, incidentally, are useful for any attorney.
So Which Experience Will I Have?
The answer to this question is that it’s largely up to you. If you are a welter of insecurities who regards law school success as the paramount test of intelligence and worth, then you might have the former experience. To ensure that the former perspective doesn’t overtake the latter reality, try to keep the following in mind:
- Take law school seriously: it is a professional school, and how well you do will likely shape your career prospects. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t screw up...
- ... And don’t be afraid to screw up: the first time a student in your section gets cold-called and doesn’t know the answer, visceral group mortification sets in. Every time after that point is pretty uneventful, because half the class is on Facebook or shopping online.
- Treat yourself kindly: go to the gym, eat well, avoid forming bad habits, get lots of sleep, have fun, and relax. I learned this lesson the hard way: as a 1L, I took to pouring myself a fluorescent yellow glass of Mountain Dew each night and setting it beside my bed. Why? Because I knew I would be too exhausted to go make coffee in the morning, and I needed a kick to get myself out of bed. I thought, “I can rest when I am a 2L!” until a mentor encouraged me to sleep more regularly and more often, eat better, and exercise. I was doubtful at first, but another paradox that I was happy to resolve was that my comprehension and attitude improved with more leisure and relaxation time and better self-care.
- Maintain your values: decide why you are in law school and stick to it. This doesn’t mean you can’t grow or change your mind, but resist the urge to jump through hoops just because your peers are doing so. Law students slobber over honors like clerkships and law review, but these might not be right for you, might not matter for your career, and might just make you miserable. There are things in life worth suffering and striving for, but make sure they’re important to you before you commit to them.
- Your classmates are going to be your future colleagues, so get to know them through study groups, clubs, and other extracurricular activities.
If you’ve been through law school, what other tips or suggestions do you have? Let us know in the comment section. If you’ve got questions, let us know too.
Conor works as a civil rights attorney for the City of New York, and has been moonlighting as an LSAT tutor for two years. Immediately following law school, he worked as a Ford Fellow at the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project. He enjoys reading fiction and making bad puns. He is a graduate of the University of Virginia and of Harvard Law School.
As part of a new series here in the 7Sage blog, we've asked our community leaders (Mentors, who were selected from among their peers for their outstanding contributions and character, and Sages, who are community leaders who scored above 170 on the LSAT) to answer a series of questions and provide us with their LSAT wisdom.
This series is just a sampling of the kind of wisdom ready at hand to anyone in our Discussion Forums.
What's the biggest myth about the LSAT?
Mentor Sam “That 2-3 months is plenty of time for a 170+ score. It's not, unless you're a genius or have somehow mastered logic prior to ever being exposed to the LSAT.”
Sage Alex “In my opinion, the biggest myth about studying for the LSAT is that you should only expect to improve your score by 10 points. This claim is not only false, but very detrimental to future law students. Relaying to people that 10 points is all you should expect to gain from studying deters test-takers from devoting enough time to study for the LSAT until they reach their goal score.”
Mentor Brett “In my mind the 2 biggest myths about studying for the LSAT are that you only have to study for 3 months and that you won’t see improvement in any one section. This is a long test, and the skills that it tests aren’t things that you can truly learn and master in 3 months for most people. It’s one where it may take you 3-5 months just to get through the curriculum and then from there you take another 3-6 in taking tests. But the process is worth it in the end. “Also, the assumption that ‘You can’t improve on RC, LG, or LR’ is completely false. Everyone taking this test is different but all of the sections are exactly the same at their base; the questions all test a set of skills and are created by professionals who can exploit the psychology of test takers. All you have to do is learn the skills, avoid the pitfalls, and be able to be able to do this efficiently and confidently.”
Sage Allison “One myth about this test is that it's just an input, output equation with how many hours you put in leading to a particular score. That is part of the equation, but cranking through PTs without good reflection is bad practice. You absolutely must scrutinize your comprehension, question your thought processes, and accept that you have erroneous ways of reasoning that need to be corrected in order to excel on this test. Do your homework, but reflect on your methods and spend time to diagnose your weaknesses.”
Mentor Daniel “That high scores are rare and achievable only among those who are great at tests, geniuses, or savants destined for Harvard. I was once told by an instructor of a test-prep company that I could reasonably expect a score five points higher than my diagnostic. I'm now sitting at an average score increase more than four times that, and I firmly believe at least most should be aiming for a score fifteen-to-twenty points higher than their diagnostic. It takes time, but a score that much higher is doable.”
Ok. LSAT Logical Reasoning—you got this! You're logical. You're reasonable. You destroy (or repair) arguments all the time on Twitter or Tumblr. You've even done some debate in high school or college. How hard can it be?
And then you take your first PT after completing the Core Curriculum.
First few questions are a little wordier than you'd like, but you feel like you got this. You get to question 4 and ...
... Pff ... You know you got this! Just had to get up to speed, that's all. Things are going fine until ...
... You come to a Necessary Assumption question with a really unattractive answer choice that just nags at you. Why did they even bother putting that one in there? And then there's this other answer choice that sounds like EXACTLY what the argument needs ... But is it the right answer choice? And then ...
... A Most Strongly Supported question with an answer choice that seems to be just soft enough, just specific enough, just irrefutable enough to fit the bill for the right answer choice. It's got all the hallmarks of a right answer choice for MSS. So ... You ... Slowly ... Circle ... the AC ...
... And run smack dab into a Parallel Flaw question that takes up the entire left hand side of the page. So you find the flaw in the stimulus ... And then you try to remember if you're supposed to map out the logic in the Answer Choices ... Or is that for the other Parallel question type? You thought you HAD this ...
... And even though you're on FIRE with the next 3 questions, finding those main points, honing in on those flaws in the support structure, naming those assumptions, you're still thinking about that question 2 pages back.
You finish the PT and you question your whole existence for a good 10 minutes.
Then you remember ...
... You've got dreams to grab ahold of.
So you pick yourself up and get ready for some Blind Review.
And you think to yourself ...
And maybe it would.
You worked hard in undergrad and now you're getting ready to start applying. But do you know how hard is it to get into law school? Or more importantly, how do you get into a good law school?
The one thing you need to know about how to get into law school
The answer can be summed up in four letters. LSAT. You need to demolish the LSAT. That's the one thing you need to know.
In the topsy-turvy world of law school applications, LSAT is king.
Isn’t GPA / Personal Statement / Recommendations / Whatever More Important for Getting into Law School?
What about GPA? First, your GPA is pretty much set. Even if you still have another year of grades before you send in your applications, the A in GPA will ensure that the impact of your best efforts won't have much of an impact. Secondly, even though most people agree that GPA is the second most important admissions criteria, it is not nearly as important as the LSAT. A rule of thumb many students use is +1 LSAT point = +0.1 GPA. It's reasonably common for students to improve 10 points on the LSAT with 4 months of studying. Good luck bringing your GPA from 3.3 to 4.3 with 4 months of studying :D.
What about Personal Statements, Recommendations, Extracurriculars, Job Experience and Interviews? They make a difference, but not that much. If you have a lame-duck recommendation or a douchey personal statement, it can tank you. If you were the President of your home country it'll really help.
Most of the time these aren't going to make a big difference. At least not compared to the LSAT. Most of the time, you should put effort into making these shine only after you've taken the LSAT.
WTF? Why do law schools care so much about the LSAT?
There are some obvious reasons, and at least one non-obvious one.
Among the obvious reasons is that the LSAT isn't subject to grade inflation/deflation and competitiveness of different colleges. For example, are a 4.33 GPA from Greendale Community College and a 4.33 GPA from MIT equally impressive? Probably not, at least not academically :) The LSAT acts as an equalizer.
Another reason is that the LSAT tests abstract logic and reasoning, as well as time pressured reading comprehension skills. Both of these are extremely important in law school when you grind through endless readings and try to pull out the arguments and implications.
Here's one non-obvious reason: US News & World Report Rankings.
They rank 200 or so US law schools using a bunch of metrics. One of these metrics is the LSAT. The better the median LSAT score of a school's students, the better the school's rankings. The better the school's rankings, the higher the prestige. More prestige lets the school attract better law students (prestige is like crack for law students), and get a higher median LSAT. The circle of LSAT continues.
If you want to go to a good law school, now you know how to get in. You study your ass off for the LSAT. Sign up for a free trial to get started on LSAT prep. Or jump right in and prep for LSAT with a full 7Sage Course (there is a 14 day money-back guarantee in case you change your mind).
If you're taking practice LSAT PrepTests, then you need to simulate the test environment. It is crucial so that you are ready for the real thing.
It’s really important to experience testing with a simulated proctor so you’re not thrown off on the test day by a person announcing a five minute warning or by the lack of time between the first three sections. In a test that’s as psychological as the LSAT, practicing dealing with those things is critical. - Robyn B.
If you're using our video proctor with real LSAT instructions, that's a great start! But setting up an LSAC approved timer, and finding a place with just the right amount of ambient noise can be a bit of a pain...
So we made an LSAT Proctor App for iPhone/iPad/iPod just for you ;) We designed it to be easy to use, while including all the features we knew were important from teaching thousands of LSAT students. Simulate the LSAT test environment perfectly, anytime, anywhere.
This includes procedurally generated distraction noises, turbo mode, realistic virtual timer, five minute warnings, real instructions, and more. If you like it, give us a great rating! It'll encourage us to keep making great LSAT tools available for free :D
For those of you taking the upcoming June administration of the LSAT or thinking ahead to future administrations, we'd like to share a few best practices/pro-tips to help ensure that you're in top shape heading into the exam. We've included some guidance for the week leading up to the exam as well as for Game Day itself.
Right up front, we'd like to say that you're not going to learn anything new the week before the exam. The hay is in the barn. You've already done the work that will carry you into the exam. Don't cram PT's; at most, do a few sections to keep your mechanics sharp. You need to make sure that you're fresh and in the right mindset for Game Day.
1) Between today and Sunday, go to bed and wake up at the same time every day (and this should be the same time you'll need to wake up for the June exam). Waking up ~3 hours before the earliest time you're likely to start the test (as soon as 30 minutes after the show-up time) will help ensure that your cortisol levels are up and that you're fully awake. Waking up at this time during this week and Monday June 6th helps to ensure that you'll be tired enough to go to bed Sunday night. Also, no screens/blue light after 10pm. This will help ensure that you're not artificially stimulating cortisol (waking yourself up) before bed.
2) Pre-hydrate. Drink a 3-4 liters of water every day of the week before the test. It's really not that big of a deal to drink that much water, and doing so will ensure that you are well hydrated the morning of without having to drink much (if any) liquid.
3) Practice your game day routine at least twice. This means wake up at the time you'll wake up on Monday, eat the exact same breakfast/lunch you plan for game day. Keep track of what you eat and drink and when you do it. Track your hunger, thirst, and bathroom need levels (just like in The Sims). Pro-tip: if you need to go at 2PM, there's a very strong likelihood that if you follow the same plan/timing, you will need to go in the middle of a section. Which is what we want to avoid.
4) Day of, general: Don't do anything differently from your dress rehearsals. No magic pills. No extra coffee. No tricks. No surprises. Perhaps get to the test center early and just go for a walk around the grounds if feasible. You might see some very nervous folks in crisis mode. Disregard. You are not them.
5) Day of, warm up: Whatever you do, don't score anything. And don't do any new material. Maybe take a handful of LR Q's, maybe one easy game, maybe one easy RC. Just chill out about it. You're just warming up your mechanics.
6) Day of, during the break: People will try to talk to you because they are nervous or want reassurance. You are not there to be anyone's friend. You are not there to be anyone's therapist or life coach. However you put up your personal "Do Not Disturb" status—just don't let anyone throw you off your game.
Not sure what all those letters and arrows are that people draw for the LSAT? Watch this video on Sufficient and Necessary Conditions, fundamental to LSAT Logic.
Drawing LSAT Sufficient And Necessary Conditions
You've probably heard a lot about sufficient and necessary conditions on the LSAT. They're tough to get a handle on at first, but not that difficult once you get the hang of it.
A sufficient condition is "enough" to tell you that something else is true. Suppose I tell you that a CEO of a fortune 500 company is powerful.
Then if I tell you that Tim Cook is CEO of Apple, a fortune 500 company, you know something. Tim Cook is powerful.
A necessary condition is something that has to be true, when something else is true. "Powerful" is the necessary condition of the statement I just told you. If you find out that Marissa Mayer is CEO of Yahoo, then you know she is necessarily powerful. It can't be any other way.
A conditional statement has a sufficient and a necessary condition. A conditional statement is true 100% of the time.
So if I tell you that all Fortune 500 CEOs are powerful, don't look for an exception. Just assume that it's true. This isn't a good idea in real life, but it's what you have to do for the LSAT.
Drawing LSAT Conditional Statements With Arrows
It's complicated to try to keep track of several conditional statements. And LSAT logical reasoning questions often give you several conditional statements. So you should use a system of shorthand notation to represent them.
The system everyone has settled on has letters and arrows. Take the statement I gave above. Here's a good way to draw it:
C --> P
I prefer to stick to one letter, or two at most. Some people will try to add more letters, like this:
CEOF500 --> Pow
That quickly gets confusing. The letters should serve as a reminder of the statement, but they don't have to mirror every part of it.
Joining Conditional Statements To Form Deductions
If you have multiple conditional statements, you can often join them. Anytime the necessary condition of one statement matches the sufficient condition of another, you can put them together.
"Every CEO of a fortune 500 company is powerful."
"Everyone powerful is a little arrogant"
C --> P
P --> A
C --> P --> A
"Every CEO of a fortune 500 company is a little arrogant"
You could also draw this as C --> P --> LA, if you prefer to include the "little" in the statement about "arrogant".
Did you like this lesson on LSAT conditional statement diagramming? If so, you'll enjoy our online LSAT course, which has complete lessons on LSAT logic, applied to real LSAT questions.