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Ann Levine, of LawSchoolExpert.com and author of The Law School Admission Game: Play Like an Expert and The Law School Decision Game: A Playbook for Prospective Lawyers, interviews John Rood of Next Step Test Prep, an LSAT tutoring company. Topics will include:
Hi, this is Ann Levine and you are listening to the 20th Law School Expert Blog Talk Radio Show. Today, we are going to be talking about when you should start preparing for the June and/or October LSAT exam so I think it would be helpful for those of you listening to know that we are doing this on February 29th, leap year. And so now is the time to start thinking about these things and helping me today is John Rood who is the founder of Next Step Test Prep. Thanks for being here, John!
Well, thanks Ann, good to be here.
Well, good. I'm looking forward to this today. I think that people who are right in mood, either they've decided that they weren't happy with their applications from the past year and wants to try again or people who are just now starting the law school application process. This is the right time to start thinking about doing LSAT, don't you agree?
So, what are some of the first things people should be thinking about if they're saying today, "I'm going to take the LSAT in June"?
Great question. The first thing that student should do and it's one of the things that I see students putting off constantly is they need to sit down and take a full practice exam. So what I mean by that is -- you know, there's a free one available on the LSAC website, lsac.org, so they can go there. For now, it's the June 2007 LSAT. They should take that and take it under time conditions, right? So it's a four-section exam. They don't have to do the writing sample, but they should do -- you know, two 35-minute sections and then take the 10-minute break and then the second 35-minute sections and then see how they did and that's really, really critical for a couple of reasons. The biggest of which is that students really need to get kind of a realistic idea of where they're starting to score so they can make some educated guesses in terms of what they're goals should be. That's incredibly important.
Okay, so let's talk about that because I talk to a lot of people who completely freak out after -- we call this the diagnostic exam. Okay, so the big companies call this. Some take a diagnostic test and then people freak out when they come back with their 141s on it and sometimes they could have someone who will do in the end and sometimes it's not.
What are some clues that people should know how much to discount that initial score that they get?
Yeah, a good question. I don't know that they should necessarily discount it that they should know that almost every student will improve by a whole lot from that score so almost no one doesn't improve at all. And if they do, they usually retake the test with some different study strategies and then they do a lot better. One of the things that a lot of people are surprised about and you know, it makes sense if you think about, but a lot of students I don't think do it. You know, the average LSAT score is 151, right in the middle of the score distribution, but that's what people actually got on the LSAT. So that means that the average student is probably starting in the low to mid 140s and then improving by 5 to 10 points. So that statistically the diagnostic score they're most likely to get and then how much they'll improve is the function of all sorts of other things. But if you're in that range, you know you should not be concerned at all and you really shouldn't be concerned that the test was confusing. They didn't know what's going on especially on logic games. If you only got like 5, right, that's not that big of a deal on a diagnostic because you'll improve by so much.
I think that's a great point. So once people had taken this and sort of get engaged from what the test is all about because really this is a test you really do have to prepare for. This is not a test you can take hold. It's not knowledge based or you know, how well do you know your antonyms. This is really -- it's not the SAT here you really do. It's an aptitude test, yes. But, on the other hand, it's something you have to really prepare for the question type. So when someone takes this diagnostic exam, how do they go about -- what are some things they should know as they go about and look for professional help in studying or professional preparation methods?
Sure. Well, there's a number of different preparation methods and really, it's an exciting time to be an LSAT student, although probably it never feels like if you are an LSAT student. Because, you know, like 10 to 15 years ago, there was just -- they kind of group prep courses and then there was -- you know, get a book off the shelf. And now, there's a lot more options and they're kind of getting a lot more popular. So just a little help - You know, the big things are, of course, the prep courses. They're still really popular. One-on-one tutoring is I think actually getting more popular. You know, that's what we do, although it's not our credit that's getting more popular. And there's also all sorts of online video options that they can consider as well.
I think that's a great point. I mean I always check it when I apply to school back in 1995. You know, I did nothing but study the test on my own. I didn't understand that those signs for Kaplan and Princeton Review online campus were really intended for me. I had no idea what that was all about. Life has definitely changed and I think that the market is much more knowledgeable. I think law school applicants are much more knowledgeable about what's available, but they still tend to fall back on this big prep courses and I feel it's very important for people to know to analyze how you study best, how you learn best and what your schedule is. If you're working and going to school, you know going and travelling an hour and a half to sit in on a class is probably not the best thing for you and there are so many great options. And then, tell me a little bit about -- let's say someone is in a prep course of some kind, online or in person, and all of a sudden they realized something is not clicking. We need a little more help. The classes ran away from them or there's one particular section that -- how do they know when they need that extra help and when it's sort of normal? When do they need a tutor?
Good question. I think that once you feel you're falling behind, you're probably falling behind. One of the challenges of taking a prep course is they've got to go on schedule. So there's no way to double back. You know, the people that put it together are extremely smart and capable so they know that you know the average student is going to progress on this timeline. But you know if you cover basic on your games in a certain class, you're still like you feel you still don't get it, the next class -- you know, now your covering grouping games, they're not really going to go back. So there's a couple of steps that those students should take. I mean you should certainly look back in your course books. One of the best things about the prep courses is the huge amount of materials that they give you and see if you can figure it out. But if not, then you should probably look for some kind of outside assistance.
And we should say here in the instance of full disclosure, John, that you did work for one of these big prep companies __6:58__ speak on this.
I did, yes, very briefly many years ago. Yeah, I did.
So you have to great tips for how people can move forward. You said to me that people should really dedicate themselves to LSAT preps like they would to a job or a class. Talk to me a little bit about what you mean by that and what people should do say over a 6 or 8 or 10-week time period in terms of learning the methodology of the test.
Sure, absolutely. That's kind of something that -- I always tell the students that they need to treat it like a job because, you know, sometimes students will call in and be talking to us about our services and we kind of get the impression that, you know, that they think that the prep course or the tutoring or whatever they're doing, it's kind of going to be enough that if they just show up for that some reasonable percentage of the time that they'll be successful. And that's not really the case because there's a lot of other work that has to go and to get a good LSAT score, there's kind of practice tests you got to do, etc., etc. especially for working professionals. So if you've been out of school especially if you've been out of school a couple of years, it can be really hard because LSAT prep is one thing where there is not like an external check on you getting all the work done, right. So, you know, if you have a job and you don't get your work done, your boss yells at you, okay. You know, if you don't get a family obligation done, you know you've got kids and you don't pick them up from school, you're in big trouble.
The police come to get you, yes.
Yeah, exactly, exactly. The LSAT is the only thing that's going on your life that if you don't do it, there is no one that kind of comes in and yells at you especially if you're self studying or taking one of the prep courses.
It's like going to gym, there are time that you need to do it with the class just to make yourself go and there are times that you need a personal trainer. I really acquitted to that. And so I think that's important to talk to you, but how many practice tests someone should be doing when studying for the LSAT? So for someone who's just now starting to think about doing LSAT, how many practice tests will they take between March 1st and the June LSAT or how many would you say?
I think that they should take about at a minimum taking 10 to 15 and the very minimum is 10 under time condition where they're sitting down and taking the full test, four or ideally five sections long. If they're not doing that, I don't think that they can or should feel ready. But then I think they should also take more than that, right. So I think that 15 is a good number. So you go through the methodology first. You make sure that you have a pretty good idea of what's going on. You probably are working through some sections, individual sections on time which is okay to do for the first month or so of your study. But then you really want to make sure you're taking these tests on a regular basis. For students starting now, you know the students got March, April, May, and actually half of June this year which is kind of an outlier study for the test. They really should be thinking about taking, you know, at least one practice test every weekend. And ideally, they should think about taking probably two every week. And if you're doing that, you know you're taking 15 to 20 tests. Then I think that you really -- you know you feel good that you're at least doing the right amount of work, independent whether or not you're doing it the right way. But if you're doing that much work, I think you're in good shape.
Sure and I think that scores don't always go like either. I think it's important to graph your progress and a little __10:26__ going up or down. You know you have to look at how recent the test was. They do get harder and I think that really should give you a good indication of how you're going to do on test day. So one of my favorite things -- I talked about this in my first book, The Law School Admission Game. It's people always ask me this and on the blog always tell. They have goal LSAT scores. "My goal is to get 160. My goal is to get 172." So I have served my 10 years in the field. I have different feelings of what that means to have a goal, LSAT score. I think -- tell me a little bit about you react when people say that to you and for those of you who've just getting introduced to the LSAT who are listening, this is an aptitude test. That this isn't the kind of thing for most people for 98% of people that the more you study, the better you do without plateauing. I mean it comes to a point where your aptitude, at some point, will make your score on the test. So how do you deal with that and how do you feel about it, John?
Yeah, that's a great question. And that's a real challenge for us because sometimes we'll have students that calls in and they have no exposure to the test at all, but they know where they want to go to law school or you know, they've been reading online and they just know that they're a 170 LSAT student, okay. And some of them certainly will be. Statistically, most won't be, 170 LSAT student. The first, the first thing that I always think about is what the data that backs up their goal to make it seemed realistic, okay. So when a student kind of calls or email or whatever and they have not taken the diagnostic test and they have a goal score in mind, I'm a little bit worried about that situation. That's kind of a red flag for me. So what I recommend is for that student -- you know, like we said at the outset, to take a diagnostic test and then, they can kind of ground their goals in some measure of facts.
I always tell people also. I always inquire around their SAT scores because there's a director of admission for different law schools. So all the studies that show their -- with very rare exceptions, there are correlations between how people do on the SAT and on the LSAT. So for example, I was speaking with one of my law school admission consultant clients today who never took the SAT and so we're talking about her LSAT strategy for taking in October because she has no idea how she will do and this is actually pretty common for people who start out at community college and then transferred. They really have no experience of standardized testing. So I think that that really comes into play. Try to gauge, "Okay, is it realistic for this person to get the score they're talking about?" And I asked them as you do, as you're alluded to, "how have you been doing when take practice tests?" That's one gauge. You know, how difficult is the college or the university that they are attending or have attended and who were they used to competing with. Then I think that there are a lot of different factors that tell me how likely it is if someone is going to hit their "goal score".
Right. No, I actually agree with all of that and there's a ton of different ways that you could know -- I think the diagnostic one is the most data-driven and that's why we always make sure that students take one before they kind of do anything else. But then you know once they have taken that, then we kind of talk to them about what a realistic goal might be because we'll still have you know, we'll still have students that's -- "Okay, take the diagnostic and I got a 140 and I'm really aiming for, you know, for Harvard or for Stanford." And then, you know it's our job to make sure that -- we never tell students they can't meet their goals, okay? That's not our job and one of the best parts about this job for me is that we get to see students set goals and achieve them all the time and that's great. But we want to make that they're working towards realistic goals so that they're not kind of getting upset as they go. And so as they do have a big breakthrough, we can kind of call it that right. We get a student that starts with a 140 and then you know on the practice test score is 155. That's a huge achievement and just because it's not a 170, we want that student to be proud of themselves as opposed to dejected that they might not end up at Harvard.
I think that's good. I know that that happens a lot and I also think that the LSAT is very refreshing for a lot of people because a lot of people who apply in the law school are and have always been over achievers. They push harder in high school to get into college. They push hard during college to be competitive for whatever graduate program or career they've decided to do. They're used to competing for the best. They used to getting the things on their resume that they want to get. Getting the honors, getting the __14:57__. And so the LSAT for many people, my concerns, is their first time, sometimes with the idea that something is not going to work out exactly how they think it will or it is not going to reflect how bright they've been brought up to think that they are. I mean that sounds a little kind of ascending, but I do see that a lot and I really spend a lot of time. I'm sure you do, to talking people off the ledge. Okay, so it's not the 170. Okay, it's true. You're not the 99% talent something. But if this is your goal, if you want to be a lawyer or you want to go to law school, there's more than one way to skin this cat.
Yeah, absolutely. And you have more experience on this than I do but you help students kind of look past just the LSAT to law school and hopefully to what their career looks like. It's really important that the students give some thought if their LSAT score isn't where they want to be about because that put them in some place where they still want to be.
So if the student you know, they're not going to go to Harvard. That's just how it is. They've just hit the plateau of what they can score on a test. But you know, maybe they have a great opportunity to go to, you know, a really good school like here in Chicago like DePaul or Chicago-Kent or Loyola that turns out great graduates. They get all sort of cool jobs. You know, is that okay for them, is that something that they're still happy with, or you know even on the other extreme that some students will think that their heading towards Stanford and really their heading towards __16:26__ school? And then, you know, do they want to be a lawyer enough to kind of to change their expectations to know that they're not going to get 160 grant their first year out and is that okay for them?
This is absolutely the conversation I have many times a day and in fact, on Monday, my blog talk radio show is with Dean Jim Chen at the University of Louisville, Brandeis School of Law and we talk about this exact issue and in fact, he just read a book on The Law School Decision Game, which is about this very issue. We're attending a school that's not a Columbia, Stanford, Harvard, Yale and what the salary and clear expectation should be. So I am glad that you brought that up. I think it's the topic that may not fall directly within the LSAT preview. But if someone is thinking about the LSAT, I'm a big proponent that they need to be thinking about these other issues as well. So I do appreciate that you brought that up. Tell us, I want to talk a little bit about there are some people who need more LSAT prep. For example, you mentioned the example which is not as farfetched as many would think. The most popular blog post I ever did several years ago was about very low LSAT scores and people who really thought they were going to Stanford and get a 141 or 143 in the LSAT and they're just completely dejected. So what I'd like to do with you is maybe we can brainstorm some things that just are clue in any listeners to how they might know whether they fall into that category that they might be in danger of not performing in the top percentile of the LSAT takers. And I think we already mentioned one of them, which is someone who has never taken a standardized test, so I think another one is someone who doesn't prepare for standardized test.
And so who are some others when I definitely have some examples in my head, but were there some other telltale signs for you of someone who is going to need a little extra time and attention and perhaps private tutoring to work on the LSAT?
Yeah, absolutely. And there are several groups where this could be an issue. One of them and the most -- one of the most interesting kind of subsegments of our students are the students that are international and English is their second or third or fourth language and that could be a big challenge. You know, we've even had students that have come from, you know, somewhere else and they went to law school in their home country and came here for whatever regulations there are at the bar. You know, they have got to go to American law school. So that's definitely a case where, you know, they're going to kill it probably on logic games, but when they get to reading comprehension and law school reasoning, they're going to need a little bit more help and they are going to need some help kind of strategizing about how they should strategically move through the section, you know, how many questions should they expect to answer, you know, should they expect to get through for reading comprehension passages the way that, you know, someone who has spoken only English their whole life would. That can be -- you know, that can be a big challenge. But then, it's really fun to help those students achieve their goals because they've already achieved so much in kind of the past life.
I agree. I really enjoyed working with those clients as well and helping them reach their goals especially when they're not quite as familiar perhaps to their educational system. They don't know which part to the background. You know, law school admission committee will find interesting because to them, it's just their lives you know.
And so to them, they don't see that there is something that law school is valuable in that and so I find that those people who need help in that regard with LSAT prep are probably people who need help writing their application materials, their personal statement, their resume etc. because they don't have the same understanding of what's relevant and what's special about them and how to promote it. So I think that's definitely an example that was on the top of my list. I also think, you know, people who went colleges, they're a little less competitive. And I've had some people go to colleges I have never heard of that's ended up getting 168 from the LSAT and going to top law schools, but I think that those are the exceptions. So when I first talked to a client and stated where they went college especially if their grades are __20:38__ at that college. That's to me also a reason that I might dealt further into other things to find out how they might really compete on the LSAT to make sure that their goals are realistic. Can you think of any others off the top of your head? I didn't really prep you for this question, but...
No, no, it's a very good question. I mean one of their subset where we do a lot of work is transitioning military service members. So you know you go to college on a reserve training corps. You live to serve for five years as an officer when you come out and you'll be able to continue to advance your career. That has been a really interesting segment for us because many of those students can go to law school completely for free on a GI Bill as long as they go to a public school. And the only thing missing is going to be their LSAT score because as a whole when we work with transitioning service members, their GPAs are great because they learn when I was like to buckle down and do something that's super hard and like you know college math class. It's like the easiest thing that they've had to do in their life. But then the LSAT comes along and that's something that you know, they have been out of school for five years or longer. For every students, it's the hardest step they've ever taken. But you know, it can really sort students out in a way like you said that they're not used to so that can be a real challenge.
Well, I think __22:03__ for two other reasons that apply to military but also to other nontraditional students who just first of all I have worked to the lot of members of the military who are on active duty and they do not have the time. I worked with them while they are in Afghanistan and Guam and Iraq and every where else in South Korea and they do not have the same amount of time to put forward. And they want to -- they know that their service data is coming and the end of service data is coming up and they know when they want to start law school, but it is a huge time crunch for them to prepare for the LSAT from overseas while they're on active duty, number one and number two, is that a lot of long-term military members have gotten their degrees in nontraditional ways through either online courses or taking courses. I'm making this up a little bit. University of Maryland in Tokyo you know.
So they have done things a little bit differently and so the academic schedule and rigor is different than being in a traditional classroom in a lot of ways and so that can also be a bit disorienting, but I think you are absolutely right on the dry and discipline to make it happen, but I think those are both really good points and I also can think of the biggest one to me was __23:17__ even people who you know for going back and talking about who might need a little extra LSAT prep, a little more time or little or to know in advance they might need tutoring would be also -- my two other examples would be if you have a history of learning disabilities especially if LSAC has not granted accommodations, that's a big, big one. We could use six blog talk radio shows just on that topic and another one might be you know, it's not that English is the second language, it's not that your family immigrated here, but if you're the first in your family to go to college and you worked your way through when you've done it not in the traditional, you know, going off living in the dorm. You work to do college what have you. I think that those are people who need to spend a little extra time especially if they have busy days and the whole idea of treating LSAT prep like a job. It's going to have to be treated like a long-term job that your make you happen in order to save up for something. You know, you got space it out or the same 8 to 10 weeks may not be enough for that person. I think we've covered that the major ones unless you can think of any other category of someone who know right now that even they might not have enough time to prepare for an LSAT in June and maybe should think about pushing until October.
I think those are the big ones and I think that students that are going to start today. They have, you know, three and a half months almost. They're still in great shape. But yeah, I mean if you're in one of those groups, having a couple of extra months can be really helpful.
I mean I think we should educate people out there that now with the LSACs new one of their good policies. I mean students that you can withdraw from the test until a couple days before. So that didn't used to be the case. So now, it pretty much pays to register for the June LSAT and then figure out later on whether that's really going to work for you before you change your test date to October. Also, what I'm putting up there, I'm always talking about applying early taking advantage of the rolling admission process. So in my opinion, both June and October are perfectly fine times to take the LSAT in terms of rolling admission. The problem with planning for the October LSAT is that if it doesn't work out if you have that moment like we are talking about for the June LSAT where it's not the right timing for you, you're not ready, pushing until December tends to put you on a later side from the admission. You definitely are missing early action, early decision deadlines at that point and again, I'm getting off __25:36__. Forgive me, John. But for people who are just learning about this now, it's also important to keep in mind that you know, with application being down the cycle overall, the number of applicants being down, it's not quite as painful to be applying later in the cycle as it used to be, but it's still something that should be in people's mind. So that's why talking about the June LSAT on February 29th I think is still important.
Yeah, absolutely. I couldn't agree more.
So tell me a little bit John about the benefit of private tutoring. Now, there are so many great options where it's not really anymore expensive than one of this like prep courses. I mean for $1500 in a big prep course, you can get quite a bit of private tutoring with companies like yours or others. So talk to me about the right -- what's the benefit of private tutoring, who really benefits from that, and what is it? I mean does every tutor take everyone through the same, like is it basically like one-on-one prep program? What happens in private tutoring?
That's a really great question and that's probably the most tricky question that was asked. I won't think for anyone else and I know that some of the big companies do a little bit different, but when we think about you know private tutoring for the LSAT which is you know pretty much all do we do for the LSAT, what we're doing is we start screening with the diagnostic and see where they are scoring. From there, I guess I should say that this is for a student who has not taken the LSAT before.
You know, it's like 60% of our students. So you know they take a diagnostic and we where they are scoring and then every student has to learn the methodology for sure. So there's definitely some element in the first, probably 50% to 60% of their tutoring where they're going through our prep book. Usually what we'll do is we'll assign that as homework. So instead of going to a room of 15 other people where you know some would essentially kind of reading to you from a book, you read the book at home and then come in with your questions. So it's not as if you know, we've got to set amount of tutoring time and then we have to use it on the basics. You learn the basics, right, which as a law school applicant you should be able to kind of get a start on that at least on your time, although we assigned that really specifically so the students are on track, then bring in your questions and you have an expert who's there to help you out to kind of check your understanding. So you know if the homework was advanced in your games and assumption question and basic conditional reasoning, did you understand all those three topics and if not, you know, we'll do some additional discussion on those pieces. And then once the students kind of learn the basics and we're satisfied with that, the instructor is helping them work through their practice test homework. So the students do a number of practice tests as homework, which again we assigned specifically. They are bringing those in and then discussing the questions that they're having trouble with. The tutor is also looking for patterns in that. So sometimes I think that students get in the habit especially if they are taking one of the big courses of thinking that especially on logical reasoning. They kind of think that they are weaker or stronger on specific question types, you know so they go on graded weakened questions but not great at strengthened questions and that's, in my experience, rarely the case. It's actually the case that students are bad at hard questions and they're really good at easy question. So what we are trying to do is to help students kind of see that and then to gradually work them up the scale such that they are moving from you know a 90% accuracy rate on the medium questions to a 90% accuracy rate on the hard questions hopefully. And they are kind of moving through that at their own phase and instructor is helping to lead those exercises.
And they also have a little more accountability to someone I think. That can be a big part of it. You definitely have to show up. And __29:23__ to be at Skype or in person. So I think that can be really helpful to people. John, we have 30 seconds left, so I just want to thank you so much for your time today because I think that was an action pack half hour and I think anyone is thinking about the LSAT are just introducing themselves to the LSAT will walk away from this very educated about it. So thank you so much for being here today in the Law School Expert Blog Talk Radio show. And anyone who has not yet checked out the law school expert blog, it is at lawschoolexpert.com/blog and there is a lot more information about LSAT prep there as well. Thank you so much for joining us today.
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It's good to talk.