The LSAT: A 30-Day Plan

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Ann Levine

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Ann Levine, law school admission consultant and owner of LawSchoolExpert, will be talking with Matt Sherman of ManhattanLSAT about what law school applicants should be doing in the 30 days before the LSAT.

With the October LSAT around the corner, how should you be spending your time? How many practice LSAT tests should you be taking? How much can you expect your LSAT score to increase in the next month? Matt and Ann will answer all of these questions and more in this 30 minute podcast. You will be able to chat questions live.

Transcript

0:06 Ann Levine

Hi, this is Ann Levine. Welcome to the Law School Expert Blog Talk Radio Show. Today's topic, "The LSAT: A 30-Day Plan." With the October LSAT right around the corner, I have brought in an expert to walk you through what you should be doing in this last month of preparation. I'd like to welcome Matt Sherman from Manhattan LSAT. Hi, Matt!

0:28 Matt Sherman

Hi, Ann! Thanks for having me.

0:30 Ann Levine

Oh, of course. I -- you guys have been helping me out with this Blog Talk Radio Show for about four years -- 4-1/2 years now and I always enjoy your input. So, thank you for being here today. We are going to be talking about areas for improving your LSAT score in a short amount of time. How you should be spending that time and hopefully, we'll have some pointers at the end for LSAT logistics and lifestyle tips in the weeks before the LSAT. And for those of you listening, whether you're taking a prep course or studying on your own, I know that Matt has some great tips to share with you and there's more information on the manhattanlsat.com website and blog and at lawschoolexpert.com. So, I just want to warn you Matt, we've got a pretty live chat room. We've got about 14 people there and I'm going to be keeping an eye out for questions that come in live from our listeners. So, at some point, they might interrupt you for that. But, why don't we start, tell me -- what is so special about the last month of prep? People in the last little bits of their prep courses. Is this when the magic is happening? What's going on now? How should people be feeling?

1:37 Matt Sherman

Yeah. This is absolutely when the clarity that people get from the extended periods of preparations start and does materialize. So this is the place where you start to see how the topics that they didn't review on such goals, and they start connecting datas that they didn't see before. The LSAT starts to slow down a little bit because you see the kind of examples that they present to you over and over again as you become familiar with it and that it seems it easier, you feel that you have one more time. So, yeah, this is the part where you've start to pull all the pieces together to get you know, bigger improvement on your score.

2:18 Ann Levine

Well, that's great. Because I'm getting a lot of questions from clients and blog readers right now. People are calling me saying things like, "I'm scoring in little 160s, I can get to a 165 in four weeks?" or "I'm getting a 155, can I get to 170 in four weeks?" How much improvement can really happen here?

2:35 Matt Sherman

We see lots of improvement in the last four weeks before the LSAT. In the beginning part of your LSAT preparation, you're working on other training material and building all these strategies and so the improvement seems to sometimes stagger, sometimes jump in this and start. I think the improvement to this point will start to be more consistent and definitely, we see some of the largest improvement here in the last four weeks. And I can give your listeners a personal story that I wanted 8 points in the last 10 days before my actual LSAT that I took 12 years ago. People thought I was heading up law school. So, yeah, in the last few weeks, you continue to improvement.

3:20 Ann Levine

Oh, that's a great anecdote. Now, here is the meat of it. Okay. The key is how can you see the improvement? I know that your total LSAT geeked out ever in Manhattan is so I know you could spend four hours answering this question, but we've got about 20 minutes. So, tell me, how can people see that kind of improvement in the next four weeks? So, let's start with the number one thing they can do to get there.

3:45 Matt Sherman

The number one thing -- the most important thing that people think that I have ever got to do is make sure that they've got a game plan. So, they should map out what the next four weeks with a bit of preparation and what they're going to look like. The first thing is to make sure that they're doing this cover each of the topics that LSAT covers in a timely way for -- that they can finish all of the topics somewhere in the middle like 10 to 14 days prior to the test. So, every topic unless you go read over it whether that be conditional logic or whether that be a question-type in particular, what are their game site and logic games or whether be an aspect of the reading comprehensive process. The topics that these address should be covered 10 to 14 days before the actual test. And then as they are moving beyond it, the topics that he covered may needed to taking practice test. This is in a play-form measuring our improvement. I would think practice test not as a place that actually improve your score, but a place of measure the improvement you're making on your own in your own preparation. If you want to make sure that you're building him in a high practice test are conditions of one test per week.

4:56 Ann Levine

Okay. So, let's talk about that for a second. Practice test. Because I hear from a lot of people, especially people retaking the LSAT, they have taken so many practice test or people will ask me how many should I take, but usually people asking that are not taking enough, but the people who are taking the practice test, they're really looking at their final scores on those tests. What is that telling them and it's not the right thing for them to be looking at when they're evaluating, how they're doing on those practice tests?

5:23 Matt Sherman

Well, let's start by talking about the number of practice. As you mentioned that they are taking a lot of practice test, and I would not recommend that you take more than two practice test in any given week. At this point, I would recommend taking one practice test a week. And maybe in the last couple of weeks leading up to the test, a couple of practice test a week. But since you're not taking the test...

5:41 Ann Levine

Okay. So, I just want to emphasize that to everyone listening. So, you want to take right now one practice test a week, maybe two a week as you get closer. Taking one everyday is not necessarily -- more is not better.

5:57 Matt Sherman

Let me share you a story about my own personal experience that kind of emphasizes that. During my preparation period, I took about a three-week period of time where I was taking a practice test five days a week, Monday to Friday. I told my LSAT teacher that I was doing this and he told me that it was really a bad idea and, you know, I would not really think you could __06:16__, I basically told them that if you know, but he was totally right, I actually get to see of that score, but three weeks straight, I wasn't gaining because I was getting myself opportunities to improve. So, use the practice test to measure improvement, but not to actually see gain or not in making games.

6:34 Ann Levine

So I think that is a great point to emphasize and I know you're talking quickly. So, I'm going to break in and emphasize the key points I'm hearing there are great take aways which is you need the time between each practice test you're taking five, six to seven days between the practice test in order to learn from what you did on those tests so that you do see improvement on the next one. Is that where you're going with that?

6:56 Matt Sherman

Exactly. You wanted to make sure that you have a chance to reflect on the score and in your performance within that LSAT and find areas to make improvement. The improvement can come from a whole range of places, where you miss your points. It can be attributed to a number of different factors. And you want to make sure that you could get times and go through that to identify the places where you could have done something a little bit differently or where your areas of knowledge are lacking a little bit.

7:26 Ann Levine

Okay. That's super helpful. So, then how do people do that? How do they take a practice test and break it down other than reading all the explanations or questions, they got right and wrong to make sure they got them right or wrong for the correct reasons. I mean, what more can people do? How can they use the results of those practice tests to move themselves forward and to figure out how they should be spending their time?

7:50 Matt Sherman

The first thing -- if somebody is taking practice test and not using some kind of an analytical tool to measure their performance, my recommendation would be to go to manhattanlsat.com and download a free LSAT tracker and we give it available to anybody and they can input their results into that tracker and monitor their progress by question type or by sectional format. And then inside of each sectional format whether that be logical reasoning or logic games or reading comprehension, they can do different things to find areas to improve or different strategies and different basis of the section.

8:29 Ann Levine

Okay. So, let's talk about that. So, let's say I get my score report back and I get maybe eight questions in a certain section correct pretty consistently. How do I go through and do something with that information? How do I figure out which ones are missing or what should I be looking at when I'm seeing those score report?

8:52 Matt Sherman

Well, let's break it down by sectional format. What you're going to do with monitoring reasoning is different on what you're doing in logic games. In logical reasoning, there are a number of different measurements that you can use -- using to identify places to improve. The first and easy thing to identify would be the kinds of questions that you're missing so whether they be weaken questions or strengthening questions or follow-up questions, see if there is any patterns to where these kinds of questions are that you're missing. If you see that you're missing a particular question type, more whether of much higher percentage than other question types, that's of you trying to go back and review your approach and your strategy for that particular question type. But beyond question types, you could look at where you're missing your questions. One of the things we see, particularly, kind of right at this stage in people's preparation is that they start to understand the complexity of the LSAT. They start answering the questions later in the section more frequently correct, but then because they are so used to the difficulty level of the later questions, they missed more questions earlier on. So, are you anticipating the difficulty level of the section? Maybe they're stopping themselves out of the correct answer are easier questions and if you find that, you have find large points or misses, but the early and the sections of your accuracy later is pretty high you want to think about are you anticipating the difficulty level accurately. There are underlying themes in logical reasoning as well. The questions way off of conditional logic, causation and even make sure that if there is an underlying contextual theme that seems to be straddling the questions, but suppose you have one question at the flow up question, and another question at the weaken question, but the issue in both this causation maybe it's not the question type, but I think he'd been thinking about the underlying theme.

10:47 Matt Sherman

And then finally any correct answers, the kind of answers that you're choosing, when you go through and you're looking at the wrong or the advanced level that you selected are wrong, you wanted to see this in patterns of maybe you're giving answers with places that are characteristics of attempting the rawness within that question type. So, for example if you're looking at a necessary something question and answer that you chew came to be stronger than what you mean that means an indication that you're not using what you know about the question type to answer the question or basically deciding on that 50/50 when you're down to two using what you know about attempting the wrong answer to make that last elimination.

11:30 Ann Levine

So, it sort of sounds like that in addition to learning the science of the test and how to answer these questions, that the people who are doing really well on the LSAT are the ones who can also figure it out from the backend? Does that sound right? I mean this is a pretty sophisticated analysis here asking people to do and self-critique, most people you know, if they're blind or something that even if it's in front of them, if it's about them, it's harder to see. So, it sounds pretty sophisticated. Is it something you find that your test takers at all levels of the scoring spectrum can do or is this something that comes more naturally to people who naturally score well on standardized tests?

12:09 Matt Sherman

I would see this is not something that comes naturally to almost anyone. This is something that comes from years of experience with the LSAT and so if you're having a difficult time in identifying patterns of lessons, then one thing you should do is seek out the impression of bag in terms of where are you mostly likely to see an input and how can you direct your studies to maximize your efficiency. This is not going to make that most people would deal easily. LSAT tracker that you can download on our website does give you some guidance in terms of how to focus your asset, but some other more difficult elements in particular with beams or the types of incorrect answers that you are choosing, that might be beyond that average that they could delay to do on their own.

13:03 Ann Levine

Okay. If someone is turning on their own and can't over the last -- over the next four weeks avail themselves of professional tutoring, what can they do? Are there some quick things they can look forward some very common mistakes people are making at this point or you mentioned certain question types making sure you know whether you can just only missing questions asked in different logical reasoning questions or different logic game questions and obviously, I think some people, most people have a sense of what their stronger section on the test is, most people feel they struggle with logic games what have you. But are there some concretely -- can you think of one or two or three concrete tips, things people can look forward, __13:38__ people can forward that you see lot in your practice working with LSAT students?

13:47 Matt Sherman

So our practice advice suggesting or by -- when you know that one person misses are very different than another person's misses. When I look at the scoreboards, it's really important that I look at the individual's performance because while there are some underlying patterns which I have just outlined there it's not consistent with test taker to test taker. I can't tell you that the contextual themes that underlies within the questions are some of the easier categories to pick up so I would say if I was to look at the student's scoreboard at this point, the one thing that I could fix to make the biggest improvement in the score is particularly their understanding in use of conditional logic. It's just such an important part of logical reasoning section. It underlies about 20% of the questions and the inner play between conditional relationships which is a very challenging task for most people.

14:43 Ann Levine

Okay. So, explain that to me. So, conditional relationships, talk me through that.

14:49 Matt Sherman

It is then statements. If A happens and B happens then D happens then C happens and doing to link those statements together being able to find gaps in questions where you see conditional logic. I can say for example, the question types that are the heavy consumers of conditional logic are must be two questions, must be follow up questions, sufficient and assumption questions, master reasoning and master follow up questions and principal questions. So, there are certain questions types where you're likely to encounter it and it's also excuse for the later part of the section which, you know, let's say we want a question or so on average, somewhere between question 7 and 11 in a section, and another one between 11 and 16 in a section and then needing three or more somewhere between 17 and end of the sections are skewed later in the section in certain as the question types and being in a link be stating together.

15:40 Ann Levine

Okay. So that's why it's important to see whether you're missing things early on or later on and that can be especially challenging I think for people who have trouble finishing the entire sections, right?

15:51 Matt Sherman

Absolutely. One of the things you could skew in your scoreboard is if you're not finishing the section of your last five questions, the kind of questions actually you're missing may not be in accurate presentation of the questions that you are actually good at. It could be a reflection of more timing than you are on descending of the question type.

16:10 Ann Levine

Okay. So, let's talk about that because I know timing is something that allows people really struggle with on the LSAT. So, tell me in these last four weeks, what growth can people make in terms of the number of questions they're able to answer and give sufficient time to on the test. Do you have any tips on what they could be doing to improve their timing or if in the next few weeks, they're saying they're not improving their timing. Any strategies for dealing with that?

16:35 Matt Sherman

There is a probability making that in order to improve their taking. One is they can anticipate the difficulty level of the question. Earlier than -- the test is designed to differentiate students. So, there are questions that are meant for low-performing students and there are questions that are meant for mid-performing students and for high-performing students and if you're treating the other questions the same, you could be spending a lot more time on the easier questions than you should be. So, you wanted to keep in mind that the first and third of the logical reasoning section are skewed on the easier end, the middle third is a little bit more difficult and the final third is the more challenging portion. So, if you move quickly in the beginning, my personal goal whenever I'm taking logical reasoning section is that I want to get the question 10 in 8 minutes. I want to get the questions 15 in 15 minutes and I want to finish the section with 5 minutes to go. That's a very difficult task for a lot of people, but if you -- let's say take out the couple of logical reasoning sections and you practice the first 10 questions moving as quickly as you possibly can and not overanalyzing, not second guessing your answer that you are choosing, you can see that your accuracy typically doesn't suffer and now you're giving yourself more time to spend the later questions.

17:49 Ann Levine

I think that's a great tip, Matt. So, I want to make sure to take away we have about 20 people on our chat room right now. And I think this is a great takeaway for them which is that dividing up, the time you spend on each question equally between these questions is probably not the best strategy when you're planning your time that to save more time for the later questions would be really worthwhile because of the difficulty level.

18:15 Matt Sherman

Exactly.

18:16 Ann Levine

Okay.

18:17 Matt Sherman

And second -- the next most important thing would be, you know, we are actually are going to choose advantage that the LSAT is still administered in a paper and title format. Most of the other graduate school entrance exam, it's all computer data that say you have to choose an answer on those test before you can go onto the next question. With LSAT, that's not the case, you are perfectly able to skip over a question and keep moving. One thing that we see typically is that the student will be torn between the situation, let's say number six and number eight. And the lead that you answer to is back and forth and back and forth and the words also are to mold together and the meaning is completely lost. At that point, it's much better that cut date and get out of that question and keep moving forward, mark the question that you want to come back to. Every time I finish a logical reasoning section, I have always three or four questions. I haven't needed decision on which one is the right answer. I need to come back and take another look at those. So, if you want to make sure that you're not trying to win the battle and end up losing the war. Despite thinking all that time into one question, you could really undertook your ability to answer all bunch of other questions that you are on a section.

19:26 Ann Levine

I think these are some great timing tips that I know people really appreciate. I know for example, I tell people, my former client to get back in touch with me while they are studying for the bar. I see them on Facebook stressing out overtaking the bar, which is probably I feel is very faraway for a lot of you listening, but if not all that faraway that, you know, you've got basically two months that you're really studying full time for the bar and about halfway through, you know just enough to be dangerous and to worry about what you don't know and I really think the same too for the LSAT that people are in a point now where okay they know what's on the test and now there is so much going on in their head and this is the time when they actually have to learn how to implement it on practice test. Do you find that this is the time when most people panic and so moving them forward on a plan like this can really help to channel their energy?

20:12 Matt Sherman

Exactly. They are so focused on implementing. It's really a common recipe. They are so focused on implementing what they know that they lose sight on the bigger picture. There is too much pressure on themselves to perform at the moment in that particular question and then lose sight of the bigger price which is the overall score and taking off the pressure by allowing yourself the room not to be perfect. Actually, it allows you to think more clearly and perform right on the test.

20:42 Ann Levine

I think that's a great segue for the last few things that I know. We both like to leave people with, because part of what you're doing and the 30 days before the LSAT is getting yourself mentally and physically ready for what really is an endurance test. There is nothing like test day, I mean, I know people who practice from the test and walk in freezers and loud places, and try to really make it difficult on themselves so it doesn't feel all that stressful on test day, but in the end, test day is test day, and people put so much pressure on themselves and on this five-hour exam, the five hours that they are in that room, let's talk about what people can do to get themselves mentally and physically ready for that day. I know that people have until the September 15th for the October exam this year to change their test date and their test center. What's important about that date to you Matt, and what do you tell your students with respect to that date?

21:38 Matt Sherman

If they haven't done so already, I would recommend anybody taking the October test, go out and look online to see what's going on at the campus where there is likely you to take the LSAT. A lot of these test centers are major universities and the __21:55__ particularly with the October LSAT. One thing you actually encounter too frequently are home time football games. They are just home games in general. Scheduled for the same day as LSAT, Saturday test, football games are on Saturdays and the last thing you want to have is a marching band going right by the test center while you're trying to take the LSAT. It's too much of a distraction and the proctors can't control the environment outside of the room and so that will be a difficulty that they could avoid by simply checking the CSF can be a problem and then maybe possibly moving their test center.

22:29 Ann Levine

Did you all -- that's a great suggestion. Do you also think that the September 15th date is the date by which people should __22:32__ update on deciding whether to move forward with the test or how should people decide if they are really ready to take the test and by what date should they make that decision?

22:44 Matt Sherman

That's actually a really good question. That's one I hear a lot from students when should they make the decision if they are not ready. It's important to note that a lot of people, somewhere in the neighborhood that I would say 30% decided two months of preparation which is not enough for them. Their shootings are these really high scores or large improvement and for them because so much is resting on their LSAT score, they need to continue in best in their LSAT performance. For people just in general, I would suggest that September 15th is way too early to make the decision. If I had made the decision for me personally, three weeks before they had that I wouldn't have taken it, and would have cost myself 99% of score. You can see a large improvement in those last three weeks, and so I would recommend that you make the decision somewhere in the middle of three to four days prior to the LSAT. And the big scheme of things, if you have to cancel your test date, and pay another fee that says just getting the test in December, then prove it in your score that you're going to get is too valuable to not take that opportunity and in September 15, you really don't know where you're going to end up. There's a lot of improvement that can happen at that point.

24:02 Ann Levine

I think that is so encouraging to hear and I know that people listening, the next thing they're going to do when they hear that is they're going to call me and they're going to say, "But Ann, if I don't take the October LSAT score, I would be behind on rolling admissions and I wouldn't be competitive at top law schools with the December LSAT scores." So I want to time in here and just say that I think it's false. I would always rather someone who wait, take the December LSAT score and have a better LSAT score in December than a lower one in October even if it cost them applying earlier in the cycle. Now this is different, and this isn't pointed out at top law schools, I used to say something different five years ago, but with some drop in applications, I have seen in the last year and two years actually, that people taking the December LSAT score are getting into these same schools of people with similar credentials who took October and applied in November. So applying leader with the same score, as people in October and they're getting into the same school, and getting the same scholarships. So I wouldn't say that for the February LSAT, but I do want to tell people don't let the pressure to move forward in that rolling admissions pressure to tear you from getting your best score in the LSAT because in the end it does pay off with where you're getting into law school, the scholarships you're getting and you're confidence level going into the process. So I just want to put and make a few sense on there because I know those decisions tend to go together, the people tend to panic and say, "Well, December is too late," they have to take October even if they're not ready.

25:28 Matt Sherman

In Manhattan LSAT we've been hearing very much the same thing from representatives and various admissions to departments with the number of applicants dropping so significantly over the past two years. There has been a lot more deferment in terms of judgment on admission decision.

25:46 Ann Levine

Absolutely. And in fact, I just blogged on this past week ahead of blog posts. Someone had put a comment on my lawschoolexpert.com blog and I'm taking both the October and December test, but that was not their question to me. Their question to me was something else entirely and I said, "Wait a second, let's start with the first sentence. Why would you plan to take both?" I always quote this and so it's cheesy, but I was quoting, "You can't ride two horses with one ass Sugarbean", that's from the Sweet Home Alabama, okay? I know not the same Reese Witherspoon movie most people quote in law school admissions, but I mean that's really true. I mean, you can't execute two diametrically opposed strategies at once. It doesn't work, I have a list of reasons, why on that blog post stuff, but I think it's something to keep in mind that people really do need to decide that three or four days before the October LSAT which horse they're going to ride, and if you're not ready to ride the horse, then don't ride it, and I think that can be a hard call to make but in the end, exercising good judgment about this decisions is so much better than having to write an addendum with your application saying, well I exercised poor judgment by taking the October LSAT when I wasn't ready, therefore my December scores are a better representation of my abilities. So I much rather people make the hard call and make a good decision and have a unified strategy in their application, but I think that's only people really aren't where they should be with the October LSAT. It's not that waiting to December is better.

27:10 Matt Sherman

We needed to add that. We hear that as a strategy from a lot of students that they want to fit in on a test just to see what it feels like and get adjustment to it and that will cancel the score and go in a couple of months later and take the next one, and we do not recommend that strategy. You will know how you're going to perform on a test before you walk into the test center. You take the average of your last three scores, that's where you are going to be plus and minus a couple of points. It's not going to go up significantly; it's not going to go down significantly. If you're not happy with the score, you should not walk into the test center, you should something change your test date to the next one.

27:44 Ann Levine

Okay. I want to emphasize that I think it's probably the most worthwhile thing that people can take away from this entire program which is you should take the average of your last three practice test as a score and if you're not happy with that number, then that can be an indicator you shouldn't take the test and if you are happy with that number to take it, because I do see too many people panic, and said "Well, I'm the very last practice test that I took before the LSAT. I only got a down 4 points." That is a panic indicator. Or there might be something else funky that went on with it and to be honest, people into self-score don't test wrong because that happens too. So I think that's a great takeaway Matt, that you should take the average of your last three practice test. Now, what you were doing on your diagnostic, now what you were doing one month in the last three weeks before the test what you were doing. So that's a great takeaway. You got about a minute, Matt, one and give me one or two great tips for lifestyle choices you have your LSAT students make during the last week or so before the test.

28:49 Matt Sherman

Yeah. Being in a right firm of mine, is really, really important as you walk into the test. Your confidence, your comfort level, had a huge or played a huge role in your performance on test day. If you're nervous or full of anxiety, that's going to be reflected in your scores. It's going to lead more likely the anxiety attacks or whatever, so taking good control of your mental health in the last few weeks is very, very important.

29:16 Ann Levine

How can you do that?

29:17 Matt Sherman

If you work out regularly. I have it recommended you could change that. Find ways to release steam whether that be through yoga or meditation. If cooking is your thing that's great. Find ways that you can personally release some steam. My personal recommendation is that in the last couple of weeks you put a test. I know we're giving the college students here and I would recommend you do not consume alcohol in the last few weeks before the test. It lingers but affects even if you haven't drink in for a few days, the effects of it are still there. So I will just cut on alcohol for the last couple of weeks.

29:49 Ann Levine

And get a good night's sleep. Good. We have 10 seconds left, but to take away where it should be, go to bed early, and Matt, thank you so much for your time and your expertise today. We set a lot in and everyone can check out manhattanlsat.com for more.

30:05 Matt Sherman

Thanks for having me, Ann.

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