Applying to law school and taking the LSAT is often a challenge for many people who choose to undertake this challenge. But there are tricks for making this journey as painless as possible. For many, the anxiety surrounding the LSAT is due to it being a largely misunderstood challenge. Contrary to what you might think, the LSAT represents an opportunity to illustrate your creativity and improve your critical and creative thinking skills. When properly preparing for the exam, you’ll develop:
- new ways to approach solving problems of all sorts
- novel techniques for organizing and characterizing information
- the ability to curate your own thought process to become a more effective thinker
With this in mind, we have five key points to help you get into the correct mindset for a successful (read: transformative) and low-stress LSAT preparation experience.
1. You are not your LSAT.
Many people use their LSAT score to define their abilities across a range of fields, their value as an applicant, or, even more insidiously, in a greater self-esteem context.
You are not your LSAT!
Your LSAT score doesn’t represent how smart you are or how capable you are as a person, student, or professional. It certainly doesn’t deliver the distinct mix of characteristics that make you, well, you. What admissions committees are looking for when analyzing your LSAT score is a set of skills that are valuable for law school. But be warned, tying your self-worth up in a number is perilous, to say the least.
Putting the self-esteem aspect aside for a moment, identifying yourself with your LSAT means that you are giving short shrift to who you are as a person outside of a testing environment. Given you are applying for law school, it can be assumed that you have already achieved a lot and are hoping to achieve so much more. There is no need to put additional pressure on yourself to perform well on the LSAT to prove to yourself, or to your family, friends, or an admissions committee how “valuable” you are, how smart you are, or how capable you are.
From our perspective as teachers, we also see this occur frequently in the other direction, with tutors who apply to work with us. They define themselves by their LSAT success rather than their ability as educators. We reject many potential tutors out of hand, despite their having a 99.9 percentile score, because a score is simply a number on a piece of paper; we seek people who understand others, are strong communicators, and who are always growing as educators. The admissions committee at your prospective law school are also looking for more in your application than just your LSAT score.
Takeaway: By focusing on your score, rather than developing stronger critical and creative thinking skills, you’re missing the point of the LSAT.
2. The LSAT is both easier and harder than you think.
I know this sounds counterintuitive, but bear with me.
The stigma of the LSAT – that it’s a terribly difficult exam – affects the performance of most test takers. This hyperbole can cause you to freeze up and underperform. People make the LSAT out to be more difficult than it is. These people, in the end, tend to hold themselves back by placing it on a pedestal and treating it with too much reverence.
The LSAT is certainly an exceptionally challenging exam that will push you to your limits. There is no mistaking that. Further, it compares you to your peers – people who have similar levels of skill and experience, hence gaining a competitive edge seems nearly impossible without working harder. Because most people make it out to be harder than it is, they end up holding themselves back.
Conversely, the LSAT is easier than you think because it rewards informality and creative thinking. A successful LSAT test taker can use intuition and clear, logical reasoning in order to solve the most intractable problems.
Because of this apparent dichotomy, test takers bring to the exam a paradigm of thought that is very restrictive. By not looking for an accessible or intuitive answer they restrict their options and make their task all the more challenging.
What is surprising to many is that formal education can hold one back – but not in the way you think. Once you free yourself of the academic restraints that come from the burden of too formal an education, whether with math or language, and utilize your intuitive reasoning mind, all of a sudden LSAT problems become much more simple and straightforward.
Takeaway: The most challenging part of the LSAT is dehabituating the solutions paths that you’ve locked in during your formative education. You must allow yourself the mental flexibility to really explore, be creative, and go with your gut.
3. Don’t force it. It’s not a knowledge test.
Another great misconception is that the LSAT is just about knowing how to solve every problem that they might throw at you, and knowing how to do so before you’re actually sitting in the exam.
In fact, while you need to know all the concepts that are being tested, the exam is not testing your knowledge of these mechanics. Rather, the exam tests your depth of knowledge. The contextual relationship between the rules and the correct answer is often hidden in the space between two concepts. We recommend to our students that they examine how those rules can be bent, or broken, or how they relate to other rules. Doing this can lead to new insights that you wouldn’t think were otherwise there.
Takeaway: It’s a conversation, not a play. There is no script. Being prepared means being able to handle the unknown challenges that will come your way, not knowing exactly what to say in advance. You’ll never be totally prepared, because you’ll never know what the other person will say.
4. Most performance issues are not intellectual.
Many high achievers come to the LSAT and find themselves plateauing in the mid-upper 160s or low 170s. They think that a lack of fluency or a deeper understanding of the material is what’s holding them back.
True LSAT success is governed by the recognition that it is a test of acuity, confidence, and temperament. Skills that are often developed during the study process. For example, being comfortable in uncertainty, while making decisions quickly, and finding out-of-the-box solutions are all highly rewarded skills in this exam.
A general understanding of the dynamics of a problem, rather than a precise answer, are often the characteristics that allow people to truly excel, especially on the most challenging questions. Achieving LSAT success, at the highest levels, is about managing the emotional and behavioral stresses, not the intellectual challenge. Being able to regulate your anxiety, self-confidence/questioning, and overall comfort can impact your LSAT score significantly once you’re past 170, where each second and every unique approach can mean extra points.
Takeaway: Once you’re in the upper 160s, improvement comes from focusing on non-intellectual elements. Preparing for these challenges from the start is what makes for the most rapid, fluid, and meaningful preparation.
5. Most people don’t do it alone.
The dirty little secret that no one talks about is that nearly every high-achiever seeks assistance to obtain a great LSAT score. This is all the truer in those places where the smartest people congregate. Too often we find that people don’t speak about getting help because they are usually in academic or professional environments where they are valued for their intellectual ability and feel shame to not be able to “go it alone.”
We work with numerous clients who are not comfortable sharing with their friends or family that they sought help. Often, this is because they worry that the success of their admission will be diminished in the eyes of those they respect most.
There is no shame in seeking help, even if it is the first time you’ve ever needed to. We have worked with clients where we were their first tutor. Perhaps you were able to get into a top-tier school or already landed your first job – without help – and thus consider yourself exceptionally successful. But the LSAT is pitting you against those who have similar intellectual capabilities. This can come with a host of difficulties. One of these difficulties is the ability to gain a competitive edge after you have been homogenized for so long in academic or corporate environments.
This can often lead to frustration and sadness on this journey. It is important to recognize that everyone, all those people that you respect and admire most, at one point or another, have needed help, and have had to ask for help.
Takeaway: Don’t hesitate to ask for help. That’s what strong people do. It’s what leaders do. It’s what those who are the most successful do. Never go it alone.
Studying for the LSAT is an individualized experience but that doesn’t mean you have to go it alone. If you are looking to achieve LSAT success we offer exceptional individualized private tutoring for high achieving clients. We offer 30-minute complimentary consultation calls where you can speak with a top-scoring instructor. We look forward to hearing from you!