Learning to Master the LSAT

In 2011 I will be offering LSAT classes in Seattle

Cognitive and mechanical problems with taking standardized tests can be overcome with special training or extra time.  Request extra time (but don't plan on your request being granted — LSAC is very reluctant to allow accommodations).  Get the training you need, practice, and try again in a year or two.  

Often, working around a physical or cognitive problem requires individual diagnosis and novel solutions.  A classroom structure is never adequate to compensate for learning disabilities of any sort.  

More often, you can solve the problem by working on your own. Here are some ideas and resources:

Poor vocabulary

 "I didn't know what that word meant."  
"Oh," I respond, "haven't you ever seen it before?"
"Well, I guess so."  
"Didn't you ever look it up?"  
"No, I don't usually bother."
"Well that's why you got the wrong answer."

If you know you have a poor vocabulary, fix it!  Either study word lists, or sit down and read LSAT passages and look up words you don't know.  Find a vocabulary book that discusses the importance of Latin and Greek roots, so you'll know that "macro" means big and "micro" means little.  When your vocabulary improves, so will your test score.  

A closely-related conversation is this one:

"Do you know what 'awesome' means?"
"Sure; it means 'great.'
"No it doesn't; it means 'all-inspiring.' which could be bad instead of good. Did you ever look it up?"
"Yes, I did."
"Did you just use the built-in dictionary in your word-processor?"
"Yeah; how could you tell?"
"Because you don't know what the word means."

Dictionaries that are built into word processors are like Scrabble™ dictionaries; their purpose is to give you a basic working definition, not a comprehensive understanding of the word. If you don't have a good paper dictionary, dictionary.reference.com is the best online word source that I've found.

Even worse is when the conversation goes:  

 "I didn't know what that word meant."
"Oh, haven't you ever seen it before?"
No, I don't think so."

This conversation points to problems in your education.  Either your focus was very narrow (as is often true of science or business majors), your textbooks were very simplistic, or you had seen the word before and just don't remember it.

If you know your high school and college educations were focused on very narrow topics, consider adding our list of Personal Enrichment  words to your vocabulary. After all, you can't get the right answers on a reading passage about Rembrandt if you don't know that he was a painter.  

If you know you're not  a reader, become one.  Make sure to read books and periodicals aimed at a college level audience.  Read something every day. Make lists of the words you don't know, and look them up every night.  Over time, you can become the literate person who makes a good lawyer.  

Poor Problem- Solving Skills

"I don't know what to do next."
"Well, how will you decide?"
"I don't know."
"Well, what should you think about?"
"I don't know."
"Oh.  Then you can't do logic games."

Problem solving ability is acquired, not innate.  You don't acquire it by reading textbooks.  You don't acquire it by asking people to figure things out for you.  You certainly don't acquire it by watching TV or movies, or even by reading mysteries. You may or may not acquire it in your normal life.  If you call the plumber when the toilet won't flush instead of opening up the tank and getting your fingers wet, you probably won't acquire it.  

How do you acquire it?  By solving problems.  Get books of puzzles.  Logic games, brain twisters, cryptograms all build your problem-solving skills.  Computer games like Sherlock and SmartGamesAmazon link 2 build your problem-solving skills.  Buy them, play with them, and learn.  

Now I know it sounds odd to say you learn to figure things out by figuring things out. But it's true.  After all, you learn to ride a bike by riding a bike, and you learn to play tennis by playing tennis.  Thinking is a thing you do, and you learn to do by doing.  

If you don't know how to solve puzzles, you'll be very bad at the LSAT.  I've researched  books that teach problem-solving skills in order to help people with LSAT scores  of 145 or lower.

  • The best of these is Problem Solving & Comprehension, by Arthur Whimbey and Jack Lochhead, L. Erlbaum Associates, Hillsdale, N.J. 1991.  The book's methods were designed for a program at Xavier University in New Orleans, and showed an astonishing success rate.  

Other books that include problem-solving skills but which were not designed for use in an academic setting include:

Applying Techniques

Taking the LSAT requires more then just knowing basic vocabulary and analytical skills; you have to know how to apply those skills to this specific test.  I've never found a single book or prep course (except mine, of course, but that's been discontinued) that I thought was good at teaching all the LSAT skills.  

For logic games, I recommend the ARCO GRE/LSAT Logic Workbook, 2000 Edition 

This is the only book I like for logic games; I particularly dislike the Powerscore Logic Games Bible.  I feel that it guarantees accuracy at the expense of speed, and you need to develop both.  

For arguments, I like Asking the Right Questions: A Guide to Critical Thinking (8th Edition), by M.Neil Browne and Stuart M. Keeley, Pearson Prentice Hall.

I also like LSAT Testbuster -- REA's Testbuster for the Law School Admission Test. You should look this book over, though; different editions change pretty radically.

I don't like anyone's method for reading, but most people find my method to be nerve-wracking.  

CAVEAT: all three of these books have undergone several reprints since I first recommended them. "Asking the Right Questions" seems to be is substantially the same as it had been in earlier editions, but the other two have been modified to quite a bit, and I don't like the newer editions nearly as much as I did these earlier ones. If you're buying a used copy, try to ascertain the edition before purchasing it.

Practice Tests are an essential part of LSAT prep - - and not two or three tests, or even a dozen.  Most people need to take fifteen to twenty practice tests before the LSAT becomes second nature.  Fortunately, you can buy about 50 tests, either from LSAC or -- guess whereAmazon link1? Usually Amazon ships more quickly than LSAC, perhaps because that's Amazon's main business.  

Be careful when ordering:

10 Actual, Official LSAT Prep Tests
10 More Actual, Official...
The Next 10 Actual, Official ..., and
10 New Actual, Official LSAT PrepTests

are four different books. Other LSAC Prep Books include different extras, but not different tests.

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