Why Buying LSAT Commercial Guides is Like Throwing Money Away

Why Buying LSAT Commercial Guides is Like Throwing Money Away

By:  Kyle Pasewark, President

–Advise-In Solutions

I’m pleased to contribute to John Richardson’s Best LSAT books and courses blog, which provides a valuable forum for views about the LSAT.  After reading my blog (www.adviseinsolutionsblog.com) and looking at the Advise-In Solutions website (www.advisein.com),  John asked me to say a little about what, if any, LSAT preparation commercial publications and materials are valuable.

I have short answer and a long answer.  The short answer:  none, except the LSAT prep tests available through lsac.org.  Exams, not guides.

Now for the longer answer.  Before I took the LSAT, scoring a perfect 180 on my first and only try, I did what a diligent guy like me does.  I took a diagnostic test (on which I got a middling score).  So, I figured I needed help and bought every commercial guide I could.  I came home confident that these would show me the way to LSAT (and law school) promised land.  Then I opened them and my heart sank.   Each one was more technical and jargon-y that the last.  None of them presented a consistent, pedagogically sound perspective on the LSAT.  At the time, I was a college professor and knew something about how information is communicated effectively.  None of them (except for part of one, which is now outdated) did that, either.  What’s more, they presented far too many possible techniques and approaches, and I knew that, come LSAT exam day, this complexity would not only not help me get my best score, but prevent it.

I promptly threw the test prep books in the dumpster and designed my own study program, which allowed me to get the 180 I got and is the original inspiration to Advise-In’s customized LSAT programs (http://www.advisein.com/lsat-preparation-best-LSAT-score.html).  To be clear, I did not write my own 500-page book.  The maximum of written materials I ever used were a few pages of handwritten notes.  Those were changed and culled over the course of my study program to about 5 index cards that I reworked and studied relentlessly.

Why are 5 index cards or a few pages of notes better than 500-page books?  Because taking the LSAT is like playing a game—you have a fixed amount of time to do a lot of work accurately.  And the stakes are high (though it’s best not to think about that).  So, there’s pressure.  It’s not couch-potato understanding you need, but working, reflexive understanding.

An important component of performing well under pressure is to be automatic—always to know your next step.  Cognitive research is now building a mountain of evidence that confirms this but we all know it.  For the LSAT, that has a glaring implication: one key to doing well on the LSAT is making it simpler, not more complex.  I don’t mean that you can take shortcuts or that there are any surefire tricks that will outsmart the writers of the LSAT; they’re pros and they’re better at tricking you that you are at tricking them.  They’re brilliant at writing questions, and that’s why, for most people the LSAT is hard.

But here’s the thing—it’s not complicated.  Each LSAT has about 100 questions on it.  But in the nearly 20 years that the LSAT has been in its current format, they have used only 20 question types.  Thousands of individual questions but only 20 question types.  That’s all.

And this is why the approach of most commercial guides and programs (to say nothing of the magic beans that people are trying to sell all across cyberspace) will hurt you more than help you.  It’s not that it’s just unsound, it’s actually damaging.  A taxonomy of over 50 question types and a bevy of different techniques for answering each of those questions is not only something you don’t need but you can’t possibly execute that kind of complexity on the actual LSAT (if you can, you don’t need to buy any commercial guides or read LSAT blogs in the first place).  You have, depending on the section, between a minute and a minute-and-a-half average time to answer LSAT questions.  You can’t be fumbling around trying to figure out what type of question this is and, after figuring that out, which of 10 or so approaches you’re going to take.  You have to know, instinctively and immediately.

Now, I understand why commercial guides and many LSAT programs make things complex.  You couldn’t charge $25 or more for a 5-page book, and a lot of commercial programs are interested in making the LSAT appear so daunting, and themselves so sophisticated, that you’ll think they’re the only ones who can save you from doom.

But it’s counterproductive to learning how to do what you need to do on exam day, calmly, efficiently and accurately.  To prepare for the LSAT, a few sheets of paper or index cards are simply more valuable to you than a mass of information, even if that information were beautifully and accurately presented.  And we all know that the best teachers are the ones who make difficult material seem easier, not more perplexing.

What you need to succeed on the LSAT is a simple taxonomy of question types and the simple (and few) techniques that work for you to obtain your best LSAT score.  The LSAT is hard for most of us; to make it mystifying makes it next to impossible.  The LSAT is simple, and the key to getting your best score is to make it as simple as you can for yourself.  Everything you do in your LSAT prep should contribute to simplification on exam day.


8 thoughts on “Why Buying LSAT Commercial Guides is Like Throwing Money Away

  1. thomas Pickett

    just looking into the best LSAT prep approach. If you have additional information, I would be interested. Thanks!

  2. Kailey Gillman

    You said that you came up with a series of techniques you found which worked for you, how did you come about these techniques? Did you take multiple practice tests until you figured out the different question types and your strategy, or did someone tell you the different types and you strategized on your own?

    Thank you.

  3. Kyle Pasewark at Advise-in Solutions

    Thank you, Thomas and Kailey. To learn more about my approach, feel free to call me at Advise-In Solutions at 212-249-2718 or drop me an e-mail at info@advisein.com. Kailey, I figured out the question types and the best techniques on my own. I didn’t use prep guides to tell me what the question types were because what the guides were telling me was too complicated and not what I thought it possible to remember, much less execute, in the time you have on the LSAT. Many of them were also simply wrong–they badly misunderstood the LSAT’s theory of argument and the most efficient ways to do diagrams. They were more mystifying than helpful–too many decisions, each adding to the chance of error.

    So it was important to simplify everything (check out the Advise-In blog at http://www.adviseinsolutionsblog.com for more on this, under the heading LSAT Preparation). The best decision I made was to throw the books in the dumpster.

    In the more than a decade that I’ve been working with pre-law students, I’ve found that even the approach I took could have been a little more straightforward (though I can’t complain, since it got me a 180) and I’ve refined it accordingly. Simplify, simplify, simplify is the approach that works, and it’s also the approach that the science of cognitive research recommends.


    Kyle Pasewark

  4. bestlsatbooks Post author

    “Simply, Simplify, Simplify” – that’s the reason that I asked Kyle to contribute this guest post. There is a very disturbing trend in the world of LSAT Preparation to “Complicate, Complicate, Complicate”.

    “Complication” also includes a dangerous propensity to “over categorize questions”. Here is a link to another guest post about the dangers of over categorization.


    In my LSAT classes, I find it hard to get people to: take small steps, and focus on what is being said, etc. LSAT test takers are far too quick to look for a complex solution or meaning.

  5. Kyle Pasewark at Advise-in Solutions


    I think the advice about taking small steps is vital–often, LSAT takers try to take in too much information at one time, with the result that their minds just get confused and muddled. As I’ve pointed out on my blog, the LSAT is not a complicated test (there are really only 20 question types) but it’s hard because the writers are exceptionally good at what they do. Simple, straightforward, step-by-step procedures that you can apply automatically help break everything down into bite-sized pieces that aren’t overwhelming. And if you know what to do automatically, at almost every point in the LSAT, that helps maintain your composure and calm, as well as boosting both accuracy and speed. Of course, the rub in all this is that the techniques that work for one person (or even most) don’t necessarily work for everyone (and what works for any individual changes over time), so the key is to develop the right techniques for each person.

    I also agree with you about looking too quickly (or at all) for the “tricks.” I did a blog post awhile back about there being no magic bullets in the LSAT. The LSAT does not, with very rare exceptions, ask trick questions. They have a specific theory of argument in mind, and they follow it rigorously.

    When I prepared for the LSAT, I took every practice test available and made my fair share of mistakes. What allowed me to get a 180 on my actual LSAT is that when I analyzed my practice mistakes, I understood in every case why their answer was better than mine. That wouldn’t have been possible if they were trying to trick me. Since I took the LSAT, I’ve worked through every publicly-available LSAT question. In those thousands of questions, the number of times I think they may (emphasize “may”) have made a mistake? Once. They’re good at what they do; they don’t need to trick you.

  6. Pingback: Why Reading Comprehension is Underemphasized in LSAT Prep, and What You Can Do about It : Mastering The LSAT – Toronto

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