Why Buying LSAT Commercial Guides is Like Throwing Money Away
By: Kyle Pasewark, President
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.
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 None of them (except for part of one, which is now outdated) did that, either.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.