FAQ for the law school applicants

I get a lot of messages from people wondering about my LSAT study methods and law school application process because I am very active online on several law school application-related message boards, so I put up a more personal FAQ. My original FAQ page at elleSAT was specifically geared to my original client base (testtakers fighting up from the infamous “165 plateau”). We’ve received feedback that this makes people think we don’t work with lower scorers. That’s absolutely not the case and we’ve successfully gotten people from the 130s to the 150s, from the 140s/150s into the 160s, etc. But since I do get more personal questions I think it makes sense for me to post on my personal site and direct people here.  I’ll probably put pieces of this onto the elleSAT blog and tweak this from time to time to link there as I write more.

Why do you still hang out on message boards during 1L?

Well, I didn’t think I was going to go to law school this fall so I started tutoring over the summer. Then some people I knew got laid off from their tutoring jobs because in-person classes were canceled due to COVID, so this spiraled out of control and now I apparently have a business. Trust and believe, I didn’t expect to spend my 1L year incorporating an LLC and navigating licensing agreements with LSAC. But no one else likes marketing so I feel obligated to keep up my primary source of word-of-mouth referrals.

Also, most law school application advice online is terrible, and I want to spread the good word for my fellow splitters. Yes, you can get into law school with a low undergraduate GPA!

First, a disclaimer

Most people should not expect to increase 20 points on the LSAT in three months unless they are just beginning their studies. Many people make initial large point increases by improving logic games, and progress slows after that.

If you have self-studied for months to get to a 150, I do not want you to walk away from this post thinking that if you follow my advice that you will get to a 170+ in the same amount of time that I did. My methods are very effective, but I self-studied for three weeks and then did logic games with a tutor for an additional two weeks before getting my first 160.

The people who take my advice and pull this off usually are already very quick readers who have had significant exposure to things like the LSAT’s reading comp section. I often work with people who have graduate degrees in other areas and who are starting out with pretty high reading comprehension diagnostics. These people usually do not miss more than 10-12 questions on reading comprehension on their first time seeing the test. They are scoring low in logic games, and they can usually get 10-12 questions correct on each logical reasoning section the first time. Their issue is with logic games. (I’m convinced that’s because most logic games books and videos were created by men who are pretty good at math. I started elleSAT to teach games in a more natural and, for lack of a better word, female way.)

Once this type of student figures out the games section, they see big increases because they’re able to pick up a lot of points in logic games. Those students get to 160 very quickly, like I did, and then they get from 160 to 170 by working with me on the finer points of LR and RC (and with Van or Kerry on logic games – I don’t have time to teach them).

So if you are in the high 150s and you are struggling to get through reading comp on time, we can still help you, and I can usually get people comfortably to about 163 on the test, but there are two types of plateaus on this test. There is a reading speed plateau (no score corresponds to this, this is an individual plateau) where you need to increase your speed to progress, and there is a plateau around 165 where you need to truly understand the test to progress. (I hate to generalize about this because for some people, the reading speed plateau happens to be in the 160s. That’s a different situation but often I can still help people squeeze points out of the logical reasoning section.) LSAC puts some incredibly difficult questions to differentiate people along the score distribution. Those questions are what sets the curve. You can see the curve by looking at LSAC’s scaled score charts: it gets closer and closer to a 1:1 raw score:scaled score increase as you increase from 165. That’s why it is so difficult and why there is so much variability in scores at this level.

IF YOU ARE NOT ALREADY A VERY FAST READER, YOU NEED TO READ MORE. A LOT MORE. SUBSCRIBE TO MY NEWSLETTER. I send out articles from law reviews, scientific journals, bascially whatever I read during the week. My lifelong reading habits are the reason I was able to crush the test. I try my best to share those with people, because I was sick of students asking me if they should read The Economist. NO! Read SCOTUS Blog, and if you don’t like it, you should really consider whether you want to endure three years of reading stuff you don’t like to become a lawyer.

I think a good rule of thumb is that it will take the same amount of time (and a little less test material) to get to 160 as it will to get to 170. This is why I think it’s so important not to waste material: I have students who have ripped through practice test after practice test without learning from past work…they stall out…they run out of material…and it’s a problem. This is also, incidentally, why I hate “drilling” so much.

I needed ~20 practice tests worth of material to get from a 160 to a 170. If you need 20+ to get to 160, you have a real chance of running out of tests, and that’s a big problem. Slow down. Book a consult with someone on my site. I have more advice on this…including taking untimed sections, checking your work as you go, etc. Basically, the opposite of what Mike Kim/LSAT Trainer suggests. Lots to say about this. This post is a work in progress. Maybe I’ll write a book after all.

My law school/LSAT application timeline

I decided in December 2019 that I wanted to go to law school. I figured that I would take the summer to put my materials together and apply in fall 2020 when applications opened for the 2021 academic year. I planned to take the LSAT in April 2020 to give myself time to plan my wedding (then scheduled for July 2020, now indefinitely postponed because I refuse to get married on Zoom). I planned to take the test a second time in August if I wasn’t happy with the initial result.

I started studying for the LSAT casually in early February, and got a tutor at the beginning of March.

LSAC rescheduled the April exam to May. I felt good about the exam, so I started working on my application a few days later. I got my score on June 5, emailed the law schools I was interested in asking whether I could still apply, and submitted all of my materials by June 15. Things moved very quickly after that. I was admitted to Northwestern on June 30, after I emailed them to tell them that I needed to deposit with another school by July 6 to hold my scholarship. Northwestern started negotiating with me the following week, extended my deposit date an additional week, and made me a compelling scholarship offer within two weeks.

My experience was not normal. I can’t tell you what a normal process is like. I know as much as you do from lurking message boards and Law School Numbers. We have students going through the process now so next year we’ll have a better idea of when schools start making admissions decisions and how this all goes.

My “diagnostic”

I took the free test via Kaplan (I wish I hadn’t, since it was a later prep test – your diagnostic should be in the 60s, not the 70s – 70s and 80s numbered tests should be saved for after you are close to your goal score) and I scored something like a 140, which I thought seemed fine since the questions I missed in those two sections seemed to be rated as “difficult” and I only got like 3 points in the “analytical reasoning” section before giving up. I looked online for information about how to study. I bought three books: prep tests book in February, The LSAT Trainer, and the PowerScore Logic Games Bible. I read this article and thought it sounded like a pretty solid approach, so I decided to start with reading comprehension and logical reasoning to see how far I could make it on my own.

My “process”

At first, I kept things pretty chill. On my lunch break, I walked down the street to my local diner, ordered a cup of coffee, and did one or two reading comprehension passages, or as much logical reasoning as I could fit in. I checked my work after each reading comprehension passage, and after the first half of logical reasoning to try to see where I had gone wrong. I don’t see a benefit to going through material and not checking your work as you progress, since you should be learning from every mistake. I did try to read the LSAT Trainer but it didn’t feel useful to me. So I stopped using it.

Eventually, it was time to buckle down and learn logic games. The PowerScore book didn’t do it for me, so I got a tutor at the recommendation of a friend. The tutor gave me a crash course in formal logic and how to diagram rules in logic games. This was helpful.

Around this time, LSAC released the Prep Plus aka LawHub platform. This was a godsend for me: I had a bunch of practice test books in my Amazon cart, removed them immediately, and saved a lot of money. I started cranking through at least one section a day in LawHub and reviewing my mistakes with my tutor. I didn’t like online explanations and I didn’t like spending my time digging for them when I could just pay the tutor and get through a section within half an hour.

I worked really hard and spent quite a bit of money. I think I could have spent less. I think I could have figured out most of the other two sections on my own over a long enough time horizon. I just really wanted to get this over with.

My tutor

My tutor ended up being someone who I do not share values with, so I no longer recommend them or their company. The direction they chose to take their business was a reason I started my company. I do recommend Kerry Monroe and Van Tran (both listed on my website). They are excellent tutors. The other tutors on my site are also great but I haven’t worked personally with them as students. Van taught me a lot about the LSAT, and Kerry helps me sometimes with law school. They have many happy repeat customers and rave reviews.

The 165 plateau

It took me a month after getting to 160 that to get my first score above 170. Then I was stuck at 168-169 for awhile and it took another 2-3 weeks to reliably test above 170. It was excruciating. I learned a lot from going through this and I can get people over this plateau much more quickly than I was able to. I have had students get from the low-mid 160s to 170+ with two sessions. I really think I’ve figured this out. I’ll keep writing more about this as time allows. I really don’t want to paywall this information, I unfortunately just have to at this point because I don’t have time to keep chatting with people online and I haven’t had time to write it up. (Same thing with any future books or paid downloads: I don’t want to charge, but LSAT won’t let us show you anything using real material, and we have to charge at some point to offset their licensing fees.)

Is law school hard?

It’s very difficult to get As, but difficult to completely fail, which seems like an okay trade to me. Most of the difficulty comes from trying to combine/apply concepts while still learning new ones. If there were a two-week reading period, or one fewer class, I think it would have been quite manageable. Things were also harder for me because I was working about 20 hours a week until November.

There were about four weeks this term (not consecutive) where I felt like I did not have enough time and where I was especially grateful for my spouse, who does all the shopping, takes care of dinner every night, and pays for occasional housekeeping. I am grateful for him every day, but on the more intense days it was a very solid sort of gratitude rather than my usual ambient happiness and pleasure at living with someone who is so thoughtful and attentive. I would have been less happy doing this on my own in a studio apartment, and less happy still with roommates. I think in normal years a studio apartment near campus is the best thing that anyone can do for themselves. This year, I worry for my classmates who are doing this in an apartment by themselves with limited social interaction.

I really have no complaints about school or about anything else.  I got sick for two weeks, and that was lousy, and after that I felt anxious about going to the gym. I think it would have been easier to focus and that I would have felt less anxious about school if I’d had more cardio in my routine, I think I should have done more yoga and Pilates, and I should have listened to my boo about getting ADHD medication at the beginning of the term. I did have a hard time focusing, and it would have been much easier with medication. I still felt pretty behind and overwhelmed for the last three weeks before exams, but the reading week at the end of the semester was just barely enough time to pull things off. I’m pretty sure I passed all my classes and I might have even done well in a few of them.

By the end of the term, D managed to convince me that I need to relax more, so we started watching TV together at night. This was a hard sell because we had not watched TV since May 2019 and it was basically our hobby to talk about how much we don’t watch TV. I don’t know if we’ll keep watching TV after these COVID lockdowns end, but I’ve really come around on this. I like letting my brain switch off at the end of the day and sometimes D says really funny things about the stuff we watched. He has made a lot of very good Star Wars jokes about current political figures. It is also cute how much he loves Kylo Ren. So yeah, it’s fine, I have enough time to go on two walks a day with my sweetie and hang out and watch TV and the only reason I don’t take naps on weekends is that I’m neurotic about maintaining my sleep schedule because I have early classes.

What is Zoom law school like?

Absolutely no complaints. I live in a beautiful house with plenty of space, adorable animals, and an objectively great home office setup.  Accenture was pretty supportive of remote work, so for two years pre-COVID, I built up a comfy home office. My boss and I used to joke that “the entire world works at Accenture now” after the lockdowns. So going to law school was basically like quitting a job I more or less liked for one that I like significantly more. It was hard to watch online lectures for ~4 hours a day but 1) I wasn’t on ADHD drugs then and probably would have liked it more if I had been and 2) everything was recorded.

Do you like Northwestern?

It’s the best. Great students, great professors, incredible facilities. I really appreciate all the mentorship they build in, whether it’s through an assigned mentor or the APEX program. I’m not sure how it happened when I’ve been to the campus like, five times, but I feel attachment to the school and somehow managed to connect with a few people who I’m pretty sure will be lifelong friends.

I’m biased since I’ve fallen in love (or at least very strong like) with Chicago, but I think it’s the best location in the country. I get that people love the campus at Michigan or Chicago and being in New York and the quad in Cambridge and the weather or the counterculture or tech or whatever in the Bay Area, but it’s Lake Michigan for me.

One of the best moments of my life so far was going into the law school library for the first time. It is on the eastern side of the building and every floor has an unobstructed floor-to-ceiling view of Lake Michigan. When you stand at the windows, even on the lowest floor, you cannot see Lakeshore Drive below you. It’s just you, the glass, and the water. My first day on campus at Northwestern Law was also my first time seeing the lake from that perspective.

Standing in the library that day, the future looked bright for the first time in a very long time. My mind was quiet as I looked at the horizon and all I could think was, “I made it.”

Soon, you’ll have that feeling. I can’t wait to hear about it.

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