Ep. 118: To Stem First, or not to Stem First?

Ben has entered the cryptocurrency market with some speculative “investments” in Bitcoin. And the guys take a shallow dive into the world of personal finance before turning to some interesting LSAT news. LSAC recently announced that the late registration period alongside the late registration fee are being eliminated. So sign up for the test to your heart’s content! LSAC also released the dates of the 2018 tests. The guys discuss the interesting tone of LSAC’s email and give out some handy advice on when you should register for the LSAT.

Congrats to Zach on his awesome 175, and thanks for the tip! If you’ve just taken the December LSAT and want to review the test—or if you want to see how Nathan would have tackled the test, he’s holding a 3-hour review on January 10. There are only 30 spots, so make sure to sign up here.

13:46 – Email 1—Leslie heard the guys’ recent advice on fee waivers. So while waiting at a stoplight, she whipped out her cell phone and shot an email off to her target school asking for a fee waiver. And guess what. Within an HOUR the school wrote back confirming she would pay nary a fee to apply. See, y’all? Totally worth the ask. Plus, Nathan and Ben jump into the hazards of texting and driving, self-driving vehicles, and centenarian super heroes. Will the future apocalypse be prevented by an aged wheel man? Tune in to find out.

22:39 – Email 2—Ally had a good chuckle when she received a good-luck-on-the-December-LSAT-tomorrow! email. Not because it wasn’t a sweet gesture from a law school. But because it arrived on November 29, a full 48 hours before the test. Pretty great, right? Anyway, Ally went into the December test feeling pretty confident and had a blast slicing and dicing the first three sections. During the break a fellow test-taker said they hoped the writing section would be next…? Ally asked if they’d ever taken a practice test before, to which the law-school hopeful said ‘no’. Pretty great, right? It gave our Thinking-LSAT-listening friend the confidence boost she needed to destroy the remainder of the test. Congrats, Ally, and thanks for listening!

28:18 – Email 3—You may remember from last week, dear readers, that Will N., a New Orleans based LSAT instructor, wrote in to the guys to argue in favor of reading the question stem first in LR sections of the test. Any long-time listener will know that Nathan and Ben are not stem-first teachers—and are vehemently against this strategy. However, Will thoughtfully wrote out the points of his argument advocating a read-the-stem-first approach. The guys rebut Will’s arguments in an exhaustive look at why they cannot endorse a stem-first strategy. According to Ben and Nathan there’s just one pro tip to be had: understand the fucking argument presented in the passage, and the answer will present itself, padawans.

1:10:16 – Email 4—In the wake of this crazy stem-first conversation, we hear from J. Upon hearing last week’s episode, J. (also an LSAT instructor) wrote the guys with his own argument in favor of reading the stimulus first. He lays out the reasons why he teaches stem-first, and why he believes his top-scoring students approach LR stimulus first without exception.

1:15:48 – Email 5—Finally, we settle in for a fireside chat as Nathan reads a personal statement from Zack, a Fox LSAT alum. Sidle up in your favorite easy chair and put on some cocoa and hear an exemplary personal statement that helped Zack land a spot at Stanford law. Well-written. Concise. Excellent and engaging storytelling. A consistent message. And a catchy nickname all lend to a pretty cool self-portrait that would make an instant impression on any admissions staffer with a beating heart. Tune in to hear the guys discuss.


  1. I got a 178 and a 180 by reading stem first…


  2. I’m stem first advocate who posted above (thought I’d be able to edit my first comment.)

    The points you made against stem first seem to be easily addressable by just practicing with the technique a little bit so that you don’t let the question affect how you read the stimulus (if it were even an actual problem in the first place. I never suffered from those problems when I started stem first.) Just because it’s a strengthen question doesn’t mean I think I have a “team” or that I’m not critically evaluating the stimulus and rereading when I need to. Same thing with role questions – I don’t focus on the specific statement we’re being asked about rather than evaluating the argument.

    I got a 178 and 180 on real LSAT administrations by reading stem first.


    1. Glad it worked for you. And congrats! Well done.

      I still think that it’s better for most people to focus on reading and understanding the passage first. But thanks for listening and sharing.


    2. Why did you retake a 178 is a better question.


      1. I retook a 178 because I am a tutor and wanted to get a perfect score.

        I think ThinkingLSAT’s fundamental point – that understanding the stimulus is critical – is clearly true. The issue is whether stem first interferes with one’s ability to understand the stimulus. I don’t think so. But the podcast hosts do. The truth may be more muddled – it does for some people, and doesn’t for others, and for those others, the potential benefits of stem first may be worth adopting that method.


        1. “It does for some people, and doesn’t for others, and for those others, the potential benefits of stem first may be worth adopting that method.” I agree. It’s almost impossible to disagree with “may.” 🙂


  3. I hired a private tutor for a ten week program leading up to the December test (sorry guys, I found you both after I had already signed on the dotted line) that taught stem first, followed by marking the passage as your read it through the first time to identify data and the conclusion. While my speed went up slightly from getting through 16 questions or so in the beginning to getting through 21 in my last weeks leading up to the test, my accuracy held steady with little improvement (between 70-80% on average). Something in my gut told me that I was approaching the questions too mechanically and not really seeing the argument. While I took this realization into my prep and tried to keep my understanding of the argument my top priority, I now see that there is something inherent in the structure of approaching the stem first that inhibits this for me personally. I’m currently self-studying for the February test and did my first LR section “passage first” and not only did I finish all 26 questions with 30 seconds to spare, but I got a new best of 22 raw points. Not only this, but the way the section flowed made it feel more painless and natural than it ever has. Perhaps that is the novelty of the approach and the buzz I feel after busting through a new ceiling talking, but as it presently stands…fuck stem first. Thanks for being willing to go against the grain, you two! I and many listeners are going to be well served by your insight.


  4. I believe one thing the LSAT tests, at least peripherally, is how much crap you can juggle in your head at once. This is especially apparent in the Logic Games. By removing a ball from the juggling act going into all LR questions, you free up mental bandwidth to perform other functions. True, the ball comes into play, but near the end, after you’ve performed the most critical functions. I did stem first for a long time, with no progress.


  5. Listened to the beginning of this podcast and immediately sent an email to a school I would like to go to and in 16 minutes I received a fee waiver code for the application! I have screenshots to prove and will gladly send if asked! Scored a 155 on my first LSAT in December with zero study… definitely going to go online and check out your programs and sign up before my next LSAT.


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