LSAT Fitness (Ep.304)

Ben Olson's headshot.

The LSAT is a test of skill, not of knowledge. It’s an intense mental exercise that requires months of training to achieve optimal performance. For this reason, strategies that are useful to athletes can often be adapted and effectively employed by LSAT students. This week’s episode features a trove of fitness-inspired LSAT advice and analogies. The guys also tackle a logical reasoning question and break down one of the LSAT’s most common flaws, evaluate back-to-back submissions in a Pearls vs. Turds double segment, and dig through the listener mailbag.

4:16 – Logical Reasoning Question 9 from PrepTest 73

In this passage, a columnist reports that the number of smokers has dropped in countries that have imposed restrictions on tobacco advertising. After reading just one sentence, Ben anticipates that the columnist is going to use this evidence of a correlation to try to conclude that the drop in advertising caused the drop in the number of smokers. Sure enough, that’s what happens. Predicting as you read makes it easier to spot a flaw, even when it’s presented in a very convoluted way.

The columnist’s conclusion isn’t justified. As Ben points out, there could’ve been some third factor that caused both the drop in smoking and the drop in advertising. Or the causal relationship could’ve been reversed—that is, the drop in the number of smokers could have led to the advertising restrictions. Attacking the argument like this positions you to answer any type of question. This one turns out to be a Weaken question. Ben correctly predicts that the answer will attack the argument’s flaw by providing an alternative explanation for the same set of facts.

Nathan mentions that this question illustrates how learnable the test is. Inferring causation from mere correlation is one of the most common flaws on the LSAT. Learn how to identify the flaw and how to attack it here, and you’ll be able to predict the answers to many similar questions in the future. That’s how you get better and faster at the test.

24:16 – Pearls vs. Turds Double Feature

Our first submission comes from LSAT Demon student Luke. After seeing a lot of Reddit posts from people worrying about ProctorU and LSAC issues, Luke shared his own mental-preparation strategy. It’s borrowed from the world of Iron Man triathlons, but Luke believes it’s applicable to the LSAT. He explains that a triathlon has three parts: swimming, biking, and running. But, on race day, competitors are encouraged to think of it as four events. Over the course of a long race, there are bound to be some unexpected challenges that come up. Consider the unknown challenge your fourth event. Expect the unexpected, and you’ll be okay when something doesn’t go quite right.

The same applies to the LSAT: It’s a long test. It has three parts. There will always be other variables that are beyond your control. The best way to prepare yourself for an unexpected challenge is to expect it—think of it as the “fourth event” on the LSAT. Don’t let it ruin your mindset. You’ve prepped and trained for the test. Trust that you will be able to overcome a random setback and keep going. Nathan and Ben deem Luke’s triathlon-inspired advice a pearl of LSAT wisdom.

Our next candidate is a Reading Comprehension strategy submitted by listener KD. KD explains that she tries to complete the first three reading passages as confidently as possible instead of rushing through them in hopes of finishing the fourth. So far so good—it’s important to focus on accuracy and not to rush. Her question is about how best to use the last few minutes of the section if you don’t have time to fully attempt the fourth passage. “Would it be helpful to skip reading the passage and try to answer any questions that directly address a word or phrase in the passage?”

Ben says no. Even after the five-minute warning, he would still advise you to read the passage as well as you can. It’s easier and faster to answer the questions correctly when you understand the passage. If you have time to answer only one question, at least you’ll get that one question right. Nathan adds that if you don’t understand the main point of the passage, you’re more likely to fall into one of the professionally written traps in the answer choices. The guys agree that this one’s a turd. Their advice for what you should do after the five-minute warning remains unchanged: Fill in random guesses for the rest of the section, and then use your remaining time to calmly answer the next question.

40:12 – Overbearing Parents

Nya asks the guys for advice on how to deal with her “overbearing” mother who is pressuring her to study for several hours a day. She has been studying for the LSAT for over a year now. After scoring 146 on the February test, she increased her daily studying time to three to five hours. Her mom says it’s still not enough. Nya is looking for advice on how to get parents like this to stop.

First, Ben says he’s glad that Nya is thinking independently and pushing back against her mom. People need to grow up and decide for themselves what is best for them. (Nathan chimes in that he’ll be sure to tell that to Ben's kids next time he sees them.) If a kid is always beholden to what their parent has to say, they’re never going to be ready to find their own way in the world.

The guys agree that ultimately this is about Nya’s score. Showing her mom a higher score would be a good way to get her off her back about studying. It’s been several months since the February LSAT. What are her practice test scores like now? If she’s still scoring in the mid 140s after a year of studying, she needs to do one of two things:

The first option is to change her prep—because whatever she’s doing now isn’t working. This may or may not mean spending more time studying. Nathan and Ben generally don’t endorse studying for more than five hours a day. But they are curious about what Nya’s doing with the rest of her time if her mom is always pestering her to study. Maybe she just needs to get out of the house and be more productive.

The other option is for Nya to think about whether this is something she really wants to do. It might not be the right career path for someone who is still scoring in the 140s after a year of studying. They’re not telling her to stop. But they recommend that she set a deadline to be scoring consistently in the 150s within a month. If she can’t make it happen, quitting is an option.

48:05 – Needing a 34-Point Improvement

Our next email comes from an anonymous listener who scored 123 on her diagnostic test. She asks for advice on how to improve her score to 157, which she says is the score she “needs” to go to law school. Regular listeners of the podcast know that if you ask Ben and Nathan for advice, you’re going to get their honest, unfiltered advice. Here’s their advice for Anonymous:

The first thing they both notice about this email is that it’s full of errors. It’s a run-on sentence with no punctuation. Random words are capitalized for no reason. And there are several missing words and typos. Anonymous clearly did not take the time to read her own email before hitting send. This is concerning because lawyers are extremely detail-oriented people. The guys aren’t saying that Anonymous doesn’t have the aptitude to be a lawyer—but she certainly doesn’t demonstrate it in this email. It doesn’t look like something that any lawyer would ever write.

They also talk about what a diagnostic score of 123 means. It’s literally worse than randomly guessing on every question. They’re not judging her intelligence or potential. But a score of 123 indicates that a student understands essentially nothing on the test. Anonymous is trying to enter into a field where many of her competitors will have scored in the 150s on their first try. To go from a 123 to a 157 would be one of the largest score increases Ben and Nathan have ever seen in their combined 30 years of experience working with thousands of students. It’s extraordinarily rare and extraordinarily difficult to improve by more than 30 points.

The LSAT should prevent some people from going to law school—to protect them from getting ripped off and ending up in a mountain of debt. Bottom line: A score of 140 indicates a barest understanding of the test. Make it a goal to crack 140 within a month to six weeks of studying. Otherwise, you might be barking up the wrong tree.

1:13:34 – Another LSAT Fitness Analogy

LSAT Demon team member David shares another fitness-related analogy. He has recently started a new running plan that is based almost entirely on staying within certain heart-rate zones. He finds that when he starts out slow and allows his cardiovascular system time to warm up properly, he’s able to shave minutes off of his total mile times.

The LSAT is designed in a very similar way. You have to take your time to master the first game, the first reading passage, and the first six logical reasoning questions. Those are the easy ones. Eventually, when you develop the right approach and you’re able to answer the easiest questions properly, you’ll be in a position to answer the harder ones properly.

The more you worry about speed and try to go fast, the harder it is to improve your speed. Much like running is an intense physical exercise, the LSAT is an intense mental exercise. Take a careful, calm, accurate approach, and the test will open up to you. You may end up going further and faster than you thought was possible.