How Long Should I Study? (Ep. 307)

Nathan Fox's headshot.

It’s natural for new students to wonder how much time they will have to spend preparing for the LSAT. The simple answer—as long as it takes—isn’t all that satisfying. But the reality is that some people may need a lot more or less time than others need. On this week’s episode, Ben and Nathan review an article that advises a more concrete timeline and compare it to their own advice. They also respond to listener questions about résumés and personal statements, share some helpful tips from a rising 2L, and explain how to overcome a “score plateau.”

As always, if you like the show and you want to get more from the Thinking LSAT community, check out the links below. You can connect with other folks studying for the LSAT, and get more useful resources from Nathan and Ben.

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Important Dates

08.14.2021 — August LSAT Testing Begins

08.25.2021 — October LSAT Registration Deadline

3:30 – How Long Should You Spend Studying for the LSAT?

Demon student Nya asks Nathan and Ben for their thoughts on a Princeton Review article she found with tips about LSAT prep time. The first thing the guys notice is that the webpage is heavy on marketing. There are ads for Discover student loans, the GRE, and clickbaity discounts on their exorbitantly priced courses. Anyway, the article lists four “tips” as follows:

First, “Understand that the LSAT is different from other exams and requires more preparation.” Nothing objectively wrong there, but Nathan takes issue with one of the subtitles, which says, “It requires you to retrain your brain.” Lots of people do well on the test using common sense. You may have to train yourself to be less sloppy if you’re not already a careful reader, but you don’t necessarily have to “retrain your brain.”

The second tip is to aim for 250–300 hours of LSAT preparation. They say that 20 hours per week over a three-month period is a great goal for most students. Ben and Nathan both respond that 20 hours per week is too much—that’s 3 hours per day, every day of the week, with no days off for three months. It’s more civilized and generally more effective to commit to 1–2 hours of focused study per day, six days per week.

The next tip starts out okay, then quickly turns into a turd. “Allocate time for in-depth analysis.” Ben interprets this to mean “review carefully.” Yep, reviewing your mistakes is important. But then it says to identify “patterns in the errors you make.” Now it’s a turd. Ben explains how people may see this as an invitation to focus more time on specific question types, which can detract from overall progress on the test. What you need to do is understand each question you encounter, one at a time. Nathan wants everyone to stop categorizing and labeling everything. It’s not helpful. Instead, just review and focus on understanding.

Lastly, “Do not take the test until you’re ready.” This is pretty solid advice. Don’t sit for the real thing until you’re routinely scoring close to your goal on practice exams.

They threw some extra stuff into this article, but when you boil it down, their advice is to study for at least 250–300 hours over three months. Overall, the guys give this universal advice a turd. Some people may get it done in a lot less time than that. Some people may need a lot longer. The average amount of time it takes is meaningless, Nathan says. Ben also comments that it’s hard to see any value in telling someone to get ready for 300 hours of studying. It sounds almost overwhelmingly long. What matters most is that you sit down today and do something to move the ball forward.

24:31 – Choosing a Personal Statement Topic

New listener and Demon student Madi writes in to run some ideas for her personal statement past Ben and Nathan.

The first topic—a story about the “woes” of growing up on the Mexican/Texan border—sounds sad and sounds like a story from childhood. It might be okay for a diversity statement. But Nathan wants your personal statement to be about you as a winner and as an adult.

Madi’s second idea is to talk about how she got an LLM with a foreign degree. Neither of the guys are excited about this as a personal statement topic. It’s already on her resume.

Last one: “working within the bureaucratic bullshit of the immigration system.” Ben thinks this sounds like a personal legal challenge—which usually doesn’t work well as a personal statement topic. Nathan agrees. While they feel for Madi and whatever she went through, statements written about personal legal struggles tend to come off sounding naive and whiny.

The guys have a couple of tips for Madi. First, she doesn’t need to be worried about personal statement topics this early in the process. She’s only just begun to study for the LSAT. She needs to focus her energy into getting the best score she can possibly get. As far as picking a personal statement topic, they would like to hear a grown-up story from her current job—one in which she presents herself as a professional adult.

30:05 – Employment Gap

Listener Michael also has some questions about personal statements and résumés. He was laid off in April of last year because of the pandemic. He’s been unemployed ever since and is concerned about how the gap on his résumé will look to an admissions committee. The project that he plans to center his personal statement on happened two years ago. Should he write an addendum?

Ben’s suggestion is to get a job now. It’s easier to explain past problems if they’ve already been resolved. A one-sentence addendum would be sufficient. Nathan adds that lots of applicants this year are going to have similar stories. The pandemic is a viable excuse—but only to a certain point. If you’re still unemployed when it comes time to submit applications, admissions committees will wonder why you haven’t done anything about it. Nathan agrees with Ben—it’s time for Michael to get a job. Even if it’s something mundane and outside his field of interest, it will demonstrate an ability to adapt professionally.

36:26 – Tips from a Rising 2L

Listener and former Demon student Cara checks in. She’s now a rising 2L and has some tips to share with future applicants. Here are a few highlights:

First, she says, “Know what a lawyer does. So many people don’t.” Nathan seconds this advice. Half of the students at his law school had no idea what lawyers actually did. The people who knew lawyers and knew what they were getting themselves into were generally more successful. Ben and Nathan add that jobs and internships are a great way to learn whether law is a good fit for you.

Cara recommends getting a job after college. Her eight years of work experience have helped her immensely in job interviews and have given her an advantage over students who went straight from undergrad into law school. Ben and Nathan think this is great advice. It’s something they’ve discussed many times on the podcast.

She also mentions that while she’s going to law school on a scholarship, the competition is intense, and she has to work really hard to get good grades. It’s something to keep in mind—even if you go to law school for free, you’ll have to work to be at the top of your class. Paying to go to a better-ranked school means putting yourself in an even tougher competition.

Cara encourages anyone seeking advice from a current law student to reach out to her:

58:13 – Breaking Out of a Score Plateau

Demon student K has been studying between two and three hours per day since April and is now scoring in the 170s on practice tests. But K claims to have hit a “bit of a plateau” and asks the guys what they recommend doing between now and the August test.

First, Nathan points out to listeners that K is the kind of hyper-competitive student you’re going to be competing against in law school and as a lawyer. This is someone who’s done a crazy amount of work. That crazy amount of work has clearly paid off, and yet they’re still focused only on their mistakes. It makes sense that K is seeing “diminishing returns” in their studying because they’re already scoring close to perfect sections.

Ben and Nathan’s advice for K is to focus on getting just one more question correct on each next practice test. The way to do that is to blind-review the questions you got wrong, figure out exactly why you got them wrong, and avoid making the same mistakes again. Your understanding of the test will continue to improve, which will pay off in the long run, even if it’s not immediately reflected in your score.