Zealous Proctors, Could’ve Been Worse Flaw, and Feral Cats (Ep. 313)

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Nathan and Ben kick off this week’s episode with a logical reasoning question and explain their two-step strategy for identifying a flaw. They hear from an August LSAT taker about an overly officious proctor. Then, they evaluate four more personal statements. It’s the time of year when many students are getting their law school applications ready and asking for advice. Today’s featured statements are better written than most but still lacking in relevant content. Spoiler: Law schools probably don’t want to hear a story about feral cats.

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Important Dates

2:57 – Logical Reasoning Question 13 from PrepTest 73

A “reformer” argues that putting more people in prison cannot help to reduce crime. Why? Because a survey of police departments shows no significant reduction in the crime rate over the past 20 years despite an increased percentage of the population in prison.

Ben and Nathan first point out that surveys can be biased. But there’s an even bigger problem with this argument: How do we know that the crime rate wouldn’t have gone up even higher had we not put so many people in jail? If that were the case, then maybe putting more people in jail did help to reduce crime.

Before diving into the answer choices, Ben reminds us that arguments can be flawed in multiple ways. The correct answer must correctly describe something problematic that the reformer did in his argument. Answer B does just that. The reformer did ignore the possibility that the crime rate would have significantly increased if it had not been for the greater rate of imprisonment—and that’s a problem for his argument. The other answer choices either misdescribe the argument or describe something unproblematic.

Try this question here.

25:34 – Zealous Proctors

Listener Ashley took the August LSAT and writes in to share her experience with the so-called security protocols. It seems her proctor was a bit of a jobsworth. They made her lock the door to her room and roll up her sleeves to prove she had nothing hidden under them. And they yelled at her as she was drawing her diagrams because she forgot to keep her “forehead to chin” in front of the camera at all times.

Some of the rules are just silly. For example, test takers are forced to rip up their scratch paper in front of the camera, but there’s no minimum shred requirement. Ashley notes that anyone could easily tape their diagrams back together if they wanted to. Then, in spite of all their efforts to keep the test “secure,” they actually cite the articles from the reading comprehension section at the end of the test! The citations stay up on the browser even after the proctor leaves. What’s to stop someone from sharing them with another test taker?

Security protocols may be deficient, but Nathan advises listeners that if you’re trying to game the LSAT, you’re doing it wrong. You don’t need to worry about gimmicky B.S. You need to learn how to read and understand the test. There will always be ways to cheat in life. But if you do the work and prepare, you won’t need to cheat.

37:20 – Samantha’s Personal Statement

Samantha’s first sentence sounds a little mysterious—she helps people “tell their own stories.” Nathan and Ben would prefer that she get straight to the facts about what she does. Samantha then says that she “offers 60-minute appointments to work with students on improving their writing.” Ben mentions that as soon as you start talking about your own writing skills, you invite the reader to be hyper-critical of everything you write. If you’re going to make this your personal statement topic, your writing better be on point. So far, including a fact about 60-minute appointments is a poor choice. The reader doesn’t need to know how long the appointments are.

Nathan reads a very long-winded sentence about Samantha’s awareness and goals that violates a personal statement commandment: Talk about what you did, not about your mental states. The final two sentences of the first paragraph do show her taking action and succeeding, but they are a little vague and grandiose. Nathan would much prefer to hear about a specific success story.

Ben struggles with the overall wordiness of the first paragraph. While Samantha’s writing is better than average, she has made several mistakes. The fact that she pitches herself as a writer makes it hard to overlook any of these mistakes.

The next paragraph is extraordinarily long. It includes more references to mental states and complaints about university administrators. Nathan comments that law schools want to admit happy worker bees who are going to excel and not complain. They aren’t looking for rabble-rousers.

58:05 – Chris’s Personal Statement

Ben and Nathan immediately recommend cutting the first sentence. No one cares about the first time you thought about attending law school—you’re wasting the reader’s time by mentioning this. They do care that Chris spent five years in the Marines as a Pashto cryptologic linguist. That’s interesting. But all the specific dates and time periods aren’t relevant.

Chris includes good, descriptive content about what he did in Afghanistan. But his sentences would be more powerful if he used “I” as the subject instead of “my job” and action verbs instead of “was.” He should also focus more on what he actually did and less on being nominated and being selected. If you jump straight to a fact about leading your team, the reader can infer that, at some point, you were selected for that role. There’s no need to spell out every step of the process.

Chris’s next few paragraphs read like bullet points from a resume. Ben recommends picking one story and explaining it in more detail. Nathan adds that they don’t want to hear about starting classes and other things that happened six years ago. They would like to hear more about Chris’s work as an interpreter for the Marines.

1:15:58 – Different Chris’s Personal Statement

Chris begins his statement with “After graduating college in 2014…” Chris is seven years out of college and has the opportunity to present himself as a professional, adult applicant. Instead, he goes out of his way to make himself look like every other college kid. Don’t, Nathan says. In the same sentence, Chris talks about accepting a job in Morristown, New Jersey. No one cares. Get to the winning part.

The next few paragraphs have some irrelevant information that can be cut. But working in sales is a good theme. Nathan doesn’t like the self quote or the overuse of abbreviations, but it’s easy to read and shows Chris taking action. Ben would like Chris to get to talking about his present role as an accounting supervisor more quickly. The reader doesn’t need to hear about his entire journey as a trainee. Start with your strongest selling point.

1:33:50 – Jo’s Personal Statement

Ben and Nathan love the first sentence: “I educate and entertain whiskey enthusiasts at a craft distillery in Nashville.” It’s an “I” statement that uses action verbs and gives the reader a clear image of Jo in his most recent position. The rest of the paragraph goes into too much detail about the mashing and fermenting process. A little background information is okay, but Jo should cut to the chase about winning the annual sales competition and not worry so much about educating the reader on whiskey.

Jo’s statement then takes an unexpected turn when he starts talking about the distillery being overrun with feral cats. Nathan hates this story. He doesn’t want to read four paragraphs about trapping feral cats. Ben agrees, this whole story needs to go. Jo is a good writer, but he chose a bad topic. He should write a statement that focuses on his success in sales and training other tour guides. Don’t talk about feral cats.