A Good Personal Statement and a Frenzy of Violations (Ep. 318)

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Ben and Nathan have read a lot of shoddy personal statements on the show in recent weeks. If you’re wondering what a really good one sounds like, you don’t want to miss today’s first submission—one that actually follows the guys’ advice. The best personal statement in weeks is followed by a frenzy of violations. But first, the guys tackle a Parallel Reasoning question from PrepTest 73 and dispel a myth about diagramming arguments on the LSAT.

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1:50 – Logical Reasoning Question 17 from PrepTest 73

First, Nathan reiterates the pearl of LR advice from episode 317: Mentally blur out the question and answer choices as you read the passage. Focus on one sentence at a time, and make sure you actually understand it.

The first sentence is an if-then statement. Does that mean you should write it out with symbols and arrows and diagram the contrapositive? No! Doing that is counterproductive. Instead, just think about what the sentence means. Ben puts it simply: Either Suarez or Anderson is the most qualified.

Halfway through the next sentence, Ben predicts what the argument can logically conclude. The conclusion matches his prediction, so the argument is valid. That is, the evidence forces the conclusion to be true.

The question asks for a parallel argument. The given argument is valid, so the correct answer must be valid as well. Nathan describes the type of argument he’s looking for as, roughly, “It’s gotta be one of these two things. So, if it’s not this one, it’s that one.” Answer B is a perfect match.

Try this question here.

21:56 – Anna’s Personal Statement

Anna’s first sentence is an excellent start. Nathan and Ben both say they’d admit her without even needing to read any further. Your personal statement should lead with your very best fact. And Anna’s job examining patentability of electrosurgical devices for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is a really good fact.

Anna’s sentences are a little long. The guys recommend cutting the clause about “blending a biomedical background with law” and a few other tweaks. But the writing is clear, and the facts are excellent. This is the best personal statement they’ve read on the show in weeks. Nice work, Anna!

31:03 – Jeri’s Personal Statement

The first sentence is a waste of space because it doesn’t say what Jeri actually does. Name-dropping a senator doesn’t score you any points. The mention of being “fortunate” is passive. And “feeling strongly about a piece of legislation” is a mental state.

Then, Jeri talks about “wanting” to accomplish something that she has “felt strongly” about since high school. There are multiple violations here. Admissions officers care about what you did, not about what you want to do. Anyone can claim to feel strongly about anything. And you want your reader to see you as an adult, not as a high school kid.

Nearly every one of Jeri’s sentences violates the commandment not to talk about mental states. Nathan reiterates that it’s a waste of space to talk about what you thought or felt or wanted. You could instead be talking about your actions, which say so much more.

44:10 – Aubrey’s Personal Statement

Aubrey leads with “Entering the workforce at ten years old.” Ben does not want to read about a ten-year-old, and neither does a law school admissions officer. Nathan agrees. He says to cut the first sentence, which is just a conclusion about Aubrey’s skills and doesn’t show her doing anything.

The rest of the first paragraph is mostly about the appointment scheduling Aubrey does for her tutoring clients. The guys are left wondering why she doesn’t get straight to talking about her actual tutoring work. She also mentions her paper-editing services in an essay that contains many grammatical errors.

1:01:03 – Danny’s Personal Statement

The first thing Nathan notices about Danny’s statement is the improper formatting. He needs to indent or use paragraph breaks. Danny introduces himself as an automation engineer. This is a great fact to lead with. The guys are interested and expect to hear about Danny’s professional experience. But, for some odd reason, he jumps back to college and starts talking about a summer internship and then about breaking his wrist and selling bikes. Danny should start over and focus on his current, professional engineering work.

1:10:44 – Sean’s Personal Statement

Sean can omit his first sentence and skip straight to starting a landscaping group. He curiously mentions that he “joined a job with a small group of between two and four people.” Is this a riddle? There’s only one number between two and four. You can just say three. Ben notes that every sentence starts with a preamble and a comma. Sean’s sentences are too long in general.

Halfway through the essay, Sean finally gets to the part about starting his business. But he’s already exhausted the reader with a boringly detailed origin story. Nathan recommends cutting the first four paragraphs. The guys both would like to hear more about Sean’s business operations and less about the specific landscaping techniques he learned.

1:23:57 – Today’s Violations

The following rules were violated by one or more of today’s contributors:

  • Don’t capitalize job titles.
  • Don’t use obnoxious words like obtain, passion, or unique.
  • Use specific numbers when feasible. Saying “over 100” is okay, but don’t say “over 115” or “between two and four.” It’s odd.
  • Don’t talk about your feelings.
  • Don’t protest your own story.
  • Don’t use vague verbs like “work” and “support.”
  • Don’t use “would” before verbs.
  • Don’t talk about anything that happened in high school or prior.
  • Don’t talk about your writing experience when your writing is imperfect.
  • Avoid the passive voice. Make yourself the subject of your sentences.
  • Don’t use fancy punctuation.
  • Use a comma before the word “which.”
  • Don’t overuse transition phrases.