Grow Your Brain

I believe that most students can improve on the LSAT, for two reasons. First, I’ve seen it done. Second, I suspect that the brain actually grows when it is repeatedly exercised. Recent research supports this idea.

Researchers at Berkeley studied a group of students who are preparing for the LSAT. They imaged their brains before and after a three-month BluePrint course, and compared those results to a control group of similar students who weren’t preparing for the LSAT. They found that the LSAT students had measurably more “white matter” (the axons that connect the “gray matter” of the neurons). Here’s a popular write-up and here’s the published research.

I work on the assumption that repeated stimulation of neurons changes them in some way. The neural network experts assure me that the receiving end of a neuron (the “dendrite”) changes with use, and the Berkeley research shows that there is some change to the sending end (the “axon”) as well. I assume that thinking hard, long, and often about any topic will increase the number of possible connections between nerve cells, resulting in long-term change to the brain itself.

To boil this down to a bumper sticker, you are what you think. Think a lot about any given topic, and you’ll wind up thinking more about it.  That’s bad news if the topic is lust, rage, greed, or fear. It’s good news if you want to go to law school and you’re thinking about logical reasoning!

 

How to Train with 7Sage.com

I grew up way below the poverty line, so I am always thinking about free or inexpensive ways for students to excel on the LSAT. One of my favorite resources is 7Sage.com, which offers several priceless helps at no charge. In this post, we will explain how to make the most of 7Sage’s free tools for learning logical reasoning.

7Sage offers a free LSAT database that allows you to bubble in answers, score individual tests, and then sort and sift those results to find out where you need to focus your efforts. The more practice tests you enter into your personal database, the more you can see the patterns in your performance. The table that shows your results contains a lot of useful information, and you can select and sort what information you see with just one click. It is a free, simple, user-friendly “power tool” for LSAT success.

Your first step towards improving your score is to create your free 7Sage account. Sometimes “free accounts” just generate a ton of spam, but I have never felt that way about my 7Sage account. I do get occasional emails from J.Y. Ping, the Harvard Law graduate and educational genius who helped found 7Sage, but since I actually care about what he has to say, that isn’t a problem.

Once you have an account, click on the “Resources” tab and then select “LSAT Analytics” from the drop-down menu. You will see that you can score an LSAT, check your “trends,” or look at the “question table.” The “trends” and “question table” are both based on LSAT data you have previously entered, and you haven’t entered anything yet, so it’s time to score an LSAT. Dig out a test you have completed and scroll down the “Select PrepTest” list to get going.

Note–if you have done a lot of practice tests and have them lying around the house, it is well worth your while to bubble in the oldest test first, where “oldest” means “the first test you took,” not “the first test the LSAC published.” The “trends” feature will allow you to measure your progress from test to test, based on the date you entered your data. Starting with your oldest test makes those trend lines more meaningful.

Bubbling in the answers is easy. You can click each bubble with your mouse or other input device or use the keyboard. (Type “1” for A, “2” for B, etc.) 7Sage works on the iPad, so I can bubble in answers as fast as I can touch the screen. Once your data is in, just hit the “Save and Score LSAT” button at the bottom and check out your results.

The first thing to notice when you score your test is that 7Sage gives you two scores–one in black and one in blue. The blue number represents your “blind review” score. 7Sage has a fabulous approach to LSAT study called the “blind review” method, which is built right into the database at every level. We won’t cover that in this post, though, because today we’re focusing on using past practice tests to zero in on problem areas. These techniques are even more powerful when you add the blind review tools–but we’ll save that for another post. For the moment, you can just ignore the blind review results.

Scroll down a few inches and look at the “Question Performance” section. There should be an empty box that says “filter,” followed by a list of 100 questions. Look at the column headings–“question,” “type,” “tags,” your answer,” “answer choices,” “question difficulty,” “passage/game difficulty,” “priority,” “explanation,” and “quick view.” Each of these columns is sortable–just hover over the label and then click on the up or down arrow that appears.

Try clicking the “question difficulty” icon for one of the questions. The “filter box” at the top of your chart will suddenly read “+Hardest” (or “+Easiest,” “+Easier,” “+Medium,” or “+Harder,” depending on your choice).  Click on the “your answer” label to sort these questions out into “questions you got right” and “questions you got wrong.” Scroll down to the bottom of the chart and you will see how many questions of this difficulty level are on this test. Erase the “+Hardest” in the filter box and you’ll see all the questions again.

The 7Sage analytics are most useful for working on logical reasoning questions, so let’s limit your chart to those questions. Type “+LR” in the filter box, and only logical reasoning questions will show up. Now click the “tags” label to sort these out by question type. Hover over the first tag on your chart (usually “AP”) and it should pop up with an explanation for what that means (“Argument Part”). Click on that AP and your filter box will suddenly include “+AP” and your chart will only show Argument Part questions. Click the “your answer” label to sort these out by “questions you got right” and “questions you got wrong.” Take a look at the “question difficulty” to see whether you tend to miss easy questions for this particular type.

Now erase everything in your filter box except the “+LR.” Click one of your wrong answers (it will have a red circle around the letter you chose) and the term “+Incorrect” will appear in the filter box. Sort by “question difficulty.” Scroll down the list, noting which “easy” question types you got wrong. That’s a good place to begin your studies.

So far, we have only looked at test results for one preptest. You will get more insight into your weaknesses by looking at more than one test. Scroll all the way up to the top of the page, just under the “Question Analytics” header. Click the “Question Table” tab. You should see a line that says, “Review limited to 1 of 1 completed PrepTests” (unless you have already entered more than one test). You can select as many or as few tests as you choose by clicking the “tap to edit” button. If you have multiple tests saved, you will need the filter box to narrow down your data.

7Sage has built some remarkable tools into the remaining tab on the “Analytics” page. Click the “trends” button at the top of the page. There’s a tutorial video that explains these features. Take a look at the video–both to learn what you can do, and to “meet” J.Y. Ping, the master teacher who has made 7Sage the remarkable resource that it is!

 

How to “Win” at Logic Games

There are two basic challenges to the “logic games” section of the LSAT: “learning to play” and “learning to win.” When you first encounter one of these “Alf, Bob, Chuck, Dan and Eustace go into a bar” problems, it seems like a joke–a cruel joke. It takes most people less than five minutes to realize they have no idea how to do a logic game. After an hour or so instruction, however, most people can work through a simple game on their own.

That’s the “learning to play” phase. It’s like learning to play chess or bridge. Most people can learn to play those games in less than an hour, but it takes much longer to win.

Learning to “win” at logic games is easier (and cheaper) than it used to be. It takes a lot of practice, and a fair amount of help. If you get stuck on a particular game (and I have been stuck more times than I can count), you either have to invest hours trying to puzzle out the puzzle or pay somebody to show you what  you’re doing wrong. Even if you can figure out an answer by “brute force” (i.e., try every combination until you find the one that works), that generally won’t help you on the timed test.

The fine folks at 7sage.com have made this problem simple. They offer free video explanations of every published logic game. This means that you can learn every trick in the book without paying a penny!

I routinely teach my students “how to play” and then send them off to 7sage to learn “how to win.” Here’s what that looks like in practice.

  1. Look up the  7sage video explanation for that game but don’t start watching it yet. Get some scratch paper. You’re going to need it.
  2. Try to work a logic game on your scratch paper (not on the test). If you can do it on your own, jump to step 4. If you get stuck at any point (most of us do), move on to step 3.
  3. Start watching the 7sage video until it explains something you didn’t already know. Hit “pause” as soon as you understand that one new concept. Then go back to step 2 and try the game again with that hint.
  4. Congratulations! You finished the game. How did you do on it? Did you get every question right? Move onto step 5! Otherwise, go back to step 2 and rework the game using everything you learned on the 7sage video.
  5. Great! You did the whole game perfectly. How long did it take? If it was more than 8 minutes and 45 seconds, you need to pick up speed. Get out a new sheet of paper and do it again. Stay here on step 5 until you get your speed up and your time down.
  6. Fabulous! You got every question right. You did it in less than 8 minutes and 45 seconds! Check the 7sage video one more time to see how long they say this game should take. If it’s a really easy game, keep working it until you match their expected time.
  7. You now know how to do this game. What have you learned about doing other games? Here are some questions to consider:
    1. Did I miss an inference? What can I do to look for a similar inference next time?
    2. Did I panic because the game was tough? What clues can I look for in the scenario, rules, or questions that might indicate that this is just one of those “brute force” situations?
    3. Did I learn a new way to sketch the scenario or code a complicated rule? Am I ready to use that new technique in a similar situation in the future?

 

Knowing What You Don’t Know

 

There’s a difference between what you know you know and what you don’t know you know. On that LSAT, that difference is measured in seconds or minutes of indecision. How long do you hover over an answer before you move on to the  next question?

Psychologists and business schools recognize how important this difference is. The “Johari Window” shows four possible states of knowledge, ranging from the “things you know you know” to the “things you don’t know you don’t know.”

The Johari Window

 

Knowing these four categories helps you on the LSAT. If you know what you know, you can save time by nailing certain questions and moving on without thinking twice or looking back. If you know what you don’t know, you can flag those questions and get back to them if you have time left. By contrast, “unknown knowns” and “unknown unknowns” are a problem. Each question you get right without being sure of yourself (an “unknown known”) slows you down when you need to be moving fast, while each right answer you cross off (because you don’t know what you don’t know) hurts you more than just guessing. It only takes a second to guess an answer and you have a 20% chance of guessing right. By contrast, it takes more time to choose between four wrong answers and you have a 0% chance of getting it right when you’re done.

Using this information for LSAT preparation is easy and effective. The first step is to identify “known knowns.” How sure are you that you got a question right? I sometimes ask my students to “bet” on questions when they take a preptest. Pick a chore you hate (for me, it’s polishing my huge copper bathtub). If I “bet” I got it right but I really got it wrong, I have to roll up my sleeves and get out the polish. If I’m not willing to take the bet, I do a “blind review” of that question. (If you don’t know what a blind review is, here’s an hour-long workshop to fill you in!)

If you can take all four sections of a preptest without “scrubbing your tub,” you have already achieved a high degree of accuracy. You know what you know. If, on the other hand, you find yourself consistently losing “bets,” you will soon either have the world’s most sparkly bathroom or you’ll actively zero in the question types that deceive you.

That leaves the questions you are unsure of. With the “blind review” method, you answer every question under time pressure and then go back and take as long as you need to think through the questions you were unsure about. Figure out why every wrong answer is wrong, and make sure that each right answer is right. See if you can prove that every single answer in the section is correct before you score the test. (If you can’t demonstrate that there is one and only one right answer and you know what it is, then you’ve just discovered a question type where you need help.)

When you finally score that test (or section), pay special attention to any wrong answers that survived the blind review. These are answers that you didn’t know you didn’t know. For people who aren’t preparing properly, this is the worst possible situation, because they will make that same mistake again and again. For someone who is eager to discover what  they don’t know they don’t know, this is the best possible situation. Each one of these “unknown  unknown” questions is a pure gold from a practice perspective. The minute you identify an unknown unknown, it becomes a known unknown which you can conquer.