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 Get Into Harvard Law School

A lot of people find out I went to Harvard Law School and ask me, “What should I do to get in?” There are as many answers to that question as there are Harvard Law students (past and present), but that doesn’t help the person who hasn’t been admitted yet. In today’s post, I sketch out one workable way to get into Harvard Law School.

Let’s start with the basics. Harvard is looking for students with a median LSAT score of 173. (That’s exactly at the 99th percentile.) In addition, Harvard wants a great GPA from a challenging college, preferably in a major that broadens one’s horizons (history, philosophy, economics) rather than focuses on a particular  career track. In addition to these basics, Harvard wants a “compelling life story.” The world is full of smart people who want to be lawyers. A lot of those people are selfish jerks. Harvard wants to turn out lawyers who make the world a better place.

There is a way a motivated pre-law student can get a great LSAT score and a “compelling life story” at the same time. Most educators agree that “teaching is the best way to learn,” and most admissions officers agree that “helping others makes the world a better place.” Put those together and you have the perfect pre-law opportunity: volunteer to tutor the LSAT.

The good people at 7sage.com work with “PreProBono,” a non-profit organization “that helps economically disadvantaged, underrepresented minority, and female pre-law students acquire and utilize law degrees for careers in public interest law.” We’re talking free tutoring for poor and minority students.

You don’t have to be a Harvard Law graduate to realize that this makes law school admissions officers very happy. The LSAT measures “aptitude” for law school, and anybody who can teach the LSAT has to be pretty good on the LSAT. Helping poor and disadvantaged people is in the public interest, so empowering such people serve the public interest in turn just has to be twice as good.

Tutor needy people, and your law school admissions essay may be “What I learned from a single mother who went straight from a homeless shelter to law school.” Add that to a 99th percentile score of your own (plus a decent GPA), and your chances are as good as anybody’s.

Sounds interesting? It  is. Sounds intimidating? It is! The good news, however, is that you won’t be ready to teach the LSAT until you are already scoring in the 165+ range, and your average disadvantaged student needs help boosting their score above 130. Unless your people skills are simply horrible (and you may not make much of a lawyer if they are!), you should be able to make a significant difference as a volunteer. And as your students scores go up, so will yours–along with your chances of getting into the law school of your dreams.

Even Harvard!

Choosing LSAT Prep Materials

My first tutoring priority with any new LSAT student is to conduct an “LSAT Inventory” to figure out that student’s unique goals, resources, strengths, and challenges so that we can develop a personal study plan. LSAT prep materials are key components of this personal plan.

Most of the companies that offer LSAT classes and/or curriculum vendors claim to be the “best” for some reason or another. As a tutor, I’m increasingly aware that what is “best” for one kind of student is just awful for another.  Some LSAT books concentrate on memorizing every single kind of logical reasoning question and every type of answer so that every student can (in theory) get every question right. Other vendors focus on helping students skip the hard questions so they can focus on the ones that are left. I’ve had students who are trying to get their scores up from 130 and others who are shooting for 170. It would be tutorial malpractice for me to recommend the same materials to both groups!

So the first question I ask a new student is, “What are you shooting for? What law schools are on your list?” I’m convinced that the average student can achieve above-average results on the LSAT if they are willing to work at it, so the question is not “what law school can you get into” but “what law school do you want to get into?” Some students name a local school with modest median LSAT scores. Others dream about the Ivy League. I may recommend a “skip the hard questions” LSAT curriculum for the first group and a much more rigorous program for the others.

The second question I ask a new student is, “How much time do you have? How many months (or weeks) (or days) until the test? How many hours a week can you devote to studying?” Some LSAT materials are short. Others are long–some are very long. The PowerScore LSAT Trilogy is a three volume set with over 40 very long chapters. LSAT for Dummies is a lot shorter. For a student with a limited attention span or a super-short study window, LSAT for Dummies is the better choice.

Another important question is, “How do you learn best?” You can get your LSAT materials as paperbacks, ebooks, or even in multimedia. I’m a speed reader who can’t stand the slow pace of an audiobook. My youngest daughter is an artist who can’t stand to read words on paper when her hands could be busy making something beautiful.  Most LSAT materials are paper-based, but an increasing number of new products were born on the Internet. If a student learns best through audiovisuals or interactive modules, I want to set them free from books.

That leaves one more key question–what’s your budget? I grew up very poor (we got running water when I was 17).  One of my main goals with each new student is to help them avoid wasting money so they can put it where it really matters.  Some LSAT materials cost a lot. Others are all but free.  Some students can get great results using just a library and open source materials. Others get lost without the structured approach of the more comprehensive–and expensive–programs.

You’ve almost reached the end of this post without an answer to the question that got you here: how do I choose my LSAT materials? The answer (as it so often is with anything involving the law) is, “It depends.” In this case, it depends on you: your goals, your budget, your schedule, your learning style.

I can’t write a post that tells everybody which curriculum to choose, but I am eager to help you figure out what is best for you. That is why I conduct LSAT inventories, one student at a time.  Click my tutoring link and let’s talk about your future!

World’s Best LSAT Tutors: JY Ping

Full disclosure–there is no evidence that JY Ping is actually tutoring anybody these days. His website says, “We make you feel like you have a private tutor,” which is not the same as actually having one. But JY’s contribution to LSAT preparation is so significant that we just can’t leave him off our short list of world’s best tutors.

JY Ping

JY is one of the founders of 7Sage.com, which exists to “liberate legal education.” The 7Sage website proclaims:

The LSAT is the gateway to the legal profession, and thus it is the gateway to key positions in our society. But those who are unable to hire $150/hr tutors, or take $1000 LSAT prep courses have been at an unfair disadvantage. Until now.

7Sage offers one of the greatest free resources in the history of online education–they explain every single LSAT logic game, for free.  As a professional LSAT tutor, there’s just no way I can help every student master every logic game. I am able to help them understand the approach, and zero in on specific mistakes they are making. But the logic games come in so many different sizes and shapes that it simply is not cost-effective for me to hold every student’s hand through every game. That makes the 7Sage site such a treasure.

7Sage also offers a free PrepTest scoring service which keeps track of every test a student enters and allows them to sift and sort their answers by question type, difficulty, priority, and more. I cannot overstate how useful this can be–in the right hands, it’s like a CAT scan for your brain. All you have to do to use it is sign up for a free 7Sage account.

World’s Best LSAT Tutors: How Do I Choose?

Search for “best LSAT tutor” and you’ll get page after page of hits. There are the “promoted” sites at the top, followed by one LSAT company after another. If you’ve been looking for an LSAT tutor for a while, the names are all familiar. If you’ve just started, they’re all a blur. How can a person who doesn’t even know what they’re looking for find what they need?

Lawchooli.com has a post that offers some objective criteria for choosing a great tutor. The entire article is worth reading but here’s the short version if you’re in a hurry:

Try to find a tutor who scored at the 99th percentile.  Your tutor should be better at this than you are!

Get someone with a good reputation. Check reviews, ratings, word of mouth.

Experience is helpful, but it isn’t everything. A lot of younger tutors just took the LSAT themselves.

If you’re going to spend money on a tutor, spend enough to get a good one.

Try before you buy. If the tutoring company doesn’t offer some kind of “good fit guarantee” (where you only pay for your first session if the tutor is right for you), then only sign up for an hour or two for starters.

The Lawschooli article assumes people are looking for in-person tutoring in a local area. The LSAT, however, is a perfect fit for online tutoring. Everything a tutor and a student really need to do together can easily be accomplished on an interactive whiteboard.

WyzAnt (the tutoring service I use) currently has more than 300 self-employed online LSAT tutors. Unlike some of the big LSAT companies, which select their reviews, WyzAnt posts every rating and every review, whether it is flattering or embarassing. You can sort prospective tutors by price, rating, or “best match.” You may have to scroll down a bit to find me (I’m still fairly new to WyzAnt, and if you’re sorting from highest price to lowest, I’m way down the list), but you’ll find other people in this series right up at the top.

Word’s Best LSAT Tutors: Steve Schwartz

What makes a great LSAT tutor? You have to know people. And you have to know the test. Steve Schwartz knows the LSAT inside out. Steve says:

I never thought I’d become a professional LSAT tutor.

In fact, I saw the LSAT as a major roadblock standing in the way of my dream: to get into law school and become a successful attorney.

However, I knew I had to master it before I could achieve my goal, so I set aside a few months. I studied every LSAT book I could find and every LSAT question ever released.

Little by little, my scores increased from the low 150s to the high 160s, but I didn’t stop there. I kept studying until I felt confident about every question, eventually reaching the high 170s and scoring 175 on test day.

The national average on the LSAT is 150, which means Steve started right at the middle and studied (on his own) until he reached the top 1%. But it wasn’t easy. A picture is worth a thousand words–here’s a picture of Steve’s bedroom floor during this process:

One thing to learn from Steve’s story is how long it took him to master the test on his own. Here’s his take on the process:

I would’ve saved at least 8-9 months of frustration if I had someone experienced in the ins and outs of the test to:

* help me figure out why I kept making mistakes

* give me a customized plan based on my weak areas

* pinpoint what I needed to change about my approach

Don’t get me wrong – I was MOTIVATED, but I needed to be realistic about how much time I had to study (job, classes, yadda yadda).

I also didn’t want to give up my evenings and weekends for a class just to get access to an instructor, and I wasn’t starting from scratch.

I had money I could’ve used for tutoring, but I wasn’t sure tutoring could actually help.

Needless to say, Steve now sees the value of tutoring–that’s why he has dedicated himself to helping others. The way he sees it, “The people who make the LSAT are evil geniuses when it comes to making smart people feel stupid.” That’s why we need more “good geniuses” like Steve to make smart people feel smart.

World’s Best LSAT Tutors: Jon McCarty

This blog was created for every student who wants to go to law school but has to take the Law School Aptitude Test (LSAT) to get there. We’ll cover a lot of topics over time, but we’re starting with a series on the world’s best LSAT tutors. The first on the list is Jon McCarty, “Best LSAT Tutor in New York City,” and the founder of Odyssey Test Preparation.

Jon charges $150/hour for his tutoring services, but his students say he is worth it.  Jon’s WyzAnt tutoring profile (where he is known as “JD M.”) says:

I exclusively teach the techniques and strategies to conquer the LSAT. I have spent over 5 years perfecting my methods and have taught thousands of students how to dramatically raise their LSAT scores. One of the highest score increases that a student of mine has attained was 32 points (from a 145-177). It is pretty typical that my students increase their score between 20-25 points if they work extremely diligently. I am upbeat and motivated to help you get into the law school of your dreams!

I only take on a limited number of students at one time to guarantee that each of my students get the absolute highest quality tutoring experience. Consequently tutoring space is limited.

Jon has written 6 LSAT prep books and founded a company to help students master the LSAT. He offers a $49 video course on Logic Games. (The video course is included free if you sign up with Jon as a tutor.)

Jon offers live tutoring within 40 miles of New York City, but believes that online tutoring can be even better for his students.  He writes:

Making the online tutoring experience just as effective and personal as live tutoring is my specialty. While working together, we’ll use Skype to get the face-to-face experience. I also work in front of a real whiteboard so that I can demonstrate the concepts visually to maximize your understanding. Many of my students prefer my style of online tutoring to live tutoring because it eliminates travel time to and from tutoring locations which allows them to dedicate more time to studying.

Jon currently has 26 student reviews on his WyzAnt profile. Many of them repeat the obvious (“great tutor!” and “awesome” are consistent themes), but a few go into more detail about why Jon is so effective. Here’s a sample from “Jennifer” in New Jersey:

He tailored a study plan to my needs and each session he thoroughly reviewed every prep test and answered every question I had. He targeted and corrected my weaknesses and with his extensive knowledge of the test was able to breakdown and explain any areas of difficulty providing me with the tools and techniques needed to attack the test effectively.

Jon McCarty is an inspiration to LSAT tutors like myself–and an asset. I don’t ever plan to write my own Logic Games video course, but, then. I don’t need to.  It’s already out there! I can help my students do better by studying what makes Jon a great tutor and doing my best to learn from his example.