Better Than a Double-Not

I teach my students that as soon as they realize a logic game is a grouping game they should start tapping one foot and saying “count… count… count” in the back of their minds. Grouping games are all about counting. The instant you can fill up any group, you have usually solved the problem.

This priority on counting makes information about slots that have to be full (or empty) especially valuable. Two common conditional rules provide just that kind of information. They are:

  • A->/B
  • /A->B

The “/A->B” rule is so important for grouping games that PowerScore uses a special symbol (“A<-|->B”, or “the double-not arrow”) to note it. As a person who understands how important this is for grouping games, I think the “double-not arrow” is brilliant. As a tutor who wants to explain it to my students, I think it is both frustrating and confusing. That’s why I have come up with two arrows of my own.

Before I unveil my new arrows, let’s see why it is so important to spot the “double-not arrow” situation and so confusing to use it. Let’s walk through what “/A->B” really means. In a grouping game, we tend to think of items as “in” or “out” rather than “true” or “false,” so we’ll use in/out terminology for this discussion.

  • If A is OUT, B is IN means:
    • Either A or B must be IN
    • A and B cannot both be OUT
    • A and B can both be IN

This means that any in/out game with a “/A->B” rule will always have either A or B “in.” By the same logic, and in/out game with the other rule (“A->/B”) will always have either A or B “out.” That is essential information! But how do you teach that to a student who is still trying to figure out the basics of conditional reasoning?

I have searched the Internet looking for clues. This is a PowerScore symbol, so I figured they must have a way to teach it. If they do, they haven’t printed it or posted it yet. Instead, they have forum discussions where they try to help people untangle themselves after they get it all confused–which is what I have been doing. Up until now.

What we need here are some simple symbols that make this easy and obvious. Fortunately, not only can we come up with such symbols, we can write them out with a keyboard. Note how the slash comes first in the “/A->B” situation, but comes second in the “A->/B” case. Let’s turn those slashes into pictures. If we put the forward slash first, we can make a “/\” picture. If we put it second, we get a “\/” picture.

  • /A->B turns into A<-/\->B
  • A->/B turns into A<-\/->B

Pictures are helpful if they mean something, so let’s call the “/\” picture an “erupting volcano.” The “erupting volcano arrow” means that something is erupting, so that something must be in your slot. The “\/” looks like a “leaky funnel,” which means something is leaking, which means something must be out.

If you can remember that “slash comes first” means “/\,” and “/\” means “erupting volcano,” and “erupting volcano” means something must be in, you can turn a “/A->B” rule into a full slot within seconds. And if you can remember what a “leaky funnel” does, you’ll fill an out slot just as fast.

And… if you’re tapping your foot, saying, “count… count… count” in the back of your  head, that full or empty slot just made the game much easier!

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!

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.