Monthly Archives: April 2010

LSAT Logic Games Webinar – Discoverlaw.org

Posted on April 28, 2010 by admin

I highly recommend that you visit  “discoverlaw.org”. It is either run by or in conjunction with the Law School Admission Council (the people who brought you the LSAT).

On Thursday April 28, 2010, Discoverlaw.org conducted  an  “LSAT Prep Webinar” about how to prepare for the Analytical Reasoning (Logic Games) portion of the LSAT.

It was conducted by Lori Davis, who is a senior test specialist at LSAT. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time that LSAT has run a seminar dedicated to LSAT preparation. As a long time, LSAT prep class teacher, I was interested to hear what LSAT says about its own test.  I was treated to one hour of  “LSAT on the LSAT”. It was interesting. I made notes and decided to put those notes on my LSAT blog and social media sites. What follows is a summary of the Webinar (both the information given and the my impressions of it) for the benefit of those who were unable to attend. Discoverlaw.org will be running more LSAT prep Webinars.

Update: May 15, 2010The  video of this seminar is now available for your viewing.

Here goes:

The Webinar began with a basic description of the LSAT confirming  (I always tell my course participants that the LSAT is a test of  “reading and reasoning in context”) that the LSAT is a test of : “critical reading”, “informal reasoning (Arguments), and deductive reasoning (Analytical Reasoning)”. Yes, that is what the LSAT actually tests.

The Webinar then discussed Analytical Reasoning (Logic Games) specifically. Ms. Davis began by confirming the basic format of Analytical Reasoning: scenario, rules and questions.

LSAT – Analytical Reasoning – Test Questions Format:

She noted that there are three specific question formats. These formats are:

–         questions that ask what MUST be true;

–         questions that ask what COULD be true;

–         questions that ask what CANNOT be true.

Background Skills – Conditional Reasoning:

In 1991, Thomas White, a past president of Law Services wrote a book called “Inside the LSAT”. In this book Mr. White, confirmed that the “basic reasoning task” on the LSAT involved Conditional Reasoning. Ms. Davis continued this theme at three points in her Webinar.

First – the hypothetical syllogismwhich is:

If A then B.

If B then C.

Therefore, If A then C

Second – the logical flaw of affirming the consequent – which is:

If A then B.

If B then C.

If we are given “C”, what can we infer with certainty? The answer is nothing.

Third – the contrapositive – to eliminate and an answer choice in one of the sample questions that she did.

The contrapositive is a rule of inference  as follows:

If A then B.

Not B

Therefore, Not A

All of this is clear confirmation that LSAT does consider the rules of conditional reasoning when constructing LSAT questions (This is common knowledge in the LSAT prep industry).

LSAT Language:

When it comes to LSAT, sensitivity to language isn’t everything! It’s the only thing!

The one short example used by Ms. Davis included the following words or “clusters of words” that appear on many LSAT tests. These examples were:

“or” – Do you want cream or sugar in your coffee? This could mean either cream or sugar or both.

“exactly” – Each group includes “exactly” three members. This means three and only three.

“at least” – Each student must take “at least” math. This means math at a minimum, but it allows for more courses.

“unless” – this word frequently appears on the LSAT. One cannot study math, unless one studies English too. This means: If math then English. Note how this is tied to the conditional reasoning examples above.

Diagramming the LSAT Analytical Reasoning Conditions:

Ms. Davis spent a good deal of time diagramming. She also made the following two points:

First, the main diagram should be constructed prior to starting the questions.

Second, LSAT is  publishing a new book called the “Official LSAT Handbook” that apparently contains an appendix devoted to diagramming.

Ms. Davis approached the diagrams in a very basic way focusing on what I call the “non-negotiables” (meaning the things that are stated to be true without question). She did not spend time trying to make additional inferences (although this may have just been the nature of the example which I can’t reproduce for copyright reasons). Many LSAT prep courses and books  focus on making lots of initial inferences from the initial conditions. This may or may not be necessary.

The Questions:

Ms. Davis introduced three questions. As you might expect she provided an example of each of the three question types above:

–         What MUST be true?

–         What COULD be true?

–         What  CANNOT be true? (which means what must be false)

Her general approach was to answer each question by returning to the initial diagram. There was not much variety in the methodology or approach.

On at least two occasions she suggested that “if you think you have found the answer – choose it an move on.” (This is obviously good advice.)

She spent more time explaining why the answers were correct, than on explaining how one should go about actually determining the answers. This is forgivable and understandable since one hour is very little time.

Categorization:

The LSAT prep course industry is obsessed with the categorization of questions. The categorization of LSAT questions may  NOT be a good idea. Ms. Davis made no attempt to categorize the sample game that she was doing.

Conclusion:

That’s all. I would recommend that you go to Discoverlaw.org and get on their mailing list. It’s always helpful to see what LSAT says about its own test. Furthermore, you should begin your LSAT preparation with publications from LSAT.

John Richardson

http://lawschoolbound.wordpress.com

http://www.twitter.com/lsatpreparation

Logical Reasoning: The Dangers of Over-Categorization

Posted on April 14, 2010 by admin


Logical Reasoning: The Dangers of Over-Categorization

Is bucketing questions worth your time?Is bucketing logical reasoning questions worth your time?

By John Rood, President of Next Step Test Preparation

One thing that continually amazes me each time I review an LSAT prep book is the huge amount of space spent in categorizing and sub-categorizing question types in logical reasoning. I just flipped through a 2009-edition prep book from one of the big national LSAT prep companies, and it literally had 2 pages devoted to finding assumptions in logical reasoning but over 20 pages explaining each different question type. I can also tell you from experience that categorization is a big part of the curriculum in large LSAT classes.

I think that the big prep companies do this for three reasons.

  • It helps fill space in prep books where the industry standard is several hundred pages, and actually licensing questions is expensive
  • In live classes or videos, it gives teachers something smart to say regardless of their experience level
  • Teaching categorization requires absolutely no customization for individual students. It’s like teaching the names of all 50 states — rote memorization. There’s no comprehension or understanding to check; if there was, there’s no personal attention to fix it.

I think that students should be aware of the different question types in the section, but students can gain this awareness by reading through a few Preptests. Time spent categorizing each question into a certain group or “family” is a waste of time on the actual test. You get 0 points for correct categorization, but you have a great chance at 1 point for correctly understanding and applying logic.

The skills that actually increase student scores are

  1. Understanding the basic format of an argument — premise(s), assumption(s), conclusion.
  2. Being able to identify each of these components and be able to intelligently manipulate them (strengthen/weaken questions require this, among others).
  3. Be able to apply these basic skills quickly and accurately.

It’s hard to teach these basic skills to large groups, but this is what students need to learn to succeed. In our tutoring sessions, these three skills are the main focus of LSAT logical reasoning training.

Next Step provides one-on-one tutoring on the LSAT, GRE, GMAT, and college entrance exams. Check our website for more information, or contact us at info@nextsteptestprep.com or 888-530-NEXT begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 888-530-NEXT end_of_the_skype_highlighting.

Image courtesy davidw.

Your “chances of getting into law school”

Your “chances of getting into law school”

Posted on April 2, 2010 by admin
John Richardson - Law School BoundJohn Richardson – Law School Bound

Two weeks ago I spent a week doing free LSAT seminars for pre-law students. We spend lots of time talking about law school applications and getting into law school. Many students spend lots of time asking “what are my chances of getting into law school?” Don’t spend your time wondering about your chances. Do spend your time improving your chances.

At the end of this seminar series, I did an email interview about my “Law School Bound”.  I found myself thinking: What is the single most important piece of advice that you would give to a pre-law student? Here are my thoughts.

The easiest way to gain admission to law school is to NOT concentrate on getting into law school per se. The primary factor that will determine where you attend law school is your grades. Grading is a competitive and relative evaluation. The people who get the highest grades are the people who like the course the best. If you don’t like your courses you will not get good grades.

The best way to get good grades is to enjoy your courses.  Once you find an area of study that you like, you should then make it your goal to get into graduate school in that area of study. If you can get into graduate school you can get into law school. In fact you should carry your undergraduate interests into law school. Not only is there no such thing as a pre-law program, there is no area of study that cannot be carried into law school. For example, if you study economics as an undergraduate student, you can carry that interest into law school. Antitrust law is more about economics than it is about law.

The moral of the story is – be happy and the rest will take care of itself!

John Richardson

http://www.lsatprep.com

John Richardson Interviewed – “Law School Bound”

Posted on April 1, 2010 by admin

In late March of 2010 I was interviewed about my “Law School Bound” book by Steve  Schwartz (the publisher of  “LSAT Blog“). What follows are the questions and answers.

1.  YouLaw School Bound Cover.cdr published Law School Bound back in 2006. What new advice do you have for law school applicants today?

Law School Bound was designed to guide people from the decision to attend law school, through the application process, through the bar admission process and into a legal career. The book was designed to “stand the test of time”. Therefore, I wouldn’t give any different advice in 2010.

I wrote the first edition of  “Law School Bound” in 1992 when North America was in a severe recession. The 1992 recession resulted in fewer applications for law school (including a decline in the number of people taking the LSAT and a drop in the number of students in our LSAT courses). The book published in 2006 was during an economic boom. As you know 2010 has been a tough year all around. The 2010 recession seems to have resulted in an increase in the numbers of LSAT test takers (and in our Toronto LSAT courses). But, so what? If one wants to attend law school and become a lawyer, one shouldn’t care about the state of the economy. A weak economy always means fewer jobs for lawyers (and everybody else). That said, there is always an abundance of opportunity for talented, enthusiastic, focused people. Remember, the economy will turn around. You might as well be waiting (with that law degree in hand) when it does!

2.  In Chapter 12, “Different Marketing for Different Schools,” you talked about tailoring the application theme depending upon a school’s mission statement. This sounds like a good idea, but aside from a top LSAT score and GPA, what else are they really looking for? Don’t they all want unique personal backgrounds, work experience, impressive extracurricular activities, etc.?

Your question is focuses both on the law school applicant and on the law school itself.

First, the law school applicant

There is a saying that even a dog knows whether he has been “kicked” or accidentally “tripped over”. A law school admissions committee knows perfectly well whether an applicant is applying to that particular school or is just hoping to attend any school. Remember it’s  the job of the law school admissions committee to “fill the class”. All other things being equal (which they may or may not be the case), any school would rather offer a space to an applicant who they think is a “good fit” for the school.

When I consider the criteria that you mention:

Grades and LSAT scores: they will  (in that order) be a huge factor. Remember that upward trends in grades are helpful.

Unique personal backgrounds: The truth is that only a small percentage of law school applicants have “unique personal backgrounds”. Furthermore, there is no objective agreement on what a “unique personal background is”. And finally, the real issue (assuming a “unique personal background”) is: how does that background bear on the applicant’s desire to attend law school and his/her application?

Work Experience:
Work experience is relevant from the perspective of: how does it bear on the decision to attend law school? How does it bear on the maturity level of the applicant? How does it bear on the applicant’s motivation? Most law school applicants are coming out of some kind of undergraduate program and therefore do not have a great deal of work experience. Unless you are a “second career” applicant, the most that “work experience” will do is, distinguish you in a small way from other applicants.

Impressive Extracurricular Activities: Again, there is no agreement on what is impressive and what is not. The issue is the same: how does participation in the activity contribute to the kind of person you are. For example, three years of “swimming practice” every day is strong evidence of motivation and consistency. Membership in certain clubs (depending on the role you played) may be evidence of nothing. So, when dealing with extracurricular activities, I recommend that you describe why it was important, what you learned from it, and how it bears on your decision to attend law school.

Second, focus on the law school itself – how does the school see itself?

No two people see themselves in the same way and no two law schools see themselves in the same way. On the most basic level, one school may see itself as a national law school and another as a local school. Some schools may have a teaching philosophy of not teaching “black letter law” (perhaps some Ivy League schools) and others may see themselves as for the express purpose of teaching “black letter law” law. Some schools may see themselves as strong in the “public or international law area”. Others may not.

When marketing yourself to a law school you must do your best to determine how the school sees itself. What kinds of people do they think are most compatible with their program? One  must be conscious of these factors when crafting a “personal statement” for that school. (You should determine the answers to these questions for any law school (including the top tier schools)).

“Talk the talk” of the particular law school! Let’s consider two schools. The first school asks about your “community service”. The second school asks about your primary interests. Imagine that you have been an active participant in “Big Brothers”. When you apply to the first school you describe “Big Brothers” as “community service”. When you apply to the second school “Big Brothers” is one of your “primary interests.”


3.  What advice do you have for applicants on getting accepted from a law school waitlist?

It is hard to generalize about this. Each school has its own admissions committee. Each school will have a different way of organizing its waiting list. For example, some may have a list with an order. Others may just have a list.

That said, it never hurts and can only help to let the school know that:

1. You are very interested in attending that particular school; and
2. Would accept an offer of admission from that school.

I will share the following story about a women who was in one of my LSAT courses.  She was on the “waiting list” at a certain school. She visited the school, went into the admissions office, introduced herself and made it very clear that she would accept an offer of admission. She received that offer the very next day. I don’t believe that it was a coincidence.

I would also advise you to remember the following:

In any office (including law offices – remember this for your future careers), the support staff  have a great deal of influence. Always, Always Always (did I say Always?) make sure that you treat the support staff with respect!

It all comes back to the idea, that it is the job of the admissions committee to fill the class. If you are enthusiastic about the school, they will be more enthusiastic about you.

4.  What advice do you have for applicants on negotiating financial aid?

There are many opportunities for financial aid. Remember that “Financial Aid” can mean a loan, scholarship or combination.  Some is public, some is private, etc.  If you are applying for financial aid you must find out as much as you can about the organization that is funding the financial aid? What was their motivation? What criteria does it use? Every application for financial aid should (to the extent possible) be treated as a serious, independent application. You may want to emphasize different things about yourself for different forms of financial aid.

5.  Any last words of advice to share with applicants?

Actually, these should be the “first words” of advice.

There are three categories of law school applicants.

1. Will get into most schools – These applicants have both very high grades and very high LSAT scores. In fact, the grades and LSAT scores are so high, that their application carries a “strong presumption” that they will be admitted. They don’t include anything in their application that will  rebut that presumption. This is a small percentage of law school applicants.
2. Will get into no or very few schools – These applicants have low grades and LSAT scores and include nothing to redeem themselves in the rest of the application. They usually do a very poor job on the overall application. This is a small percentage of law school applicants.
3.  Applicants who  have demonstrated the academic ability to do law school work. But, the question is why that particular applicant instead of another applicant? This is by far the largest percentage of law school applicants.

Most applicants  are in the third group. They  must work on every component of your application file. In general the components of the application file include both “Direct Applicant Input” and “Third Party Evaluations”:

Direct Applicant Input:

– personal statements
– the law school application to the extent that they ask about biographical information

Third Party Evaluations:

– grades
– references
– LSAT scores

Furthermore each individual component must work with the other components in a way that creates a “whole that is greater than the sum of the parts”.  It takes a lot of time to create a strong law school application. Remember the following:

– Applying to law school is “academic marketing”. Your job is, through your law school application, to create positive (in a relevant way), images about yourself.
– “Talk the talk” of the particular law school. (See above)


– Start your application early!
This will give you the time to write it, rewrite it, get outside advice, etc.
– Pretend you are applying in the year before you apply! Do a “shadow application” in the previous year. You will do a large amount of the work in the prior year, but it means that in the real application year, you will be improving your applications instead of creating them for the first time.
– Get most of the work done in the summer! Applying to law school is a lot of work. It is so much work that it can encroach on time that you need to study (thus putting downward pressure on your grades).
– Work with an “application buddy”! Most people do not perceive themselves the way others perceive them. You will be grateful for an “objective assessment” of the images that you are projecting. You will find it difficult to describe yourself because you have the “whole picture”. An “application buddy” will help you with these realities.
– Take the LSAT in June or October at the latest! Remember that most law schools use a  “rolling admissions process”. You can’t be admitted until your application is complete. June has the advantage of not conflicting with school and leaving October for a possible retake. The December takes place either the first or second weekend in December. This is a terrible time in your school year.
– Make sure you apply to enough schools! Apply to schools in the following three categories: Wishful thinking (very tough to get into it). Probable match (match your grades and LSAT scores with the profile of the school). Insurance policy (you want to attend law school regardless of where you get in).
– Letter of Reference! The fact that somebody agrees to write you a reference does not mean that it will be a good one. You need to “qualify” possible referees by asking the following question: “Do you feel that you could and would you be willing to write me a positive reference letter for law school” You are looking for an answer that is an enthusiastic – YES!
– To borrow from a famous basketball coach! “Winning requires the will to prepare to win!”

John Richardson – Toronto, Canada
http://www.lsatprep.com
http://www.lawschoolbound.org

http://www.prelaw.ca

http://www.personalstatement.ca