How I Got a 166 on the LSAT

Ryan Fan

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A good segment of my life recently has revolved against the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT), and I am happy to say that saga is over. I don’t have to retake the test. I don’t have to worry about the LSAT anymore, and it’s safe to say my passive goals of getting into law school while I continue being a teacher are one step closer.

I scored a 166 on the LSAT, which is in the 92nd percentile of the test. The last thing I want this piece to sound like is self-congratulatory virtue-signaling, but inevitably a headline like “How I Got 166 on the LSAT” will rub people wrong for that reason.

Also, different things work for different people, and what works for me probably won’t work for everyone. I looked on the LSAT Reddit to get guidance on what best practices for studying were, and the gist I got from some super hardcore studiers for the LSAT was “you’re not going to get a good score, have nothing else going on, and get into law school unless you study 8 hours a day and two years.” Don’t get me wrong — I loved the culture of encouragement and the advice I got on the subreddit. But it was a bit too hardcore for me.

The sampling bias of people who go on Reddit to talk about the LSAT made me feel like crap about myself after I got my score back. It seemed like every person on the subreddit scored a 177 to 180 (which is a perfect score for people not familiar with the LSAT).

As much as they say not to compare yourself to others, it was pretty hard not to compare myself to these people. I raised my score 15 points and 41 percentiles from my diagnostic. I have a full time job. I was studying two hours a day max on days I did not take practice tests, and some days I didn’t study. I didn’t take a prep course and I did not pay for any prep materials besides a self-paced LSAT study book (Let’s go Mike Kim!).

But here’s how I got a 166 on my LSAT, a study strategy that has no guaranteed replicability to anyone else’s studying. To me, studying is a very personalized task because everyone learns in different ways. Some people are more visual, while others are more auditory, and some people like groups while others do not.

I studied for three months and pretty minimally

Screw all the advice out there that tells you you need to study for two or three years to get a good score. For all the people who do — if that works for them, all the power to them. I refused to make the LSAT the center of my identify. I refused to study more than a couple of hours a day and prioritize a test, that does not define anyone’s identity, above my mental health, relationships, sleep or faith.

I don’t know who needs to hear this: the LSAT is just a test. Sure, it’s an absurdly high stakes test, but you’re a human first. And the LSAT’s cardinal rule is if something is hard for you, it’s probably pretty darn hard for a lot of people.

I realize my non-traditional applicant status probably helped me have a healthy approach to the test that didn’t prioritize it as much. I work a full-time job and up to 60 hours a week. I am going through my Master’s Degree and have to devote about five to six hours to coursework every week. With writing and editing and everything else going on, it was a shock (to me) I was able to study for the LSAT and make a 15 point jump in the first place.

But I realize all my other commitments were a privilege rather than a curse. Not only was the LSAT not the center of my life, but any time I didn’t any want to study, I just didn’t. Any time I felt a high degree of disdain towards the test, I stopped studying. Any time I got tired, I went to sleep.

With all that being said, do what works for you — if you’re taking the LSAT you probably know your own study habits best.

I used Khan Academy

I find the LSAT to be a superior and more affordable version than the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). If you really want, you don’t have to pay for any prep materials for the LSAT. Khan Academy has 13 prep tests and personalized problem sets that address gaps in your skills and the most important sections or problem sets you need to study.

I will say I probably would have done better if I paid for a course like 7 Sage, which is the highest reputed test prep company. My weakest area was logical reasoning, which my friend told me would shore up the section. He was probably right. I know people who have paid for tutors who have been extremely helpful.

I was just prideful and cheap, but Khan Academy is an absolutely great, personalized resource. And no way in hell was I going to pay for a tutor. There’s a term in LSAT review called blind review — where after you take a practice test again after you’ve taken one to review questions you were unsure of, without timed pressure. I could not for the life of me figure out how to blind review on Khan Academy, which 7 Sage lays out for you.

However, a pro tip for blind reviewing those Khan Academy tests is creating two Khan Academy accounts with different emails. After you take one test on your primary account, take the test again on a second account for a blind review. I figured this out two weeks before the test and during that period of studying, I was at a very common plateau in the low 160s range. I couldn’t figure out how to rise from that plateau until I started reviewing practice tests better, then jumped in a wide range to 164–169 in my last two weeks.

Taking the test is important. Review is just as important.

What I’ll also say is not to panic over bad test scores. I would occasionally have a bad test one in every four where I scored way lower than my range. When I was in the low 160s, I scored 156 or 157 multiple times. I panicked and thought I lost my mojo, but the truth is we all have bad days and agonizing is not helpful. I listened to a podcast that reframed my mindset — above all, I was grateful the bad day wasn’t my real test! Also, I paid much more attention when reviewing my bad tests to see what went wrong. And the next one would usually rebound to a normal range.

I learned how to read

This sounds like a silly point. If you’re taking a standardized test, they assume you know how to read, right? Well, there are different kinds of reading you need to do for different contexts. You don’t read a newspaper or novel the same way you go through 100 applications as an HR director.

It turns out reading on the LSAT is much more like the latter analogy than the former. When I first started on the LSAT, I struggled with reading comprehension, and as an English teacher, I questioned whether I could actually read well.

But it turns out I was reading for the wrong context and using the wrong strategies. First, I would spend most of the time on the questions — that strategy was wrong. How do you know how to answer a question when you have no idea what you just read (which is a very common feeling when you read on the LSAT)?

First, I started to read passages twice. As a fast reader, I could comfortably read a passage twice in three minutes, but if I still had no idea how I was doing, I would read the passage three or four times. However, this was a very time-consuming strategy. And on a day when I didn’t sleep well and had trouble concentrating (a lot of days), this strategy actually did not work out as well as I hoped.

I started to break up the reading a bit more and summarize each paragraph in my head on my second read. By putting each paragraph in my own words, it forced me to be more engaged and actually show my understanding. This worked very well for actually knowing what I was reading in a very short amount of time — other people like to take notes, but this was very helpful to me. I could answer seven questions and read the passage in that time.

Anyway, there’s no skill as different from person to person as reading. But the LSAT requires reading a lot of very dense, not engaging material in a short amount of time and getting headlines and main ideas — you need to develop a skill set towards that kind of reading.

I learned how to diagram

For logic games (analytical reasoning), diagramming is the most important thing. Improving in logic games was the easiest point of improvement on the LSAT because they were largely like puzzles. On most practice tests and on the real thing, I got most of the questions right.

My diagramming was messy and looked really random. If I showed you the notes, they probably would not make any sense. But I would write out the rules, make deductions, and above all if I had no idea what to do, I would test out all the choices to see if the choice worked or didn’t work. Obviously, I would be relying on luck, hoping the answer was A or B and not E.

For “must be true” questions, I would find one order that worked. Then, I would find all the answer choices that could be eliminated because if the choice didn’t apply in every scenario, then the choice didn’t have to be true.

For “could be true” questions I would try all the choices and see which one worked. Again, I hoped the answer was A or B, or else I would waste a lot of time.

The first question on each logic games section is a giveaway because it’s also a process of elimination with the rules at your disposal. For “which rule could substitute” problems, well, I made my best guess.

For logic games, more than any other section, practice is the biggest opportunity for improvement. For reading comprehension and logical reasoning, progress tends not to be very linear…luckily for logic games, progress is significantly more linear.

I learned to find the conclusion in arguments

For logical reasoning questions, which I struggled with the most, finding the conclusion was the most important part. This would usually be signified by key terms like “thus” or “therefore,” but sometimes the conclusion would be hidden in arguments. Plus, there are the “identify the conclusion” questions that become very easy once you get the hang of finding the conclusion.

My bigger advice in logical reasoning is, like understanding the passage in reading comprehension, understand the stimulus in logical reasoning. Obvious this section requires more reasoning and there are times this rule doesn’t apply as much, but I used to jump to the questions without actually reading the stimulus well. I would also read each stimulus twice because unlike reading comprehension (to an extent), logical reasoning tries to trick you. Especially for certain types of questions, you might pick an answer that works well for the question, but another choice works better.

Also, know for each logical reasoning question, the questions go from easy to hard. I always treated the first 10 questions of each section as a warm-up, because the rest of the section for predictably harder. A very common pattern in my practice tests was getting the first 19 questions right, and all of the last seven questions wrong. Sometimes, I’d do the harder questions first and still get the first 18 questions I did right and the rest of them wrong.

There’s probably a better way to do it. But Mike Kim was right in that you have to be super critical of every argument and really look for a gap in logic or flaw. I’m a big benefit of the doubt kind of guy who has a hard time doing that at first, but if it’s a logical reasoning question, that means there is something wrong with the argument or some flaw — finding it is imperative.

I simulated test day conditions as much as possible

A lot of LSAT advice says to do untimed practice to really understand each question. I did not. Overall, I gained a lot from the LSAT but I did not enjoy the test that much if I’m being honest. Untimed, I would always get super distracted and just do worse.

I simulated test day conditions and always did timed practice. I would redo many of the same questions I already did, and I would always time myself on each section because that’s how the real test worked. Maybe I just needed the pressure? I’m not quite sure. But I wanted to be as efficient with my study time as possible.

Takeaways

My path to the mid-high 160s was my own, and it’s hard to generalize that to anyone else’s experiences or study strategy. There are times the LSAT is fun. But when it isn’t, putting all the LSAT stuff away and living my life was important. It’s a stressful test without a doubt, but I know it’s just the first in a long line of many stressful tests.

I’m happy I got a good score and have no intention of going to a top 14 law school, so I have no plans to retake it. Some friends tell me it’s good enough to get a full scholarship for my target schools, but operating under the mindset and attitude that the LSAT does not define me allowed me to proceed calmly and composedly.

It’s just a test. It often feels like a lot more than that while studying. I will say the LSAT is helping me evaluate arguments more critically, especially in the realm of politics. With a growing wave of violent crime, many arguments are calling for an uptick in policing, particularly in the New York mayoral race. However, the flaw in that argument is it doesn’t take into account alternatives to dealing with violent crimes, and correlation does not equal causation with policing and violent crime. Of course, not every political argument can be boiled down to logical reasoning — emotion matters as much as logic.

Regardless, I’m just happy to be done with this test. I had one goal going into the LSAT: not having to retake it. If you are taking the test, I hope you can also just take it once and be done!

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

Originally published on Medium on July 2, 2021

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Believer, Baltimore City special ed teacher, and 2:40 marathon runner. Diehard fan of "The Wire," God's gift to the Earth. Support me: https://ko-fi.com/ryanfan

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