As I mentioned in my earlier post, I have accepted and deferred my admissions to Washington University School of Law in St. Louis. While WashU was never on my radar, I applied because I received a waiver fee and had read about WashU’s generous scholarships. Amazingly, when I was accepted to their law school, WashU also awarded me a full ride – something that would have never been possible without my high LSAT score. Studying for the LSAT for 1.5 years was not easy but I don’t regret it. Without this extra year, I would have never gotten accepted to T20 law schools nor would have been offered full scholarships. An extra year of studying in exchange for saving hundreds of thousands in loans? Not bad!
In this post I want to focus on how I managed to stay motivated, because let’s face it, studying for the LSAT is hard. Studying for any standardized test is hard.
These tests, like the LSAT, GMAT, GRE, MCAT, are also costly. A 5-week Kaplan LSAT Prep Course can cost you at least $1,190 and registering for the LSAT costs $180. Personally, I have probably spent around $1,100 on LSAT-related things alone. In addition to the monetary cost, standardized tests require a lot of emotional energy and time. Most people don’t have the luxury of solely studying for an exam – they are either in school or working. For this reason, I decided to work and live abroad in Spain while studying for the LSAT – my contract only required me to work 12 hours a week! To maximize your changes of scoring well on a standardized test, you must commit to preparing for it.
However, to stay committed, you need motivation. But how do you stay motivated? Motivation comes from the inside. Nobody can make you put in work and effort into something if you don’t want to. Motivation requires you to see a bigger purpose in whatever you do.
So how did I manage to stay motivated to study for the LSAT so many months?
Personally, by the end of my senior year, I knew that law school was for me. After taking a Constitutional Law class at FIU my senior year and visiting some law schools (ASU Law and UM Law), I was 100% sold on the idea of law. While the written law is black and white, its interpretation isn’t and I love this ‘gray’ area. There is not right vs wrong way to understand the law, only which interpretation is argued and defended better.
Applying to law school requires several things: the general application, transcript, LSAT score, letters of recommendations, personal statement, resume, and optional supplemental essays requested by individual law schools. By far, the most important components of the application are the quantitative elements: the GPA and LSAT score. GPA is something that can only be controlled while still at school. By the time I was set on law school, I had already graduated from FIU and my GPA was set in stone; I couldn’t change my GPA. However, my LSAT score was a blank slate – it was completely up to me and entirely in my control. Where I could/couldn’t go to law school would depend on my LSAT. Knowing the power of my LSAT score to influence my future didn’t intimidate me, it empowered me.
While in Granada, studying for the LSAT was my number one priority. It meant that for the most part, my life worked around my studying sessions. This didn’t mean that I spent all of my waking days studying; I practiced quality over quantity. I was motivated to study because I was empowered by the power I had to influence my future. However, as someone who has a history of depression, I knew that my depressive swings could come in the way of my motivation.
So, in order to be successful at my number one priority, I needed my mental health to be 110%. To do this:
1. I went to the gym 4/5 times a week. Exercising has always been fundamental in helping me manage depression and clearing my head. In Granada, I generally went to the gym straight after work. Even when I didn’t feel like going to the gym (whether it was because I was having a bad day or just feeling lazy) I still showed up and maintained the habit of going to the gym.
2. I ate healthier. Contrary to the produce available in the United States, fresh fruits and vegetables are noticeably cheaper than processed food in Spain. I took advantage of this and usually meal-prepped salads and fruits salads to be read to eat.
3. I knew my excuses. As humans, we’re incredibly good at finessing our way out of things we don’t really want to do. I, for one, try to convince myself that I can’t workout if I feel hungry because ‘I don’t have enough energy’. To counter this self-made argument, I grew accustomed to eating more often and carrying around snacks (like fruit salads, granola bars, and yogurts).
Moral of the story: don’t finesse your way out of things you know that you need to do. Develop habits that ignore these inner excuses. Ignore the voice that’s giving you excuses and DON’T negotiate with it.
4. I did something social at least 1-2x a week. Based on my experiences with learning to manage my depression, I noticed a correlation between my mental state deteriorating and growing anti-social. As a result, I made an effort to go out and socialize weekly.
5. I often took the time to explore Granada. As important as it is to focus on the future, never forget to live in the present. I wanted to constantly remind myself how of lucky I was to live in Granada, a picturesque city with a colorful history. I made sure to take advantage of free walking tours, museums, the different neighborhoods, and trying different restaurants.
Unsurprisingly, sometimes I failed at doing the things I needed to do for my mental health. However, knowing that I had several safeguards in place for my mental health meant that it was okay if one or two of them fell through.
Unavoidably, there were times when I didn’t want to do anything at all. In due time I learned to not beat myself up over the lack of productivity during my depressive swings. In these situations I compromised with myself: I wouldn’t look at LSAT material for 2-3 days and instead did others things like explore, read, or just got out of the house. I tried to avoid Netflix, which made me feel stagnant and lazy. I’d get back into my LSAT mode by doing a section a day until I finally got back into rhythm. Patience and persistency are key. It’s important to be kind to yourself – don’t push yourself too hard but never lose sight of your goal.
I reminded myself daily that I wanted to achieve the best LSAT score I could possibly get. Studying for the LSAT while dealing with a mental health issue is hard but not impossible. It just requires a little more grit and knowing yourself. Ultimately, it comes down to how bad you want it. Remind yourself what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.
Studying for the LSAT was not a breeze, but it was certainly worth it!
As some of you may know, I’ve been studying for the LSAT for a while now.
What’s my story?
I graduated from Florida International University in May 2017 with a Bachelors in International Relations. I initially planned to take my LSAT in June and spend my gap year teaching English abroad in Spain. Ultimately, I hoped to attend law school in the fall of 2018. I started studying for my LSAT in March 2017, giving myself insufficient time to be ready. Like many other LSAT takers, I would soon find out how truly frustrating and exhausting it is to study for the LSAT. Like others before me, I assumed that 2-3 months of studying was a good amount of prep time. If you’re lucky and naturally good at logic, then sure, 2- 3 months might be all you need. BUT, most of us, including myself, aren’t that lucky.
The LSAT is a unique test in that it requires no outside knowledge. Everything you need to know is in front of you, it’s just a matter of knowing how to dissect the information. Improving on the LSAT takes a lot of time and effort, I would come to find out. What was originally supposed to be 3.5 months of studying, has now passed the 7 month mark (with breaks included). Over these few months, I learned a lot and still have a lot to learn. Here’s a list of the 5 top things that I wish I had known before studying for the LSAT.
Things I’ve learned:
1. Study for a while before setting a goal for yourself.
I think that it’s a common mistake to determine a test date first and then get into studying for the LSAT, expecting that you’ll achieve your goal score. However, most of us don’t give ourselves the time we need. The suggested studying time is a year. While I took this suggestion with a grain of salt in the beginning, I strongly stand by it now. In hindsight, I wish I studied intensively for two months beforehand to understand my strengths, weaknesses, and goals. Score improvements are made when you truly understand your struggle areas and your most effective learning styles. Such insights could take at least 1-3 months to develop but they are necessary for greater score gains.
There are several questions you need to ask yourself as you begin to study: What is my goal? What was my LSAT base score? How realistic is it to achieve my goal LSAT score? Am I willing to put in the necessary time and energy to get the score I want? How much time a week can I dedicate to my LSAT studying? Am I okay with the possibility of needing to retake my LSAT?
Be realistic with setting your goals. On average, LSAT takers improve their score 5-10 points after studying for a couple of months. Of course improvements vary from person to person. Ultimately, it’s up to you. Be open to the idea that you might end up studying longer for the LSAT than you planned.
2. Figure out a schedule/plan and stick to it.
Successful preparation isn’t possible without a structure plan. If you don’t dedicate the appropriate time to your studies and/or use that time efficiently, you’ll see little improvement in your score. Luckily, there are many resources out there (like PowerScore, The LSAT Trainer, Magoosh, and 7Sage) that have created various study plans to help you structure your studies, depending on how many months you plan to study. Howeverm keep in mind that any creator of a study plan requires that you use their material to study.
Personally, I started with the 2 month PowerScore study plan during the summer. It required me to read their LSAT trilogy pack (AKA about 1,800 pages) in, you guessed it, two months. This was to prepare me for the June exam. I studied about 35-40 hours a week and essentially spent my entire summer in the public library. After realizing that I wasn’t prepared to take the June exam, I bought the 7sage online self-paced course. 7Sage is an online LSAT resource created by Harvard Law graduates with the purpose of making LSAT prep material more affordable and easier to understand. The core curriculum is about 98 hours of information and it took me about 2 months to complete it. I found this source extremely useful because it included a lot of listening and visual explanations which helped me tremendously in understanding the material.
I postponed my June LSAT to the September LSAT, but I wasn’t happy with my September score when I received it in November. Almost immediately, I made the decision to delay law school for a year and to retake the exam in June 2018. Currently, my LSAT prep focuses on repetition and doing lots of practice exams, timed sections, and blind reviews. Blind review, a concept coined by 7Sage, is when you go over a completed practice test. By reviewing the questions with no time limit, you realize what questions you got wrong because A) you ran out of time, or B) you have difficulty with a particular type of question. Blind review is almost essential in improving your LSAT score because it forces you to narrow in on your weakness areas.
3. Improving on the LSAT requires changing how you think.
As I mentioned, the LSAT is a unique exam in that all the information you need is right in front of you. Understanding how to find the correct answers by breaking down arguments is key to acing the exam. The LSAT makers are incredibly good at creating trick answer choices and making you panic through the use of convoluted sentence structures/themes. Improving on the LSAT means improving your logic-based thinking and polishing these skills to move through questions in an efficient manner. However, rewiring your thought process takes time. Many LSAT studiers notice a general improvement after taking a study break, ranging from a couple days, to two or three weeks. During the summer while I studied, I had two breaks (about two weeks each) when I went to Miami and to Peru. After returning back from these trips, I noticed considerable improvement in my comprehension of the material.
4. Know that LSAT preparation is a mental rollercoaster.
As I mentioned in the previous point, rewiring your brain takes time and progress shows itself slowly over a period of time.The LSAT does not give swift gratification and it’s easy to get discouraged during the process. At these points, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone in your “LSAT disappointment”. I’d be hard pressed to find an actual LSAT studier that hasn’t A) had a mental breakdown, B) re-considered law school, or C) experienced multiple plateau in their studies. When you start having doubts, it’s important to remember that your LSAT score does not define you. What matters most in these periods of self doubt, is that you push through and keep on studying. As said by Colin Powell, “there are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation,hard work, and learning from failure.”
5. LSAT is unlike any other test. Burnout is real and will happen often.
The LSAT is an mentally intensive test and finding a healthy study-life balance is key. Therefore, it’s important to get proper sleep so that you have enough focus to dissect complicated text. You will find yourself getting sick of the LSAT and in these cases, it’s perfectly okay to take a few days off. This is better than forcing yourself to study, while you grow more hate and disdain for the LSAT. Score improvements require you to be motivated and excited to take on the LSAT. This just won’t happen if you force yourself to study through a burnout. Taking days off will not hurt your progress and are almost a necessity. You need to take the time to re-energize, do the things you love, and remind yourself why you decided to study for the LSAT in the first place.
Personally, I found my best study times to be in the morning. During the summer, I generally woke up at 7:30AM in order to study from 8:30AM to 3:30PM. Even now, while I’m working in Spain, I find time to study by waking up 3 hours earlier before work and dedicating my Fridays to the LSAT. The LSAT carries a lot of weight in law school admissions and I make my LSAT preparation a priority. However, despite the LSAT’s importance, I still make time for the tapas and adventures that Spain has to offer!
So that’s it – my 5 tips on what you need to know and prepare for as you begin your LSAT journey. There’s a lot more tips to be given on the LSAT and I’ll talk about them in future posts. Hope you find this helpful and please reach out if you have any specific LSAT questions!