As in many facets of life, sometimes the simplest question can have the toughest answer. I've been kicking around such a question for the past few weeks, and I'd like to share it with you.
Is there a â€˜best' way to study for the LSAT?
For those of you who haven't read a column by me yet, I consider myself a reasonably smart guy who has a somewhat curious fascination with standardized tests. This has gotten me interested in the field of problem solving in general, and I have discovered something disturbing: there hasn't really been that much written about problem solving. Even in the field of mathematics where problem solving is at a premium, I can only really find one person who's concerned with problem solving as a distinct issue. (George Polya, for those interested.) Most guidelines for solving problems are patchwork at best and rely excessively on heuristics and one-time-only tricks, leading the student to attempt to solve problems without understanding exactly why the solution works. Sounds sort of like the LSAT prep world, right?
None of what I've found so far satisfies me. I think there's a better way to study for the LSAT. I think there are some general principles of preparing for a standardized test, and if those general principles could be found, then they would drastically simplify the amount of work that one has to do to prepare. These principles would also lift the veil of fear and confusion that much of the test prep industry (including the test makers themselves) inflicts on the students who line up to take the exams every year. So I have a modest proposal:
Starting now, beginning at the rate of about a test a week (depending on my schedule), I'm going to take every single released LSAT, and I'm going to write about the experience. I'm going to air my thoughts on why I made the mistakes that I did, and the methods I used to get the answers I did. I'm going to reference the general problem solving approach, although little of the particular language, of as many test prep books and methods I can get my hands on to find out if there's any consensus. I've also purchased a couple of books on basic logic and reasoning, as well as some books on mathematical problem solving (to see if there are any insights that would be applicable.) I'm going to try to find out what works and what doesn't, and construct a framework that isn't a self-serving marketing ploy.
Why? My motives are many, but for right now suffice it to say that I think it a genuinely interesting problem, and one to which I am well suited. As someone who doesn't want to become a lawyer and hence only wants to take the LSATs for fun, I think I have the necessary objectivity and perspective that I won't get too wrapped up in my own scoring to lose sight of the bigger picture. As someone who's been around the test prep world for a while, I feel that I am able to separate truth from hype when it comes to test taking strategies.
More specifically, here's how this is going to work. I'm going to start by just picking a random test and beginning. I'm not going to post the questions or do anything more than reference specific words or snippets of language in the questions, so you will have to have the LSAT's with you while you read these postings. Since many of you are studying for the LSAT's and have copies of these exams, this should not be too much of a stretch. Otherwise, LSAT's can be purchased either online or at many bookstores.
As this progresses, I encourage you to comment and share any hints, arguments, suggestions, or requests for future tests or questions. I'd really like to find some people out there who can supply some perspective on the process, and even collaborate. At the very least, I'd love to hear from everyone out there about which test prep methods have worked for you, and which haven't.
First LSAT question, coming soon...
For the past eight years, Charles Williamson hasn't met a standardized test he didn't like, helping hundreds of students in everything from the SAT and ACT to the SSAT to the GMAT to AP Calculus. A longtime student of the thought process that defines performance on standardized tests, Charles got off to a good start, receiving a perfect score on his SATs in high school. He then graduated from Brown University, earning bachelor's degrees in computer science and history. He has long been fascinated by the intersection of education and technology, and when not writing about standardized tests and educational policy, he will be happy to speculate rampantly about how the Internet will affect the ways that we learn. Charles blogs for the Ivey Files about test preparation.