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AMA - LSAT Instructor Edition


AllanC
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For those who don’t know me I’m an LSAT instructor for a Toronto based outfit. I took the exam over a decade ago and have been teaching it for about 3 years now.

To answer your first question, no, I am not a masochist! I legitimately believe the exam and studying for it can be rather fun (because it is such a challenge). Also, I just get absolutely pumped when those I’m helping have a breakthrough or a certain “a-ha” moment. It’s like being able to see someone conquer their demon in real time and there’s something incredibly rewarding about that.

I’ve reviewed or even used most of the popular prep materials (PowerScore, 7Sage, Manhattan, LSAT Trainer, etc) and while I am biased due to my professional affiliations, I will try to give an honest account of those other materials I am familiar with if you have questions about them.

So, feel free to ask me anything about LSAT prep, what it’s like to be an LSAT instructor, trends I'm noticing with the exam, my feelings on LSAC, or whatever you want! There are also some incredibly bright people on this board and everyone is welcome to join in and answer questions with me (no one size fits all for the LSAT).

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Dee
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22 minutes ago, AllanC said:

To answer your first question, no, I am not a masochist! I legitimately believe the exam and studying for it can be rather fun (because it is such a challenge)

I miss studying for the LSAT. There - I said it!

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Crute
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There seems to be a divergence of opinion on how to tackle RC. Some advocate for skimming the passages and looking for structure then reading it again later for details, while others suggest taking your time with the passage and go through the questions quickly. Which way have you found to be the best for most of your students? Is there a way to practice RC the most efficiently, or does it depend on each student? 

 

Thanks,

An average -5 RC LSAT taker who never has enough time

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1 hour ago, Crute said:

There seems to be a divergence of opinion on how to tackle RC. Some advocate for skimming the passages and looking for structure then reading it again later for details, while others suggest taking your time with the passage and go through the questions quickly. Which way have you found to be the best for most of your students? Is there a way to practice RC the most efficiently, or does it depend on each student? 

 

Thanks,

An average -5 RC LSAT taker who never has enough time

You couldn’t have started with an easy one, like: can I bring a water bottle into the exam?!! 😅

There are so many competing stances when it comes to RC because while the nature of reading / retaining info from passages you seldom care about isn’t entirely individualistic, it’s pretty close. That’s why I am a big fan of students surveying various approaches and picking / choosing which ones work for them.

That said, I have found that with my students a hybrid approach generally works best. Hybrid in the sense that they have two ways to work through the passage and depending on the content they adopt one or the other. Think of it as a toolkit with two tools and depending on the job (the passage) you reach for one or the other. Of course, one tool will be your favourite and your general go-to.

Approach #1

The immediate go-to tool in the kit is the one where you are heavily stimulus focused. The mantra being: read once and read well. With this approach you generally spend much more time on the stimulus reading for structure as well as the details. You stop after each new piece of information and think about how it integrates into the overall argument. In a sense you have a dialog with the stimulus, and are constantly engaging with the information (asking questions, disagreeing, etc). If at any point you say to yourself “I have no idea WTF I just read” then you stop and re-read to gain that comprehension.

The prime benefit of this approach is that it allows you to pre-phrase the questions with a high degree of accuracy without having to backread. The not having to backread is the key because backreading takes a great deal amount of time especially when you don’t know where to look! While pre-phrasing cannot be done for all RC questions, it can for a large contingent of them. Moreover, we care a lot about being able to pre-phrase because doing so significantly reduces the amount of time you’ll spend on incorrect answer choices that really aren’t that good but are confusing because of the verbiage. Man does it suck to get stuck between two RC answer choices where you are like....I understand each word but I have no idea how this relates to my stimulus...that rarely happens with the appropriate pre-phase! 

Other benefits of this approach are that it is systematic, provides an internal rhythm (makes you feel less like a chicken with your head cut off), and is most congruent with how we attack LR questions. Unfortunately, while preferred for all passages in theory, in practice there are many passages that you just aren’t going to be able to retain much of anything regardless of if you spend 2 minutes on the passage or 5 minutes. In those cases, the above approach is less than optimal!

That leads us to the next approach. 

Approach #2

The second tool in the kit is one where you are more question focused. Here we recognize that time spent with the stimulus has diminishing returns (where you make that determination pretty early on, at the first paragraph or so) and therefore focus our attention on the gist of things rather than the details. The goal should be to be able to describe (in broad brush) the content of each paragraph as well as the overall theme / tenor of the passage but without consciously focusing at all on individual details. You might want to adopt a more annotative style with this approach and highlight where details are, so you have a handy reference for when you have to backread.

With the exception of the main point, you will be unlikely to be able to pre-phrase the questions after your first read of the stimulus and so will have to do more backreading. That’s okay! We knew that going into this (hence why we left more time for the questions). Ideally your annotations point you more or less to the relevant parts where the details are to be found and that’ll reduce the scanning time.

Note that the passages where you should try the second approach are going to be different than those where I should! For example, I am able to relate to concepts in legal / economic / science passages rather easily and therefore default to the first approach. However, art / historical passages kill me, and I adopt the second approach for those (as no fruit is to be had by reading those in detail for me). But for you it might be the opposite way around!

TL;DR there are multiple approaches. Be flexible and don’t be afraid to mix and match even within the same section!

Practice

In terms of prepping RC isn't that much different from LR / LG in that it's all about the review. If you're at -5 under timed conditions, which is great BTW, it sounds like you have the fundamentals down and your improvements will largely come at the margin. For that I would take a serious look at each timed section you've completed and review the distribution of incorrect responses (e.g. are they scattered throughout the section, are they concentrated in a particular passage type / location, is there a particular question type that gets you, etc). From there I'd try to figure out exactly what it is that's messing you up and tailor your studying appropriately.

If you let me know how a typical section goes in terms of incorrect/correct response distribution I might be able to say something more specific about it! 

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As a note here for anyone not sure about engaging with this thread, @AllanC was a respected and knowledgeable member of the old ls.ca forums and provided a lot of LSAT help to members. He's definitely legit and has the mechanics of the test down really well. So feel free to ask away!

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VitalGiraffe
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Gonna stick with RC.

What's your approach for comparative passages? Read both then hit the questions? Or read the first, cross off all the ACs possible, then do the same for the second passage?

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1 hour ago, VitalGiraffe said:

Gonna stick with RC.

What's your approach for comparative passages? Read both then hit the questions? Or read the first, cross off all the ACs possible, then do the same for the second passage?

I’ve attempted both approaches and generally found the latter to be incredibly time consuming. I mean, it’s really our prephrase that orients us in the right direction and it’s nigh impossible to have a good one with only half the information. So, it just ends up being a lot of extra work!

My approach to comparative is generally to keep it the same as for other passages with one slight change. After reading passage A I hunt for any questions that solely deal with passage A. For example, “what is the main point of passage A” or “which of the following is mentioned in passage A”. Questions that deal solely with one passage are not frequent, but they aren’t exactly rare either and so I find it worth scanning the questions to do this. But any questions that deal with both passages are left until I have read both.

EDIT - I should also add that even for the questions where we are unable to prephrase (e.g. "which one of the following is contained in B but not in A") only knowing the content of one passage typically doesn't allow you to cross off many answer choices; and therefore confers little benefit because when you return you have to go over the stem again + most of the answer choices in detail a second time. That's not always the case (sometimes a question is rather easy to answer with info from only one passage) but on average it tends to hold and so as a general strategy I wouldn't suggest it. 

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