“Successive narrowing” article published on the LEX Law Prep website.
See “Augmented Reading” article on the LEX Law Prep website.
The Development of Mastery
Psychologists report that some children have an innate, self-driven desire to learn and know all there is to know about a field. These children lock onto and pursue a topic with unusual tenacity, pouring hours of unbroken concentration into exploring this topic. The results of this kind of concentration are not surprising: a very high competency in the chosen field.
One phrase that is apparently in current usage as a label for this type of drive is the “rage to master.”
Not Just for Kids
While “child prodigies” appear to have attracted the most study so far, the “rage to master” is not something that is unique to children—or child prodigies. College and law students can also catch fire with an internal desire to know, dominate, master a field. These students are, of course, great at test preparation.
Finding the “rage to master” within oneself for a topic such as the logical reasoning or reading comprehension that is tested on the LSAT or the contracts, torts, evidence, or other law topics that are tested on the bar exam may require some soul-searching. But it’s worth going on this journey, because that fire—the rage to master—is an incredibly powerful mechanism for improvement. More discussion on the rage to master coming soon. .
(Original publication date: August 23, 2011 (LEX))
Test-Taking Distractions Don’t Always Come from the Outside
In recent articles, the external distractions that can from from a testing center facility or a proctor have been discussed. But these distractions can be relatively easy to handle compared to the distractions that come from within one’s own mind.
Clearing and Closing Your Mind: Occlumency for LSAT, Law School, and the Bar Exam
Internal sources of distractions include several different types of worry, such as:
- loose ends: the test-taker can’t concentrate during a part of the test because anxieties about not having paid the rent, not watered the plants, or not made travel or lodging arrangments
- underpreparation remorse: as the test begins, the test-taker is overcome with regret about not having practiced and studied more
- personal baggage: the test-taker has under-performed on some previous test and believes that there’s something inherently “wrong” with him or her that will doom him or her to failure on the present test
- habitual self-denigration: some test-takers have a more generalized form of baggage in which they have become perpetual—and vicious—critics of themselves, telling themselves they are dumb, a failure, a loser almost constantly; these antagonistic voices and messages can reach a debilitating pitch when a difficult task requiring a lot of concentration—such as the LSAT, a law school essay, or the MBE—is at hand
One part of the solution to all of the above distractions is essentially a real-world version of “occlumency,” a form of magic resistance from the Harry Potter fantasy book and movie series. Wizards in the Harry Potter world are taught to block others out of their minds rather than let their thoughts be meddles with. Test-takers need to do the same, i.e., to treat all of the above distracting thoughts as though they were just little “curses” or “spells” that are being cast against you in order to take you away from your work. Dispense with them accordingly.
Not Easy, But Worth It
Building up this mental resistance to distraction is easier said than done. But the first step is recognizing that each of the above mental distractions is counter-productive.
Each one of these thoughts takes points out of final score by burning up your time and diluting your focus. These thoughts are not friends, not teaching you valuable lessons, not helping you to develop a stronger character or to be responsible. They’re just undermining your abilities and hurting your scores. They are, in short, point stealers.
As such, they are not worth one moment of your time or one heartbeat’s worth of emotional energy on test day.
(Original publication date: August 12, 2011 (LEX))
Things Go Wrong that Are Not within a Student’s Control
As discussed in a recent article about LSAT time warnings and bar exam time warnings, test preparation companies have a commercial incentive to ensure that things go smoothly for students. But this admirable work by test prep companies can be misleading for LSAT students, bar exam students, and other people preparing for standardized tests. Many things can and do go wrong on test day that have nothing to do with the test-takers themselves, and shielding students from these difficulties may give students a false sense of security.
Just as proctors can have issues, the physical testing facilities and the providers of these facilities can also give rise to extra-test problems. Such difficulties include:
- test center is too hot, too cold
- test center has bad desks or chairs (e.g., unstable, too small)
- test center has to change rooms and relocate students at last minute
- test center is very close to an external noise source (e.g., nearby construction, a noisy convention event)
- test center causes other ambient distractions and discomforts (e.g., mildewy)
The Answer: Practice Being Unflappable
Taking the bar exam, LSAT, MPRE, or a law school exam is tough enough without the addition of such external obstacles. Such obstacles are particularly disturbing when they are unique to one test-taker or a small group of test-takers rather than presented to everyone.
But getting upset doesn’t do any good. No one gets extra credit for having had to endure unfortunate testing conditions.
Part of effective preparation is, therefore, developing an unflappable mindset. Resolve that, no matter what surprises come your way on test day, you will waste no mental cycles on or offer any emotional resistance to these difficulties. Treat all such distractions as part of the test itself.
(Original publication date: August 11, 2011 (LEX))
The Dangers of Time Warnings
Many test preparation companies—whether for the LSAT, bar exam, or other standardized test—provide proctors who call out or write on the board how much time is left in a given section of the test. These proctors are a pretty standard part of the landscape for diagnostic tests and timed practice exams. Unfortunately, students tend to learn to rely on these warnings, and that’s dangerous, because there might be no such warning on test day.
Thus, while professionalism may argue in favor of test prep companies providing this service, students must heed the following advice.
On the actual day of the test—LSAT, bar exam, MPRE, SAT, or whatever—, you cannot, cannot, cannot, cannot rely upon the test proctors to keep track of time for you.
If these employees of the given test-maker make a mistake and forget to warn you that there are “five minutes remaining” or “thirty seconds remaining,” you will get no sympathy from the test-makers themselves. In other words, you will not be able to get additional points on the test for this oversight.
The Bottom Line
If you lose points that you could have gotten if you’d been apprised of the time remaining, those points are lost for good. Don’t take that risk. ALWAYS keep track of the time yourself, and be sure to get in the habit of doing so by practicing accordingly.
(Original publication date: August 3, 2011 (LEX))
While the SAT, GRE, MPRE, bar exam and numerous other standardized tests are difficult in their own ways, the LSAT offers some challenges that set it apart from most standardized tests.
One such distinction is that the LSAT does not test your memory, at least not in an overt way. For instance, the bar exam requires that you memorize many rules of law and then competently reproduce these rules of law when writing your bar exam essays. The LSAT requires no such recall.
It should be noted, however, that the LSAT does require a great deal of memory in the form of a highly developed command of the English language and vocabulary. But this reality is true of any exam that has a reading comprehension component.
Instead of testing memory, the LSAT tests one’s ability to reason through problems on the spot in real time. In other words, the test selects for people who are good at what we might call colloquially “thinking on their feet.”
Given this emphasis on real-time thinking, the LSAT calls for test-takers to prepare in the way that a performing artist or an athlete prepares. Cultivating the ability to maintain a high level of concentration or intensity of thought for the duration of the test is, in short, a key aspect of effective LSAT prep.
(Original publication date: August 1, 2011 (LEX))
1. Reading comprehension: the seventh subject. The MBE is often characterized as testing six subjects: constitutional law, contracts, criminal law/pro, evidence, property and torts. But, in fact, probably the most important “subject” is none of the above. It’s reading comprehension. Many times, the key to the right answer choice is but a few words in the stimulus. If you miss those words or do not understand them in context, it does not matter how well you know the law. You will still have no way to recognize the right answer.
Thus, reading comprehension is something that you should practice consciously. Develop a reading style that adheres to the correct pace and focuses on relevant information rather than irrelevancies that distract you from the trail.
2. Take advantage of the format. The MBE is a multiple-choice test. There are a number of classic multiple-choice test strategies that should be second nature to you by exam day. For instance, even when you cannot see what’s right about the right answer, you can oftentimes see what is wrong with the wrong answers (good old “process of elimination”). Every time you eliminate even a single wrong answer choice, you make a big step toward the right answer choice.
3. You take the test; it does not take you. Do not let the test be in control. Set your own pace, and attack the questions in the order that you have worked out with your tutor. Stick to your game plan, and do not let yourself get into a time deficit.
4. Be a mercenary. Your task on test day is not to please your professors, show your knowledge of the law, or understand the nuances of the cases that confront you. Your only job is to get points and thereby pass the California Bar Exam. Everything you do that is not directed toward getting the most points that you can is but wasted time. Therefore, stay detached enough to avoid getting fixated on interesting or difficult problems.
5. Go the distance. The MBE can be pretty tiring, but you cannot afford to run out of gas. You should start the test at your best and maintain that concentration level throughout the day. (Hence, our Test at Your Best™ motto.) Know your vulnerabilities and plan to offset them.
(Original publication date: June 9, 2010 (LEX))
1. PRACTICE. While studying the substantive law is crucial for the essays and MBE, preparing for the performance test is all about doing. By the time test day rolls around, the doing—performing—of the performance test should feel like old hat to you.
2. ANSWER THE QUESTION. Sticking very closely to the assigned task is half the battle on the PT. Read the task memo as many times as you need to read it. Patiently. Then simply stick to what the memo has asked you to do, doing everything required and no more.
3. ONE STEP AT A TIME. It’s interesting how widely the model answers can vary from one another; some model answers even contain inaccurate statements of law. This variation demonstrates that doing the tasks like a competent and thoughtful professional and presenting your work product in the right package will serve you well, perhaps even more so that having the “right” answer.
4. STAY COOL; DON’T FREAK OUT. Part of what the PT tests is your ability to handle uncertainty. If you can simply carve out a reasonable response to uncertainty, you can pass. While the other portions may select for mastery of the law, the PT selects for those who can master themselves.
5. KEEP IT SIMPLE. The easiest way to adhere to all of the above rules is to adhere to this one. Be very simple in your approach. If you can’t see the big picture, do a good job on the parts that you can see. If you don’t know what the whole thing should look like, simply do whatever step you do see needs to be done.
(Original publication date: June 8, 2010 (LEX))
1. Remember that your essay is being graded by a human being. Many people studying for the bar exam get so caught up in memorizing obscure rules and rigid outlines that they forget the basics of writing a decent essay. An essay is not an outline. It is not an unprocessed mass of all the things you know about a topic. Instead, it is a communication between you and the reader. Write like a human being who is writing to another human being!
2. Establish and maintain the correct tone. The tone used in writing an essay is different from that used in writing a performance test deliverable. In an essay, write as though you are addressing an educated person who knows little about law but who can be brought up to speed by a clear, concise explanation. Thus, you want to mention basic principles briefly without belaboring them and then move on to cover the specifics of the present stimulus.
3. IRAC works. There is a reason why the IRAC ( issue, rule, application, conclusion) structure is taught in virtually every legal writing class: it works. Some people complain that this structure is too rigid. But the fact is that you are not writing an essay to become a famous author. You are not trying to appeal to the masses. You are trying to get points and pass the bar exam. Well-written IRAC applied to each of the major issues is a good way to get that job done.
NOTE: BarRev created the ILFAC™ method, because that method scores higher and allows students to move faster. The ILFAC™ method is still the best choice, but IRAC works if done well.
4. Get some points right up front. A one-paragraph “roadmap” of the major issues and what you are going to say about them makes a good first impression on the reader. If the reader knows in advance that he or she is going to get high-quality work from you, he or she is more likely to be in a receptive frame of mind while reading the remainder of your essay. Use this psychology to your advantage.
5. Hit the right stride and stick with it. You must develop an internal gauge for the right mix of reading time, organizing time, and writing time. Don’t get yourself backed into a corner by over-analyzing, but don’t rush into writing without any sort of plan. Finding the right balance is a matter of practice, review, and more practice.
(Original publication date: Jun 6, 2010 (LEX))