the value of studying for the lsat

From Daniel Coyle's The Talent Code:

"The sweet spot: that productive, uncomfortable terrain located just beyond our current abilities, where our reach exceeds our grasp. Deep practice is not simply about struggling; it's about seeking a particular struggle, which involves a cycle of distinct actions."

This is a strange post, because a) studying for the LSAT made me want to choke an alpaca and b) I eventually ended up dropping out of law school.

Nonetheless, intensely studying for the LSAT (a masochist's idea of a good time) might have been one of the best things I've ever done. I actually felt my brain change shape. I've always struggled with being scatterbrained, but the rigor of the LSAT trained me to be able to organize the clutter and recognize blind spots in my thinking.

Here are the 5 things I learned from spending 4 months slaving away at preparing for this test. It'll probably be evident that these lessons apply to many other domains of life.
  1. Aim big and audacious

    I think people (myself included) get scared of aiming ridiculously high. We overvalue our current selves but undervalue our potential future selves. So what happens is that we set goals that are high, but within arms reach.

    And when things are within arms reach, we might not be hellbent enough on attaining them. Whereas if our goals are absurd, we have to re-evaluate whether we really want to achieve them, and if we do, then we get serious. If not, then that's fine-- time to find something you are willing to go pie-in-the-sky for.

  2. Long-term strategy beats short-term optimizations

    The LSAT has three sections: logic games, logical reasoning, and reading comprehension.

    The logic games section can be mastered in a few short weeks with the right suite of tactics and tricks. Many people spend way too much time working on this section.

    The logical reasoning and reading comprehension sections are a bitch. They are mentally draining and they require an intense level of focus, concentration, and skill. To master these sections, you can't just stumble into a silver-bullet tactic. You need a long-term strategy (reading science journals, retaking old sections in loud coffee shops, etc). Performance on these sections often differentiate the average test-taker from the top 20%, and the top 20% from the top 1%.

  3. Obsession with metrics/data often leads to shortcuts

    There's a saying that goes like this: "When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure." I grew so obsessed with my score that, during early practice tests, I would flip to the back and double-check my answers. This obviously inflated my scores artificially. Bad.

  4. Hoping for a fluke is a recipe for deep disappointment

    "Well, let's see how it goes. I might have a good day today." Said no elite performer ever. There's a high degree of determinism whenever you see masters do what they do. The Jordans of the world don't rely on having a lucky day.

  5. Before simplicity, things get complicated

    During my time studying for the LSAT, I eventually hit a giant wall. For about 2 months, no matter how hard I tried to figure out what the problem was, my scores weren't improving. I kept exhaustive and detailed track of the type of questions I was struggling with, desperately trying to find a pattern somewhere in there. Things got messy, complicated, frustrating. And then it slowly started clicking and making more sense. I had to wade through immense complexity to get to simple.

This post might only be helpful to people who are studying for the LSAT soon. Whatever.