You may be wondering how I got here. I scored a 178 on the November 2021 exam. Leading up to my test I notched a career total forty -0 LR section. I was a passionate mentor in the Elemental Prep community where I cheer-led many other test takers to success. My end results may look impressive, but my accomplishments were hard-won. And, more importantly, those numerical success metrics are the least interesting part of my LSAT journey.
For a bit of my anti-resume, my diagnostic score was a 156. Nothing terrible, but nothing astounding. I studied for four months on my own and scored a 161 on the August 2020 test. I’ve cried mid-section on numerous occasions, I’ve (temporarily) given in to the pressure of this beast, and, the first time I attempted it, I got every single question wrong on the Roy Lichtenstein passage.
I showed up to Elemental ready to give my all. My test goal was simply to do my best and not sit for the exam until I was satisfied I had given the process absolutely everything I had. I went from lost and confused test taker to success story, and I did it all while working full time. By studiously managing my time and priorities, persistently ensuring all my studying was high quality, intentional studying, and devoutly trusting the process, I worked my way to the finish line.
Follow along for a “day in the life” along my LSAT journey:
February-March: Translation, Party Tricking, Mini-Cycles, Inside Out
Like all Elemental newcomers, I started with Translation drills and really honed in on understanding, rhythm, and flow. My time came down to 20:00 pretty quickly. Party Tricking felt awkward, and I really hated getting half the questions in the section wrong! However, since in that drill you’re literally not reading the stimulus/passage, I treated Party Tricks more as Answer Choice Translation and devoted the same level of precise cognition to answers as I did to stimuli. With a firm grasp on the core fundamentals, my first two Minicycle scores were -2 and -0.
In a former career I was a classical musician, so I was comfortable with learning a new skill and practicing it ad nauseum to the point of mastery. Because of my background the Elemental methods felt comforting. This is how you really learn a thing.
Of course in the beginning it felt a bit unconventional (I’m supposed to read half a sentence and then come up with a pithy and personalized editorial comment? How long is THIS going to take?), but I went all in, suspended disbelief, and stuck to the program.
In one week I understood the test in much greater detail than I ever thought possible, and in three weeks I had scored my first -0 LR section. In short, I was hooked on the beauty of possibility.
I suffered a concussion at the end of February and had to put my studying on hold. I felt like my Elemental LSAT journey was off to such a great start, so I was crushed to have to press the pause button. However, looking back, the rare opportunity at two fresh starts helped me build a rock solid fundamental foundation and was absolutely a contributing factor to my eventual success.
April-May: Translation, Party Tricking, Mini-Cycles, Inside Out, Timed Sections
My LR timed sections were in the -0 to -4 range, though working their way towards a consistent -1/-0. Maintaining consistent Translation, Party Trick, and Minicycle work on top of the timed sections really helped to keep my LR accuracy in a consistently good place. I stuck with the LG method I had learned when self studying and was consistently scoring -0. RC sections were more in the -3 to -5 range, with some outliers on either end (-1 to one painful -7).
I took two PTs in mid-May to assess my readiness for the June exam, and I scored a 175 and a 169.
While I was shocked and excited at how quickly I started scoring -0, and by the fact that my first PT score at Elemental was a 175, it also paralyzed me. At times I was more afraid of the high scores than the low scores because I was nervous they were just flukes that I could never repeat. Looking back, this fear more than likely contributed to my score fluctuation, which reinforced nerves and led to a no-good-very-bad doom loop.
I was hesitant to take the June exam, and the score fluctuation informed much of that; if my ceiling was as high as a 175, I couldn’t walk away with a 169. Also, both mentally and substantively I felt there was more to explore with the exam.
Simone Biles was interviewed on 60 Minutes the week I had to make a decision about my test and she said, in regards to her decision to keep pursuing the Tokyo Olympics despite the physical and mental hurdles that came with the extra year, “I didn’t come this far to only get this far.”
If I had been pressed to choose a three-digit score goal at the outset of my Elemental career I probably would’ve chosen a high-160s/low-170s number, yet here I was with a 175 in my tracker. In stepping back to make a go/no-go call on the June exam, I returned to my original LSAT goal. I had set out to do my best and to give this journey my all, and I wasn’t there yet.
June-August: Translation, Mini-Cycles, Inside Out, Thunderdome, Reverse Shuffle, PTs
169 – 179
After making the decision to postpone June, I redoubled my efforts to master the fundamentals. I spent a solid month Thunderdoming and Party Tricking before returning to timed sections and practice tests. When I came back to scored work my mastery of the material was much more solid. However, the pressure to now score higher was intense, and it showed in my performances. I raised my score ceiling to a 179, but my scores were very inconsistent. I hadn’t devoted much intentional work to mastering the test mindset, and this became apparent (I cried during an RC section on three separate occasions, a factoid that has now become a badge of honor exemplifying my growth).
My shaky mindset contributed to score fluctuations, which caused a vicious cycle of self doubt. I was really conflicted as to whether or not I should take the August exam and, after a heart to heart with Ellen, I recentered my focus around my original goals. I had set out to do my best, both academically and mentally, and to take the exam only after I was sure I had given the process everything I had.
My last PT before the August exam was a 176 – a great score on the surface. However, the breakdown was -0 LR -0 LG -5 RC (my first -5 in a loooooong time), and 3 of those 5 missed RC questions were due to panic, self doubt, and answer changes (meaning that, given the curve of that test, with a better mindset I would have scored a 180).
Mindset is a skill just like Translation. It can be learned and practiced and deployed to one’s advantage. I didn’t want to take the exam knowing that that area of work was far from finished. So I postponed my exam again and spent the week of the August test resting, recovering, and strategizing for the home stretch.
September: Study Break, Mentoring
I scored my first 180 on a PT and, within days, injured my back so badly that I had to take another month-long study break. Bed-ridden and on heavy muscle relaxers, this disappointment really stung. I felt like I had finally conquered some real hurdles with both the test material and the test mentality, and that I was gaining good momentum towards the October exam. I was crushed that I had to postpone my test yet again, but I kept my focus on finding a silver lining in the delay.
Since the beginning of my time with Elemental I had worked with mentors, and in August I took on several mentees of my own. I also became much more active in answering community Slack questions. The Slack and mentoring program were major hidden gems of the Elemental experience. As a former self-studier, the ability to get quality on-demand LSAT help in the same prep language I spoke via Slack was a game changer. Working with a mentor who had been through the same experience was valuable not only because of the test-taking insights they offered, but also because it made me feel much less alone on this journey.
Mentoring others allowed me to see the exam through so many different lenses. Having to explain the entire process of Translating, CLIR-ing, making a Mission, and evaluating each answer choice really solidified that process for my own benefit, and seeing the exam through another person’s eyes in order to figure out why they made a mistake and how they could correct it was a great exercise in mastery – like running forwards and backwards and sideways and upside down. I also talked a lot with my mentees about test mindset, which forced me to adopt perspective and take my own advice.
October-November: Translation, Party Tricking, Mini-Cycles, Stress Tests, PTs
A brief caveat: Between when I decided not to take August and when I actually took November I only took one PT per month. I started taking PTs so far ahead of my eventual test date because I was planning for August . . . and then October . . . and then November. I do not recommend PTing that early. The psychological toll of trying to peak so early and maintain that peak for so long was exhausting and nearly detrimental.
When I came back from my injury, Ellen and I were very mindful to avoid burnout. I scored a 180 on a PT a full 10 weeks before my test date, and trying to maintain that peak was psychologically exhausting. I really struggled with the pressure to live up to expectations, both those imposed by myself and others. Sure this test material is challenging, but by far the hardest part of my whole journey was the moment I realized it was completely mine to lose.
And, while I was still excited about the LSAT, I was pretty sick of plain old sections and tests. So, instead, I ran through Ellen’s gauntlet of “stress tests” for the exam. These drills are specifically designed to keep things fresh, engaging, and challenging. These drills are so tough, they make the LSAT feel easy.
A few weeks out from the test I had a smidge of score inconsistency in my sections. As difficult and counterintuitive as it was, I took this as a sign to rest. I kept reminding myself that “working hard” didn’t necessarily mean sprinting to the finish line. In my case it meant the accumulation of ten months worth of effort along my Elemental journey.
Doing so many different types of drills and achieving, for the most part, consistently good results gave me an inherent belief in my readiness. After all, I showed up wide-eyed ready to do my best, but in the back of my head thinking that was a 170 tops, and here I was scoring a 179 on PT after PT after PT. I went through a low point of test mindset struggles and setbacks, yet here I was, the sage Elemental upperclassman filling the #LSATTips Slack channel with advice on focus and perspective.
I wasn’t tied to a crutch or a security blanket, and I wasn’t counting on every little thing going perfectly in order to succeed. I knew I had a mastery of the test that could withstand any challenge.