The “Rage to Master”

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. . . .

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Even More about First-Year Law Outlines

The Upside

While there is a great deal of downside to the “outline obsession” that tends to overtake first-year (1L) law school students, outlining one’s first-year topics—property, constitutional law, civil procedure, and the lot—can be beneficial.  Potential benefits from first-year law outlines include:


 — enhanced memorization / recall of the law:  the outline can be used to help students memorize rule statements; this possibility is, of course, the main theoretical justification for making an outline at all
— increased understanding of the law:  the outline—specifically, the process of making an outline—can facilitate a person’s delving deeper into the subject matter; this possibility represents the best opportunity of all to make outlining worthwhile
— it’s something to do:  the outline can become a sort of “lightning rod” that attracts the attention of a student who would otherwise have difficulty concentrating / studying
— anxiety reduction:  some students find that, by working on their outlines, they feel more “in control” of there first-year of law school and therefore less anxious about it


Effective Engagement—Not the Outline Itself—Is the Real Reason to Outline

Notice that all of the above possible benefits to law outlining pertain to the effect of the outline on the student, not the value of the finished product itself.  After all, as previously discussed, law students are not in the law publishing business, so a student’s outline will probably never be used again once the final exam ends.

But achieving these desirable effects does not necessarily follow from merely doing an outline.  These effects flow from effectively engaging in the process of outlining.

This effective engagement is, in short, the key to making one’s outline efforts worthwhile. Effectively engaging in the outlining process—and the learning process generally—will be the topic of upcoming articles.

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More on First-Year Outlines

The Downside

If outlines on the major first-year topics—contracts, torts, criminal law, and so on—were dependably useful, “obsession” would not be the right word to describe the extensive efforts that many first-year (1L) law school students pour into their law school outlines.  Unfortunately, for most students, the word is appropriate.

Here are some of the reasons.  These reasons are, of course, no secret to anyone, but students often lose sight of these facts during the rush of first year.


— you get no points and no course credit whatsoever for your outline
— you are not in the publishing business and probably won’t ever be
— you can create a 100-page outline and still have virtually no understanding of the law
— if you are not allowed to use materials such as your outline during the exam for the given subject, then you won’t even have your outline physically available to you when you need it
— those students who are allowed to use their outlines during an exam generally report that they never actually did use their outlines during the exam because outlines don’t really help one’s analysis of or writing about an issue


Consider Your Goals

In light of the above, the amount of time and effort that goes into the production of extensive first-year outlines is often a bad investment.  Certainly, at least a few students do benefit from their outlines, but, as will be discussed in an upcoming article, there’s usually a lot more going on than mere production of an outline when the outline endeavor actually pays off.

Thus, students are advised to consider what their real goals are—learning and understanding the law, succeeding in law school, for instance—before they choose to invest a large portion of their first semester and first year of law school in outlining.


First-Year Outlines

Outline Obsession

First year of law school offers some significant challenges.  Many students find this year to be one of the most difficult years of their academic lives.

One common—if not near-universal—response is that of outline obsession:  first-year (1L) students tend to get lured into a never-ending attempt to create the perfect outline.  This obsession gets fueled by several different players in the first-year scene, including:

– well-meaning law professors who remember obsessing over their own outlines and reason that, since they did it, it must be the thing to do
– commercial publishers of law outlines (e.g., Gilbert’s, Emmanuel’s) who have a profit motive for fueling the frenzy
– second-year (2L) and third-year (3L) law students who, like their professors, subscribe to the it’s-right-because-I-did-it theory
– other first-year students who are daunted by the amount of material they need to know and grasp onto the notion of outline omnipotence as a way to manage the stress and anxiety of first year of law school

Benefits and Drawbacks

Not surprisingly, there are both benefits and drawbacks relating to obsessing over one’s outline.  More to come on both the good and the bad of first-year outlines. . . .


Grammar: It’s Not Just for 8th Grade

Good Writing Is Good

Law school research and writing courses rarely focus on the mechanics of writing.  Instead, these courses generally devote time to discussion of law-specific material, such as legal citations and legal research tools.

Unfortunately, this approach leaves some important—very important—matters to chance.

The basics of good writing, which are (hopefully!) covered before and during one’s high school years, do not simply go away on graduation day.  These basics remain fundamental to effective written communication, and, therefore, remain fundamental to law school and bar exam essays.

If It’s Not Covered, Do It Yourself

For students who do not get a basic review of good writing in their legal research and writing classes—and that means most law students—, self-help is mandatory.  Self-help approaches include:

–  undertake a serious review of basic English mechanics and style on one’s own
–  hire a writing tutor
–  take a class on good writing, either through the university associated with one’s law school or through a third-party provider

But skipping the basics is not the right choice—even if law schools often choose that approach.

Occlumency for LSAT, Law School, and the Bar Exam

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.

Testing Centers: Some Warnings

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.

Test Centers

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.


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More about Proctors

More Dangers of Practicing with Good Proctors

Practice and diagnostic testing is an important part of preparation for the LSAT, bar exam, and other standardized tests.  Being able to perform during test-day conditions is, of course, crucial, and experiencing multiple rounds of “dress rehearsal” helps to improve such performance.

Test preparation companies, meanwhile, naturally want to impress their students by hiring proctors for practice tests who are dependably punctual, friendly, and otherwise professional.

Unfortunately, this habit may be good for a test preparation company’s image, but it’s not good for students.

Test-Day Troubles

The reality is that, on the day of the actual test, the proctor you get may not be at all like the proctor with whom you practiced.  LEX students routinely report proctor-related disruptions on the day of the actual LSAT or bar exam.  Some such problems include:

– hostile proctor who had a verbal argument during or immediately before the time the LSAT or bar exam clock was running
– late proctor who kept students waiting for the start of or return to the test
– proctor who smelled like smoke
– disorganized proctor who bumbled logistics of the test
– forgetful proctor who did not provide one (or more) of the time warnings upon which students tend to rely

At LEX, we half-jokingly tell students that test preparation companies should instruct their proctors to do everything wrong—or should simply hire people who are not able to handle the basic tasks of proctors, thereby ensuring that one or more of the above problems will arise.  Such a practicing environment would prepare students more fully than does an atmosphere in which everything runs smoothly.

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Test-Taking Mandatory “Tip”: Do Not Count on Time Warnings

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.

LSAT Intensity

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.

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