Much like the rest of the posts on my sadly-neglected little blog here, this post is random. But alas, with time comes forgetfulness, (is that a phrase people use?) so I figure I should document some thoughts to hopefully help some other aspiring Abogadoes out there. I’m being pretentious, that is Spanish-speak for “lawyer.”
First things first (I’m the realist), I used two test prep companies throughout my studying for the LSAT exam.
Based on previously positive experiences with Kaplan in the past, I decided to take their in-classroom prep course over the summer. I owe my SAT score way back to an in-class course, and decided to repeat for the LSAT. Kaplan also offered a practice LSAT at my university that I took for free prior to graduating, as one of three diligent students with the moxie or boredom to spend 4 hours on a Sunday morning taking a practice test.
Needless to say, the facilitator gave a brief preview of a class session, which was really beneficial. Granted, the LSAT prep courses are not cheap. Onsite classes are $1,399. However, you can pay in installments, and Kaplan offers a Higher Score Guarantee. Basically, if you attended class and did the required homework, checking off assignments on your home page, you could retake the course for free, or get your money back. Their customer service is great, and I availed of the repeat course once I decided I wanted to reach for a few more points and retake the LSAT.
The first go-round, I did the in-class course. The teacher was very enthusiastic and knowledgeable, and I appreciated having the in-person interaction and ability to ask any and all questions. The downside was that the class was taught at a university, which required a $10 parking pass each week, and a four-hour block seated in a classroom. Balancing this course with working full-time was a bit of a challenge, especially since the class was from 6pm-10pm. I would have preferred shorter blocks twice a week, but the 2.5 month long duration was a perfect timeframe for studying at the pace the course suggested.
The second go-round, to alleviate the added stress of beating rush hour traffic, getting out of the office on time, and dealing with parking, I decided to repeat with the Classroom On Site option. The on-camera teacher and the off-camera teacher were incredible resources, and as a former journalism major, I do not use that adjective lightly. Despite having the barrier of not having face to face interaction with their students, they were very engaging. I felt a lot more relaxed and comfortable being able to take the course wherever was convenient. I will say that it takes a good amount of self-control to stay focused, especially in front of a computer. Kaplan’s online classrooms are very technologically advanced though and feature both public and private chats where you can ask questions to the group or more personally. There is still a sense of camaraderie, and you can view both the on camera-teacher and the slides.
Between the two, I would recommend letting your schedule play a key role. If you need more flexibility and may not be able to fit heading to a high school or college campus in time for a class, I would opt for the online classes. If you learn better face-to-face, I would suggest the in-person classes. I have a varying work schedule, and really appreciated the flexibility allowed in the online class. In addition, the teacher reached out to schedule Skype sessions so there was a chance for one-on-one discussions prior to the test. Kaplan had great service overall.
Resource-wise, you certainly get your money’s worth. Kaplan has over a decade’s worth of practice tests available for download. That’s 3 tests per each year that you can download and prep with. LSAC does sell their own copies of their past tests, but it’s simple enough to download and print the copies off of Kaplan’s site. Kaplan also has explanations for each question on each prep test, and explains not only the right answer, but why each other answer choice is wrong.
The user portal also has two resources I used frequently. The first was the Q-Bank. You can filter out and generate specific types of questions into a practice set. For example, I wanted more practice on assumption questions. I could select the question type, difficulty level, and how many questions I wanted. Within the same test window, you could reveal the right answer and explanation. I used this resource often once I gauged the areas I needed the most practice on.
The second resource I swore by was the Kaplan Channel. The channel is a relatively new feature, but it was a great showcase of the company’s technology and strong teaching staff. In a similar interface to the online classes, the channel operated similar to a t.v. channel, offering 3-8 hours of live courses each night. Between the 6 or so different instructors, you really get a wide perspective of the exam and additional tips and tricks. The channel sessions are broken down by section or question type. For instance, there is a sufficient assumption session, matching and distribution games section, and also sections on admissions or personal statements. Kaplan also posts archived sessions about two days after they are held live, so you can replay or watch a session after the fact. On days where you only have an hour or two to study, the channel is a great refresher.
All in all, Kaplan’s LSAT prep courses are a splurge, especially for my fellow recent grads or current students, but adding up the value of the resources, it’s worth it in my opinion to have the ability to reach out and ask questions and have a seemingly endless supply or practice material.
The second test prep company I utilized was Manhattan. I purchased the books off of Amazon in order to get another perspective on the exam that differed from Kaplan’s.
Firstly, Manhattan separates their curriculum into three books, divided by section. I preferred their structure, as the physically smaller books made it easier to carry a book wherever I went as as I travelled, and also allowed me to hone in on the section rather than jump from games, to reasoning, to reading comprehension.
Out of the three books, the logical reasoning was the most beneficial. Compared to Kaplan’s logical reasoning curriculum in their book, Manhattan’s explanations were more thorough, and catered to those like myself who have a million “Why?” questions running through their head with every question type. Where Kaplan had one or two brief paragraphs explaining sufficient assumptions, Manhattan had four.
A downside to the Manhattan curriculum would be the errors throughout the book. I’m a Class-A nitpicker, but in timed sections, answer choices B and C would be the same, or there would be a typo that affected the answer choice’s validity. I did like how Manhattan provided shorter timed sections. Rather than sitting through a 35 minute fully-timed section, they would allow 3 minutes for 2 questions, and slowly increase the number of questions and minutes given. Doing so really built up my stamina and ability to pace myself per question.
Content-wise, the Kaplan methods and Manhattan methods were very similar. Process-wise, both encouraged dissecting each question in sections. Although using different verbiage, both suggested first reading the question, identifying the type, going through the stimulus, then predicting an answer choice prior to reading through the choices given. Thus, I never felt that either was at odds with the other, or that I would have to change my mindset or strategy. I valued the added practice and more wordy explanations that built upon the Kaplan method.
Reading Comprehension is the shortest of the three books, and had a similar process of annotating the passage rather than trying to memorize and then purge the details when answering the questions. I did not focus all too much on the timed practice since I had ample test sections to practice with in my Kaplan book but I did read and review all the instructional sections.
Logic Games though…oof. I do not profess to be a visual learner, and some of the diagramming techniques in the Manhattan books, for me, were intricate works of art. As a terrible drawer, I prefer the most barebones of sketches as long as all the pertinent information is there, and truly thought the set-ups in the Manhattan book were way too complex and time-consuming for me. Still, the exercises were useful and helped cement making deductions and diagramming the game prior to reading the questions.
If you are an independent learner and have ample time to devote to studying, I would suggest the Manhattan guides. At $80 for the three, it’s much more affordable, especially with Amazon Prime’s shipping. The downside would be foregoing the ability to e-mail a class instructor who knows your strengths and weaknesses to clarify any unclear explanations or more personal questions.
Well, that concludes this extremely long stream of consciousness monologue about test prep. Hopefully it does some good. PEACE!