The legal profession is almost by definition competitive. Depending on the field of law you enter, your job may involve lots of argumentation and the need to outsmart or outperform an opposing legal team. It’s natural that the professional would attract those who are competitive by nature, and it makes sense that that competitiveness would show itself in the world of LSAT prep. But that doesn’t mean that collaboration and cooperation have no place in the LSAT.
I propose that we ALL do better when we face this exam with the spirit of cooperation.
In fact, peer learning and cooperative learning are educational methods often associated with better learning outcomes for students. In fact, a 2009 meta-analysis of cooperative learning found that students in cooperative learning environments achieved more, reasoned better, had higher self-esteem, enjoyed learning more, and felt better supported than students in competitive learning environments.
But I don’t want to just preach to you about cooperation. Keep reading (or skip ahead if you’d like) all the way to the end of this post for a concrete way I’m committed to helping you approach your LSAT prep in this way. (No strings attached.)
What competitiveness looks like
Over the years, here are things I’ve personally heard or witnessed that I believe we could consider competitiveness gone awry in the LSAT world:
What I’ve heard: “You shouldn’t go to law school if you don’t have at least a xxx on the LSAT.”
- Why it’s damaging: What is the point of being so blunt, except to tear others down? While it’s true that you need to take the financial commitment of law school seriously, and a low LSAT score is not likely to provide scholarships, the LSAT is not the sole determining factor of how well you’ll do in law school. Let’s let the admissions committees decide if your score is good enough.
- What if we said this instead: “If your PT scores are still below xxx, here are some resources to raise them so that you’ll be better prepared for admissions, scholarships, and law school itself.”
What I’ve heard: “That prep company/that tutor is terrible. Waste of money. Run.” (This counts as an overly competitive statement especially when made by another tutor or prep company.)
- Why it’s damaging: Beyond simply making someone feel stupid or defensive for considering a certain program, the comment doesn’t do anything to actually explain the reason for their opinion, alternative better options, or the cases in which the comment may not apply.
- What if we said this instead: “I don’t recommend that company/that tutor because I’ve found blah blah blah to be the case with them. I’d recommend looking into this other company/tutor instead.”
What I’ve heard: “If you can’t handle xxx, you don’t belong in law school.”
- Why it’s damaging: First of all, it’s kind of rude and unhelpful… Secondly, when this is the response to someone sharing some frustration or anxiety about the LSAT or about the law school admissions process, it ignores the fact that sometimes our best way of coping with those frustrations is to share them with a community that understands. Having the frustration or anxiety isn’t a bad thing; the bad thing would be ignoring it and not dealing with it. So we ought to give others the space to share their frustrations and anxieties, understanding that sharing and venting is one way to move past them.
- What if we said this instead: “Yeah, I could see why that’s frustrating/anxiety-inducing. Would you be open to some suggestions for how to deal with it?”
What I’ve heard: “Why would I want to join a study group? Those people are my competition!”
- Why it’s damaging: While it’s true that every other test taker is, to some extent, your competition, you’ll lose out if you focus on the competition instead of the benefits you can gain through cooperation.
- What if we did this instead: Cooperated and collaborated with others so that we ALL win.
So read on for all of the reasons cooperative study can benefit all of us.
Why we need collaboration and cooperation in LSAT prep
While I’m sure there are more, here are the top five reasons to collaborate and cooperate with others while preparing for the LSAT.
To gain motivation
The LSAT is a tough exam, and it’s so easy to get discouraged while preparing for it. We all lose our motivation temporarily, especially when we see how far we have to go.
That’s why it can be so helpful to build relationships with students who have been studying a little longer than you and who have seen the progress you are hoping to make. Knowing that others have pulled their score from a 135 to a 155 means that you can do it too.
In return, when you’re the one seeing progress, use it to encourage those coming after you.
To overcome specific challenges
Whether it’s logic games, reading comp timing, those annoyingly long parallel reasoning questions, or more mundane issues like finding time to study, we all have certain things we find particularly challenging. The good news is that what you find challenging, another student may have figured out. And vice versa.
When we let ourselves be vulnerable enough to share what’s difficult, and when we foster an ego-free, judgment-free sense of community, we’ll get the support we need for whatever we’re finding challenging.
And in return, we ought to extend that same ego-free, judgment-free help to others.
All students go through periods of self-doubt and frustration in their LSAT journey. It’s also common to work so hard that burnout sets in.
During these times, a support network can prove invaluable. Your fellow students can talk you through your self-doubts. They can point out the areas in which you’re actually doing a lot better than you give yourself credit for.
They can also encourage you to take a break and take care of yourself. It’s not uncommon for LSAT students, with their typical go-getter attitudes, to neglect self-care. Taking a break might make you feel guilty, and you might be tempted to just push through it and study even harder. But we need time to rest. Our brains use that time to consolidate the information we’ve been learning. And our bodies/hearts/souls need that time to recharge so that we can come back to our prep with renewed energy.
Being part of a collaborative group of students who take care of each other in this way can help remind you about the value of these self-care breaks.
To learn more thoroughly
Few of us enjoy group work in class, but as I mentioned above, learning from your peers in a collaborative environment is associated with higher learning outcomes. Ever been frustrated with an LSAT explanation that simply reads “this answer… well, of course this answer is terrible, so eliminate it”? Sometimes the explanations you can find online don’t really cut it, or just make you feel bad for being tempted by an answer they dismiss so abruptly. It happens when those creating the explanations forget for a moment what it’s like to be a learner.
But when you learn from your peers, you’ll get explanations and information from those who are just one step ahead of you. You can ask questions and hear how others have learned to deal with the topic.
In a cooperative environment, you can also learn by sharing what you know. We learn best by teaching, oftentimes. So you’ll benefit from explaining your reasoning and articulating your method clearly.
To build healthy habits for law school
A final reason to participate in a cooperative learning environment while studying for the LSAT is that it can prepare you for the challenges of law school, where the competition will be that much stronger. It might seem counter-intuitive, but when you are competing with your classmates for grades (or to hold onto a conditional scholarship), it can be invaluable to form a study group in which you and a group of your classmates commit to helping each other. Or even if you don’t study together as a group, simply having a support network among your classmates can help you navigate the stress of your workload.
Building that support network means rejecting, at least partly, the competitive nature of law school. But the benefits to your mental health can be well worth it. And you’ll probably also find yourself achieving more than you would have done alone anyway.
What healthy cooperation looks like
Here are a few ideas of what cooperation in LSAT prep can look like:
- Encouraging each other to keep at it and not give up
- Holding each other accountable to study plans and goals (but also encouraging healthy study habits like taking breaks)
- Sharing advice about what worked well for you for a particular question type
- Helping clarify why a certain answer is wrong or right without judgment
Your invitation to a cooperative learning community
If this sounds good to you, I’m happy to invite you to join the Resolution LSAT Study and Support Group I’ve created on Facebook. In the group, you’ll be able to ask (and answer) questions, receive (and give) advice. You’ll be encouraged to create clear goals for your study each week, and invited to share your successes with the group to encourage others. But most of all, my hope is that you’ll find a supportive community that will serve as one of your best resources as you prepare for your LSAT.
If this post resonated with you, I’d love to stay in touch. About once a week, in the form of an email newsletter, I share useful strategies and insights I’ve picked up during my years teaching the LSAT. “LSAT Notes” you can use to study more effectively and raise your score.
Often these are inspired by breakthroughs my students had that week. Other times, they respond to questions students like you have. My goal is to provide motivation and encouragement along with knowledge about the test and advice about how to study.
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