One of the things I learned while in graduate school learning to teach languages is the importance of having a strong, research- and values-driven teaching philosophy. In my LSAT tutoring, my teaching philosophy is one of the ways I make sure I’m a good fit for the students who choose to work with me. And I believe it also helps me be more conscious about the way I approach my job.
So in this post, I want to share the key tenets of my LSAT teaching philosophy and why they matter.
LSAT prep should be customized
I believe that every student is different. And for that reason, I believe there can be no one-size-fits-all approach to LSAT prep.
Students differ on the basis of their schedules, their other commitments, their levels of anxiety about the exam, their comfort with self-study, and of course their strengths and weaknesses. All of these need to be taken into consideration in order to create the most effective study plan for that student. Students are also working on different timelines. They begin their prep at different times in the admission cycle, and may seek out tutoring at different stages in their prep.
And of course, what works for one student may not work for another. This might involve learning preferences, or simply the fact that an explanation may make sense for one student and seem like gibberish for another. Regardless, it’s important for me as a tutor to be able to adapt to what each student needs.
It’s one of the reasons I don’t have a set curriculum or a rigid order that I always teach concepts in. In general, I try to start my students on topics that are foundational, such as flaw questions. Or we start with topics that have a lower bar to entry, such as sequencing games. But when a student comes to me already having mastered these concepts, we’ll start with what makes the most sense for that particular student.
I also don’t believe in throwing out everything a student may have learned from a previous course or book they’ve studied. Instead, I work to customize my sessions to draw on their knowledge from that previous study. We’ll use it, but we’ll also correct what I believe was not so helpful in the previous material and fill in the gaps.
LSAT prep should be ego-free
Another key part of my LSAT teaching philosophy is that tutoring should be ego-free. What I mean is that tutoring involves understanding where my students are at and helping them move to the next level, without making them feel bad and without trying to make myself feel somehow bigger than them.
I’ve noticed over the years that the LSAT industry tends to attract more than its fair share of individuals with strong egos. And it makes sense. These people had the drive to master an incredibly difficult exam. They may have even gotten through a top-tier law school program. It’s hard to do that with a fragile sense of your own self-worth. To the extent that this self-confidence helped them in their own pursuits, it’s definitely not a bad thing.
Where I see it sometimes conflicting with students’ best interests is when tutoring becomes more about the tutor than the student. My heart went out to a student recently. She told me that she wanted to work on reading comp with her previous tutor, but had been too afraid to ask. She knew he would make her feel stupid asking for help with something as “basic” as reading comp. (Never mind the fact that reading comp is anything but basic. For many students, it’s actually the hardest skill to improve.)
My ego-free promise to students
As an ego-free tutor, I promise the following things to my students:
- I won’t make you feel bad for not knowing something, for not understanding something, or for not being good at something yet. We ALL start at zero, and there’s no shame in that at all.
- When we go through an LSAT question, I’ll make it be about you and your thinking process. I won’t treat it as an opportunity to show off my own LSAT skills. If you ask me to share my thinking process, of course I will, but the true star of the show is you.
- I’ll point out along the way whenever something is legitimately difficult and confusing. And there’s a lot of that on the LSAT, even for someone scoring 175+. When we recognize that something is legitimately hard, it helps us put into perspective the challenges that we face with it. We can change the narrative from “I must be stupid for not understanding this” to “This is hard for everyone to understand.”
Some students may feel that an emphasis on ego-free tutoring is a little too “soft” for their taste, and that’s okay. But for me, it’s important to recognize and learn how to deal with the psychological challenges of prepping for a test like the LSAT. Imposter syndrome, which will likely rear its head again in law school itself, is often an unfortunate part of preparing for the test. And I believe that working with someone you trust to be fully on your side is an effective way to mitigate it.
LSAT prep should be holistic
The LSAT is more than just questions about logical reasoning or games. It’s also a test of focus, a test of your determination, and a test of your ability to manage stress and mental fatigue.
I believe that effective LSAT prep needs to include more than just preparation for the question types you’ll see. It also needs to include preparation for all of the grueling, intimidating, and mentally taxing aspects of the test.
I encourage my students to regularly check in with how they are feeling about the test and what their stress level is. For some students, I’ve recommended a regular practice of journaling, especially if mental blocks about the test are preventing them from studying effectively.
When students experience the inevitable bad practice test, we have conversations about the role that these psychological elements may have had while they took the test. And we create plans they can use to pull themselves out of a similar situation if it arises again. This might include better prioritization while taking the test, or more positive self-talk that can help them from falling into a self-fulfilling prophecy driven by negative thinking. Or it may include instruction on how to maintain or regain focus.
I also make a point of checking in with my students about their current study habits. We make sure they are studying enough, but also make sure they aren’t setting themselves up for burnout.
LSAT prep should involve learning by doing
This next aspect of my LSAT teaching philosophy is the one most informed by my graduate studies in teaching, so bear with me if I get a little technical here.
The LSAT is a skills-based test rather than a knowledge-based test. By this, I mean that it’s more analogous to the driving portion of your driver’s test than it is to the written portion. It’s not about learning facts. It’s about learning to think.
Teaching for a skills-based test is different than teaching for a knowledge-based test. You can’t just lecture the way a history teacher might. Instead, you have to teach more like a basketball coach would. For the most part, that means plenty of time having the budding athletes actually practicing the moves, with the coach providing guidance and correction along the way.
The learning theory that most resonates with me in this regard is Vygotsky‘s sociocultural theory of learning. The gist of this theory is that learning happens through social interaction. We’re not talking about social interaction at parties here, but rather the interaction between a learner and someone more skilled in a particular area. That could be a tutor, or another student, or a book or online course (which are simply indirect ways of interacting with an expert).
The interaction helps the student move from the stage of not being able to do the thing to the stage of being able to do the thing with help. Vygotsky calls this stage the Zone of Proximal Development, meaning that they are on the way to mastery. The student can then progress through needing less and less help until they are able to do the thing completely on their own.
What this means for LSAT prep
For LSAT, that means I can’t just teach students step-by-step methods for attacking the questions. And I can’t just provide explanations. I need to have my students actually work through questions, walking me through their thinking process so that I can provide guidance exactly where they need it.
At the beginning, I may need to give students a lot of guidance about the steps to go through a question. I may need to guide their thinking more to find the conclusion of an argument. Or I may need to guide them to notice certain words to find the flaw in the argument. But as they gain skills, I can step back while they walk me through their thinking process, and I’ll only jump in when they need it. That’s how we’ll know they’ll be able to pull it off on their own on the actual test.
My business should reflect my values
The last aspect of my philosophy actually deals more with my philosophy for business than my philosophy for actual teaching.
I am committed to running a business that is fully in line with the values I hold as a person. This means not locking students into more tutoring than they need, not over-promising, and not tempting to persuade students by sharing only the flashy, amazing success stories (“10 point increase in just two weeks!”).
It means treating my students the way I would want to be treated. And it means supporting students who are self-studying as well as the students who may be working with me in tutoring. One of my goals for this year is to expand the number of low-cost options I can provide for students. I do this because I believe law school should be accessible for all, and that often, it’s those who don’t have exceptional financial resources that our society most needs as lawyers.
If my LSAT teaching philosophy resonates with you, please reach out or schedule a free consultation. I’d love to help you along your LSAT journey.
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