personal statement examplesIt’s that time of year—personal statement time. Whether you’re in the brainstorming, drafting or revising stage, there are some great rules of thumb when it comes to writing your law school personal statement, rules that can help you stay on track to submitting a dazzling one.

Over at jdMission, I’ve been reviewing actual personal statements each week, highlighting their strengths and weaknesses, and discussing what lessons can be learned from them. Here are the most recent tips for making your personal statement sparkle, with links to the essays and reviews if you want to read more!

1. Tie the pieces of your story together.

A good personal statement has a narrative. You best convey who you are through story, and you choose to include certain stories because they say something about who you are—something significant. They illustrate the quality or qualities that you want the admissions committee to know about you. If stories don’t do this, well, they don’t belong in your essay. Odds are, you tell more than one story in your essay. You tell a few. They may or may not be in chronological order, but it is essential that they fit together, that collectively, they support what you are trying to say. If a story seems like it isn’t adding much or doesn’t fit, consider cutting it, or ask yourself if you can tell the story differently so that it is a better thematic fit. Read an example essay and review here.

2. In the climax of your essay (the big transition), avoid vagueness. Use concrete language instead.

If you are going to walk the reader through a rough patch in your life in order to demonstrate how you came out on the other side of it stronger, GREAT! Transition stories can be very powerful. They also, in order to be well told, need to zoom in on the moment of transition; it isn’t a part you can breeze over or tell from a bird’s eye view. For example, if you are writing that financial stress caused by a foreclosure in which you didn’t have an attorney drove you to illness, don’t say that you “experienced hardship” or that it  “took a toll” on your health. What was the hardship? What was the toll? Specific, concrete details give transition moments their power. Read an example essay and review here.

3. Avoid bad beginnings and generalities.

I know this one is a generality (what’s a “bad beginning?”), but see why it’s so problematic? It’s hard to know what to do with it! One beginning that I would call categorically “bad” is the one that starts with you apologizing for who you are. Maybe it concerns you that the admissions committee wouldn’t want to admit someone who didn’t go to a liberal arts college and has worked her whole life to become a ballet dancer, and that’s a reasonable concern; you will need to demonstrate that you are up to the rigors of graduate-level academic work. Do not, however, begin your essay with, “I know you probably don’t think I can handle law school, being a dancer and all…” Start with the positive, with reasons why you should be admitted. Draw their attention to what about you makes you worth admitting, not to your weak spots. Read an example essay and review here.

4. Although your essay may be 90% there, the 10% may be most important. 

Sometimes, I will read an essay that is so compelling, so well-written and engaging and believable and uplifting, that I forget I’m reading a personal statement. This sounds ideal, right? It would seem you should aspire to give this experience to the admissions officer who reviews your application. Yes, that is true, but: It can still fail in an essential way, even if it’s that good. It must still connect the dots between the Most Amazing Story Of All Time and why you’re a good fit for law school. I may not be able to put down The Hunger Games, but if I read it as part of Katniss’s law school application, I’d finish it thinking, “That was great!” and then I’d pause. “Oh…wait, why is she applying to law school?” Don’t forget what you writing, and why you’re writing it. Read an example essay and review here.

The LSAT in 15 Tweets

Mary Adkins —  October 8, 2014 — Leave a comment

1. #whereisthesun #Ibrokemypencilsharpener #dreamedaboutanaloguewatchescomingtolifeandbitingme

2. Do lawyers put colorful balls in buckets in 8 min increments? #justcurious

3. Told my BF all the assumptions in his argument. He said assuming makes an ass of u and me. I said that has assumptions too #whatsbecomeofme

4. Don’t use webMD while studying for the LSAT. #hives #cancerorjustanxiety?

5. The individuals who construct standardized tests are called psychometricians. The psycho part fits.

6. My life has come down to a test that makes me crazy. #notmymarriage

7. Is it too late to be a doctor?

8. Dear Friends: I miss you. #waitforme #onedaywillhavealifeagain

9. I now read and respond to emails in 1 minute, 20 seconds or am filled with shame. #LSATsymptoms

10. Maybe there are some good logic games tactics in this pint of mint chocolate chip?

11. “How’s studying going?” If I get asked it again I am going to break a non-mechanical pencil.

12. Which argument is parallel to the parallel zits on my upper lip due to stress? #cannot

13. Some people cry when they fall in love. I just did my first logic game without missing any and cried. #nerdlife

14. I wish I had a nickel for every time I have said “practice test” in the last 3 months.

15. Good morning everyone else up at 7am on Sat. to take the LSAT. Let’s do this y’all. #EXPERIMENTAL SECTION #PLEASEDONTBEREADINGCOMP

high lsat scoreYou study, read books, take a practice exam and walk away with a 170. Not bad, but not your goal either.  You review, understand why you got every single question wrong, and take another practice test. 172. Ok, progress. Repeat your system again and get a 171. Hm. Something’s wrong with this picture.

It’s time to change things up with a more complete strategy. 175+ test takers get into habits that help them throughout the test and change their study habits so they get the most out of every problem. Some of these things you may already be doing (hey, at the high 160/170 range, you’re no slouch),but take a look at what top testers know so you can add to your strategies and join the 175+ ranks.

  • Know what you don’t know.

One of the best signs that you’re ripe for improvement is the ability to tell when a question isn’t going well. As you’re going through the test, you should have questions you’re confident with and questions that you may not be certain on. Once you know you’re on a challenging question, you can kick your reasoning into high gear.

  • Know the questions you missed.

After you take a practice exam, do you find yourself scanning it quickly? You read the right answer choice, read the answer choice you picked, and saying “Oh yeah, I can see why the other one is the right answer.” Then you just move on? Well, stop it! Stop it right now! It does you absolutely no good to understand why an answer choice is right. Instead, you need to understand why you were misled by another choice and what you need to change about your approach so you’re not misled in the future. And keep in mind that an appropriate strategy change is never “Think harder” or “Don’t miss connections.” Those may be the goals, but you need a concrete way to reach those goals. Thinking harder is not a process. Underlining key words or diagramming the core of an argument is a process.

  • Know what’s wrong with all four answer choices.

This can sound simple, but it’s actually difficult to come with concrete reasons why each answer choice is wrong. Often, people eliminate an answer choice because it doesn’t sound right or because it’s not what they predicted. Those are both bad reasons to eliminate an answer. A 175+LSAT test taker will be able to identify specifically what word, idea, or phrase makes an answer choice incorrect. For most questions, there will be multiple problems with each answer choice. While you only need to find one when you’re taking the test, in review, try to find them all. A great way to practice this is change each wrong answer choice to a right one, making as few changes as possible.

  • Know what time a question takes.

On average, an LSAT question takes about one minute twenty seconds. In theory, you can spend exactly 1:20 on every question and finish the test on time. 175+ test takers don’t do that. Instead, they go through the easier questions quickly without sacrificing accuracy, then spend extra time making sure they can carefully analyze those difficult questions. In order to do this, you’ve got to have a sense of when a minute has passed. You’ll have a watch on test day (if you don’t have one yet, go get one now) but it’s unrealistic and unproductive to look at your watch every minute. Figure out what one minute working on an LSAT problem feels like so you know whether you’ve spent too much time or have extra time left.

  • Know the test.

The LSAT is unlike any exam you will ever take. It requires no content knowledge and tests skills that you’ve probably never had tested on a standardized exam. Yet people still continue to seek out ways to outsmart the test. The LSAT tests your logical reasoning ability. Given a set of facts, what conclusions can you come to, can you debunk another person’s conclusions, and can you derive a set of facts from a larger piece of text? These are all skills you absolutely must have to succeed in law school. Why not take the LSAT as an opportunity to improve these skills and give yourself a head start for law school? The LSAT is considered a predictive test because those 175+ test takers tend to do better in law school. They, and soon you, develop their logical reasoning  skills in ways that will continue to benefit themselves.

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lsat-scholarshipDo you work for a non-profit? How about promote positive social change? Manhattan Prep is honored to offer special full tuition scholarships for up to 16 individuals per year (4 per quarter) who will be selected as part of Manhattan Prep’s Social Venture Scholars program. SVS program provides selected scholars with free admission into one of Manhattan Prep’s LSAT live online Complete Courses (a $1,199 value).).

These competitive scholarships are offered to individuals who (1) currently work full-time in an organization that promotes positive social change, (2) plan to use their MBA to work in a public, not-for-profit, or other venture with a social-change oriented mission, and (3) demonstrate clear financial need. The Social Venture Scholars will all enroll in a special online preparation course taught by two of Manhattan LSAT’s expert instructors within one year of winning the scholarship.

The deadline is fast approaching: September 26, 2014! 

Learn more about the SVS program and apply to be one of our Social Venture Scholars here.

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lsat teaching position well paidLearn about the rewarding teaching opportunities with Manhattan Prep at our upcoming online open house on September 28th. Here’s the scoop:

We are seeking expert teachers across the US, who have proven their mastery of the GMAT, GRE or LSAT — and who can engage students of all ability levels. All Manhattan Prep instructors earn $100/hour for teaching and tutoring – up to four times the industry standard. These are part-time positions that come with flexible hours, allowing you to pursue other career interest. Many of our instructors maintain full-time positions, engage in entrepreneurial endeavors, or pursue advanced degrees concurrently while teaching for Manhattan Prep. (To learn more about our exceptional instructors, read their bios or view this short video).

Our instructors teach in classrooms and in one-on-one settings, both in-person and online. We provide extensive, paid training and a full suite of print and digital instructional materials. Moreover, we encourage the development and expression of unique teaching styles that allow you to flourish in this excellent opportunity.

To learn more about teaching with Manhattan Prep, please select from one of the following open houses, and follow the on-screen instructions:

Open Houses on September 28th:

To teach the GMAT:

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About Manhattan Prep

Manhattan Prep is a premier test-preparation company serving students and young professionals studying for the GMAT (business school), LSAT (law school), GRE (master’s and PhD programs), and SAT (undergraduate programs).  We are the leading provider of GMAT prep in the world.

Manhattan Prep conducts in-person classes and private instruction across the United States, Canada, and England.  Our online courses are available worldwide, and our acclaimed Strategy Guides are available at Barnes & Noble and Amazon.  In addition, Manhattan Prep serves an impressive roster of corporate clients, including many Fortune 500 companies.  For more information, visit www.manhattanprep.com.

LSAT scoring curveIn case you haven’t heard, getting a 170 on the LSAT (or a 180 for that matter) doesn’t always mean missing the same number of questions. Due to a phenomenon commonly referred to as the LSAT curve, there can be a swing as large as five or so points from test to test when it comes to what constitutes a 170 (just choosing that particular score to illustrate). Take the last 10 released LSATs (excluding February, as it’s not released):

Test Date

Could Miss to Get 170

June 2014

-13

Dec 2013

-14

Oct 2013

-12

June 2013

-11

Dec 2012

-12

Oct 2012

-10

June 2012

-10

Dec 2011

-14

Oct 2011

-13

June 2011

-11

ISN’T IT OBVIOUS? TAKE DECEMBER, RIGHT? You can miss 14 and get a 170, while June and October tests are often so harsh that you can only miss 10 to get the same score!

Not so fast. Spoiler alert: It doesn’t actually matter; you can’t game your score by choosing in which season you will take the test to strategize around the curve in this way (maybe Nate Silver could, but if you’re Nate Silver, don’t go to law school).

The reason why, in short, is that this curve reflects a response by LSAC to measured difficulty of a particular exam—an easier curve, in other words, actually means more difficult.

So how is difficulty measured? It’s measured based on how many people are getting how many questions right across three years of data. This measurement gives LSAC a “percentile” for each numerical score on a given LSAT—if you score a 170, and that’s in the 97th percentile, it means you performed better than 97 percent of other people taking the test, but not on the same day as you. Technically, you’re “competing” against everyone who took the test in the three years prior.

All of this is to say, when you first learn about the LSAT curve variation, don’t get excited and decide to choose a test date based on it. Choose a test date based on factors like when you are going to apply and what gives you sufficient time to prepare.

Manhattan LSAT

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 lsat test prep help1. Quality, not quantity. The good news about this maxim is that not only is it true when it comes to effective LSAT studying, but it can also save you loads of time. Instead of sitting down and saying, “I’m going to do three sections no matter how long it takes me,” sit down and say, “I’m going to turn off my cell phone, shut the door, close my computer, and do these three sections without any distractions. Benefits are manifold—your studying is better, and you’re done sooner.

2. You are what you consume. I don’t mean to sound like your mom or your doctor, and I’m sure we’re all well-versed in basic nutritional principles, but it is true that if you are living on excessive amounts of caffeine, you’re probably not studying as well as you can be due to the anxiety and overall jitters that it is known to cause. So again, don’t mean to be your babysitter here, but if you’re having trouble focusing and are one of these constantly-sipping-java-or-soda folks, consider cutting back a bit—replace it with decaf tea or seltzer every now and then.

3. Change the time of day you study. When I was preparing for the LSAT, I found that my morning sessions were really productive and satisfying while my night sessions often dragged on and left me tired, discouraged and feeling like I didn’t get enough accomplished. I’m a morning person, always have been. If I could do it all again, I’d just cut out the night sessions, or trim them substantially, and add to my morning sessions. You know what your own circadian rhythm is. Don’t try to bend it to your will; you’re better off bending to accommodate it, not vice versa.

4. Sprints, then breaks. Focused study is the best study. Short stints of untainted focus on the material is superior to longer sessions during when you doze off or check your texts or read Twitter or grab another handful of chips. If you have trouble focusing for a longer period of time (which is what we call “being a human”), set an achievable goal like: I’m going to focus only on the LSAT for the next 15 minutes. Then I get a two-minute break. If that sounds short to you, great! That means you can do it! Try. If it’s easy, add some. But training yourself to focus for shorter bits, then adding to those bits, beats punishing yourself for your inability to sustain focus by making yourself sit half-focused for longer stretches. Forcing yourself to sit unfocused for long stretches teaches you to sit unfocused for long stretches. Forcing yourself to focus for stretches of any length teaches you to focus.

5. Teach someone—yourself or someone else—the hard problems. To be able to teach means to truly understand. Albert Einstein said that. Just kidding, I said that, but keep reading, anyway. When you have to teach something to someone else, it forces you to think about it in a way that just learning it doesn’t. You can’t hide. You have to get it. Good standard for mastery, right? Understanding as a requirement? I find mothers to be an excellent source for make-believe LSAT students.

6. Create realistic, defined goals. Some of the most discouraged, burnt out, and plateaued students I’ve worked with are the ones who set unrealistic expectations for themselves that are so unachievable that they wind up in this vague and ambiguous space permeated with chronic disappointment. “I’m going to study for as long as I possibly can every day,” may sound like a really impressive, ambitious approach, but what it really does is set you up for failure. You study four hours and are exhausted, and instead of congratulating yourself on studying for four hours, you spend the rest of the day thinking, “Could I have studied longer? Should I be studying now?” The same is true for two or eight or nine hours, because you have no standards by which to measure your actual achievement. This is bad for another reason: affirmation and the feeling of satisfaction are very important to your progress. We don’t excel by feeling like failures all the time. We excel by feeling like failures when we’re not doing our best, and feeling great when we do. We get hooked on that feeling and want more of it, and that’s a good thing. Give yourself goals that you can achieve so you can reach this feeling and allow it to motivate you to keep moving forward. Studying for the LSAT is a long and hard process. Don’t make it more miserable for yourself than it needs to be.

Screen Shot 2014-08-27 at 2.58.13 PMBelow is an excerpt from Let’s LSAT: 180 Tips from 180 Students on how to Score 180 on your LSAT, which includes an interview with one of our LSAT instructors, Mary Adkins. Mary has degrees from Yale Law School and Duke, and has over 8 years of experience teaching the LSAT after scoring in the 99th percentile on the test.

Jacob: What should one’s goals be when studying for the LSAT?

Mary: I think a misconception that people often have is that they can improve their LSAT score by learning tricks, and the reason I think that’s so dangerous is it’s only going to get you so far. I mean, there are certain patterns to the test and we can teach those patterns. People can learn what to look for and how to spot an extreme term and a wrong answer choice, but unless you really understand the underlying skills that the test is designed to evaluate, your score isn’t going to be in the top percentile.

So, I’d say the goal should not be learning tricks, but learning what the test is designed to test: your ability to think logically. The goal should be to come up to that threshold and become a more logical, attuned, precise thinker. That’s the best thing you can do to be better at the LSAT, but the beauty of this is that it’s not just going to make you better at the LSAT – it’s going to make you a better logical thinker overall, which will make you a better student and a better lawyer.

Jacob: So, if your goal is to become a more logical thinker, it’ll show in your LSAT score, will it not?

Mary: I believe it would. I was just going to say, as a tutor and teacher, of course I’m very excited when my students reach their goal scores or when my students see a lot of improvement, but one of my most rewarding moments, as a teacher, was when one of my students, at the end of the course, told me that he felt smarter having taken it. That’s exactly what we’re going for. It’s like an overall improvement in thinking ability. One way that’s manifested is in the LSAT, but it’s not exclusive to the LSAT.

Jacob: How long would you recommend studying for, as far as being able to change your thinking?

Mary: It’s so specific to the person, so it’s really hard to say, to be honest. I think several months, at least. To be safe, you should give yourself several months. I wanted to bring this up at some point, actually, because my colleague, Matt Sherman, has a brilliant response to the idea that you can peak too soon when it comes to the LSAT – he thinks it’s a myth.

There is no peaking too soon: you only get better at the LSAT the longer you study it. You don’t get worse. So, starting as far in advance as possible, in that view, would be beneficial. I mean, life’s realities make that impossible for most of us. We’re not going to study the LSAT for years, but if we did, we would be better at it when we finally took it. So, several months is kind of the general answer that I would give to that question, but even students starting to study two or three months in advance find that they’re really under a lot of pressure. They’re trying to do too much in a really short amount of time.

So, even 3-4 months in advance is still putting a lot of pressure on yourself, particularly if you have other obligations, like work or school, but I find students tend to find six months in advance much more manageable. Again, six months is not always long enough for them to see as much improvement as they want. So, that’s when it really becomes person-specific.

 

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law school application season 2014It’s almost mid-August, and that means the application season for 2015 matriculation is gearing up. At this time of year, I always get asked a lot about timeline. When should you be working on your personal statement? When should you ask your recommenders for letters of recommendation, and what deadlines should you give them? Can you plan to take the LSAT in December, or should you cram for October (if you haven’t already begun studying)?

Here we go—a thorough guide to the timing of law school application season, by category!

The LSAT

At the front of most people’s minds is the LSAT, and rightly so; it’s the most important part of your application along with GPA. If you don’t have an LSAT score yet (or don’t have one you plan to rely on to get into law school, yet) but plan to apply for admission in 2015, that means you’re either looking at the September or December exam. Notice I didn’t say February. If you plan to apply to start in 2015, do not plan to take the February LSAT exam because (1) some schools don’t take it, and (2) even for the schools that do, you’ll be at a disadvantage due to the rolling nature of admissions.

Which brings me to the next question—to take September or December? Almost across the board I am going to recommend taking September. Again, rolling admissions means aiming for the December test not only puts you at a disadvantage, time-wise (no law school is going to review your application until the entire thing is in, LSAT score and all), but it also only gives you one shot to get the score right. Taking September, on the other hand, means that if something goes wrong, you aren’t completely out of the running for fall 2015 entry. You can still take the December test.

So who doesn’t this apply to? Right now, there are about six weeks left before the fall LSAT. If you can’tstart studying pretty hardcore ASAP—and I mean tomorrow—you have two options. Either you sit down and take a practice test and you are scoring within 1-2 points of where you hope to score, in which case, you don’t need to hardcore study between now and then. Or you sit down and take a practice test and you need to improve more than 5 points to be happy with your score. For you, the person who needs 5+ points but doesn’t have the time to study between now and the end of September—I suggest applying next year. As a second, less ideal option, you could also study this fall and take December and apply, but again, for the reasons I mentioned above, understand that you will be at a disadvantage.

Personal Statement

This is something that will take you a couple of weeks to get right, most likely, and that’s including drafts that you have others read and that you revise until it’s working. Not to mention, many schools offer the option of writing the secondary essay (often a “diversity” essay) and/or include in their applications other questions to be answered, as well. Starting now is a good idea if you don’t need to devote 100% of your free time to getting a good LSAT score. If LSAT study does need to remain your sole focus, however, keep it that way—save essay-writing for the 3 weeks after you’ve taken the test before you’ve gotten your score back.

This is also true for any addenda you may want to write (explaining away a bad semester, grade-wise, for example, or a criminal conviction or disciplinary action).

Letters of Recommendation

Ask for them yesterday. Recommenders like to have time for these, not because they actually plan to spend two months writing, but because their schedules invariably fill up like wildfire come fall when school resumes. You call follow up with them occasionally (every few weeks or so) to politely check in if they haven’t submitted the letters. And as for what deadline to give them, well, since admissions are rolling, I’m entirely comfortable asking them to have the letter in by whenever you plan to have your application in for optimal consideration. That could be as soon as you get your September LSAT score, or it could be the first day applications are accepted. As long as you give the recommender ample notice, this is unlikely to be a problem.

The Rest of Your Application

The rest of the application—resume, transcript, score reports—are either out of your hands or shouldn’t take a great deal of time to perfect. Most of you have drafted resumes with the help of your college’s career counseling office, for example—but if not, absolutely get some advice and review, even if it’s just online, of proper resume drafting for law school applications.

When to Submit

Again, because of the nature of rolling admissions, you are best off applying as early as possible. This means you should check when the schools to which you are applying begin accepting applications and submit yours as close to that date as possible. Of course, you are going to be restricted by the release date of your LSAT score if you haven’t already taken it. That’s fine. Just have everything ready to go so that as soon as your score is available, you can promptly submit your full application.

Hang in there, be systematic, and it’ll all be over before you know it!

Manhattan LSAT

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Today, we’re going to look at the game that had everyone talking after the June 2014 LSAT exam: Summit Company. Summit Company had everyone thrown for a little bit of a loop, and it’s not surprising why. It has been awhile since a Transposition game has shown up on the LSAT. Watch this video to hear Christine Defenbaugh explain the four step process to attack and conquer Transposition games.