Back to the books

I’ve now re-read the chapters on conditional reasoning and justify questions and I’m feeling better. I think I’ll need to read them again and again, but I’m getting there. I’m feeling a little better about this whole thing, or at least the panic is a little better today. I don’t know if the relaxing is a result of the preparation or the fact that I’ve started ellipticalling again in addition to biking several miles a day with both kids in the trailer. It seems most likely that it’s a combination of both.

Either way, today I’m feeling less insecure, less stupid, and more capable. I can totally do this.

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More steps forward

Yesterday evening the boys and I walked over to a neighbor’s house to check out their in-home daycare. I’m considering sending them there for the week immediately before the LSAT so I can study intensively without distraction.

This is big step for me because it’s the beginning of a real commitment to taking the LSAT this December instead of chickening out and waiting until next February or even June. I’m making a financial commitment to this neighbor (about $350 for two kids under three for five full weekdays) and letting more people in my immediate life know about my plans, thus upping the accountability.

The daycare seemed like a great fit, even if the kids are going to be there for just a week. They’ll have fun and the lady who runs it seems great. But I’m still scared. Committing to this means committing not only to this administration of the LSAT, but, because the sole reason I’m doing it is to spend a week studying intensely with no distractions, I need to make this additional (and technically not required) investment worth it. There’s pressure now to get as much out of this free time as possible, not waste a single second (or penny) being distracted or practicing inefficiently.

Yet more fear. Part of me wonders if I’m this freaked out about just the LSAT, how will I fare in actual law school, where every day will entail classwork or prepping for tests, all of which will seem as significant as this one? How will I do when I’m not just giving up my evenings with my children, but weekends and some weekdays (though they will be in school full-time when/if I do go to school) and the stakes, the need for success to prove that this isn’t some horrible selfish thing, are so much higher?

Disaster and Peaks

I finished preptest 10 today and it was a disaster. High-150s disaster. By the time I finished the test and tallied my raw score, though, I knew it wasn’t going to be pretty. I was missing way too many questions in a row in each section for it to be a good thing and I suspected the final result would be disappointing. I was right.

But.

I’ve decided to celebrate the peaks (the high scores) and use the valleys (the low scores) to highlight what I need to work on. Nothing else. The valleys are not worth worrying about and so far are just anomalies. The peaks are very good and I am choosing to focus on the fact that those are even possible for me and use them as something to strive for. The important thing with my high scores is that I hold onto them as something that am capable of, and compare me only to myself, not to others.  

I’ve moved on. As soon as I finished that test I moved on to the next one. I know what I did wrong on the last one, which was keep too close of an eye on how well it was going, so that by the time I was about halfway through I knew that it was no longer possible for me to get a score anywhere near what I wanted. So I more or less stopped trying. I just could not force myself to dig into the questions and care the way I needed to. I did still approach them a few at a time and go over the ones I got wrong kinda carefully so I could attempt to learn from them, but I wasn’t doing enough. I still needed to finish it for the practice, even if it wasn’t good practice, though, so I finished even though the test’s value was diminished.

For this next one, I’m going more slowly. Even though I find it difficult to check my answers one at a time because I can always get a slight glance at the correct next answer down and have that affect how I process the next questions, I’m going to do that for these (except the logic games, because those should be graded as a whole, as far as I can tell).

I’ve done about a dozen logical reasoning questions of this test. I’m going through them more deliberately than I have any others before. I’m taking them one at a time, some of them one word at a time, and digging into the content and question type as well as I can. For each question I’m going back to my book and notes to review how to do it before I answer. Once I’ve answered, I check it, then even if I got it right, I go find the question HERE, and if I still need more, compare that back to the book again. The method is slow and tedious, but so far I like to think it’s working. What will ultimately show if it works is how well both this test and the next one turn out.

“style”

Studying is going well, so I’ve started thinking ahead to school and the immediate (post-LSAT) parts of getting there. Mostly I’ve been thinking about campus visits, real ones, not the fake “show up on campus, wander around alone, be intimidated, and run away” ones I’ve done already. And not only am I intimidated by the need to speak well and behave normally to  impress the people I’d actually be engaging with, I need to appear to be the put-together non-traditional adult student I’m trying tell them I am.

This is where my “wardrobe” comes in. “Wardrobe.” I don’t really have one. I have a collection of pants, shirts, and skirts, most of which are around a decade old and are starting to show their age. Not just in worn spots, holes, fading, stretching, and outdated style, but because they’re from high school and actually have the year printed on them (and that year is 2004 or earlier, though I do have a few from the ten or so years after that that I go from siblings who were still in high school). Oh yes, I graduated high school eleven (11!) years ago and still wear many of the same shirts I wore during the Bush administration.

Honestly, most of the clothes I wear today are mass-printed high school quiz bowl and marching band t-shirts paired with jeans that are at least five years old. To be even more honest, since I’m a SAHM now most days I wear yoga pants, gym shorts, or pj bottoms with a worn out old t-shirt or sweatshirt, depending on the weather.  My kids know we or I am leaving the house because I’ve put on jeans. As in, I change into real pants and my two -year-old immediately exclaims, “Mama go work!? We go car ride!?” (I freelance edit and study at the library, so we tell them I’m going to work when I leave the house for whatever reason.)

I have a few things I bought when I had a full-time job, but even then I couldn’t afford much because I knew was going to grad school right after that job ended so I needed to save my money. So I do have a few “dressier” things, but “dressy” feels like a stretch, inasmuch as the only thing that earns them that description is the fact that they’re not jeans or t-shirts. So they’re not necessarily very nice. Though I can’t really commit to that analysis since I’m not totally clear on what constitutes “nice.”

The point of this all is that I need new clothes, but I don’t know what to get or how to get it. I also have almost no money to spend on clothes. I love style blogs, but when they say things like, “This top was on super clearance! Only $50!” I just cannot begin to relate. I don’t have $50 for a top. I can’t really afford to spend over $30 on jeans, and even if I could, spending that much money on that kind of thing makes my stomach turn.  Unless I’m absolutely in love with it, I can’t even handle full-price Target. (I fell in love with this. It just makes me happy, so I went for it. But normally, NO.) It’s just too much to spend on me looking and feeling better about myself when I have two kids, student debt, and a single-income household.

So I’m thinking of adding a feature to this site where I attempt to dress for the role I’m trying to get to intellectually. I’m not sure how to do it, but I know it needs to be done. I can’t walk onto a campus and say “let me in and give me lots of money!” when I look sloppy, lazy, and apathetic.  Torn and worn-out jeans and an old t-shirt does not have the appearance of a good investment. I already need a high LSAT to compensate for my low GPA. I don’t know if I could get an LSAT high enough to compensate for low GPA and the appearance of lazy, slopping, apathetic thirty-plus year old. I care and I want to look like I care. But I have approximately $0 to spend.

Wish me luck and help me out? I need advice.

What I’ve learned so far

I tend to be careful and thorough. I’m nervous by nature, so before I launch into anything I try to make sure I know exactly, or as close to exactly as possible, what I’m getting into. To that end, I’ve read a lot about law school and spoken personally with several people who are in the profession. Here are a few of the things I’ve learned.

  1. Applications are down and this could be a good thing for me. The fewer applicants there are, the fewer people I’m competing with, both for admission and scholarships. Since law schools are getting fewer applicants but still need to pay for things, they’re admitting candidates today that they may not necessarily have admitted a few years ago when they could afford to be pickier. This is both a good thing (I could get in and get money!) and a bad thing (I may get in and be set up for failure or be surrounded by people who arguably should not be there).
  2. 1L is hard. Very, very hard. All of law school will be hard, but 1L will by a long shot be one of the most difficult things I’ll do, at least for my career. It’s so infamous there is a small library of books about it, a few of which I’ve read (just in case).
  3. Law can be snobby and elitist. The ranking of the law school you attend matters, more so depending on your career goals. If you just want to be a lawyer and practice, it’s not quite as important as if you want to be a federal judicial clerk, judge, law professor, or other impressive thing.

I know I’ve come across more in the reading and talking I’ve done in the last few months, but I can’t think of it now. Hopefully I’ll remember this post and update it as I learn more or find links to the things I already know just to prove that I actually know them and am not just making them up or assuming them.

168

I’m getting closer!

I figure I need to get to at least a 175 to make things happen, so I’m definitely on my way. And while I am feeling pretty great about myself for getting to this point, I have to temper the excitement because this is still an untimed score. I can’t really say that it reflects what my actual performance would be if I were to take the test today. In fact, I can say with certainty that there’s no way I’d come close to finishing any of the sections in 35 minutes today.

The current plan is to take as many practice tests as it takes to get to a consistent untimed 175ish, and then start speeding it up. I hope to start the speeding up process by September or so, so that I can take at least a half dozen timed full tests before the real thing.

Necessary Assumption

I finally get it.

In the beginning it was the games that were getting me. I’d miss every question and not know why. I’m getting better at those now (I got every question right on the first two on preptest 9), so they’re not what’s slowing me down as much anymore. They still need some work, but other things as keeping me from my goals.

Now it’s the logical reasoning. I’m doing well enough on each section, but not as well as I need for my goals.  I know enough to know what I don’t know and go back to the book to review, but with some of this stuff it’s just going to take a lot of repetition before I really get it. Lots and lots of repetition. So I keep doing the tests. Everything I’ve read has said to do as many preptests as possible. I have done four and a half and own thirteen. By November I plan to have done at least ten more than that.

With the necessary assumption, I think I’m finally getting it, and that’s going to help me quite a bit. I’d put something here about it, how to do them, but I don’t think I understand it well enough to attempt in any way to teach it yet. I will say that this was very helpful. Even though it says basically the same thing as my book, for some reason seeing it spelled out in this way and this context got it to gel for me.

 

Distraction Management

Screenshot_2015-04-22-18-28-32

One of the friends I contacted about my pursuits said that one of the hardest parts of the LSAT was the mental endurance. It’s hard to sustain that kind of focus and intensity for hours, especially when the weight of the outcome is so significant.

I haven’t even gotten to that problem yet. I’m finding that I can barely focus on reading the logical reasoning text or doing a game for more than a few minutes or sentences at a time. This is not good, not just for LSAT purposes, but in general, so I’ve decided to fix it.

Now I use a timer, a free app on my phone (see picture above). I set a timer for 20-30 minutes and read nonstop during that time. I fight all urges to look around, skip ahead in the book, check the time, look at my phone, or think about anything else at all. These 20-30 minutes have already been set aside for this one thing and nothing else matters during this time; nothing else is as important or allowed to intrude. After some reading or studying time I give myself time to do something else, usually read whatever book I’m reading (currently Sonia Sotomayor’s memoir), facebook, pinterest, or lawschoolnumbers.com. I get these breaks and indulgences for exactly 20 minutes, and then it’s time to study some more.

I’m planning to increase the time on work and decrease the treats as time passes, slowly working toward full, timed preptests by the end of summer. For now, I only time the logical reasoning reading and my “free” time, but not the practice logic “games,” which I still try to do daily. I’m not ready for those to be under time constraint yet; I need to be good at doing them period before I try to get good at doing them fast. Hopefully I’ll be ready in time.

I’ve been doing it for about a week and it seems to be working. At first I had a hard time ceding control to the timer and trusting it, but I’m slowly giving over to it. I think I was afraid that I’d get too involved in studying and too much time would pass. The library would close and I’d be stranded in the middle of a difficult section, forcing me to start the whole section over again next time because there’s no way I’d adequately remember or understand the section doing it piecemeal. But I always make sure that I have plenty of time, so I’m learning to let go.

So that’s my new strategy, my new discipline. I hope it works not just for the LSAT, but for school, work, and other things in general.

 

 

Visiting

click image for source

My mom was in town for a professional conference last week, so we decided to meet for dinner when she’d finished all her sessions one day. Since I got to my mom’s hotel about half an hour before mom finished her last session, I got brave and walked a couple blocks to one of the three local law schools.

It’s located near downtown, which is a little scary for me inasmuch as I’m terrible at driving in that area, but the pretty building and nice landscaping made it more acceptable. It is immediately noticeable that the campus tries to set itself apart from its urban surroundings. Whereas the rest of the neighborhood is (or at least seems to be) concrete and glass, the school has neatly manicured lawns and pretty gardening (as much as this can really be seen in March) .The green areas come off as though they’re trying a little too hard to be pretty to compensate for their scarcity, though they do help add a bit of charm to the otherwise grey environment of the campus.

Standing outside the building, I was intimidated. It’s nowhere near a top school (ranked nearly 150th), but it has the air of small-scale prestige.  A large glass front, while not seeming to be the front because it more or less faces the center of campus and not a street, gives a sense of modernity, which is tempered by beige stone that softens the appearance a bit. Still, it’s intimidating.

I stood in front of the doors for a few moments debating whether to run away, checking my clock every few seconds, hoping that I couldn’t go in because time wouldn’t let me and I’d need to get back to Mom’s hotel. No such luck. There was plenty of time and the doors were unlocked. So I walked in, pretending that I’m the sort of super awesome person who would never spit gum into a lawn or onto a sidewalk and so just needed the nearest trashcan to spit my old gum into and what do you know?! I just happened to be near the law school, so I’ll wander in here to spit out my gum, not to check out the place and risk being seen by someone who may question my presence.

I’m just not ready to answer that question in person (I rambled horribly the first time I was asked in person and even worse when asked online). I’m not prepared to risk being taken on a tour or to meet people who could decide my future. I feel like there’s a risk that someone I meet on campus could remember me (how?! I don’t know) when/if my application comes through and recall what a bumbling fool I was when I was creeping around campus.

I looked around to make sure there was no one around, saw a custodian who didn’t seem to care I was there, then spit out my gum in a trashcan by the door. I was there long enough before quickly walking out to see what I think was the back of the library and the front doors of the moot court room.

I have been very comfortable with public speaking since I started waitressing when I was 16 and then worked in classrooms for the next ten years. I have no fear of speaking in front of crowds, but that room could make me throw up. I didn’t even go in it. The doors were locked (I assume) and the lights were off, but I was intimidated. Very intimidated, and I’m not even sure why. The thought that I could be graded on how well I can think and speak in that space is frightening, but with a few years to contemplate it and most of a year/semester(?) to actually work on it, I’m sure I could be fine.

I got the feeling in my few moments on this campus that while it’s not prestigious, it is a place where I could succeed, even if its low rank means some of my goals might be harder to meet.

This local school was small but imposing, and everything I expected in the first-step-on-campus experience of a law school.

First Books

A couple days ago I bought “1L of a Ride”, which was surprisingly difficult to find at a reasonable price because it’s required/recommended reading for so many law schools and thus has a textbook price. Today I took the oldest son to Barnes and Noble and bought “the champion of LSAT prep” and when I got home I got told my parents (my siblings already know) about my plans. Mom said it sounds “interesting” and implied that she thinks it might be a good fit for me, and dad said I make him and my kids proud. I got “The Paper Chase” ebook from my local library and read some of it on my phone while I sat in the dark and bored the kids to sleep.

I’ve out of my way with everyone I’ve talked to about this new project, relatives, friends, and even the lawyer, that it’s conditional, that I’ll only go through with it if the LSAT works out really, REALLY  well and leads to not having to borrow for law school. That way, when it doesn’t work out I don’t have to feel stupid and cowardly because I’ll have said it all along that it might not happen. I’m saving face three years in advance because I’m a chickenshit. It’s true, and I’m simultaneously ashamed and not at all ashamed.

As I was talking to my dad, I realized I can’t believe how fast time is flying. The youngest son will be one in less than three months and I am not at all prepared for it. I don’t want to let go of his infancy because I know I will desperately want a third baby for the rest of my life. I want to have again that deep, joyful feeling of being unconditionally, madly in love with a tiny thing that can in no way meaningfully reciprocate it, and it kills me that I’ll only ever get to feel that once. But the reality of it is that there is no guarantee that I will get it again or that it won’t be even worse than it was the first time.

It is time to let go, it just is. It’s time to accept that the part of my life wherein I get to be the young mother of little babies is quickly coming to an end and can never be done again. When it’s over it’s over forever and that kind of permanence is scary. It’s a death of the way things are, and it’s the birth of an uncertain new way. What if I don’t love the new, next chapter as much as I have loved this one? What if being a mother to two young children isn’t as joyful, cute, and easy as being the mother of a toddler and a little baby?

I have loved being the mother of a toddler and a baby. Loved it. It’s easy and cute and fun.  And now it’s time to get go of that. I could say that the cutoff point is the youngest son’s first birthday, but you’re still a baby at 12 months, just less so than you were three months before that. The big milestone for moving from infancy to toddlerhood, in my mind, is walking with ease and relegating diapers to sleeping times. At that point you’re past baby and marching rapidly toward child. So I guess it’s not quite time to grieve yet, but I think preparing (without panicking) will help ease the transition.

So I’m studying for the LSAT and researching law school. It keeps me busy and gives me something to look forward to. I need distraction and goals, and I get that from this step that frames my future as one of possibility and hope rather than uncertainty and loss.