Distraction Management

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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.

 

 

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My new book

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I finally got to the library to start on my new book, and it is a challenge.

It’s not a challenge like the first book was; it’s something different. With the logic “games” book, I more or less had no idea what I was doing when I went into it. I had to learn (or re-learn, because I’m pretty sure we did those games in TAG in elementary school) something new. All the processes of getting those things done and done (mostly) right was hard, but after a lot of work I think I was able to do it.

This new section, though, I think I mostly can do. I did well enough on it in my first preptest, probably better than many do on the real thing, but not well enough for what I need.  So I bought the book to help myself out. I need to know an efficient way to tackle this to ensure the best score I can possibly get. This means that although I probably am mostly capable of these things, I still have some work to do and need some help.

The approach to doing these things is not completely foreign to me. I have seen most of the language and logic ideas before in my ethics and religion classes (one of my minors and my major, respectively), but I’ve never applied it to constantly changing brief topics or in a timed setting. With enough study time, if I had nearly unlimited time to do the sections, I think I could do very well on the final test. But I don’t. I have 35 minutes, so I need to be efficient. Therefore, book.

What’s really different about this book is how much reading there is to it. It’s silly that it’s the first thing I noticed when I first opened the book, but there are a lot of words in this thing. The first book was full of diagrams and the pleasant white space around them. There aren’t so many diagrams in this one and nearly every page is grey with text. The writing is dense with complicated ideas spelled out in simple terms, so the going is slow. I appreciate that the writers took the time and words to slowly draw out all these complex ideas in a away that’s easy to follow, but, I know I already said it, it’s slow going.

Ultimately, though,  I think it will be worth it. I’m less than a hundred pages in and I already feel like I’m making progress. I’m getting the sense that I understand the construction of the questions better and by the time I finish I will be able to approach the sections confidently.

Let’s see how this goes.

Finished!

 

I finished my logic games book on Sunday, and it was just as satisfying as I’d hoped it would be. Before I got the book, I could barely guess at the questions, and now I feel like I can tackle many of them. It’s given me tools and confidence to approach that quarter of the LSAT and I’m grateful to have found the site and friend to recommend the series to me.  I ordered the logical reasoning book last Tuesday and am hoping it can help me just as much. That section of the test doesn’t intimidate me nearly as much as the “games” one, but it’s 50% of my score, so I’ll take all the help I can afford (about $40 worth).

Since I had finished the book, I wanted a way to quantify my improvement, so I decided to re-take the preptest I took before I ordered the book. I started with the “games” section, which went much, much better than the first time. I could only kind of remember some of the games and none of the questions, so it wasn’t like I had prepared in any sort of cheating way. I was more or less attacking the test cold. Some of the themes of the questions were familiar, but no approaches. I was able to improve my score from a 13/24 to a 20/24. I am thrilled! Since I can’t really afford law school, I need to get the 20 up to a 24 and I need to work in the timing element eventually, but this gives me hope, which I need.

After scoring that section, I had planned to start the whole test from the beginning again, but decided that would be foolish. Why would I do two sections of logical reasoning before studying if there’s a pretty great risk that I’ll inadvertently teach myself bad techniques or approaches? All that would do is double the work I’ll have to do when the book arrives. I’d have to first un-learn the bad things I taught myself and then learn the better methods, all while trying not to confuse myself. Better to just wait until the book comes. So that’s what I did.

I did tackle the reading comprehension section, and I did well enough. The main problem with this section for me is that even though I read a lot and quite a bit of what I read now and have read for college and grad school is dense, academic stuff, I haven’t read this type of material for this purpose in a long time. I’m capable, but out of practice. I don’t think I’ll need the book for this section, but I will need to get a lot of practice tests in order to improve this section, both in terms of doing it correctly and getting timing under control. I think I spent around 45 minutes on it at the library, and that’s not going to work. Timing will come later though, after I can get my untimed scores on each section to at least 90%.

Unexpected consequences

This chair. Ouch. Who knew a $15 booster seat could do so much? (click for Amazon link)

I have two kids, ages two and almost-one, and they think it is hilarious when little things and big things go together. For example, they cannot get over how funny it is when an adult wears a tiny baby hat. They laugh til they fall over.

We have a former booster chair that is now just a chair. It is a small chair and I am a full-grown adult. I think you can see where this is going.

I was sitting on the floor with them when suddenly my older son pointed at the chair, pointed at me, and said, “Mama sit! Mama sit!” His little brother soon joined in. The idea of the impeding humor was so great for him that even though he isn’t quite one yet and doesn’t even know the words, he was able to mimic his older brother. Soon they were chanting and giggling together.

“Mama sit! Mama sit!”

So, to humor them, because there is little greater than making babies laugh, I decided to sit in the chair. This is the type of booster seat that has a leg-divider thing in the front of it. I’m not totally sure what the point of this mound of plastic is, but it’s on most little kid seats.

I lowered myself slowly, slowly, into the chair…. exactly wrong. Suddenly, PAIN.

I could feel the pinch in the back of my throat from the pain shooting up my backside and I could barely move. I had to tip myself slowly sideways and lay down on the floor on my hip because my tailbone hurt so bad.

The kids were laughing so hard they’d both fallen over by this point. Odds are good the younger one peed his diaper. There were tears in all of our eyes.

Turns out there isn’t much you can do for an injured tailbone other than ice, Tylenol, and take it easy.

It also turns out that hurting your tailbone can have some unexpected consequences. Among these are having to watch “Happy Feet” twice a day for a week because I can’t sit on the floor and play with the kids and can’t take them outside to play because I can’t bend and run and do all the things necessary to keep them safe.  So “Happy Feet” it is, on a loop, with a little “Top Gear” thrown in to change things up once in a while. They play fine by themselves, too, I make sure of that, but the time when they should be playing with me got swapped out for the TV. I feel guilty, but I think I’d feel more guilty prolonging the injury or risking their safety.

Another unexpected side effect of taking seating advice from giggling babies is the challenge it adds to studying. This is where this ridiculous story gets back around to the theme of this site. It’s been a week since I hurt my tailbone and it still hurts to sit. For the first two or three days I couldn’t sit at all; I had to lean or stand. Even today at the library I had to constantly shift my weight. I can sit better now as long as I lean forward a bit and keep my weight off my tailbone, but not for long, and the constant shuffling makes it difficult to focus.

Fortunately, I go to the chiropractor tomorrow and I’ve heard they can fix this. I really hope so. I was getting good at the “games,” and after a week off they were a disaster. Before hurting myself I was missing only one or two per “game.” Tonight was such a disaster I had to quit several times because I was getting so frustrated. The best I did tonight was getting one or two right per “game.” I reached a point where, between frustration with failure and being distracted by the book I’m reading, I had to set a timer. Twenty minutes of reading, do a “game,” twenty minutes of reading, thirty minutes reading about “games”…..

It worked, well enough at least. I was able to get enough novel reading done to satisfy myself to refocus on studying and I was able to get through the grouping games chapter of the book. The next chapter is on “games” that are linear and grouping, and since I don’t feel I have a good enough grasp on those two independently to combine them yet, I’ve started over at chapter 2. The second time through the first several chapters should go more quickly and be more fruitful.

Anyway, the moral of the story is Do not take seating advice from giggling babies.

Choose a book

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I’ve already gone over why I study at the library: To minimize distraction. Part of being a mother, for me, is that I am alert to sounds of my kids’ distress whether I like it or not, whether I need to be or not. Even with my husband caring for them, I can’t tune out their sounds. So I go to the library.

But. I knew that the library itself would be a distraction. I like books, I love reading, and I always have. I have my master’s in library and information science for crying out loud. Books and ideas are a love apparently similar to what I have for my children, or at least nearly equally distracting. This means that being surrounded by books, especially nonfiction, which is what the study carrels are next to at my local library, is a distraction.

I tried not let the shelves get to me, but it didn’t work. As I plodded through page after challenging page of lesson and practice in my book, I couldn’t stop thinking about what might be on those shelves. Since we’ve only lived in our house a little over two years and with new items being added regularly, there’s no way I’ve read through even a tiny portion of what’s there. I can’t keep my mind off the possibilities.

I suppose with time and effort I could train myself to focus and let go of the temptation to wander, but I don’t want to. Just as I don’t want to train myself to be indifferent to the cries of my children in any context (though compartmentalizing this may be a healthy thing to do, I don’t know), I don’t want to become immune to the cries of books.  The desire to respond to these things, to care for my children and to pursue new ideas and perspectives, are good and healthy things. I should be tempted by new information and a broadened worldview, by the expansion of compassion and empathy that should naturally grow from exposure to new information.

Maybe I’m just poetically justifying a distraction, or maybe what I’m saying here is legitimate, I don’t know. But I do know that for today it holds true for me, so when I’m not currently in the midst of a book, I wander the stacks before I sit down to study. I walk up and down the aisles until I’ve found something new or something old I just need to experience again, and I check it out. Once the book is checked out to me and in my bag, I can sit down and focus on today’s work.

Mischief managed.