I recently had a member of my community ask about ideas for finding time and staying motivated while studying for the LSAT as a parent. Specifically, she asked about how to prepare for the LSAT while taking care of her young child and keeping her spouse happy. Great topic – and as usual with all things law related, there is no easy answer.
First off, it is critical right now, while law school is still a dream on the horizon, for you and your spouse to have serious discussions about why you want to go to law school, how it will impact your life – from finances, to friendships, to childcare, to household chores, to your actual relationship, and what it means for the next year, few years, and into the future. If you can’t talk about all of these things and get on the same page now, law school will be impossible to get through as a healthy couple. If you would like a free “cheat sheet” that I put together about the top 20 questions you need to know the answers to before deciding to go to law school, click here. These questions will help you know where to start your research (beyond how to do well on the LSAT) and will be great conversation starters for you and your family.
Next, I can offer a few things that worked for me. I found it easiest to study after my kids were asleep. So even though I had just worked all day, then made dinner, enjoyed and/or struggled through bath and bedtime, and it was now 8:00 or even 9:00pm, it was time to study. At the time, it was my only realistic option. If you are not working full time or can get up extra early, making time earlier in the day, while you are more mentally alert, would probably be better, but only if you have uninterrupted time. If your kids are in school, or daycare, or take regular naps, using that time might work better than late at night. Another option is figuring out if your spouse can take over childcare a few nights per week so you can study. Trying to study with constant interruptions is a sure way to get frustrated with studying, with yourself, and with your kids. Set yourself up for success by making designated time to study.
For me, studying meant taking lots and lots of timed, practice tests. I used The Actual, Official LSAT Prep Tests and have read advice about them being the best to use since they are, well, “actual, official” questions used in past exams. (There are others in this series, so you can work your way through them. They all have similar names, such as 10 New, Actual Official LSAT Prep Tests and 10 More Actual, Official LSAT Prep Tests.) After taking each practice test section, I spent time analyzing the answers I got wrong, and seeing where I was too slow to be effective.
Practice tests helped me get used to the format of the tests and get comfortable with each type of question. Plus, at 35 minutes for each section, it is easy to know you can get one test and some analysis done in one hour, or two sections in two hours. Although I did not learn this trick until I was in law school, I should have put my study times on a calendar where my whole family could see them and rely on them. That way you have a goal – for instance the 1-2 hours you put on the calendar for that day – and you and your spouse know when you will be done. Stick to the schedule. Make living by your schedule a habit now and it will help you immensely once you are in law school.
Once I knew where my weaknesses were, I was able to get study guides to address my weakest areas. For me, it was the logic games. I highly recommend The PowerScore Logic Games Bible. This was a life-saver for me! I loved logic games, but they took me too long to solve. This book provided methods to work through problems in a very efficient manner. Practice their methods, or those in other books or courses you can easily find to help with your weakest areas, and you will see results. It feels good to realize that there are reliable ways to improve your test-taking abilities, so don’t get discouraged early on by scores lower than you were hoping for.
Create a study schedule that works for you. You might want to start slow, studying 1-2 hours for 3 or 4 nights per week. That is generally what I did, and gradually built to longer sessions as my test day got closer. Keeping up this schedule for about a month will help you gauge where you are, how much more effort you need to put in, and will also give you a small sample of what your life might be like once you are in school. If you are already really struggling with finding 2 hours four nights per week, be sure you have a plan for how it will work when you are in school several hours per week, plus have a very heavy homework load. It will not get easier.
As for keeping up motivation, sometimes it is just tough. As a parent, you are probably exhausted a lot of the time, and sometimes there is no energy to be motivated about anything. It happens to all parents, but if you aren’t ever feeling excited about what you are doing, the practice sessions, the studying, working towards getting into law school, you may want to do some serious soul-searching. I was having fun doing practice tests. I was excited by the prospect of going back to school. It you are already feeling drained before you’ve even been admitted, law school may not be for you, or maybe this just isn’t quite the time for it.
If you are often excited about your studies but just having trouble now and then, I would consider putting up a big reminder about your ultimate goat. This could be a a sign, a poster, a photograph, a collage – anything that will work for you. Put it in a prominent place so you can see every day why you are doing this – why you want to go to law school and what it means to you. Talk with your family about it. They should know and understand why you are so busy. I am a big believer in dream boards – collages you can create showing pictures of the things you want in life. These are visual representations of your goals – such as your dream house, your ultimate vacation destination, the amazing career you are working towards, etc. Seeing these cues is both a conscious and a subconscious reminder of what you are working for and the reasons for the sacrifices you are making. As a bonus, they are something fairly easy to explain to kids so they can feel involved, too.
You going to law school is going to impact the entire family, so include the kids in your planning process early on to whatever extent seems age-appropriate. For young children, that might just be pointing out that after your child goes to bed, you have to study for the big test you have coming up. For older kids, you can explain what law school is, why you want to go, and why you have to study for the LSAT.
As a perspective on advice given to people really dedicated to getting a top score on the LSAT, this article on Lawschooli.com (http://lawschooli.com/4-tips-on-studying-for-the-lsat-working-a-full-time-job/) gives an idea of the time commitment recommended by specialists in the field of LSAT test prep and admissions counseling. As a parent, don’t let this article discourage or scare you. Instead, let it help you focus on the seriousness of making consistent time to study, and figuring out how to implement even a portion of their advice.