How Blueprint Prep can help YOU crush the LSAT [Show summary]
Blueprint Prep’s Sena Maruflu, who aced the LSAT and now coaches aspiring law students, shares why and how the LSAT can be a learnable test for dedicated students of any background.
A stellar LSAT score can mean the difference between acceptance and rejection at top law schools. Learn how YOU can achieve the score of your dreams! [Show notes]
Are you prepping for the LSAT? Planning to apply to law school? Blueprint’s Sena Maruflu, who aced the LSAT and now teaches the LSAT, shares her top LSAT tips.
Sena has a very unusual background. She speaks eight languages and is truly a citizen of the world. She moved to New York City to pursue a career in the arts, but somewhere along the way, she launched a career in international business as a sustainable coffee entrepreneur. She also considered law school, got bit by the LSAT bug (she earned a 178), and began to teach LSAT prep. She considers the LSAT like another language: completely teachable and completely learnable.
How do you get involved with LSAT prep? [1:33]
I come from a career in the arts, primarily in dance. I moved to New York City at 17 to pursue that career, and I ended up getting injured and being unable to dance. I was looking to do pretty much anything else, and I explored quite a lot of things. The LSAT was that “anything else” and I ended up falling in love with it.
What do you think is the most important thing for prospective law school applicants to keep in mind when prepping for the LSAT? [2:07]
People frequently ask me this question because I don’t really have the most robust academic experience. I never really went to elite, impressive institutions or anything. People always ask me how I earned such a high score, and I really think it’s because I had such a positive and excited attitude throughout the whole thing. I think I always kept the end goal in mind. For me, the end goal wasn’t earning a perfect score. It was because I genuinely wanted to go to law school, and I really wanted to take that next step in my academic career. For some people, it’s being a certain kind of lawyer or solving a specific kind of issue that they really want to go to law school to solve. Keep that at the forefront of your mind as you’re studying, not really worrying much about the little mishaps along the way, just acknowledging that they’re going to happen. Lucky for me, I failed many times in my life, so it was nothing that was a shock to me. It never really brought me down too much. I always kept the end goal in mind.
What if an applicant knows that the schools they are applying to are accepting both the GRE and the LSAT? When should applicants take the LSAT, and when should they take the GRE? [4:36]
That’s a really great question because accepting the GRE is a relatively new thing in law school admissions, and shockingly, there actually are cases where taking the GRE is an appropriate step. A couple of things on that: The first is acknowledging that if you want to apply to law school, you most likely are going to have to take the LSAT. This is different from business school or medical school, or most higher education programs, because people applying to law school have very diverse majors. People can be dance majors and apply to law school, or they could be science majors and apply to law school. The LSAT really is the one and only standardized thing that everyone has. It is very important, and schools view it as very, very important because of that reason. It’s the only standardized thing.
However, I think when the first batch of schools set the precedent of accepting the GRE, and Harvard was one them, there came the question of, when is it appropriate? To answer that, looking at past trends of applicants that got accepted to elite schools with the GRE shows that there’s one thing that most of these applicants have in common, and that’s having a really, really high GPA. If you have a very, very high GPA and a compelling story otherwise, taking the GRE is appropriate. If applicants are deciding between these, first make sure you have a high GPA, because that’s the only other number involved in this calculation.
Second, take practice LSATs. There are 90 practice LSATs available. Getting a good idea of how you’re going to score on the LSAT, and at least trying to improve on it, I think is appropriate. But if you’ve taken a lot of LSATs and you just aren’t getting it (which is pretty rare because the LSATs are a very learnable test) and you already have a very, very elite GRE score, then I would say perhaps it’s appropriate.
One other thing is that students that we see getting accepted with the GRE are typically students that major in the hard sciences. Students that major in engineering and hard science degrees, who maybe on a whim decided to take the LSAT when perhaps it was too late to study. Also, dual degree programs I’ve seen becoming more common. If I eventually go to law school, I hope to do an MBA program as well. I think in those cases that is appropriate, but again, with the high GPA in mind. If you’re an astronaut that’s been to the moon, all you need is, “I’ve been to the moon,” and they’ll say, “Okay, so you’d do well on the LSAT.”
How has the switch first to digital LSAT and then to the Flex LSAT (which is remotely proctored and was created in response to COVID) changed test prep? [8:01]
It’s changed a lot. Maybe the LSAT had some data that we don’t have and knew the pandemic was coming because they released the digital LSATs in the fall of 2019! Blueprint actually has been the pioneer in the digital prep industry. We started offering classes about 15 years ago that were completely online with an online interface. Then, when the LSAT switched to being digital, people really, really freaked out. Primarily students that have been out of school for awhile that freaked out about it because the younger kids are like, “Of course, I’ve been on my iPad since I was 10.” The older and more experienced applicants were like, “Oh my gosh, what do I do?”
It really revolutionized the LSAT because in addition to learning the content, you also had to learn strategies to be able to take it. It’s on a platform, and it’s really, really important to practice with that online platform so that you aren’t surprised on test day. For making the switch for test prep companies, a lot of prep companies had to think about how to integrate our classic LSAT classes, where you have an instructor teaching the content with students that are also navigating a new digital, ever-changing platform.
What really happens is a more interactive experience where both the instructor and the students are doing a lot of back and forth talking. I know when I teach my classes, I’m a huge fan of utilizing chats and bringing students on mic to have a dialogue going, because especially with the digital LSAT, different things are confusing for different people, so you don’t know what the most challenging aspect is for a certain student. It revolutionized test prep because of the additional element of the learning curve of also being able to practice in a digital format as opposed to the super accessible paper format.
What are some of the strategies that you employ? What are some strategies that applicants should be using in a test prep? [10:26]
I took the exam on paper. It’s strange because I’m now considered, I guess, a dinosaur in the LSAT world. When digital LSAT came out, I had to take a lot of practice LSATs online so that I felt confident giving my students the proper strategies. The one thing that I learned from taking a bunch of tests is that being able to navigate the platform truly is a personal experience. It’s my suggestion to everyone to look up resources. If you’ve Googled digital LSAT tips, so many things show up. Make sure that you’re practicing the LSAT online and that you’re trying out different things. But then, once you find a method that you think works, sticking with it and practicing enough. I can’t stress practicing enough. You don’t want to do anything new on test day.
It’s strange because you have to get used to it, and there’s this whole other layer with the digital LSATs of how you can get disqualified during the digital LSAT. On the normal test, it was like, “Don’t cheat. Don’t bring a resource,” but on the digital LSAT, there are things that could be considered cheating, such as accidentally having somebody in your home walk past it. I live in New York City, and many people live in very small apartments, sometimes studios. That’s very impossible, and apparently, your pet can walk into the room, but another person can’t. So, if your dog is good at logic games, keep them around!
The LSAT has three sections: reading comprehension, analytical reasoning, and logical reasoning. What are your top tips for each of those sections? [12:43]
Lucky for everyone, I started out terrible on most of these sections. I had over 30 point jumps, so I have tons of tips. Most students, when they take their first diagnostic LSAT, one of the first sections that they feel confident about is the reading comprehension. It’s very similar to reading comprehension on an SAT or an ACT format, where you’re being given a passage and asked questions about it. My number one tip for this is to read it differently than you read most passages, which is very difficult for people to learn. I’m an avid reader myself. I love reading, but the reading comprehension on the LSAT for some reason was the most difficult section for me to learn. And it’s because I had to relearn how I read. Most of the time, when you’re reading something for pleasure, you kind of try to focus in on the drama of it all or you try to focus in on what the big story is. With the reading comprehension on the LSAT, you have to care a little bit more about the logic. You have to start caring about words such as “and” or “or,” words such as “only,” really paying attention to how strongly or weakly worded it is. My number one tip is to read the passages for the logic rather than for the content, which is sometimes difficult because some of the passages are shockingly interesting. But read it more for the logic behind it rather than the content.
For the logical reasoning, you’re given a mini-paragraph and then asked to either infer something (like something that has to be true from that paragraph) or change the argument in some way: strengthen it, weaken it, resolve a paradox, or describe the argument in some way. You’re doing one of three things to an argument. My number one tip for all of those question types on logical reasoning is to be very argumentative. Be very skeptical. I think this was my best section to start because I love fighting with people. I think that that is my number one tip. Be very skeptical and look to tear apart arguments, even if you’re not trying to weaken it or something, because it really helps you notice gaps in arguments. The gaps in the logic and the gaps in the arguments end up being pretty much the most material part of the question and can help you find whatever answer you’re looking for most of the time.
Then, for the analytical reasoning, this section is everybody’s least favorite. This really is a true new language. It’s a test section that makes you recognize patterns and build scenarios and build onto patterns. My number one tip for this section is practice, practice, practice. It is the most learnable section on the test. Like I said, there are 90 tests available. There are four games on every test, so there are 360 logic games out there. Set a goal to do them all. If you do them all, then you will not be surprised on test day, and you should get the section down perfect.
How long have you been teaching the LSAT at this point? And could you give us an example of a student that you’re particularly proud of? [16:04]
I’ve been teaching the LSAT for about a year and a half now. I’m going to choose one of my students who was in an in-person class of mine, and she later did tutoring with me. In the in-person class, I noticed that she was struggling in class and was really comparing herself to the people that were, I don’t want to say the stars of the class, but the people that were speaking the most in the class, and I could tell that she was struggling. She wasn’t finishing the sections on time. I think it was really a confidence issue, and she really beat herself down. And then she told me that she decided to not apply to law school. She didn’t think she was going to get the test, etc.
She reached out to me a little bit later, maybe a few months later when the pandemic hit and we did a couple sessions of advising. We really talked through the test and she ended up improving so much. She went from the 130s in her school to a high 160 score. She went from not getting in places to getting in places with major scholarships. She’s a much more confident person. I’ve noticed when she speaks, she’s more sure of herself. And when she took the test, she just felt more sure. I noticed her attitude about the test was different. She’s probably the student I’m most proud of, and I’ve so far heard that she got into one of the top 15 schools so far. It’s a great success story.
Test takers on their own, without pandemics, are stressed individuals. How do you advise test takers to manage nerves leading up to and during test day? [18:12]
I, myself, get very anxious when things that are important are coming up. My number one tip is to really take time for yourself. Part of your study routine should include time that you set aside, and you tell yourself, “This is my time that I’m going to do something good for myself.” Whenever one of my classes ends, I send students “10 things you should do other than studying.” Really do things that you like. For me, I really love reading a new book. I’ll make it an effort to find a new book of a new genre or something and read a book. Some students love getting their nails done, or doing their own nails, because pandemic, or picking up a new hobby or something. That’s like my number one tip.
The other thing is setting small goals along the way for the LSAT. Most people’s goal is the end score. And if they don’t reach that, they just beat themselves up, and it just adds to the nerves because you haven’t reached that. So, one thing that I always tell my students to do is set really small goals. For example, start with, “I’m just going to finish the first 10 questions in the section and I’m going to get those ones right.” Or, “I’m going to get nine out of 10 right.” Small goals along the way. “I’m not going to miss the word “only” if the word “only” appears.” Small goals like that.
Then, rewarding yourself when you accomplish those things. You don’t have to go crazy with the rewards. But if it’s just even telling yourself like, “Wow, I did really, really well,” and keeping track of those goals that you accomplished I think is really, really great. Then, it’s not just that you didn’t reach that score. It’s that you had so many accomplishments along the way. And maybe the score you came close to at the end, but maybe you surpassed it. My original goal score was a 160 and I got a 178, so you never know.
Do you see waivers in law schools applicants’ future, as there are increasingly for business schools and (to a limited extent) for medical schools? [20:43]
This year with the pandemic, some law schools (not very many, but some of them) did waive the LSAT requirements. I personally do not see the LSAT going away anytime soon or getting a waiver similar to medical school or business school, just because of the thing that I mentioned before, which is that law school, unlike other grad schools, has students from such diverse backgrounds. The LSAT truly is the one and only standardized thing. I don’t see it really going away anytime soon. In fact, with the pandemic, the LSAT has been administered online remotely from people’s own computers, and the scores have actually been a little bit higher than scores normally are. I think that makes applicants and schools both really, really happy because schools see applicants with higher LSATs, applicants are happy that they got higher LSATs. So I do not believe that the LSAT is going away anytime soon, simply because there’ll be no way to compare applicants against each other. I do really sympathize with people who are just outstanding applicants and can’t seem to crack the LSAT.
It’s strange: Applicants seem to be loving the LSAT more than even the schools do. In January of 2020, there were 16,000 people that registered for the LSAT. Now, for January, 2021, there are 41,000 currently registered. That’s huge.
There are a lot of LSAT prep companies out there. What makes Blueprint different? [23:45]
I think what makes Blueprint different is our philosophy core teaching. We really want the teaching experience to be fun so that you can set small goals along the way, and it isn’t this horrible thing that you associate terrible thoughts with and something that you need to do. We have instructors that really approach it as edutainment, a fun kind of education. And what’s great is that no one instructor is the same. Many prep companies have a standard script that the instructors have to follow. But for our classes, every single instructor can customize their classes in their own way. I teach classes very differently than some of my other colleagues. Our methods work, and we all teach our methods, but how we teach them and how we conduct our classes is very, very different. I think that makes it a more personal experience, and it really allows the instructors to customize their approach to fit each specific class. Classes can be very different, so it really, really helps.
The other thing that really sets us apart is we understand that people learn very differently, so we have three different formats of classes. We have the online anytime course, which is really good for students that have a very, very busy schedule, so they can watch videos whenever they want. They have access to our online platforms, our review sessions, which are live, etc. The next kind of class we have is live online, where you still get access to videos at any time. However, you have an instructor teaching you live who’s able to answer your questions live, and you get that customized approach. The last one is private tutoring, where you have a tutor that customizes your schedule for you the entire way, and you’re able to contact that tutor more one-on-one and have a discussion of what’s working or not working for you personally, which I think really works.
The other thing is that most people that take our classes, I think, can attest to the fact that our online platform is great. I remember when I was becoming an instructor, I was just blown away by how customized it is. We have an AI program that customizes the questions that you get according to the trends and how you’re studying, and it really doesn’t let you get away with things. If you’ve been neglecting a question type, they throw it in your face. When you accomplish things, you still get that positive feedback, and it really helps you identify your strengths and your areas for improvement.
The next thing is the score increases. I’ve seen so far for my private tutoring students an increase of 17 points, and most classes increase 11, but everybody’s different. I improved over 30 points. I’ve had a couple of students improve over 30 points. I think the personalized approach and the fact that we can see what’s working for each student really does lead to these gigantic points score increases over a limited time.
What is a typical amount of time that a student engages with Blueprint? [26:46]
Our courses, currently, have a couple of different course models. We have an accelerated program, which is a month and a half. We have a standard program, which is two to three months. That’s a very typical time. And then we have an extended class, which is upwards of four or five months. This is brand new. I’m teaching the first one right now. Sometimes, I’ve had tutoring students for six months. I think it just depends. I personally studied for four months.
If I’m a student of Blueprint using the first option (video-only) or even the second (some video, some independent study), and I’m struggling with a particular question or problem, is there a way to ask a question and get help? [27:22]
For the second option, which is the live online, you’re assigned a specific instructor, which is your instructor, and students are able to email me whenever. I love getting student emails. My students that email me the most are the ones that I see end up improving the most. Funny how that works! In addition to that, both kinds of students, so both live online and online anytime students, can do one of three things to get a personalized approach. The first is to attend what’s known as a review session. We have review sessions six days a week, where an instructor is teaching you live. It’s like free LSAT prep, honestly. And they frequently do Q&A’s at the end, so you’re able to ask any questions that way.
The second way is there’s a little chat box that you can chat into, and it’s actually real people. I remember when I was perusing the website before I became an instructor, and I saw the chat box, and then when I visited Blueprint for my instructor training, I saw that person’s desk. I was like, “You’re real!” I thought it was really funny.
The third way is we have two email accounts. One of them is a study buddy, and one of them is a LSAT questions email address. You can get personalized answers to any LSAT question or any kind of conceptual concern. In addition to those things, on our website, we have an explanation for every single released LSAT question ever, if you just have a specific question. But for more general concerns, we have real people that will make sure that you get an answer, and there’ll be in your face about it and follow up to make sure that you got it. I’m required to get back to my students within 24 hours. I get back generally a little bit sooner.
You alluded to the spike in law school application volume this year, in applicants as well as applications, according to LSAC. Do you think it makes any sense for law school applicants, especially younger law school applicants, to wait a year to apply in the hope that application volume declines? [29:33]
The hard thing to face is that when there’s a bigger applicant pool, it’s going to be more competitive. Even if not every single applicant is competitive, there will be a more competitive applicant pool. What we’ve noticed from the LSAT Flex is that people are just scoring higher, whether that’s from being in your own home… As reference, I took my LSAT in the middle of Times Square when there was a model UN Conference going on and people were walking in and out of the room, which is not ideal. Now, people can take it at home, which is a much more pleasant experience, I imagine. And it’s offered more times, so people can study more and retake it more.
The end of the day thing is that there’s a more competitive applicant pool and better applicants. If you have the means to take another year off, I always suggest doing it. In that year off, especially for younger students, if you can improve your LSAT score, even by two points, it just makes such a difference. More than that, especially for younger applicants, getting experience in anything is just going to make you a better candidate. I obviously chose not to go because I’m here right now. I had applied to law school straight out of college, and I was very young. I was 20, 21 at the time I applied. And I noticed that even though I had a high LSAT score, I genuinely believe I’m a stronger candidate now because I have so much work experience and so much more maturity, which are both qualities that law schools can tell from your resume, from your writing. They make you a better asset to their class.
One thing for law applicants to remember and why taking time off is so important is that law schools generally aren’t picking a class of future lawyers. They’re not like, “This is going to be our next DA.” They’re picking a class of law students that are going to function together and work together. And in order to have the best graduating law school class, you want people that have experience working with other people or gaining new skills. So, especially if you think that you can improve your competitiveness as an applicant, and if you can improve what you’re going to get out of law school, which law schools can see, I always recommend taking some more time off. There’s absolutely nothing you can lose, because even if next year is also competitive, this year was too, and now you’re just more competitive. You’re adding to what a great applicant pool it is.
What would you have liked me to ask you that I haven’t asked? [32:59]
What kinds of students do I see improve the most? A lot of people, especially my students that attended more elite institutions, maybe they went to an Ivy or something for their undergrad, just expect to get a great score on the LSAT because they’ve been an achiever their whole lives. Moreso when I had my classroom courses, I’d have students from Columbia and students from the local community college, and sometimes the ones from the community college would improve more. The students that were from Columbia were like, “Why is this happening? I’ve been an achiever my whole life. Why can’t I take the LSAT?” And I think it just comes down to how focused they are on, not just the LSAT, but on improving themselves to be prepared for law school. It’s not that you can sit down and study for the LSAT for eight hours a day. Those aren’t the students that improve the most. It’s the students that set aside their time to study. They do study, but then focus on also bettering themselves, so they have this more positive attitude towards the test.
The students that I see improve the most, again, aren’t the students that study the most. It’s not that they don’t study at all, but they’re the students with the best attitude towards it. The students that really utilize talking to their peers the most, the students that create study groups and make it a collaborative experience, much like law school and the career of law, right? No case has one attorney assigned to it. Treating it like a step that is exciting and that’s leading you to the next chapter, and they’ll talk to me, and they’ll be focused on other aspects of their application. Having a positive attitude and really knowing that you can do this, and then being proud of yourself along the way. The students that beat themselves up throughout the entire process, I don’t think end up reaching their potential.
Where can Accepted listeners learn more about Blueprint’s LSAT test prep, and if they want to work specifically with you, where they can contact you? [35:06]
If you want to reach Blueprint, you can go to BlueprintPrep.com, and you can check out all of our different class resources. And if you have a specific law school in mind and want to know what score you want us to help you achieve, you can check out what’s known as our Law School Compass on our website, where you can put in your grades and find what score you want us to help you reach. If you want to work with me directly, which would be super exciting, you can peruse our live courses and see if I happen to be teaching one, or you can request me as a tutor, or if you would like to email me directly, I always give out my email: firstname.lastname@example.org. I would be delighted to answer your email.
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