I’ve been tutoring the LSAT for many years, and like all LSAT tutors I’ve had the following conversation hundreds of times:
Student: Oh, yeah, I only got to question 18 on this section.
Me: What went wrong?
Student: Well, I spent like 5 minutes on question 9… Which I ultimately got wrong…
Me: But why would you do that? Why?! It’s only one question! You could have skipped it!
Over the years, I think I’ve finally come to understand what’s going on here. Most of my students are pretty smart, and they’re used to getting As on tests– they’re used to getting 90% of the questions right. Just skipping a question feels like a failure to them: it feels like admitting defeat. So they stick with the questions they find tough, even when they know it won’t pay off. They haven’t come to terms with the Fundamental Principle of Time Management: You will get some questions wrong on the LSAT, because EVERYONE gets some questions wrong on the LSAT. Odds are you’ll get many questions wrong! But you can still go to Yale! So: If you encounter a question you can’t answer, for God’s sake skip it and move on!
Once you’ve come to terms with this, you’re left with an easier problem: Which questions to skip? In general, there are two principles here:
1. If you have no clue how to approach it, move on. Oddly enough, students spend the most time on questions when they don’t even know how to start working on them. You know the feeling: You’re facing a find-the-flaw question, but you don’t see a flaw in the prompt. So you reread it once, or twice, or eight times, but you still don’t see. So you stop, close your eyes, open them, reread it again, and still don’t see. You can’t even begin to eliminate answers in this situation– there’s no work to be done. So move on!
Or maybe it’s an LG question that you have no idea how to begin diagramming. You can’t imagine what inference you’d have to make, so you look back at your main diagram and try to figure out what you’ve missed. But that doesn’t help either. Don’t bother! Just move on to a question where you know how to start.
2. If you’ve narrowed it down to two answers but they seem indistinguishable to you, move on. Some of the toughest questions on RC and LR are questions with two answer choices both of which are almost identical and pretty much correct. You have to choose the best– but you just don’t see the difference. Remember, when you’ve narrowed it down to this point you have a 50/50 shot at getting the right answer by guessing. It’s not worth spending the time arguing back and forth if you don’t see the difference– so guess and move on.
Lastly, it’s extremely important to incorporate time management into your practice! Most students taking practice tests figure, “Well, I’ll try on every question in practice and then start skipping the tough ones on the actual test.” It doesn’t work that way! Knowing when to skip is an acquired skill just like everything else on the LSAT; if you don’t practice it, you’ll either do it badly or not do it at all on the actual test. You should certainly review the questions you skipped to figure out which you could have gotten, but you should try to do your best on every practice section, and that means skipping the questions you can’t get.
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Image via RBerteig under CC license.