by Zack Baldwin
The LSAT is a difficult test to study for because it does not test facts or knowledge – it tests skills. Facts can be learned the night before, they can be put on flash cards and handled with mnemonic devices, but skills need to be learned over time, slowly and then quickly, with reflection and patience.
Luckily the LSAT only tests a few different skills. Logic Games tests your ability to organize information quickly and make deductions. In Logical Reasoning, most questions test your ability to perceive how an argument’s conclusion is related to its premises (or support), and then once you recognize that relationship to describe it, or strengthen it, or find what is missing from it – or find a similar argument. In the Reading Comprehension, your ability to read quickly and answer questions about four different texts is tested.
And not only does the LSAT test you on these skills, it tests you on how effectively you can perform those skills with around 1 minute 24 seconds per question. So, what should go into your LSAT study plan?
The goals of an effective LSAT study plan are to:
- Develop mastery of the techniques you will use on test day to demonstrate your skills
- Answer questions quickly enough to achieve a high score
- Build enough stamina to effectively answer questions well even after two hours of answering questions
The LSAT is nearly three hours of reading and answering questions. It is much easier to answer a single Logical Reasoning question right here, right now, then it is to answer a single Logical Reasoning question after you’ve already spent two hours doing Reading Comprehension and Logic Games. A good study plan will help you with that.
Most LSAT preparatory materials concentrate on topics of mastery. Any given LSAT prep book will break down the Logical Reasoning into different question types and provide you with different methods for approaching each one; it will teach you how to diagram the most common Logic Games using templates; it will teach you how to annotate the Reading Comprehension passages.
Figure Out What Methods Work For You
Try several methods early in your preparation and conduct experiments on how effective you find them to serve you. The Kaplan Method, for instance, works for a lot of students, but it doesn’t work for every student. The goal of an effective method is to get you the score you need, so if you need to consult a second system, do it.
Don’t get hung up on all the different LR question types. The methods for how a Point at Issue question is different from a Parallel Reasoning question may help you, but it’s far more important that you grasp the fundamentals of argument structure and strategy. With only a handful of exceptions, every LR question asks you to describe or supplement the relationship between the conclusion and a premise.
And, on a related note, learn the exceptions. Inference and Resolve the Paradox questions don’t have conclusions and need to be approached in a different way.
The good news about the LSAT is that it tests the same skills over and over. The skills required to ace LSAT PrepTest 73 are the same skills that you will need to ace your actual LSAT.
Time is perhaps the single biggest challenge of the test. Given two hours, we could all ace the Logic Games section; the trick is how to do it quickly. When you are learning any skill, you start by practicing the method slowly: when a tennis player learns how to serve, they learn each part in isolation before putting the pieces together.
They learn to throw the ball, how to arch their back, how to jump, how to swing, how to hold their racket. They practice each step and then put it together and unite the entire method. At the beginning of this practice, the tennis player is not focused on their results, but on their technique.
The LSAT is very similar. Do not be discouraged by poor initial results: you are working on your technique, and you are working on eventually uniting your entire practice. Do your first few questions in any new subject area – Linear Games, Inference Questions, Comparative Reading passages – untimed. Make sure to apply the strategies.
Finally, know when to give up. The LSAT is a long and difficult exam. Getting a 174 is the same percentile as a 180; in other words, you can afford to skip a few questions. Develop a plan a few weeks before your test for how many questions you’ll skip in a certain section. If your goal is a 165 and you are terrible at Reading Comprehension, you can build skipping one RC passage to focus on the other three into your strategy.
Know which questions you tend to get wrong. Try your best to improve and if you can’t, do those questions last on the actual examination.
The LSAT, from the time you arrive at the testing center to the time you leave, takes at least four hours. More commonly, it lasts closer to five and in rare instances it will last over six (this is because the pre-test administration period is variable; well-staffed or small centers tend to get the test underway much more quickly than poorly staffed or large test centers do, and in rare cases it can take over an hour before the test even begins).
Chances are, you don’t do anything for six hours in a row other than sleep; even at work or in school, you switch activities several times throughout a day. True, in the LSAT you get a 15 minute break, but you are otherwise doing the same task over and over: reading words and answering questions about those words.
Get used to this. Set aside four hours once a week to take a timed practice test. Get used to sitting there for that amount of time. Get used to not being able to access your phone. Get used to not drinking water or eating during the test (you can drink water and eat during your 15 minute break). Get used to the amount of focus that is required to do what may be – in a single LSAT – 75 logical reasoning questions (you may see LR as an experimental section).
So, What Makes A Good Study Plan
When I was studying to take the LSAT for the first time, LR was my weakest section. I had no trouble with Games and I worked hard and brought my Reading Comprehension score to a comfortable level for me. But LR kept eluding me, so one day I decided “I am going to get a perfect score in an LR section before I go to sleep tonight.” I took one section and got 2 or 3 wrong. I tried again and got 1 or 2 wrong. I tried a third time and got 2 or 3 wrong. I tried a fourth time and 5 or 6 wrong. I tried a fifth time and got 8 or 9 wrong.
You cannot study for the LSAT this way. I ended doing more LR questions than I would actually face on the test – burning material that would have been more useful as part of a full practice test – by pursuing a goal in the wrong way. You can’t bang your head against the wall and expect to improve your score, or spend the 36 hours before the test studying for it and expect to do well (imagine a tennis player practicing for 36 hours before a match). The test is learned slowly and over time.
Devote time every day to studying. Plan to take one day a week off – it’s helpful to give your mind some space once in a while to work on other problems. Always review your tests. Review your practice tests for mistakes. Go over questions that you got right and struggled on. Learn how you test and hone your methods. Devote one day a week (or two, if you have lots of spare time) to do a practice test; review the day after. Otherwise, do one section from a PrepTest a day and review it the same day. And, consider working with a tutor or a friend to help focus your study and provide feedback on how you test and how you study.