Many test-takers mistakenly believe that taking a large number of LSAT practice tests is the best way to guarantee a high score on test day. Some LSAT “gurus” suggest taking 30, even 40 practice tests in the course of several months; others recommend taking one or two tests a day in the weeks leading up to the exam. Cranking out test after test is a grueling regimen, and not necessarily a productive one. Without a concerted effort to improve their conceptual understanding of the test, most students quickly hit a “plateau” in their scores; others see their performance languish due to mental fatigue and burnout. Repeatedly making the same mistakes is not only unproductive, but also—in many instances—counterproductive, as it can reinforce an erroneous way of approaching certain question types or logical reasoning paradigms.
Clearly, taking a huge number of practice tests is neither necessary nor sufficient for achieving a phenomenal score on your test. How, then, should you incorporate practice test-taking into your LSAT training regimen? Here are a few guidelines:
- Take a diagnostic test before starting any study regimen. Virtually all test prep courses will have you do this, so there must be a good reason for it. Not only will a diagnostic test acquaint you with the LSAT format and content, but it will also provide you with a baseline against which to measure your progress. Your diagnostic test should be taken under real test-taking conditions (i.e. 5 sections of 35 min each, with one break between Sections 3 and 4). It’s important to add a fifth, “experimental” section to the test you’re taking, even if that means “borrowing” a section from another (older) test.
- Wait a few weeks before taking your second practice test. Ideally, you should not take another test until you have developed an adequate conceptual understanding of the LSAT. At the very least, you should become familiar with conditional and causal reasoning, develop a solid grasp of the different types of Logical Reasoning questions, and learn the basics of setting up Linear and Grouping games. This can be accomplished by reading the Bible trilogy and Workbooks, taking a prep course, or hiring a tutor.
- Obtain recent practice tests ideally released between 2004 and 2010. How many tests you buy should be a function of (1) how much time you can devote to LSAT prep, and (2) how far off your target score you currently are. Once you have arrived at some number (let’s say 10), multiply it by 2—trust us, you will always need more practice tests than you expect in the beginning.
- When you are ready to start taking practice tests, take the oldest tests first, reserving the most recent ones for the weeks leading up to the day of the test.
- Until you start approaching your target score, take 2—4 tests per week, as follows:
- Take 1—2 untimed tests per week. Why? Because first, you can put into practice the methods and techniques covered in class or in your study guides, without the additional pressure of finishing each section in 35 minutes. This will allow you to focus on your accuracy, which will ultimately improve your speed as well. Second, any mistakes you make on your untimed test will be a function not of rushing but of deficiencies in your skill set, which will help you focus on the areas that need the most work.
- Take 1—2 timed tests per week. While there are certainly advantages to taking untimed tests, nothing can improve your endurance and stamina better than taking practice tests under real test-taking conditions (i.e. 5 sections of 35 min each, with one break between Sections 3 and 4). As mentioned earlier, it’s helpful to add a fifth, “experimental” section to the test, even if that means “borrowing” a section from another (older) test.
- Thoroughly review each and every practice test you take. The benefits of test reviews are so great that it’s almost not worth taking a test unless you can spend an adequate amount of time reviewing it. When reviewing your tests, do the following:
- Identify and analyze every mistake you made and understand the line of reasoning that led you in the wrong direction. Identify the type of “decoy” answer you chose, and make a point not to repeat the same mistake again. Although no two LSATs are exactly the same, there is an incredibly high level of consistency between the tests. Use this consistency to your advantage—avoid making the same mistake twice and your score will improve. Guaranteed.
- Identify and analyze any questions that took too long to solve, even if you ultimately got them right. As you take each practice test, “flag” any question that took more than 1:30—2:00 min. That way, you can easily return to these questions during your test review. Whether you answered the question correctly is irrelevant: if it took 3 minutes to figure out, clearly there is a problem that needs fixing.
- Create a Word document or an Excel spreadsheet listing every mistake you make.Identify the type of question missed and explain, in a few sentences, what made you choose the wrong answer. E.g.:
- December 2006, LR 1, Q1: Main. The correct answer is (D), I chose (A). Chose the opposite answer because I failed to differentiate between competing viewpoints. In the future, pay attention to competing viewpoints in Main Point questions.
- Identify a pattern to the mistakes you are making.When your Word or Excel file grows sufficiently large, examine all the mistakes you’ve made up to this point. Do you see any patterns? Are you missing a lot of questions with conditional reasoning stimuli? Numbers and percentages? How about Undefined Grouping Games? Or Science passages?
- Return to your study guides and re-read the chapters that highlight the types of questions and games you are missing.
- If you notice persistent patterns of mistakes that you cannot fix with the self-study guides, consider purchasing a few hours of tutoring. A tutor should not only be able to explain what you are doing wrong, but also help you fix the problem. Tutoring is not cheap, but the benefits usually far outweigh the cost, given the enormous value in salary potential of even a 3- or 4-point increase in your LSAT score.
- When you begin consistently hitting your target score, start taking timed tests only, following the guidelines above. You are ready to take the LSAT when your practice scores reach a level that is slightly above your target. This can take anywhere from 1 month to over a year, so plan accordingly.
- In the last 7-10 days before the exam, review your Word document or Excel spreadsheet and re-do every question in it. Paying particular attention to the flawed logic that led you to choose an incorrect answer the first time around. Take 1—2 more practice tests from 2009 or 2010, under timed conditions, and thoroughly review your mistakes.
- Your last practice test should be taken no later than 48 hours prior to the test day. This will allow sufficient time for test review and relaxation. Do NOT take a practice test the day before the LSAT. Just relax and do something that makes you happy!