The fact, is, it didn’t: it happened on a practice test. It may not seem that way, but it’s one of the best things that can happen to you while prepping for the test. While getting an awesome score on your practice test can give you an important confidence boost, it has little pedagogical value. A 180 is all about bragging rights: it teaches you nothing. By contrast, a 142 says little about your potential, but it can teach you a lot.
Indeed, the more your test scores fluctuate in the early stages of your test preparation, the more you can learn from them. Many students experience fluctuations of 10 points or more, which can be attributed to several factors:
- Variance in concepts being tested. While the LSAT is a standardized test where certain elements are consistently tested, the exact content of the LSAT varies from test to test. Known as the LSAT casino, the emphasis on certain concepts might change from test to test. If, for example, you blaze through Linear games pro but dislike Grouping games with a passion, some tests will be better for you than others. This can negatively affect your performance on those tests that emphasize concepts that are foreign or difficult for you.
- Test endurance. Without taking a ton of practice tests, you cannot build the endurance and stamina necessary to complete a five-section test without getting mentally exhausted. This is probably evident from your performance on the last section of your practice tests, or on questions that are toward the end of each section. Ideally, you should have taken at least 10 of those by now, all under timed conditions and each with an additional “unscored” section to replicate the actual experience of taking a five-section test. As you probably know, it is imperative to take and review your practice tests correctly (for more information on how to do that, click here).
- Section strategy. Your current pacing may be off. You might be able to finish some of your sections in time, but you probably rush through half the questions. Rushing is no good. Inversely, you may not be able to finish any of your sections, forcing you to guess on a good number of questions. Blind guessing is no good either. The appropriate strategy would be to approach each and every question correctly, setting aside only those you can reasonably expect to take an inordinately long time to solve. The goal is to finish your section without having to guess blindly, and then return to any outstanding questions, if time allows. This strategy takes practice, and it gets better with time.
- Question accuracy. At the early stages of your test prep, your accuracy is likely to be higher on the question types you’ve already studied than on those you haven’t. As you advance in your studies (whether you are taking a class or doing it on your own), you will achieve a more consistent accuracy level across question types. Ultimately, your accuracy should correlate most closely with the difficulty of the questions, and less so with their particular type.
- Recognition. When you took your first diagnostic test, you probably didn’t know much about conditional reasoning, causality, or grouping games. You were trying to “wing it,” so to speak, using common sense alone. Your accuracy may have been abysmal, but at least you covered more questions. Today, your recognition leves are higher: you know a conditional statement when you see one. That does not mean, however, that you can use that recognition to arrive at the correct answer choice quickly and efficiently. In other words, you haven’t turned recognition into automation. As a result, you are probably running out of time sooner than expected, further lowering your score.
If your scores fluctuate, there is no reason to panic. For better or worse, your most recent practice test score is a rather poor predictor of what your scores will look like in two weeks. That said, every fluctuation is a chance to reassess what you have done right, and what you haven’t.
Photo: “Study” courtesy of David A Ellis.