Originally published -
In this post, I would like to reflect on the good and bad, the successes and failures of my studying for the LSAT exam. This is by no means a comprehensive guide of how to excel at the test, just some thoughts from the road. I was aiming for something in the 168 range and ended up getting a 161, which is a solid score but not elite.
I utilized Kaplan’s resources for my studies, but did not attend the in-person classes. I used the practice tests, written materials, and the online courses. Give Kaplan’s online courses a chance. I sincerely wish that I had attended each and every scheduled video course and skimmed the other material. The classes are live, the teachers are friendly, and the questions will challenge you in a way that is hard to achieve on your own. Not only that, everyone that teaches the course has scored a 165, and have sometimes had to struggle to get that score. They have a good understanding of what holds students back and will answer questions in real time during the live sessions.
Two major regrets about my exam prep haunt me. The first thing, which is recommended by virtually everyone, but which also comes off as over the top, is taking a practice test at the facility. I was shocked by the size of the desks that we had to use at the room I went to. After taking many of my tests in a library or a dining room table, I was so used to spreading out my materials; the little rotating desks in auditoriums constantly slowed me down during the exam. The problem is that by the time I realized I was moving slower than normal was the second section, Logic Games for me when I ran out of time and had to guess on three answers. The other thing that I regret was going gung-ho about reading the Kaplan “Premier” book right at the beginning. That information may help you if you are teaching a class or are a certain type of learner, but I found much of the information in the book to be hard to apply. A lot of it has to do with categorizing different sub-genres of each section type in the exam, but the same basics to solving the problem generally apply. The basic tactics for identifying problems will be taught in the classes and/or online lessons, so save your personal time for practice problems.
Another thing to note is that Logic Games can be learned in a shorter period of time than Logical Reasoning, and Reading Comp. Sequentially I feel that LR (Logical Reasoning) should be briefly explained before LG (Logic Games). This way, as the student masters LG, they can also get some skill working through the LR problems. Logic Games is usually the course that you can gain the most points in, because it is the most formulaic of the three graded Exam types. I found learning LG to be fun, but you have to watch out for a false sense of security when you are graded on 4 problems per Exam session. In two consecutive practice tests, I got a 21 and 22 out of 23 on the LG sections, and felt that I had pretty much mastered the art of Logic Games. Like I mentioned earlier, I guessed on 3 questions during the actual exam in this section. That was a horrifying feeling because I knew that was the section that was carrying me to high scores on the Practice Exams.
It’s easy to fall into a false confidence with Seqhigh-pressure Games. There are 4 game types:
The most common game type is Sequencing, and it is also the type with the easiest problems associated with it. For this reason, it is easy to get a couple easy ones completely right and think that you’ve mastered the type. But not only are their really tough loose and strict sequencing games, there are also tons of Hybrids that include sequencing as one of the game types.
Logical Reasoning is the most important part of the exam, because there are two graded LR portions of the exam. This means that half or more of the questions on the exam are this type. The questions are centered around discerning the meanings of certain parts or all of a short passage. The question is known as the “question stem” and you read it first before analyzing the preceding passage, which is called the “stimulus”. I found that beyond the point that you read the stimulus first, there was not much to learn here, and is more a matter of practice. You can get books of old exams with answers from Barnes and Noble or many other book stores, and I strongly recommend getting a few. I would work through practice questions for Logical Reasoning in a “micro-exam” format, doing about 5-6 problems at a time. I also found it helpful to time myself through the notoriously easy “first 10” questions of the LR section. In practice, I would aim to get those questions done in 12-13 minutes so that I could use much more time on the more challenging 16 problems that remained.
The Logical Reasoning section on the actual exam taught me a lesson about skipping questions. Always put your best guess on the paper even if you plan to come back to the problem. When practicing in a docile environment, I would usually finish my first run through the problems with several minutes to spare, which I would use to finish of the last couple the best I could. In the real test I nearly ran out of time to even submit wild guesses because I was just a couple minutes slower.
The particularly difficult choice in Logical Reasoning is determining whether or not you are going skip the parallel reasoning questions. There are usually 1-3 questions that are like,
“Which of the following arguments is most similar to the one above?”
“Which of the following arguments contains a flaw most similar to the one above?”
These questions are usually double edged swords. Because they are more wordy, you have to evaluate 5 separate statements after all; they are usually easier in difficulty. On the other hand, they can do so much detriment to your overall time that they are just not worth it. There can also be hard questions of this type. I would recommend reading the question stem and stimulus of the problem, determine if you know what the answer must look like based on your understanding of the stimulus, and if you don’t just move on.
If you think that a question seems too difficult there could be a chance that you are mixing too much real world logic into your thinking. Particularly when there is a hard, 3 to 4 star (on Kaplan’s 4 star grading scale) problem that has a context I know a bit about, like physics or engineering, I would inject too much outside knowledge into the problem. Another sign that you are doing this is when you disagree with the correct answer to a problem.
Reading Comp is a section that many say you don’t improve much in, but for me it got a couple points better once I had a “plan of attack” for the passages. That’s really the best thing you can do for this section of the test, is get used to a workflow that you are comfortable with. I also had trouble getting through the passages without my mind drifting at first. When I would read, I would start thinking about something else, and then as I approached the end of the passage I would realize that I had not comprehended the material in the previous several paragraphs. If you have this issue like me, try to think about possible questions relating to the material you are reading to keep your mind on track. Always be thinking, “What is the main point of this?”.
It is also good to get consistent with how you are marking the section. In retrospect, I would have done well to slow myself down and maybe lose some points on practice exams to refine my technique at marking. Not as much because the underlining is vitally important, as that it will give you more organization to your crusade through the passage.
I do think that if you have the time to give to Reading Comp you can get better with the time windows. It is easy to get dragged down by complex material, and in the moment you get a more difficult problem, you need to try to evaluate how many minutes you can allot to the problem.
One thing that you have to avoid in getting ready for this is combining information from multiple resources. Don’t learn the Kaplan way and then go watching a bunch of Youtube videos on some other website. There will be incongruities in the patchwork of combining the two frameworks that will make you more confused than if you were using no resources.
Keep testing yourself even if your scores are plateauing. This was another regrettable part of my preparation. I started getting in the 165-168 range for 3 or 4 practice tests in a row and decided that was as good as I could get. At that point, I started taking my shorter, more targeted “micro-exams” to try to fix some systematic errors that I was making. I should have instead gotten more and more formal about my method of administering practice tests to myself to better simulate the experience of the exam.
The written portion of the exam was fun for me, and I thought it was my best section. I knew that I had naturally sided with the “minority opinion” given the question, but I had the argument to back it up. I know people say that this section is not graded, but it was still fun writing out opinions and considering the counterpoints. The only advice that I have for this section is to choose whether you will start or end with your conclusion prior to starting, and of course not placing it anywhere else in the argument. Also, when I saw the version of the written exam that gets uploaded and sent to schools, I lost it a bit. My heavy-handedness had left the writing near illegible. Remember that smooth, lighter writing that is not “scrunched” will look better on the digital version.
In terms of time given to prepare for the exam, I thought that the 42 days I gave myself was pretty good. I think that if you are not working a job and can commit to more than 2-4 hours a day studying then you can shorten the required preparation time to about 3 weeks, but that would be a lot of information and a lot of practice tests in a short time window. It really is about how many practice tests you can fit into the time window you have chosen in my opinion. If you learn techniques, take 7-8 practice exams, and review the answers of those, you should be in a good spot.
At the end of the day, the LSAT exam prep mayhem is kind of crazy, but you just have to embrace it and try to treat it as you would a competitive sport. One funny thought I always had during LSAT prep was my memory of High School football. During the drills we would get so precise with our footwork, our leverages, our “reads” or tells of what the other team was going to do at the line of scrimmage. Then a real game would start and you’d get thumped into your own teammate on the first play of the game, and from that point on technique would more or less go out the window. At this point, your muscle memory is your only source of technique. The LSAT was similar. You need to be able to use your techniques without thinking in order to be able to do them right in the high-pressure environment that is the exam.