I give advice every so often on taking the LSATs, and I thought it might make sense to actually write these tips down in the hope that it might help others going through this. A big caveat – this is what I did and what worked for me. People’s study habits vary, just as different people acquire knowledge most efficiently through different means.
The key to the test really comes down to one thing: practice. You need to prepare for taking the LSAT by taking the LSAT, again and again. I gave myself two months of preparation time. I took the Kaplan course, but didn’t really find it useful. On my first Kaplan practice test, I did really badly. A couple weeks later, I took the second test and got the – same – exact – score! I think my score on the third test improved a bit, but what really made the difference was the many practice tests I took at Kaplan’s center after I finished the course.
My reading comprehension scores early on were where I wanted them to be, so I didn’t spend to much time there except for learning how to take that section and what to expect. My analytical reasoning score was so-so but my logic games score was abysmal. So those are the two areas where I started. It’s like tennis – most people’s forehand is probably about twice as good as their backhand (at least this was my situation). And not surprisingly, most people hit about twice as many forehands as backhands when they practice, which seems backwards to me. My worst section was logic games, so that’s where I focused.
I started without a timer – I just took a logic games section from the practice book. The first time through, I noted my score and then carefully went back to figure out what I’d gotten wrong. Then I retook the same section. The goal was perfection, not speed. After doing this a number of times, I started timing myself. What you quickly realize is that there is only a finite number (actually pretty small) of types of logic game that they can throw at you, and once you have these figured out, there shouldn’t be too many surprises.
I took a similar approach to the analytical reasoning section. I would do a section without time pressure, study what I’d gotten wrong, and repeat it going for perfection (sometimes repeat it a day or two later so it’s not quite so fresh in your mind). Then I added a timer.
Going into my final preparation month, I started taking 3 full length tests each week. You want to treat it like the real thing – bring the food you’d bring to the exam (bananas for potassium are good, as are powerbars and Gatorade to keep your electrolyte balance right). You then need to go back and carefully review all the questions you missed. Study them – the key to not getting discouraged is to remember that each mistake you discover during preparation is one more mistake you won’t make during the test.
After a week or two of this, my scores really started to stabilize within a pretty narrow range. That’s what you want, since it means your skills are solidifying. Then it becomes an optimization problem – find the most efficient way to pick up a couple extra questions and, while maintaining your overall performance, try to squeeze an extra point or two into your final score. That also means you’ll go into the exam with confidence, since it’s just a repeat of what you’ve already been doing.
That’s about it. I really do think standardized testing is about practice, not about natural intelligence. The tests are inherently learnable – the have to be, otherwise you couldn’t test people on the same yardstick. As a consequence, the absolute most important key to preparation is discipline – you need to ensure you’re taking enough practice tests and, equally importantly, learning what you’re doing wrong so you can correct this.