When deciding how to study for the LSAT, it’s easy to try to hit it with all you got. You may have heard of people prepping 8+ hours per day. Or maybe you’ve even gotten some recommendations to do at least XX practice tests per week. Your Google search reveals the advice to do all of your practice strictly timed. But then other advice seems to suggest exactly the opposite…
So how do you know what to believe? How should you study for the LSAT? How many months? What exactly should you do?
Of course, there’s no “right” way to prep for the LSAT that works perfectly for everyone. This is a test of your reasoning skills, and we’ll all have different trajectories to our target scores.
That said, there are definitely some WRONG ways to prep. I’ve compiled this list during my 10 years tutoring the LSAT. These are all mistakes I make sure my own tutoring students and guided self-study students know to avoid. So before you jump (back) into your studies, check out this list of 10 things to AVOID while you prep for the LSAT.
Mistake #1: Skip the diagnostic
It’s easy to just jump right into a book or a course. After all, why bother taking a test beforehand? Isn’t the whole point is to get as high a score as possible?
But it’s important to know exactly where your starting point is. By taking a cold diagnostic, you’ll:
- Have a clearer sense of where you need to prioritize your efforts
- Have a point of comparison later on so you’ll know which methods have been effective for you
- Know whether you need a light boost or a long-term study plan
- Have something you can look back on later when you need to be encouraged about the progress you’ve made
Mistake #2: Burn yourself out
Especially if you spend a lot of time lurking on LSAT forums, you’ll sometimes see students boasting incredibly heavy study schedules. Some may even be devoting 8 or 10 hours a day to LSAT prep!
Fortunately for your own sanity, that is NOT the right way to prep.
Our brains aren’t really built for high-intensity focus for long periods of time. In fact, research suggests that we typically max out at 4 hours of concentration per day. That doesn’t mean you can’t study more than that. Only that it won’t be terribly effective or efficient.
What’s more, our minds need downtime to process and synthesize the information we learn. While we rest, we build the neural networks we need so that we are able to solve similar problems faster and more accurately in the future.
Burn out is very real. It’s possible to maintain high-intensity streaks of heavy study days, but these are all too often followed by the tell-tale signs of burnout:
- Score plateaus, slowed progress, or even regressions to lower scores
- Frustration, anxiety, and other negative emotions
- Feeling like you just can’t get back into studying
If this sounds like you, try this instead…
Recommendation: Don’t study more than 4 hours a day if you can help it. Consistent shorter, focused study sessions are more productive than marathon sessions.
Mistake #3: Mistake quantity for quality
So how should you study for the LSAT in those 4 hours? Take a practice test every day? Run through as many questions as you can?
LSAT materials are precious, and each question is an opportunity for you to learn. Take the time to learn methods and strategies for each question and game type. Build skills. And above all else, REVIEW, REVIEW, REVIEW.
Every time you miss a question, figure out why the right answer is right and your answer is wrong. Even if you got the question right, figure out how to get to 100% certainty in your answer. For questions that took too long, figure out how you could get through them faster. Review each game to make sure you set it up correctly and didn’t miss any major deductions.
Recommendation: Solid review can be your key to rapid score increases. Never skimp on your review. If you need a resource to help you with it, take a look at my LSAT Practice Test Review Guide.
So far we’ve been talking about how long you should be studying each day and how much of the time should be devoted to reviewing. There’s one more aspect to your daily prep that we should consider: how much of your prep should be timed practice.
Mistake #4: Move quickly to timed practice
The time pressure on the LSAT can be intense. We all feel the time pressure, especially when we are just setting out.
But what happens when we focus too early on getting faster is that we limit ourselves in our accuracy. If your general approach is flawed, getting faster at that flawed approach will only do so much. You’re limiting yourself if you don’t take the time to work on developing your accuracy first. This is a key element of how to study for the LSAT.
Consider sports training. (Disclaimer: I am 1000% not a sports person. But I challenge you to prove me wrong here!) When you’re first learning a new sport, a good coach won’t just throw you into game after game, hoping you get better. Instead, the coach will focus first on technique, isolating certain moves, focusing on how to position your body, how to hold the racquet/bat/whatever, how to follow through on certain motions, etc. As you master these moves in isolation, a good trainer will then start incorporating them into longer strings and eventually into practice games. Your LSAT prep should be similar.
(This analogy would make a decent parallel reasoning question, wouldn’t it?)
Recommendation: You’ll want to start out by training yourself in all of the component critical thinking skills that make up the heart of the LSAT. Learn to dissect arguments, identify flaws, diagram LG rules, find contrapositives, etc. As you master them, apply them to real LSAT questions and eventually to timed practice sections.
But on the other hand, be sure not to make this next mistake either.
Mistake #5: Forget about timed practice
When they decide how to study for the LSAT, some students focus so much on accuracy that they neglect timed practice. Don’t lull yourself into a false sense of comfort about the time. When you are focusing on accuracy, it’s fine to work slowly. But don’t give yourself all the time in the world before forcing yourself to choose an answer.
Instead, use your review time to take as much time as you need to work through the question to see what you may have missed before.
And by all means, even when your main focus is accuracy, incorporate occasional timed sections and even more occasional full-length practice tests into your prep routine. You should start out with more untimed than timed practice, but those ratios should start to flip the farther you get into your prep. Eventually, most if not all of your prep should be strictly timed. (But of course, never set a time limit on your review.)
Recommendation: Don’t lose sight of the clock. In the beginning, do occasional timed practice to check your progress. Later on, spend a bigger chunk of your practice doing timed sections and full-length prep tests.
Mistake #6: Allow yourself to get discouraged
This is a big one. LSAT prep can be demoralizing. Sometimes you can work for weeks to improve a certain skill, only to see that your scores haven’t budged at all. That’s normal. You are learning a new, precise way of thinking, and it’s going to take time.
I highly recommend Carol Dweck’s Mindset: The New Psychology for Success for anyone who is feeling discouraged about slow or non-existent progress. Mindset is huge on the LSAT. It’s essential to reframe negative thoughts about a lack of ability into more growth-oriented statements about how you can get it if you keep working at it.
If you’re really stuck, no matter how much effort you’ve put into mastering a particular question type or skill, try changing things up a bit. There is no ONE RIGHT WAY to do the LSAT, and there is no one right book/course/tutor out there either. Different things work for different people, and sometimes all it takes is working through a different book or trying a different strategy.
Case in point: one of my students had decent reading comp accuracy but just couldn’t seem to increase her pacing, no matter how much she tried. She was discouraged, to say the least. Then she tried a new strategy of reading over the passage twice before heading to the questions. It seemed counter-intuitive, but that extra time devoted to really understanding the passage allowed her to breeze through the questions. Net result? She was able to get to one more whole passage and saw an instant 5 question boost to her RC scores.
Recommendation: Watch out for negative self-talk that could transform into self-fulfilling prophecies. Instead, encourage yourself that you can make progress. Try switching up your materials or strategies to see if that helps.
Mistake #7: Rely on paper-based techniques
This is a new one. Starting in September 2019, all LSATs administered in North America will be the new digital test. As of the time I’m writing this post (on a Surface Go, incidentally—the same device the digital LSAT uses), books and prep courses are still catching up. You’ll still find advice about writing in the margins, circling or starring certain words or key sentences, etc.
Here’s a quick list of what you can and can’t do on the digital test:
|Can do||Can’t do|
|Underline||Circle, star, bracket information|
|Highlight||Write in the margins of a passage|
|Flag questions||Flag questions you MUST return to versus questions you’d LIKE TO return to if you have time|
|Eliminate answers||Cross out the exact words you don’t like in an answer choice|
|Use marks like ~ or ? to indicate answers that are contenders|
You will get scratch paper, which you can use as liberally as you would like. But regardless, when you’re thinking about how to study for the LSAT, you still want to make sure you aren’t practicing techniques that just aren’t practical or feasible in the digital version of the test.
Recommendation: Familiarize yourself with the digital LSAT using LSAC’s free tools. As you learn strategies for the questions, make sure those strategies are compatible with the digital test.
Mistake #8: Lock yourself into a test date before you’re ready
Because we all progress at different rates, it can be tricky to know when you will be ready to take the LSAT. Some students assume they’ll make fast progress. They then set their sights on a particular test date in the near future. Or even worse, they count backward from a particular test date to determine the last possible moment they need to start studying.
The problem is that we really don’t know in advance how long it will take to get to our goal. And ideally, we want to be consistently scoring a bit above that goal in practice so that we know we’ll hit it even under the pressure of the actual test.
Recommendation: Especially when you are just starting out in your prep, you want to avoid assuming that you will be ready by a certain date. Be flexible. Even delaying by a whole year is not the end of the world, if it means better chances at admissions and scholarships.
Mistake #9: Pay sticker price for law school
This one goes hand in hand with Mistake #8. You don’t want to lock yourself into a test date too early because it hurts your application. While it’s true that law schools in general look at your highest LSAT score, it’s still better not to have low scores or cancellations on your record if you can help it.
It’s possible to get into law school with mediocre LSAT scores, but then you’re likely saddling yourself with a considerable amount of debt. (Less true for law schools in Canada.) And while you may get a high paying job right out of law school, the glamorous big law jobs are extremely competitive and certainly not something to bank on.
Recommendation: To increase your chances of scholarships, make sure your LSAT score is in the top 25% of the admitted students for the schools you apply to. This doesn’t mean setting your sights on lower-tier schools. But it might mean extending your prep until you’re really ready to position your application well.
Fun story – For one of my students, this meant getting on a plane, flying from his home in Brazil to a test center in Florida so that he could sit for the LSAT one more time before getting his application in. It was a gamble, but it totally paid off when he was awarded a 75% scholarship to his top choice school!
Mistake #10: Go it alone
Law school is competitive. Nearly by definition, the legal profession involves positioning ideas and people in opposition to each other.
This whole atmosphere unfortunately can get pretty toxic at times. It’s easy to feel like its “me versus the world,” and it’s hard to let other people see you make a mistake.
However, I firmly believe that LSAT prep (and law school itself, but that’s another story) is most effective when it’s done in a cooperative, collaborative setting.
Truly supportive peers or an expert mentor can help you from getting too down on yourself. They can encourage you to keep going, inspire you with their success, and give advice from their own experiences. We also learn best when we explain something to another person.
Recommendation: Whether that be a study group in your area, an accountability partner, or an expert mentor or tutor who can encourage you when things get frustrating, get support from others who know the LSAT.
Not sure where to get that support? I offer both private tutoring and a cost-effective guided self-study program for students. Not sure what would be the best option? Schedule a FREE consultation call with me here.
The LSAT is tough, but you got this!
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