As an undergrad, you probably (hopefully…) developed effective study methods for your classes. But the LSAT is different. Your study strategies for the LSAT can’t be the same as your study strategies for a biology class or even a poli sci class. In this article, I’ll give you some suggestions to make your LSAT study more effective.
Undergrad versus LSAT study strategies
First, let’s talk about the differences between studying for undergrad and studying for the LSAT.
In undergrad, most of your final exams were knowledge based. If you learned the information and could recite it or apply it on your final exam, you were fine. Your study method therefore likely focused on knowledge retention.
For me, I’d read and highlight my textbooks, then take notes on what’s important
Then I’d compare those notes with my lecture notes. Before an exam, I’d rewrite my notes onto index cards and memorize them. Maybe it was a lot of work, but my undergrad GPA was stellar, so it clearly worked.
Knowledge versus skills
But the LSAT isn’t a knowledge-based test. It’s a skills test. A test of your thinking skills, not your knowledge.
Studying for the LSAT, therefore, has things in common with studying for other skills-based tests.
Think back to when you first got your driver’s license. You first took a written test. For this test, you studied the rules of the road, memorized facts about signs, speed limits, alcohol limits, and the like. That part was knowledge-based.
But the actual driving test? That was skill-based. You had to actually DO the thing. And to prepare for the test, you had to prepare differently. No amount of reading books about driving, taking notes, memorizing facts, etc. would have been sufficient on their own.
So just like you had to learn a new way to study for your driving test, you’ll need to learn a new way to study for the LSAT.
So here are some important LSAT study strategies to keep in mind.
LSAT Study Strategies
Don’t skip the basics
When you’re first getting started, it’s tempting to want to jump right in. You may think that you can skip some of the chapters at the very beginning of various LSAT prep books, writing them off as “overview.”
Don’t do that.
The chapters on the layout of the test and the scope of the test are important pieces of information. And any chapters you might encounter on the basics of logical reasoning or what the LSAT is really testing you on can be super valuable. (I personally love the introduction chapter in Mike Kim’s The LSAT Trainer. Highly recommend.)
Do the drills and exercises
Any worthwhile LSAT prep book or online program will include plenty of drills and exercises to help you hone specific skills in isolation before you try them out on actual LSAT questions. Don’t be tempted to skip these, especially if it is your first time learning the concept. Check your work afterward. Make sure you understand.
Get a study notebook
You’re going to have to keep track of all the things you’re learning. Some students scribble notes in the margins of your books and practice tests, but honestly, you’re not likely to go back to them in that case. Instead, organize your notes in one place.
Bonus tip: Get a notebook or study planner that you’ll enjoy using. Studying the LSAT can be tough psychologically, so any little boost of motivation can be helpful. For me, it would be this notebook.
Log your takeaways
In your study notebook, create space for notes on LR, RC, and LG separately. Include general information about how to approach the sections, the game types, the question types, etc. But also include your takeaways from your review sessions.
Creating takeaways from each question you struggle with is one of the key ways to make sure you’re learning from the question in a way that you can apply to future questions. Don’t skip this step, and make sure your takeaways are helpful. “Be more careful” isn’t super helpful. “Pay attention to how words like probably and most affect the conclusion of the argument” is more helpful.
Accuracy over speed
Especially in the early stages of your LSAT prep, don’t worry too much about your timing. Focus instead on building your skills. Speed will come naturally as you increase your reasoning ability and your accuracy.
After all, you don’t want to just get faster at doing the wrong things. You want to get good first, and then get faster at doing things well.
Don’t jump into practice tests too soon
I sometimes talk with students who leap too early into taking practice test after practice test. They burn through 20 practice tests, then wonder why their score has barely increased.
Not only is this a recipe for burnout, but it’s also not a productive way to learn. It’s kind of like trying to lose weight by stepping on the scale a lot. You’re not really putting in the work to learn the concepts; you’re just repeatedly testing yourself on whether you’ve learned them yet.
But don’t overdo the prep books
At the same time, make sure you DO get to the practice tests and practice sections eventually. Students sometimes spend so much time working through great prep books like The LSAT Trainer, The Loophole in LSAT Logical Reasoning, or the Powerscore books, but never gain the confidence to put what they are learning into practice on real sections.
At first, you’ll run out of time. You’ll stumble, especially on the hard questions. You might get anxious while working through a section. But you’ll also be able to clearly see what concepts you’ve learned well enough that you can apply them, and what concepts you still need to work on. And the notes you’ll generate from reviewing the section will be invaluable.
Review your notes regularly
We’ve talked about keeping a study notebook and writing out your takeaways as you study your prep books and attempt real LSAT questions. But your notes are of limited use to you if you never look back at them. Take time regularly to read back through your notes. Look for trends. Look for areas you need extra practice and review in.
But don’t forget to also look for areas you’ve now mastered. Celebrate those wins!
If this post resonated with you, I’d love to stay in touch. About once a week, in the form of an email newsletter, I share useful strategies and insights I’ve picked up during my years teaching the LSAT. “LSAT Notes” you can use to study more effectively and raise your score.
Often these are inspired by breakthroughs my students had that week. Other times, they respond to questions students like you have. My goal is to provide motivation and encouragement along with knowledge about the test and advice about how to study.
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