Starting your LSAT prep can be intimidating. With lots of books and prep courses out there, it can be hard to know where to start studying for LSAT. You may have heard that the LSAT is the most important part of your law school admissions package, but that just adds to the pressure of wanting to make the right choices in your prep.
And if you’re also trying to juggle school, an internship, work, or kids, it’s so easy to feel like you won’t have the time. That just makes it even more important to start your LSAT prep with the right mindset.
The goal of this post is to help you cut through the overwhelm. You’ll learn six key principles you can apply to make sure you’re setting yourself up for success.
Be in it for the long haul
The LSAT is a test of reasoning rather than a test of knowledge. You may be one of those people who can memorize facts or formulas for a test in school without too much trouble, but the LSAT is different.
Learning to do well on the LSAT requires learning to think in different ways than you’re used to. You’ll have to be able to process arguments, assess whether the evidence justifies the conclusion, and figure out what problems the argument has. No worries if you aren’t sure yet what all that means, but eventually you’ll need to do all of this. And you’ll need to do it quickly and with the precision and accuracy of a surgeon.
Learning to think in the way the LSAT rewards takes time.
The good news is that the critical thinking skills you’ll develop for the LSAT will be vital in law school and your future career as a lawyer. The not-so-happy news is that most students need to invest time and considerable effort into the process. It’s common for students to spend 4-6 months preparing for the LSAT. Many students, especially when life gets in the way, end up spending much longer.
Need a way to stay organized and motivated? Be sure to sign up for your free LSAT study planner:
So then, how should you dive in and get started?
Know where you’re starting out
When you start studying for the LSAT, one of your very first steps should be taking a diagnostic. It’s fine if you want to read a blog post or two about the structure of the LSAT so that you aren’t going in completely cold. But don’t do more than that before sitting down to take a full-length, timed practice test.
At this stage, it doesn’t matter whether the diagnostic is on paper or digital.
- Free paper diagnostic from LSAC
- Free digital diagnostic from LSAC
- Free digital diagnostic through Khan Academy **Note: The Khan Academy prep test interface is not quite the same as LSAC’s own interface but is still useful if you want a free official practice test on a screen.
One SUPER important note: Your diagnostic score is a starting point and in no way reflects your ending point.
I once had a student get 120 on his diagnostic—literally the lowest possible LSAT score—and then build from there until he was scoring in the 160s after only 4 months of hard-core prep. He never once let his diagnostic define how much he was able to increase his score, and that attitude paid off big time.
Your score increase is limited by only two things: the effort you put in and the upper limit of 180 imposed by LSAC.
It’s worth reiterating: your diagnostic does NOT define the score you’ll end up with.
So how can you make sure you’ll see the score increase you need?
Build a solid foundation first
I’ll tell you what NOT to do. Do NOT just take practice test after practice test and bemoan the fact that your score isn’t going up. I equate that to trying to lose weight by stepping on the scale repeatedly. It’s not terribly effective.
And what’s worse, by just taking bunches of tests, you’re burning through a limited set of precious materials without actually making progress. You don’t want to realize you should have been prepping differently only after using up the best material.
Instead, follow this general blueprint:
- Focus on building foundational skills first. Learn how to dissect arguments and what approaches you should take on the different types of logical reasoning questions. For games, learn how to diagram and how to attack the questions. And for reading comp, learn what you should be paying attention to while you read.
- As you learn these skills, put them into practice on questions. Focus on accuracy here rather than speed. You’ll be slow at first, but that’s ok. Speed comes as you build familiarity and solid skills.
- Check your progress. You shouldn’t take many full practice tests in this first stage of your prep, but you should occasionally do timed sections. As you get more and more comfortable with the questions in isolation, you can start incorporating more timed practice and full-length practice tests.
Want to learn more about what NOT to do? Check out my post on how NOT to study for the LSAT.
Effective review is one of the keys to LSAT prep. Make sure that you are using every question to its full potential as a learning tool.
Especially when they are just starting to study for the LSAT, students typically think review means looking at the answer key, seeing that the answer was A instead of C, and thinking to themselves “Ah, that was my second choice!” They then move on to the next question.
That’s a frustrating way to review your work. And honestly, it doesn’t help you make progress.
Instead, use your review process to hone your LSAT reasoning skills even further:
- As you revisit questions, make sure you have solid justification for your answer and solid reasons for eliminating each wrong answer.
- When you miss a question, don’t mark down what the correct answer is. Reconsider each answer choice until you spot something you didn’t see before.
- After thinking the question through on your own, look up explanations online to see if your thought process was right.
- Finish up by asking yourself, “What should I be doing differently to make sure I don’t miss a question like this in the future?” Write that down!
Prepping for the LSAT is a mentally grueling process. It’s not easy to become better at thinking, and the LSAT is a really tough test of your thinking. You’ll miss a LOT of questions, especially when you first start studying for the LSAT, and you’ll likely feel frustrated and disappointed at times. Everyone does.
Don’t get discouraged, and actively work on keeping a positive attitude about your journey.
Instead of creating a self-fulfilling prophecy about never getting to your goal score, remind yourself that each missed question is an opportunity to learn.
Of course, that’s much easier said than done…
One thing that helps me when I am trying to learn something new is to remember that no one was born knowing how to do it. We all have to start from zero and learn. If other people can learn it, so can you.
For times when the thoughts that you can’t do it or that you’ll never make progress are particularly strong, I highly recommend the book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck. It’s also a great idea at that point to just take a break! Our minds need time to process and consolidate what we’ve learned, and our psyche needs time for relaxation and rejuvenation.
One of the best things you can do to stay positive and moving forward as you start studying for the LSAT is to get support from others who know the LSAT. 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, having a support network can be extremely valuable.
The LSAT is tough, but you got this!