Our recent “Correcting Bad Advice You’ve Gotten About the LSAT” webinar addressed some common LSAT advice that can send test-takers down a less-than-ideal path. But, unfortunately, we couldn’t address all the misguided advice out there in just one hour. So, we decided to expand this concept into a series of blog posts.
In these posts, we want to address misleading, misapplied, or just plain wrong advice circulating through the LSAT study space. We’ll explain why this advice is wrongheaded before offering better advice as simply and straightforwardly as we can. In this series’ first post, we addressed the belief that studying on the LSAT requires test-takers to avoid using “outside or background information.” After explaining how that advice is reductive and overly broad, we offered the more limited advice of “Stick to the facts on Must Be True questions.”
This post will address an old saw about LSAT study plans.
Bad Advice #2: Take X number of practice exams per week.
Some of the most common questions we get are variations of, “How many practice exams should I take each week?” We empathize with many instructors’ desire to offer their students a single, clarifying number. After all, this is what students want to hear!
But telling students what they want to hear is not the same as telling them the advice they need to hear. And telling students to take any fixed number of practice exams in a given week rests on a few false assumptions about the role practice exams play in an LSAT study process.
First, it assumes that students should take an unchanging number of practice exams each week throughout their study process. For much of one’s study process, taking a full, timed practice exam is a complete waste of time. Until a test-taker acquires an understanding and comfort with the material tested on the LSAT, practice exams do not meaningfully improve a test-taker’s abilities or reveal a test-taker’s strengths and weaknesses. So, before a test-taker begins taking any practice exams, they’ll need to acquire a thorough understanding and a lot of untimed, targeted practice with each of the LSAT’s three scored sections. (For more on this process, check out our webinar on how to study for the LSAT.)
Once a test-taker is ready to incorporate practice exams into their study process, recommending a fixed number of practice exams per week is still misleading. Doing so assumes that all test-takers will need the same amount of time between exams to review and practice. This is demonstrably false. A test-taker trying to maintain their hard-won 170 between practice exams will require less review and practice time than a test-taker trying to leap from a 160 to a 170. Even the time an individual test-taker will need between exams will change throughout their study process. A practice exam that goes relatively poorly will demand more attention and time than an exam that goes well.
Finally, emphasizing the number of exams one should take reinforces the assumption that a test-taker improves their LSAT score through practice exams. However, we find that students tend to improve their scores between practice exams. The review and extra practice students get between each exam help students refine their understanding and approaches, ultimately resulting in a higher LSAT score. Practice exams merely mark the progress students make between exams. So, telling a student to take a certain number of practice exams obscures the most important part — the review between the practice exams.
Better Advice #2: It depends. Once you’re ready to take practice exams, you’ll need at least two days of review between each exam.
This better advice doesn't offer a simple number to remember and follow. Arguably, “it depends” is an annoying answer to any question. (Still, it’ll be the answer to most questions in law school.)
But, we think this advice is clear, easy to remember, and avoids propagating any of the false assumptions the bad advice does.
That perhaps annoying “it depends” clarifies that the number of practice exams taken each week will change from test-taker to test-taker (and might change throughout an individual test-taker’s study process). The “once you’re ready” part shows that there will be a whole study period involving no practice exams at all. And the “at least two days of review” bit places the emphasis on the practice between exams — the part that will actually improve one’s LSAT score.
It does raise the question — how should one review in the at-minimum two days between each exam?
We recommend a cycle that will take at least three days. In the spirit of offering advice simply and straightforwardly, let’s break it down by day:
- Day 1: Take the exam under test-like conditions.
This is self-explanatory. The exam should be timed. If possible, you should take it with the same computer and in the same room you’ll use for the actual test.
It’s important to clarify that you should only take the exam on this day! Taking a full exam is taxing. Don’t worry about cramming any extra studying (or, even worse, another exam) on this day. Doing so will only further exhaust you, which is counterproductive and discouraging. Take the rest. You earned it.
- Day 2: Review the exam carefully
Remember, exams mark the progress you made in your review. They contain all kinds of data related to that progress — the questions you’re making improvements on, the ones you still need to work on, and the parts of the exam that are slowing you down.
To gather this data, you’ll need to review that exam carefully. Hence the whole day we’re dedicating to that review.
You’ll need to review the questions you answered correctly and incorrectly. You’ll want to determine whether you answered the questions correctly because you understood what they were testing and employed an appropriate, reliable strategy. You’ll also want to double check that you answered that question efficiently — that you didn’t take so long earning that one point that you left other points on the table. And for the questions you answered incorrectly, you want to determine why you were led astray and how you can avoid missing a similar question on future exams.
“Blind review” (which we discuss at length in this webinar) is a popular, effective, and encouraging way to get this review. But it’s not the only effective method. If you can devise a similar method on your own or with the help of an LSAT expert, you can use that method instead. Whichever method you choose, you want to know what you’ll need to address over the next few days of this cycle.
- Day 3 - Day ?: Get targeted review, based on the exam and your review of the exam
Finally, you’ll need at least one day — but, more likely, between two and five days — getting more practice before the next exam. This practice is how you’ll improve your understanding and skills before the next exam. In other words, this practice is how you’ll improve the score you receive after taking the next practice exam.
The amount of time you’ll dedicate to this practice will depend on how big of an improvement you want to make before the next test. The nature of this practice will depend on the data you collected from your review of the practice exam. For instance, if you missed a certain Logical Reasoning question type or concept multiple times or if a given Logic Game or Reading Comp passage went worse than usual, you may want to target that type of question, game, or passage by reviewing the relevant approach and getting repeated, untimed practice. On the other hand, if you had difficulty answering questions quickly, you may want to consider changing your approach to reduce the time it takes to answer each question.
To make meaningful progress here, you’ll need to dedicate at least a few days to this process. And that’s OK! Don’t worry if this review comes at the expense of the number of practice exams you take. Again, practice exams, in and of themselves, don’t increase your LSAT score. This review process can. So rather than focus on the number of exams you take, dedicate more time to reviewing those exams and engaging in the practice that can ultimately lift your score.