How To Start Studying For The LSAT

By Ross Rinehart

Beginning your LSAT studies is a daunting proposition. For those still in school, it’s yet another task on top of classes, jobs, internships, and other extracurricular activities. For those who have been out of school, it’s a nerve-wracking jump back into academics. For anyone, it’ll be among the more important tests you take, given how heavily admissions officers will weigh your score when appraising your application.

The LSAT is a skills test and is unlike finals, midterms, or even other standardized tests you’ve taken in past. Rather than testing your ability to recollect facts, the LSAT measures your ability to read carefully, evaluate arguments, and make deductions. You may possess these skills in some measure already, but to make improvements, you’ll need to dedicate many, many hours towards developing, refining, and mastering them.

In other words, you can’t cram for the LSAT. You can no more cram for the LSAT than you can for a chess match, a bake-off, or a three-point shot contest. So, for anyone planning to study for the LSAT, how should you chart a course through the uncharted waters of LSAT preparation? There are a few keys you should remember.

  

Plan to Study for Several Months

Acquiring and developing the skills required to maximize your LSAT score is a long and laborious process, so start early. It takes a while to figure out how to reliably diagnose why an argument is flawed, to determine what an assumption required by an argument is, to draw a transitive deduction, to make a set of deductions from the rules laid out in a logic game, or to characterize an author’s attitude on a passage. You are training yourself to think in a new way. And rewiring your brain takes some time. For most, it will take between two to four months to study for the exam.

Of course, once you’ve allocated the requisite study time, you’ll need to make the most of it. Studying for several months is necessary to improve your score on the LSAT, but it’s not sufficient (by the way, get used to the difference between necessity and sufficiency—this distinction is tested a lot on the LSAT). So how should you get the most out of this study time?

 

Start with Understanding the Concepts, Then Get a Lot of Practice

There are certain concepts that are central to your success on the LSAT. On Logical Reasoning, the first of these concepts is that logical relationships can be drawn or symbolized. Doing so allows you to better understand arguments and make deductions from them. Another core concept is identifying the component parts of an argument—evidence, conclusions, and assumptions­—and determining why an argument is flawed. On Logic Games, one fundamental skill is visually represent common rules. On Reading Comprehension, it’s recognizing the author’s point of view.

You should start your LSAT journey by studying these concepts. It’s crucial to make sure that you understand the conceptual underpinnings of a question before trying to answer that question. Otherwise, doing that practice question won’t be in service of building the skills you’ll need on test day.

But once you are familiar with a concept, you should then repeatedly practice questions that involve that concept. But make sure you remember to employ the correct approach to each question, passage, and game. You need to make sure you’re engaging with the logical concepts to improve your facility with them. You shouldn’t go on autopilot and mindlessly try to answer each question. Even if you’re getting those questions correct, it may not help you on test day.

What will impact your score are the skills you build through repetitive and mindful practice. By practicing the application of a logical concept on the same type of question, over and over again, you’ll gain proficiency over the concept, build your confidence, and cut down on the time it takes to do that question. With plenty of practice and a focus on the concepts, you’ll be able to tackle that question effectively and efficiently on test day.

 

Keep the Long View

Once test takers start doing practice questions and, later, full practice exams, many don’t know how to adequately address incorrectly answered questions. Some respond by asking, “OK, I’m wrong. So why is the right answer correct and why is my answer incorrect?”. This is a useful starting point, but it shouldn’t be the final take-away from a question. Of course, the LSAT won’t ask that exact question again on the real exam. To assume that your comprehension of that specific question will help on the real exam is misguided.

The best test takers also ask, “What went wrong in my approach to this question, and what should I do differently next time?” By asking this question, the best test takers can diagnose the specific part in the process of answering that question they are having trouble with, or the specific issue they’re having in applying the concepts in that question. And with that diagnosis, they can actually implement changes to that process to become more accurate with these problem areas, instead of just doing the same things they have always done and hope they get better. In doing so, they’re building the skills that will help them on the actual test.

 

Maintain a Positive Attitude

Finally, it’s important to try to maintain some semblance of positive thinking and self-confidence during your studies. And that’s because, for virtually everyone, taking an LSAT can sometimes feel like a masochistic exercise. One of the first things I always show my LSAT students is the typical score distribution of the LSAT. I always point out that getting a median score on the LSAT typically involves getting 60 out of a 100 scored questions correct. In other words, the typical test taker, after months of studying, will miss almost every other question.

I show students this so they know from the jump that the LSAT is an objectively difficult test. And this is something you should know as well. The typical test taker will be getting many, many questions wrong throughout their studies. Most ambitious young students will get way more questions wrong than they are accustomed to. There will be times—probably many times in fact—the study process will feel frustrating and fruitless.

But remember that this is a challenging test. Don’t treat failures as personal shortcomings, but as learning opportunities. Treat every missed question, confusing passage, and blown game as a learning opportunity, as a way to diagnose what went wrong and to prescribe a course of action to make sure it doesn’t go wrong again. If the study process at any point becomes really dire, take a break! You’ll need to do the sort of things that make you happy to balance out the occasional frustration the LSAT will deal you. The study process is long and involved, and no individual speed bump will completely halt your progress towards LSAT success.

 

Related articles:

LSAT Scores: How low should you go?

10 Steps To A Stellar LSAT Score

How To Take An LSAT Prep Test

 


Ross Rinehart graduated from UCLA with a degree in English and Political Science and went on to secure a J.D. from USC Law. After getting a 170 on the LSAT, a 98th percentile score, Ross began teaching for Blueprint LSAT Prep. Ross has taught for Blueprint for almost 4 years and has helped countless prelaw students improve their LSAT score.


 

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