For those few, courageous souls that intend to take the leap of faith into law, there is a four-letter word from which none can escape: L-S-A-T.
Indeed, the LSAT exam is often dramatized well beyond its actual difficulty. Thus, each administration of the exam finds many future law students extremely nervous. But there’s a silver lining; these problems can be solved. Unpreparedness can be remedied; nervousness can be replaced with confidence.
Many people oversimplify preparation for the LSAT by boiling it down to a test prep course. People say, “I will sign up for a course, I will show up to each class, and all will be well.” Having prepared countless students for the LSAT, I can say with certainty that this is the wrong approach.
Let’s put it in LSAT logic terms. Courses are helpful, and sometimes necessary to comprehend, internalize, and apply often foreign, LSAT concepts. However, they are often insufficient to achieve the LSAT score students seek. It’s the work done outside the classroom, both before and during the course, that is by far the most important work one can do to prepare.
While the LSAT is not a knowledge-based exam, the writers of the exam do expect that examinees possess a minimum degree of proficiency in terms of vocabulary, logic, and reading comprehension. A test prep course is exactly that; it allows you to hone your test-taking abilities and strategies, and increases your understanding of the exam. However, you should not expect a test prep course to teach things like vocabulary, familiarity with English idioms, and of course, logical reasoning.
This begs the question: how does one build these skills if not through an LSAT prep course? There’s no single right or wrong answer, but here are three things you can do outside of class to improve your results:
High-level reading with a dictionary (or the smartphone app equivalent) close by is extremely helpful. For example, when students tell me they are having difficulty in these areas, I advise them to make a habit of reading the New York Times op-ed section.
Learn to read differently. This is not just about what students are reading during their free time, but how they are reading it. Students trained to satisfy the demands of undergraduate essay writing tend to speed read, and skip over words that look like fluff or filler in pursuit of the main idea. Ironically, the parts of a sentence that are properly deemed unimportant in an undergraduate essay writing exercise are the most important for LSAT purposes.
This means is that LSAT students need to rewire their brains to read a different way. They have to read every single word, and this means reading slower. Only when you train yourself to read meticulously out of pure habit can you then focus on speeding up to exam speeds.
Do logic games at home. They are easy to find in bookstores or online, and they hone the skills you will need on the analytical reasoning section. Also, by learning to do these games for fun, rather than as a chore, you’ll internalize what you’ve learned.
Assuming you have begun a course with the right foundation in reading comprehension, logic and vocabulary, you still have a lot of work to do at home in order to adequately prepare, which can be boiled down to three basic steps:
Yes, that means waking up as early as you would for the exam, allotting the same amount of time you are given on the exam, taking the same breaks you will take on the exam, etc.
Doing this will allow you to understand what you’re struggling with and how you can improve. Tutors help tremendously in this regard, but only if you have done enough exams can a tutor tell the difference between an ad-hoc error in judgment, which can be ignored, and a bad habit, which must be addressed. Go through an exam you’ve taken that same day, while it’s fresh in your mind, and try to remember how you got your answer. Try to notice patterns in your process, in how you eliminate wrong answer choices, and in how you pace yourself in each section.
You can’t take exams every day, and you shouldn’t anyway! On the days you are not taking exams, drill the problem areas you have identified. If you are too slow in your games section, think about how you could have reached the same answer quicker. Maybe noticing a clue in the question would have saved you time, or maybe you could have skipped doing a complete process of elimination on one particular question. You might discover new weaknesses along the way, or weaknesses you had previously identified as strengths. Don’t worry about it! That is perfectly normal. Just add it to the list of things that need more work.
The takeaway from all of this is simple; LSAT test prep often begins at home, before your course, and continues at home even after your course has begun. If you know law school is where you want to be, and your LSAT score is important to you, then do yourself a favor, and take the time to start preparing properly.
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