Let Your Practice (Exams) Make Perfect

 

Taking diagnostic practice exams should be part of any LSAT study plan, of course. But after working with many aspiring law students on the LSAT, I’ve realized that these students have very different ideas on why they’re taking these exams. Some see practice exams merely as a way to measure their progress. These students use the practice exams the same way dieters use a scale — as a way to see if all the healthy eating (to extend this analogy, I suppose this is equivalent to learning the concepts the LSAT tests) and exercise (untimed practice on LSAT problems) is helping them reach their goals. These students over-emphasize the diagnostic in diagnostic practice exam.

Others see practice exams as the healthy eating and exercise. They use these exams as their only opportunity to test their understanding of these concepts and practice LSAT problems. These students over-emphasize the practice in diagnostic practice exams.

Others are very intimidated by the idea of voluntarily taking a diagnostic practice exam. For these students, practice exams bring to mind their worst midterms and finals experiences, stretched out over nearly four-hours, and mostly they eschew these tests altogether. These students over-emphasize the exam in diagnostic practice exam.

Taking a diagnostic practice exam involves all of these things, however. Emphasizing any one part of diagnostic practice exam is problematic. Those who only use exams to measure their progress typically just look at the score they received on their exam, but don’t do any deeper analysis of why they received that score or what precisely went well or poorly during that exam. They don’t get the information from the exam that would help guide the practice they should be doing in between these exams. Those who use practice exams as their exclusive means to practice the concepts and strategies the LSAT tests typically do not see the same progress as other students. Working exclusively under the considerable time constraints on the LSAT, they usually don’t gain the facility with the concepts and strategies that other students, who balance their exams with targeted, untimed practice, do. And those who avoid taking exams altogether are obviously unable to determine if their studies are translating to a better LSAT score.

Taking full, timed diagnostic practice exams a very important part of studying for the LSAT. Taking a full exam is also a long and arduous task to do on your own volition, so you want to make sure that you are getting everything out of the exam that you can. So here are some tips for how to best approach a practice exam, to ensure that you get the most out of this aspect of your LSAT study plan.

Simulate Test Conditions as Best as You Can

When you take the real LSAT, you will be in an unfamiliar room, full of other anxious aspiring law students. You will have to use an analog wristwatch to time yourself. You cannot have your phone, and all personal belongings will need to be stored away in a Ziplock bag. You will have a proctor who might take an over-zealous approach to test-day rules and regulations. At some point, you’ll have to do an unscored and unpublished experimental section. There may be outside noises that creep into the room, and the proctor will definitely shout “FIVE MINUTES” when five minutes remain in a section, and “SECTION OVER” when the section is over.

When you take a practice exam, ask yourself: how many of these conditions am I replicating? Most, when they take an exam, take it in the comfort of their home and use the clock feature on their phone to keep track of the time. Under these comfortable conditions, you’ll be more at ease, and less likely to second-guess yourself or make certain mistakes that are natural in a less-familiar testing environment.

So instead of taking your practice exam at home, try to go to a somewhat quiet, public place, like a library. Instead of using your phone to time yourself, actually practice using an old-fashioned analog wristwatch. There are myriad online timers you can use that will replicate the role of a proctor. Or better yet, if you have friends or family members who owe you favors, ask them to take on the role of a proctor. Use a section from an old practice exam to function as the “experimental section” of your exam. Doing so will help prepare you for the turbulence of the actual test day.

When You Take the Exam, Actually Employ the Strategies You’ve Been Practicing

Far too many, when taking a practice exam, feel the intense time pressure of a 35-minute LSAT section, and attempt to speed through each question without actually utilizing the strategies they’ve been practicing. They don’t anticipate what the correct answer might look like on Logical Reasoning questions. They don’t annotate the passage on Reading Comprehension, or take the time to break down the arguments presented. They spend far too little time making deductions or constructing scenarios on Logic Games. These students may finish each section, but their accuracy plummets, ultimately resulting in a lower score. 

Perhaps even more troubling, students who do this have mostly wasted four hours of their lives. One major part of taking a diagnostic practice exam is determining whether all your practice acquiring and developing the skills necessary to do well on the exam are actually helping you when you have to employ them on an actual test. If you’re not actually using these skills, you’re missing this major aspect of taking a practice exam.

Even with the time pressure of the exam, make sure to take the requisite time to employ the strategies and use the skills that you’ve acquired. If that means you don’t finish a section, that’s OK! Finishing a section, just for the sake of completion, should not be your goal. With more practice, you’ll get faster and you’ll develop an approach that allows you to answer more questions. For each exam, make sure you’re using the strategies you’ve been learning, so you can get an accurate appraisal of whether those skills are translating to test success.

After You Finish an Exam, Examine It

When you finish an exam, you’ll score it, and the score you receive may be great news, or it may be greatly disappointing. Irrespective of what that score is, it’s important that you take a closer look at how you arrived at that score.

There are several things you should examine after every exam, all of which are at least as important as your final score. You should take a look at how you did on each Logical Reasoning question type, to see if your progress on any particular question type is stagnant or regressing. You should look at how you did on each Reading Comprehension passage, and you should pay special attention if you missed any questions that asked you for the main point of the passage or for the author’s attitude on any topic in the passage — missing those tends to be a sign that your approach to Reading Comprehension passage needs some refinement. You should also check to see if there were Logic Games that missed more than a one or two questions on, and you should check to see if that was a result of missing important deductions on that game, or if it was just a case of a silly mistake, such as misrepresenting a rule on that game.

To get the best idea of how the exam went for you, and to see what concepts or skills you should review in the aftermath of the exam, you should do a blind review of every Logical Reasoning question you missed, and every Reading Comprehension passage and Logic Game that you missed more than a few questions on. Try taking another look at these questions, passages, and games, without seeing the right answers or the answer choices you selected. Do the Logical Reasoning questions again, without any time pressure. For passages and games, give yourself 12-15 minutes to try it again.

If you’re able to answer a question correctly on the second try, and you were able to anticipate the correct answer and explain why all the incorrect answer choices are incorrect, that’s a great sign. It means that you know how to do that particular question. You, in all likelihood, missed it on the test because you let the timing pressure affect your performance. Fixing this simply entails doing more timed practice, and perhaps working on an approach that will afford you more time to do difficult questions like the ones you missed.

If you are able to answer a question correctly on the second try, but you had trouble anticipating, or if you can’t articulate why certain incorrect answer choices are wrong, that just means you haven’t quite mastered that question type yet. You should try to find really hard versions of that particular Logical Reasoning question type, passage type, or game type, and do some untimed practice. Doing so will help you master that particular question, and you’ll hopefully not miss similar questions on subsequent practice exams.

If you miss that question again, that’s OK. But you’ll have to do a wholesale review of that particular LR question type, passage type, or game type. Go back to your notes and review the strategic approach and any attendant concepts that are frequently tested on those questions. Then, get lots of untimed practice with easy and mild versions of that question before your next practice exam, to build your confidence and facility with that question type.

Making improvements to your LSAT score largely depends on the work you do in between practice exams, and a close examination of your exam performance plus blind review of missed questions will help guide you in between these tests.

Practice exams are a hugely important part of the LSAT study process, but like anything else LSAT related, you need to have the right approach to them. Approach the exams this way, and your practice exams will make perfect … or at least as close to perfection as you can be on the LSAT.

 


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. Having taught for Blueprint for almost 4 years, he has helped countless students improve their LSAT score.