Planning Your LSAT Test-Taking Tactics
You’ll have an easier time on test day if you consider some strategic matters beforehand. The following sections provide a few simple strategies to ease your test-taking venture. You can’t “beat” the LSAT; no one can. These strategies aren’t tricks to outsmart the test, but they can help you do better.
Maximizing your chances
Some people are naturally good at taking standardized tests. This strength doesn’t mean they make better law students or better lawyers; they just find these tests easy. Other people have a harder time. They find tests stressful in general, and LSAT questions especially annoying. Whichever type you are, you can undertake some basic strategies to help you improve your score and give you a more pleasant test-taking experience. (Well, maybe not as pleasant as a spa visit, but more pleasant than a root canal.)
Here are a few things you can do to maximize your chances of getting a good score:
- Answer every question. The LSAT test-makers don’t penalize you for guessing, so you’d be crazy not to make sure every number on the answer sheet has a bubble filled in, even if you don’t bother to read the question that goes with it.
- Take your time. You get better results by answering three quarters of the test accurately and then guessing on the last quarter than by racing through the whole thing too fast to be accurate.
- Budget your time. You get 35 minutes for each multiple-choice section. Decide how to spend it. Allotting each question exactly 1.3 minutes may not be the most effective approach, but be careful not to get so caught up in the first Analytical Reasoning problem that you have only 5 minutes to work the last three.
- Don’t worry too much about your time. If you’re not going to finish, you’re not going to finish. Answer as many questions correctly as you can, rather than panicking and getting everything wrong.
- If you get stuck on a question, forget about it. Move on to another question. (But be sure to circle the question in case you have time to come back to it.)
- Ignore your companions. What they do makes no difference to your score. If you have a major problem with your surroundings — the stench of cheap perfume from the woman next to you, the snuffling of the allergy sufferer behind you — speak to the proctor, but don’t count on getting moved; test centers are often fully booked. If you’re positive your performance has suffered, you can always cancel your test score and try again later.
- Stay on target. You may get bored, and your mind may want to wander somewhere more pleasant, but don’t let it. Use visual cues to help yourself stay focused — point to questions with your pencil or finger.
Don’t forget to answer every question!
Taking the straight or the winding road
Should you start with the first question and work every subsequent question until you get to the last one? Or should you jump around? It’s entirely up to you.
The Analytical Reasoning and Reading Comprehension sections are both divided into four approximately equal parts, and if you want to pick the easiest part first and work your way to the hardest, then by all means do so. Just be careful to match your test book and answer sheet numbers. Also, remember that initial assessments of difficulty are rarely accurate; a more productive way of choosing your first problem is to pick the Analytical Reasoning problem or Reading Comprehension passage with the largest number of questions — that way you maximize the number of questions you actually answer.
Although starting with a Reading Comprehension passage or Analytical Reasoning problem that isn’t the first one in your test book is okay, after you pick one, stick with it until you’re done. Don’t try to jump between two or three passages or problems at the same time — that way lies madness.
Skipping around on the Logical Reasoning sections may not be such a good idea, because every question stands alone. A steady, straight-on-down-the-line approach is probably the better bet here. (Still, if you work best doing questions in your order, go for it.)
Some instructors teach their students to identify types of questions, so they can identify the easy and hard ones and work the easy ones first. This strategy can actually take more time and effort than simply working the problems. Instead, just do them in order and pay attention to when you’re stuck so that you move on and avoid wasting time. The questions are all more or less the same level of difficulty anyway, though if you immediately spot one you prefer, go ahead and do it.
Some test-prep experts recommend that if you really can’t finish an Analytical Reasoning or Reading Comprehension section, you cut your losses and just do your best on three of the four problems, tackling the scariest at the end if you have time. Sounds crazy, but this approach actually makes more sense than trying to speed through all four passages or problems; you maximize your accuracy on the parts you do instead of doing the whole section too fast and getting half of it wrong. If you do three-quarters of a section and get all those questions right, you get 75 percent, which is better than finishing the section and getting only half right. Of course, you should still fill in the bubbles for the questions you haven’t answered; there’s no penalty for wrong answers, so you may as well.
Filling in the dots
The LSAT answer sheet is one of those fill-in-the-bubble things. You fill in the bubble corresponding to your answer with a No. 2 pencil. A machine then reads the dots and scores the test.
Debates rage on the best way to fill in these bubbles. Should you fill them in as you answer each question or is it preferable to concentrate on the test booklet for an entire page of questions and then transfer your answers in one block? Some people insist that saving up your bubbling to the end of a page is the only sensible way to proceed, and that any other method is insane. Other folks prefer to bubble in their circles after they answer each question.
The truth: Whether you bubble now or later doesn’t really matter just as long as you fill them in before time runs out. A circle takes about the same amount of time to blacken either way. So don’t spend your time worrying about this; just pick a style that works for you and go with it.
When you fill in your dots doesn’t matter, but the following items are very important. Don’t forget to do them before time elapses and you’re stuck with a half-empty answer sheet.
- Double-check your question numbers. Getting off track and filling in your answer sheet incorrectly is easy; all it takes is skipping one question, and then every bubble on your answer sheet is off kilter. At every question, look at the question number in your booklet, say it to yourself or put your finger on it, and then fill in the right bubble.
- Fill in every dot completely. The machine reads completely blackened dots the best.
- Fill in an answer for every question. If you can’t finish a section, pick a letter and use it to answer all the remaining questions.
- Don’t get caught up in the geometrical pattern formed by your dots. Sometimes several questions in a row have the same answer. That’s okay.
- Erase mistakes completely. The machine may misread your answer if you leave half-erased marks in the wrong bubble.
Taking the occasional break
An LSAT is a test of stamina as much as anything else. It’s a long test, and it’s tiring. That’s why pacing yourself is crucially important. When you finish a chunk of test — an Analytical Reasoning problem or a full page of Logical Reasoning questions — take a break. Close your eyes, twist your neck, loosen those tight muscles in your shoulders, breathe, and let your eyes focus on a distant object. Don’t take more than 30 seconds or a minute, but do take the break. It helps you more than fretting about how little time you have left.
Have you ever heard the story about two guys who were cutting wood with axes? They worked side by side from morning until evening. The first man worked straight through without a break, swinging that axe from dawn ’til dusk. The second man sat down and rested for ten minutes every hour. At the end of the day, the men compared their piles of wood. The man who had rested every hour had a pile much bigger than the other man. The first man asked the second one how he had managed that feat, especially because he had spent so much of the day resting. The second man replied, “While I rested, I sharpened my axe.”
Your brain is like that axe. You bring it to the test sharp, but the LSAT is designed to make it dull. Take those breaks and sharpen (and rest) your brain — the breaks really help.