LSAT: Rowdy’s Guide to Acing It

by Rowdy

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Who are you and why should I listen to you?
I did a really good job on the LSAT. My preparation was 100% self-study plus a couple of outside resources. I think most ambitious LSAT takers over-engineer their studying and end up holding themselves back or being inefficient with their time. I do not tutor or anything, I just took the LSAT and have opinions. There are other opinions out there. Feel free to take from this guide whatever helps you self-actualize.

For whom is this guide intended?
This guide is nominally geared towards someone who has not yet started studying, but it aggressively subtweets those who have started studying inefficiently. There should be something in here for everyone who still has room to improve.

The Big Idea
The LSAT does not measure knowledge. The LSAT measures aptitude through the lens of certain skills, some of which may be learned, and some of which may be intuitive/natural.
Not every LSAT question requires specialized knowledge or strategy. Most people can get a lot of questions right through careful reading and common sense.

You can do some portion of the LSAT naturally right now, more accurately and faster than you would if you used a prescribed strategy.

Other parts of the LSAT you will be able to do naturally once you practice and get a "feel" for the test, without any specialized knowledge or strategy.

Some parts of the LSAT will require you to consult outside resources to develop additional knowledge or strategies to succeed. The LSAT is designed to be a learnable test.

The parts of the LSAT that require additional study of outside resources will vary from person to person. It is a waste of time and effort, and can be counterproductive, to work on specialized knowledge or strategies for things you already do better, faster, intuitively.

Most ambitious LSAT takers over-strategize or over-engineer the LSAT, learning strategies and rules and terms that (at best) waste time or (at worst) actively hold them back by training them to not rely on their own critical thinking skills. There are some popular strategies that can get you from 150 to 160 that hold you back from breaking 170. There are things that can get you to 170 that can hold you back from hitting 180. Nothing that gets you to 180 will hold you back from lower scores (don't @ me with the "what about rushing to finish the section instead of taking your time" argument, people who finish sections with perfect scores are not rushing).

The most efficient way to learn the LSAT is by practicing the LSAT, learning from your mistakes, determining which things you do well naturally, developing your intuitive understanding of the test where possible, and consulting outside strategies where necessary.

The LSAT is given in timed 35-minute sections of mixed question type and gradually increasing difficulty.

Doing anything other than 35 minute sections does not count as practicing the LSAT. It *can* be helpful in narrowly defined situations with a clear purpose to develop certain skills. Just doing untimed sections is garbage.


The Process
Timeline - when do I start?
Now. You start now. Look at LSAC - when is the next test? Register for it. If you're not ready, you can withdraw up to the day before the test and it will never show up on your score report. Better yet, you can take the actual test and maybe you'll hit the top end of your range and be done with the LSAT forever. Or you will get a lower score but you will have the experience of a test day under your belt and your lower score will never matter, because schools only care about your final score.

Step 1: Diagnostic
The first thing you need to do is take a timed diagnostic. Don't worry about studying ahead of time. If you've already been studying for days or weeks or (heaven forbid) months, knock it off, stop it right now, and take a timed practice test. If you haven't studied or taken the LSAT before, you can do this now (or after you've finished reading this guide).

Take the June 2007 LSAT. It is available for free here: https://www.lsac.org/docs/default-source/jd-docs/sampleptjune.pdf

Print it out. Use a multiple choice bubble sheet (scantron) and a pencil. Take all four multiple-choice sections under precisely timed conditions as described in the front of the test book. Set 35 minute timers on your phone (put it on airplane mode so you don't get distracting calls or texts), or use a proctor app such as 7Sage if you would prefer.

DO NOT TAKE THIS TEST UNTIMED. DO NOT CHEAT. DO NOT GIVE YOURSELF EXTRA TIME, EVEN TO FINISH MARKING AN ANSWER. AN "ALMOST TIMED" TEST IS AN UNTIMED TEST. AN UNTIMED TEST IS WORSE THAN WORTHLESS.

When you are completely done taking the test, mark the answers you got correct or incorrect using the answer key provided.

Enter your answers into a score tracker, such as the free one at https://www.strategyprep.com/tools/ (I am sure there are others). I suggest the Strategy Prep tracker because it has useful tools that will make it easier to focus your studying later on. There are also free explanations to many questions.

You will get a calculated score.

Step 2: Review Diagnostic
How well you can review will ultimately dictate how well this guide works for you (and probably how well the LSAT will go in general).

For every question you got wrong, go back over the question and work it out. Be honest with yourself--it does you no good to tell yourself "oh, I get it now, it's obvious that the answer should have been X." Identify specifically why the credited answer is correct, why your answer was not correct, why you chose the wrong answer to begin with, and what you will do differently next time. You should also do the same for any questions you got right, but were not sure (if you had it down to two and just randomly picked one, for example).

The test is here to teach you what you are doing well and what you are not. Let the test teach you. If you put in the effort, you will learn more from your own mistakes than you would from generic LSAT advice.

For the AR/games section, go over a whole game if you had trouble with it. You might not be able to figure it out on your own the first time and that is okay, just hang tough for a minute.

AFTER you have grappled with a question (or game), consult other resources. For your diagnostic, I would do this with every question that you got wrong or that gave you trouble. For future reviews, you can just do this with stuff you can't figure out on your own after reviewing it.

There are a lot of June 2007 resources out there. I've linked a couple in the last section of this. There are others, but these are free and from instructors I know have good explanations. Some people may find it helpful to go through every question on the June 2007 in these guides, not just the ones they got wrong.

Outside resources ALSO include lawschool.life and study partners.

I would not recommend investing in a tutor, a class, or specific books immediately after your diagnostic. Hold off for a bit and let's see where you are with a little bit of self-study.

Step 3: Take More Practice Tests
"But wait," you say. "Why should I take more practice tests? Shouldn't I study the LSAT first?"

Just trust me for a minute. One diagnostic is not enough to know what or how you should study.

Buy the most recent full book of ten real LSAT tests and start working through it.

I want you to set aside time to take one timed 35 minute section per day and carefully review it. This should take about an hour, or up to 90 minutes if you are really struggling with a lot of questions. You can also take one section a day for 4 days, take a full test one day, spend one day doing additional review, and take one day off. (That is what I did.) Use the review method I mentioned above. Consult outside resources if you need to, including any explanations on the StrategyPrep score tracker (linked in last section), study partners, and lawschool.life.

For the tests you take split up over multiple days, make sure you take them sequentially in a "set." Do not just take all of the RC sections from different random tests (right now). We're looking for the mix of sections found in full tests, in sets that give us a final score.

Put your results in the score tracker.

Rinse and repeat for at least 4 full tests (about two weeks) before you evaluate your progress.

Step 4: Evaluate Your Progress

Once you have a handful of tests under your belt, you can check in and evaluate where you are and what your next steps should be.

Where are you best? Where are you worst? Where are you improving? Assess what your strengths are, and consult the LSL community (or a professional) about what resources will be useful to improve in your particular areas of need.

For example, many high scorers are better at LR and RC tha AR when they start. Consulting an outside resource on games or adding in extra games sections might be appropriate in this case. Your needs may also be more granular--if you're consistently missing a certain type of question, reviewing outside explanations of those questions and other resources to explain those question types may be helpful. If you are doing poorly across the board in a lot of sections and types of questions, and not improving, you may benefit from the structure and wide scope of a reputable class.

I could outline recommended resources and steps depending on your PT scores / strengths and weaknesses, but the reality is this: there is no one-size-fits-all prescription. You'll be better off evaluating yourself and asking for help evaluating yourself based on your specific situation.

Step 5: Keep Taking More Practice Tests
While you may need supplemental help in certain areas, or in a lot of areas, it is really important to keep taking practice tests. The LSAT is given in timed 35-minute sections of mixed question type and increasing difficulty. You need to practice the LSAT under those conditions. No matter your skill level, practicing actual LSAT sections and carefully reviewing your mistakes should be the bulk of your preparation, and will best prepare you for the test.

When will I be done?
You'll be done when you're done.
You should take the next available test, and then the next one, until you have a score with which you're happy. Some people will be ready in two months and hit it on their first try. Some people will take longer. Improvement can be gradual, or come in fits and spurts. If you're stuck in one place for too long you should consult folks on here about your roadblocks, but if you're continuing to take practice tests and actually review them you should continue to see gradual improvement.


Overall LSAT Strategy
While what works for different people will vary in some respects, there is one overarching method to this test that will faciliate your best performance in all sections:
Go carefully and methodically through the stimulus first, spend a lot of time on that, and the answer choices will be obvious and easy. Focus on accuracy, and speed will come naturally with practice.

Your process for each question should be something like the following:

1) Carefully read the stimulus (short paragraph in LR, game setup and rules in AR, passage in RC)

2) Understand the simulus. As you read, talk to yourself and summarize what is happening. Re-read it if you need to BEFORE you go on to the question. You should feel like you completely understand the stimulus before you move on to the question. In LR and RC, don't write very much (if anything at all).

In LR: Ask yourself as you read, what is the argument? Who is making the argument? Is there any information that is not a part of the argument? What is the conclusion? What are the premises (what is the evidence)? Do the premises necessitate that the conclusion is true? Are there any assumptions? Are there any missing premises? Is the argument good? Could it be improved?

In RC: As yourself as you read, what is the POINT of this passage? Not just the subject, but the reason it exists? What is the perspective of the author--pro, con, neutral? Also ask all of the questions you ask in LR.

In AR: What does each rule require? What does each rule exclude? Chart out the rules visually in an easy-to-understand format. You might learn or develop or rely on certain types of diagrams, or you might just sketch it out intuitively. Stare at your diagram and think about whether any of the rules, combined, give you new information or require certain things to be true.

3) Read & understand the question. What is it asking? IDC about whether you know the type/category, what is the question asking?

4) PREDICT THE ANSWER. Think about what the answer is BEFORE you move into the answer choices. You should know the answer (or have some ideas) before you read the first answer choice. In games, this means diagramming additional rules. In LR and RC, it means just thinking in your head about what it might be.

5) Carefully read the answer choices and try to eliminate them. Every answer has an 80% chance of being wrong. Even if you've eliminated A through D, E is probably wrong. It's less likely that E is right and more likely that E is wrong and you accidentally eliminated a right answer.

6) Pick it and move on. Best case, it's exactly what you predicted. Worst case, there are a couple answers that are similar that you need to distinguish between. If you have to go by process of elimination, you probably didn't read the stimulus closely enough to begin with or predict the answer.


Tips for high scorers, or how to climb the last ten points.
I posted this in a thread earlier and thought I would copy and paste here.

The first thing to remember is not to take any test (or two tests, or three tests) too seriously. My official LSAT score was life-changing, and the last practice test I ever took was eight(!!!!!) points below my final score (which was at my mode & a point above my mean for my last ten practice tests). Force yourself to remember that one test, or even three tests, is a SMALL SAMPLE SIZE. Your current "true" score is the average of your last 6-10 practice tests, but any given score could fall along a bell curve - close to that average or, rarely, far away.

The reason I emphasize this, even though you probably already know, is because the worst thing you can do for your prep is to worry about the final score. This is true in two ways. First, pulling the LSAT slot machine in the hopes you get on the high end of the bell curve doesn't help you actually learn from the test (and that's what a lot of people do). The more worried you are about the final score, the less likely you are to focus on learning from your mistakes, and the more likely you are to rush through it and pull the lever again. Second, once you get into the 99+ percentile, more of the test is about relaxing, getting in the zone, and just doing what you already know how to do. If you're thinking about the score, you're not thinking about the information in front of you on the page.

So, after all that preface about scores, let's talk about how to improve yours.

Relax and stay calm and focused.
Once I got in the 170s, I knew I had a chance to nail a really special score. I consulted a friend of mine who got perfect SAT & ACT scores to ask what I needed to do. He told me to start practicing mindfulness and meditation exercises, because the biggest difference between 170 and 180 is whether you are clear-headed and focused on the task in front of you. This sounds totally goofy but it really does make a difference - it's how you score on the high end of your personal bell curve. Whatever you need to do to be absolutely calm and entirely in the moment, do it. Meditation before tests, breathing exercises, saying the rosary, whatever. One thing that helped me was taking thirty seconds or a minute - yes, a full minute - after the start of each section to breathe and chill out. I had to force myself to actually slow down and not rush through the test. It helped me a lot in the end, because that focus helped me actually go faster. The other anecdote is on test day, I had a bear of an RC section (June 2017). It took me a long time to wade through the first couple of passages. When five minutes was called, I hadn't started the last passage. But I just calmly read the passage and did all of the questions, briskly and with purpose, but not panicking or rushing. I went -0 on RC even though I felt like I must have done poorly. So could I have used the extra minute I took at the beginning? Sure. But even three or five extra minutes would have been worthless if I hadn't been in a clear headspace.

The Test is your best teacher.
Most of the LSAT prep materials out there are aimed at getting a 135 to a 145, and even most of the "better" materials people talk about here are aimed at bringing a 155 to a 168 or 170. Once you're above 172, you're doing better than 99% of test takers. You might be doing as well as most LSAT instructors. That isn't to say you shouldn't listen to advice from others, or study partners, or tutors, or whatever. It is to say that you should critically assess which strategies and methods are helping you, and which are hurting. For example, maybe you've been taught to skip comparative structure questions (I forget what people usually call those). That might be good advice to get to 170 - most people will never need to answer one of those to get a 170. But it's horrible advice if you want to get a 180. You're wasting time skipping and coming back to a question, creating opportunities to misbubble an answer, and worst of all, cheating yourself out of opportunities to practice those questions. The same goes for some game strategies. Writing out everywhere each variable can and can't go, for example, is effective. But it can also be a crutch that keeps you from seeing opportunities to make clutch inferences that break a game wide open. You're at the point where critically assessing your own strategies, trying new ways of attacking the tests, and focusing on learning from your mistakes is going to be most helpful. Which brings me to my third point for tonight...

The Test is always right.
You're at a point where you're getting most of the questions right, which means you're used to being correct. There is a temptation, when the test doesn't align with your intuition, to say you "disagree" with an answer, or to say it's a "bad question," or to say it's "a matter of opinion." But there are no bad questions. If there were bad questions, or if it were a matter of opinion, people like me (and soon, you) wouldn't get all of the questions right every time. There is a reason why every right answer is right, and there is a reason why every wrong answer is wrong. Figure out those reasons! The test is trying to teach you something! If you're still fuzzy on an answer, look up ten different explanations of it until you get a handle on it, come back to it tomorrow, look at it from every angle. At this point, you're getting so few questions wrong that each one is a precious and rare opportunity. Every question you learn from at this point puts you ahead of hundreds or thousands of test takers.

Hat Tip & Recommended Resources:
All props to the Thinking LSAT Podcast guys. I discovered their podcast partway through my prep and their advice aligned really well with how I prepared for the test. I've heard some people can't stand their personalities or the extraneous conversations on the show--hey, there's no accounting for taste--but their LSAT advice is flawless. I highly recommend listening to all of their episodes with question explanations. Both of them offer guides to the June 2007 LSAT and Ben has the LSAT tracker, all for free. Nathan has a couple of reasonably-priced books for LR and AR which are good resources. In addition, they offer tutoring and full classes, which I have not used, but I suspect they are as good as their free materials. I have no affiliation with them but their advice and free materials took me to the next level.

Here are links to their June 2007 resources and the score tracker:
https://www.foxlsat.com/free
https://www.strategyprep.com/tools/

If anyone has other recommended resources, lmk so I can post them here.

Edit: It was suggested that I add more "choose your own adventure" for how to proceed with different phases / situations / weaknesses. I'll try to build that out in the next couple days.

 

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