When you create a study plan for the LSAT, make sure to include liberal breaks in your schedule, anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. At first glance, that advice may seem counterintuitive—to increase your score, plan to not study? But yes, it will help, and here’s why:
Studying for the LSAT isn’t like studying for a History or Math test. In those exams, small universal details and rote memorization play a big role. If you were to take time away from studying before such a test, you might forget a date or a formula, and that could cost you questions on the exam. But the LSAT is a process and concept test, one where your understanding of the big picture ideas in play is crucial and the details change constantly. On one test you may see a question about banks and on the next test you may see one about flowers, but they might both trade on the same concept. In other words, the LSAT requires you to understand the structures in play, and thus much of LSAT preparation is about abstract concepts and techniques. To mentally absorb these ideas and apply them seamlessly, your mind needs to place these elements subconsciously, and situate them properly for instant recall. This takes time, and it is one big reason that you can’t cram for the LSAT. But it also means that when you take breaks from studying the LSAT, your mind keeps processing the ideas and integrating them into your analytical structures.
While taking short breaks is always good, four specific groups of test takers can benefit from even longer breaks (up to several weeks or a month):
- Those who plan on studying the LSAT over the course of nine months or more
If you have a long-term study plan, you must include a few lengthy breaks in your schedule. I occasionally talk to students who have intense study plans (think 8 hours of studying a day for a year—no kidding!), and they often feel like any break will jeopardize their progress. It’s actually the opposite, because not taking breaks will lead them to joining the next group on this list, the LSAT burnouts.
- Those experiencing LSAT burnout
What’s LSAT burnout? It’s what happens when you study for so long and so hard that you literally get sick at the thought of seeing another LSAT question, and you’d rather gouge your eyes out than study any more (ok, maybe it’s not quite that bad, but you get the point). While most people never reach burnout while studying, for those who do, it can be quite frustrating. These students benefit heavily from a long break because they can recharge, and return to the LSAT refreshed. And they often return several points better than where they left off.
- Those who have reached a score plateau
Students preparing for the LSAT often run into score plateaus, where despite continued studying, their score fails to increase. While there are different causes and cures for this problem, taking a break from the test is one tool that is often overlooked. Just the break alone will often provide the push needed to break out of that plateau. Now, if you’ve only been studying two weeks, you shouldn’t take a month off, so make sure to vary your break in relation to how much studying you’ve already put in.
- Those who took the LSAT once and then decided to retake it
Consider a student who takes the October LSAT and waits for his or her score before deciding whether to take the LSAT again. Scores normally aren’t released until the end of October, and in the interim, she decides not to study the LSAT. While this may seem like a bad strategy if you think you might take the December LSAT, this somewhat unintentional break (these students often don’t know if they will take the LSAT again, and they hope they won’t) often results in a slight score increase when they begin studying again. While that might not make up for the fact that they are taking the LSAT again, it is a nice little bonus that helps soften the impact.
So, go ahead and take a brief vacation from the LSAT now and then. You’ll often find that when you come back, you are actually better than you were before. And when people ask why you aren’t preparing for the test, just tell them you are—subconsciously!