When time is running out, students face a critical dilemma. It’s one that I feel is important to briefly address as it is one of the most common elements that students find slows them down: diagramming.
Make Sure It’s Worth Your Time
Here’s the thing. Any time you find yourself stopping to make notations, for a passage, game, or stimulus, you’re using valuable time. Theoretically, that time may be better spent. Maybe by continuing to read the passage or stimulus, or analyzing answer choices and considering which is correct. Perhaps just getting to those final few questions you otherwise have to guess on.
What that means then is that the time you spend writing needs to be an investment. There are two things that it needs to do in order to be a valuable use of your time.
- It gains you more time than it took as you continue on. For example, a prephrase, where you can more aggressively/efficiently sort through the answers.
- It translates into a better understanding of what you’re facing such that you increase the likelihood of getting the question correct.
Failing both of those, your diagramming is probably a poor investment and you’re better off without it.
Consider an all-too-common scenario. Student X begins working through a Reading Comprehension section, diagramming fairly heavily as they go. They write brief paragraph summaries in the margins, bracketing, numbering, underlining, and all the rest. On average, it takes them 4.5 minutes from beginning to end of a passage. Another 5 minutes for the questions, and they’re right at the 30 minute mark as they move to the fourth passage. That leaves 5 minutes for an entire passage and its questions, which is a tall order for even the best test takers. I write more about what to do in this situation in a previous post.
Now consider that they could have been just as successful, or at least very nearly as successful, without the vast majority of those notations. Imagine that instead of writing out paragraph summaries, they simply paused very briefly and considered the main ideas of each paragraph in her mind, writing nothing. Perhaps instead of furiously underlining they just made mental notes of key information or critical points, recognizing where they appear and their significance, but not annotating it in the text. How much time might that save? 60 seconds per passage? 90? Even saving just a minute per passage means that they’d have over 8 minutes to finish passage 4, instead of the mere 5 minutes remaining after heavy notating. If you’ve ever spent any time with Reading Comp on the LSAT you know what a difference those extra 3-4 minutes can make!
Notate Only When Necessary
I’m NOT encouraging you to never diagram! In fact, it’s a necessity in Games, and probably critical for certain passage elements and LR questions, as well. Rather, I’m encouraging you to consider how much time you’ve spent making notations, and whether that time was well spent, or could have been better spent elsewhere. My experience tells me that if you’re like the vast majority of test takers the amount of time you spend making notes is, in actuality, a pretty poor investment and costing you way more than you gain.
If you have any questions or want some further clarification of how I recommend you notate as you move through the LSAT, let me know in the comments and I’ll try to clarify further!