Test-taking season is upon us! To get in the mood, take a look at this article on Wall Street Journal: Toughest Exam Question: What Is the Best Way to Study? While the article is geared predominantly towards SAT/ACT-takers, most of the suggestions in it can prove useful to someone preparing to take the LSAT. With a month left until the February 2013 examination, here’s how you should tailor the recommendations in the WSJ to your study regimen.
- Assuming you have a solid conceptual understanding of the material (i.e. you have taken an LSAT class or read the Bible trilogy books and workbooks published by PowerScore), take enough practice tests. As the article points, out, “testing yourself repeatedly […] teaches the brain to retrieve and apply knowledge from memory.” What is “enough” varies from person to person, but you want to take at least 10 practice tests, thoroughly reviewing each and every question that you had a hard time understanding.
- If you keep struggling with some of the most difficult questions in each section, you may have hit a “ceiling.” When this happens, try to review each of these questions by explaining them to yourself as if you are teaching a class. All of our instructors have scored in the top-1% of the LSAT before they start teaching, but many tend to develop an even better grasp of the idiosyncrasies that dominate the test by reviewing challenging questions in a classroom setting. You may also find the Advanced LSAT Logical Reasoning Course or the Advanced LSAT Logic Games Course extremely helpful: they both delve into the most difficult LR questions and Logic Games we have encountered, and provide a clear, systematic way of breaking these games and arguments down.
- Since the December 2011 test begins at 8:30 AM, make sure you develop a solid regimen of going to bed at a specified time every day for at least one week prior to the test, and allow for at least 7 hours of sleep each night. The point is not to wake up earlier than usual on the morning of the test. Make sure you leave enough time for breakfast, some moderate exercise, commuting, and warming up. Plan accordingly: if you need to wake up at 6:00 AM on the day of the test, make sure you go to bed by 11:00 PM the night before. Follow this regimen the entire week prior to the test day.
- Make a list of the hardest LR questions and Games with which you struggled over the past month or so. Look at these questions the evening before the test: are you better equipped to handle them now than you were a month ago? You can be sure that some of the most difficult questions on the real test will be quite similar to them. Reviewing the toughest material the night before “makes it easier to recall the material later,” says Dan Taylor, director of a sleep-and-health-research lab at the University of North Texas in Denton. There is an additional benefit you can derive from this exercise: confidence. If you can conquer the questions responsible for lowering your score a month ago, that will give you an enormous boost of confidence on the day of the test.
- Needless to say, don’t pull an all-nighter: it will have a terrible effect on your focus and stamina and is virtually guaranteed to lower your score.
- The morning of the test: eat a solid breakfast containing complex carbohydrates and fiber. For example, a meal such as Bob's Red Mill Organic Steel Cut Oats with raisins and toasted pecans would be close to ideal. Consuming a moderate amount of coffee is fine, as long as you don’t overdo it.
- Research has shown that what you eat the week before matters as well. According to the WSJ article, “When 16 college students were tested on attention and thinking speed, then fed a five-day high-fat, low-carb diet heavy on meat, eggs, cheese and cream and tested again, their performance declined. The students who ate a balanced diet that included fruit and vegetables, however, held steady,” says Cameron Holloway, a senior clinical researcher at the University of Oxford. “The brain requires a constant supply of energy and ‘has only a limited backup battery,’ he says.”
- I would never take a practice test without a moderate amount of cardiovascular exercise in the 1-2 hours before the test. Multiple well-controlled studies have shown a significant correlation between fitness scores and test scores. The California Department of Education, for instance, found that kids who were deemed “fit” scored twice as well on academic tests as those who were unfit. The fit kids’ brains also showed more activity in the prefrontal cortex measured by an EEG test. Of course, as a well-trained LSAT test-taker, you know better than to assume that any correlation automatically means causation. Exercise is unlikely to make you smarter. But the correlation is strong enough to provide some evidence that it does improve learning capacity, memory retention, and focus.
- Get into the habit of performing 30 minutes of moderate cardiovascular exercise two-three times a week, ideally before you take each practice test. Go running, biking, swimming, or play a round of tennis. Do the same the morning of the test, right before breakfast.