People preparing for the LSAT often ask about the best way to take a self-administered practice test prior to sitting for the real thing, and with the recent announcement of our New LSAT Download Store I felt this was a perfect time to outline exactly how to craft the ideal practice test experience.
What follows is a list of considerations related to practice test-taking, and links to resources for each of these points in case you need more information.
Consider your mindset. Like any serious discussion of the LSAT, the most appropriate way to begin is by talking about mentality. We have already talked at length about the proper mindset in previous blog posts (here and here), so I’ll try to spare you too much redundancy, but suffice it to say that if you’re planning to take a practice test under adverse mental conditions, you should probably reconsider. It could be that you’re tired from a long day, or it could simply be that the motivation to take an entire exam isn’t there. Regardless, if you cannot commit your full mental and physical resources to the task, you’re going to underperform, and likely develop bad habits and undermine some self-confidence in the process. So always consider your mental state before you take a practice test, and make sure you have the right attitude before you begin.
Use official Law Services questions. There are a number of materials available that use “simulated” questions, which are created by test prep companies to mimic actual test content without paying licensing costs. While the quality of these certainly varies, as a general rule they’re a poor substitute for the real thing: questions designed by the test makers and actually administered on previous LSATs. The good news is that official questions are easily obtained, and not terribly expensive. Our new LSAT Download Store provides instant access to a wealth of official content, as well as comprehensive explanations, all available at a low cost and with immediate delivery.
Stick to recent tests when possible. Granted, some people will want to take dozens of practice tests, and will therefore have to dip into some older content, but the newer the test, typically the better the predictor it is of what you are likely to encounter on test day. That is not to say that tests from the 90s aren’t worthwhile (they are immensely valuable for certain purposes), but be sure to save at least a few of the most recently administered LSATs to take as your final practice tests. A full sampling of LSAT tests can be found here.
Add an experimental section. The LSAT consists of five 35-minute sections, four of which are scored, and one of which is experimental. So I always encourage people to add a fifth section to their timed practice tests, as you are guaranteed to encounter that on the actual LSAT. Anyone who has taken this exam will attest to the fact that it is in part a test of mental endurance, so to build that endurance prior to test day you have to train yourself with a task that mirrors the real thing. Simply pull a section from an older LSAT and add it to an entire four-section test, and then treat all five sections as though they count.
Side note #1: It can be hard to convince yourself to treat a section as real when you know that it’s not, so perhaps the most ideal situation would be to have a friend/colleague print out, or tear from a book, a complete test and an additional section, and then shuffle the sections together without informing you which is experimental. Covering up or cutting off section and page numbers will also help to disguise the unscored section.
Side note #2: If you are unable to add an experimental section for whatever reason, then take all four sections of your practice test without a break. This is the best approximation of the LSAT if the experimental is removed.
Time yourself. As I noted above, you need to acclimate yourself to actual test day conditions, which means you need to take your practice test under the time constraints you’ll face when it counts. Give yourself a strict 35 minutes for each section, and only take a break between sections 3 and 4 of your 5-section LSAT (or no break for a 4-section test). You can use anything with a programmable timer/alarm—watch, handheld timer, or phone—or, if you’ve got access to a laptop, you can use our LSAT Virtual Proctor.
Get out of your comfort zone. It’s a sad truth that the LSAT would be a much more appealing experience if it could be taken from the comfort of your home or office. “Truth” because people tend to perform better in an environment with which they are familiar, and “sad” because as much as you might prefer to take it at your kitchen table, the LSAT is always administered in a public room full of strangers. That can be a bit unnerving, not to mention distracting, so try to take at least one or two practice tests in a similar public setting. The library at your school (or a public library), the back corner of a coffee shop…really anywhere that’s fairly quiet and you can sit for several hours uninterrupted, but that will still have people moving around and making a bit of noise. Not every practice test needs to be taken in this type of environment, but I strongly recommend that you attempt a few in a public place. To familiarize yourself with exactly what to expect on test day, review the information here.
Take it early. I don’t mean "early" as in begin preparing well in advance (although that is absolutely recommended!); instead I mean plan to take practice tests leading up to the LSAT at the same time of day the actual test is administered, which likely means early in the morning. My colleague Nikki recently wrote a fantastic post on this exact idea!
Each of these recommendations is based on the principle of accurately mimicking the day of the test—the test content, pacing, and environment—and this one is no different. Three of the four LSATs administered each year are given at about 8:30 AM on a Saturday (June is the exception as it’s held on a Monday just after noon), an odd time for most people to be performing the mental gymnastics needed to score well. So get your body and mind as comfortable as possible with taking your practice tests at the time when your actual LSAT is scheduled.
Not sure when your LSAT begins? A list of test dates and administration times is available here.
Review! Admittedly, this isn’t so much about the test taking itself, but it is the final piece of maximizing the value of your practice test experience, and any practice test is incomplete without it. You need to perform a thorough post-test review, analyzing your performance and determining the most appropriate study plan moving forward. Without this type of comprehensive self-analysis there is no way to determine why you scored as you did, which means your potential for improvement is severely restricted. Put more succinctly, you have to identify and understand your mistakes if you expect to have any chance of correcting them.
PowerScore has created an interactive Score Analysis spreadsheet that will deconstruct your performance on either the June 2007 LSAT (a free test) or the December 2009 LSAT. And our students have access to an Online Student Center with powerful resources for online test scoring and review.
The spreadsheet can be accessed here.
So there you have it, the pieces I believe comprise the ideal practice test experience. That said, there is one final point I’d like to make: “ideal” is a far cry from “worthwhile,” so even if you find that you cannot satisfy every one of these points, there can still be a tremendous amount of value in taking timed LSATs. A 4-section test, or a test from 1994, or a test taken in the evening at home are all better than no test at all, provided you do your best to meet as many of the recommendations above as possible. Good luck!
Have questions about taking practice tests? Leave us a comment in the section below, or visit us on our Forum and we'll be happy to help you out!