Your LSAT Study Plan: Quantity vs. Quality

    LSAT Prep

    rearI had a conversation last week with a new tutoring student of mine, and as she began to outline her history with the LSAT and her previous study strategies, it became immediately clear to me that she had fallen victim to one of the most common misconceptions among test takers: the volume of work you attempt is more important than the insights even a small amount of work can give you.

    The truth is, any time I begin elaborating on the specifics of the idea of "proper practice," and it happens much more frequently than I'd like, it occurs to me that others might benefit from hearing more about the process of comprehensive performance review and self-analysis. So what follows is a breakdown of our discussion. Take these ideas to heart as you continue with your preparations.

    The problem a lot of people run into on this test, and what I think leads to a lot of frustration over score plateaus, is that there's a tendency to just want to push forward-forward-forward, doing section after section, or test after test, without a whole lot of self-awareness or self-reflection. "Okay well I did those 50 LR questions and only got half right...I better do another 50." But that's no way to make improvements!

    Instead, what needs to happen is that whenever you find yourself struggling, even if it's just a small sample of performance (one passage, one game, a few LR questions missed consecutively), you need to stop and take a very detailed look at what's going wrong. Have a conversation with yourself along the lines of, "Alright that game crushed me. Let me go back to the beginning and see what I should have done differently: did I identify the variable sets correctly, pick the right base, recognize the numerical distribution, diagram each of these rules properly, see their connections and the inferences that would result? Did I do those things in a reasonable amount of time, and how could I have gone faster? With each of these questions did I recognize the type--Local or Global, Could be True versus Must be True, etc? And how could I have found the correct answer more quickly?" Essentially: what was the source of my difficulties, why did it cause so much trouble, and how should I respond differently to this scenario when I inevitably face it again?

    To answer those things you often need to return to the conceptual discussion of the thing being tested (maybe undefined grouping games, for instance) and filter your analysis of what you did through the conceptual framework of how it's supposed to be done. So look back at the relevant content in your study materials, be it a PowerScore Bible, course book, or live online course archive, and ensure that you fully understand the underlying nature of the subject in question, and then return to the specific source of the difficulty and reevaluate it based on your improved comprehension of its conceptual basis.

    Once you've satisfactorily answered each of those things for yourself, move to a fresh example of the concept/idea and try again, with an intense focus on a better application of how it should be done. This leads to gradual, but consistent, improvements over time, because you're getting better at recognizing familiar elements and structures, applying the appropriate techniques, and realizing when things are going a bit off kilter so you don't stray too far from where you want to be.

    In short, it's an issue of quantity versus quality. You want QUALITY! So make sure that everything you do, be it something brief or something like an entire five-section practice test, is given a proper review where you take the time to deconstruct it thoroughly and analyze your performance, looking for any possible area of improvement by comparing what you did with the recommended strategy for that concept. 

    Last thing: don't be afraid to start small and build if you find yourself struggling. That is, if LR is a weakness, then an entire practice test with 50 or so questions is probably not the place to spend your time, and certainly not the place to start. Instead you'd want to take a smaller selection of questions, maybe even of a single type if you have one that particularly troubles you, work through those while timing yourself, and then follow the process of comprehensive review/analysis described above. 

    I know this can feel tedious and tiresome, but you MUST have a clear understanding of where you are struggling and why if you want to eliminate your various points of difficulty prior to test day, and a thorough, consistent process of self-analysis and review is the most reliable way to do just that.


    Photo: "Rear View mirror shot" courtesy of Alex.