I’ll begin this blog with a confession: the vast majority of the text below is not my own, but rather has been taken (with encouragement) from a post Dave Killoran wrote the other day on our LSAT Forum. The advice is too good, and too endlessly relevant, not to share however, so I’m reusing it here to ensure it reaches the widest audience possible.
Specifically Dave went to great lengths to explore and explain two of the most commonly-encountered concerns plaguing test takers, namely how to correct for wide-ranging performance variations, and how to keep improving when it feels as though you’ve hit a permanent score plateau.
Here’s Dave’s breakdown in full (with occasional edits and additions by yours truly):
Recently, I’ve received several messages from students that either ask about seemingly random score fluctuations, or alternately about scores stagnating or not increasing quickly enough. While each person is different, and the reasons for these difficulties vary somewhat from person to person, the proper way to study as you address these issues is often very much the same no matter who you are or what your specific causes may be. So, I’m going to post some of the general advice I typically pass along in the hope that it might help anyone out there who is struggling.
First, if you are reading this, I’m terribly sorry to hear things aren’t going the way you want thus far, but one comforting truth is that your journey’s end isn’t dictated by the struggles you face along the way. It’s normal to encounter some difficulties while studying, and many students struggling tirelessly with serious issues ultimately go on to score extremely well. The key thing to focus on is not some problem that you have, but instead how you should react to it and the steps you must take to eliminate it!
With that in mind, let’s talk about how to identify and conquer the multifaceted issues that tend to accompany score fluctuations and performance plateaus. Just as a warning, this is somewhat lengthy (although if you’re familiar with either Dave’s or my blogs you’ll find that no surprise), and it’s also upside down in a sense: I go from broad ideas to more narrow ones, and even wrap up with a pointed recommendation for a specific next step. So, please bear with me until the end 🙂
LR/RC—Your understanding of the stimulus/passage: Inconsistency often relates to your analysis of the stimulus. How confident do you feel coming out of each stimulus or passage? Do you feel like you understand what is being said? Is your clarity on the argument as good as you’d like, or do you find yourself uncertain of exactly what has been said in many cases? If it’s the latter, then that’s the first place to start—try some sections of untimed questions where you stop after each stimulus and make an assessment of how confident you feel in your interpretation of it, and then compare that to how you perform when proceeding to answer the question. If you see a connection between issues in your stimulus analysis and subsequently missing questions, then you’ll know that stimulus/passage deconstruction should move to the forefront of your continued prep.
So always, always consider: how clear are you on what you’ve read? Could you condense the stimulus into a sentence or two that captures the essence of what was said, or distill a whole passage into a few accurate sentences (without changing the strength/nature of the language used and the ideas central to the author’s text)? If not, start practicing doing so immediately.
Another way to think of it is this: everything you need to know to answer any question is in the stimulus (or passage), so if you fail to fully comprehend what’s presented there it’s always going to be difficult to choose the correct answer.
[JD Note: I find that Method of Reasoning questions can work outright miracles when it comes to the skill outlined above. As a pure test of your ability to simply describe, in generalized terms, the nature and architecture of how a stimulus is put together they’re unrivaled in honing your argument description abilities, so if you’re looking for a place to start then start there! And follow that with Method’s close kin: Main Point and Method-Argument Part will shore up your elemental deconstruction of prompts by forcing you to categorize and classify arguments’ component pieces; Flaw and Parallel Flaw require you to describe reasons for doubt that exist in a stimulus, and duplicate the reasoning at work in an argument (often based on a recognizable flaw), respectively; and Must Be True is the foundation of the LSAT, as you move from a limited set of data into a single answer choice that can be determined solely on the basis of it.]
LR/LG—Your recognition of the things the test makers do over and over: Good test takers save time by becoming intimately familiar with the things that the test makers present most often, and then immediately recognizing and reacting to those things during the exam. This could be something as simple as recognizing a question stem wording or knowing how to properly diagram a rule and understanding its implications, or an idea as involved as recalling a specific numerical distribution pattern in LG from a game done previously or a tricky flaw in an LR stimulus. Familiarity is, in a word, empowering.
I’ll talk more precisely about how to improve that recognition in the discussion below, but the key here is to never forfeit time on the things you can (and should) know beforehand!
With the two broad areas described above in mind, let’s consider in more detail how to get better at each:
1. Track everything that gives you trouble. Miss a question? Mark it down and, more importantly, note why you missed it. Not just why the right answer is right, but also why the wrong answers are wrong and what about you particular choice was attractive when it shouldn’t have been. Don’t feel 100% comfortable? Same thing—mark it down. Then, every so often, go through those lists and look for patterns in what you are missing. There will likely be identifiable causes leading to your mistakes, and once you know the cause you’re well on your way to a cure!
2. Make sure you really know the the concepts that appear most frequently on the test, as well as the various techniques and methods for attacking them. For example, can you identify premises and conclusions without thinking, do you know the common categorical argument flaws, do you know all the ways to break down causality in LR in order to both weaken and strengthen it, can you immediately identify and properly diagram conditional reasoning constructions while also avoiding the two most oft-presented traps, and so on. Instant execution without delay or second-guessing is your goal. A good self-test of how well you know these ideas is to review them in your PowerScore Bible or course book and ask yourself if you could effectively teach them to someone else. If the answer is no, then review them again!
Finally, if after working to implement all of the above you still find that your scores are perversely volatile, or that you aren’t improving at a reasonably satisfactory pace, try this basic assessment: sit down and take a totally new practice test, one you haven’t seen before. Time it, and then follow the rules for blind review outlined in the first method listed here. Use those results to make a cold appraisal of how well your LSAT radar is working in terms of when you feel confident versus when you know something is wrong. If you find that your self-analysis radar is poorly calibrated (in effect that your confidence is misplaced, where even untimed your answers are incorrect far more often than expected) go through the above steps to break down each part of your process to better diagnose where the failures are occurring. For example, first go back and study your identification of stimulus ideas—are you understanding what was said? If not, practice with analyzing and summarizing stimuli, etc. Next, how well are you seeing arguments, fact sets, flaws, and the like? Don’t be frustrated if you miss questions the first time; each miss is an opportunity to learn more about how the test is made, what problem areas you have, and above all where the greatest opportunities exist to improve as those problem areas are resolved.
Don’t let missed questions get you down or sap your enthusiasm—instead use them for what they are: perfect devices to learn from and improve!
I hope this helps to increase your consistency and overall score. If you have any questions or comments don’t hesitate to let us know in the comments below, or by getting in touch directly: firstname.lastname@example.org and 800-545-1750.