You often hear about the dichotomy in the law between substantive law and procedural law. To know the substantive law concerning an issue, one must know what laws and rules govern in certain situations and when to apply those laws. The procedural side of law focuses on the method or process of moving through the judicial system. A good lawyer needs to know both of these aspects of the law well.
LSAT preparation can also be thought of as having both a substantive and procedural side. On the substantive side, one must learn the various types of questions, games, and passages found throughout the test. Meanwhile, the procedural side involves how one moves optimally through the test and the tactics that are to be employed, regardless of question type or game type, in order to ensure the highest chances of success on each question.
Last week, we posted a blog titled How To Increase Your Score When You Are Stuck. Loosely translated for the purposes of this post, that article mainly targeted important substantive issues to focus on in these last days and weeks prior to test day. For many folks, hammering away on these issues can be a major key to breaking out of a score plateau.
But what about the procedural side? For many students, the procedural aspect of the LSAT only slowly comes into focus over the first few weeks of preparation. Most of their time is devoted to learning concepts, understanding questions, game types, passage construction, etc. In the first few weeks of our courses, we typically recommend that students work through practice questions in a primarily untimed fashion. This allows them to truly focus on what they see, the patterns at work, and the skills necessary to answer particular questions. In other words, the substantive side of the test. But as courses start to wind down and the Test Day draws nearer and nearer, students begin to transition to practice tests as the dominant focus of their preparation. At this point, with the timing component of the test firmly reintroduced, the importance of process becomes ever more critical.
The major purpose of this post is to highlight some key procedural issues, and provide some reminders of things to think about over your last few practice tests leading up to Test Day. Many of these items may seem trivial, but you will probably find that you can do each of these things a little better between now and Test Day, and that improvement, however small, might add up to a couple of crucial extra points.
I know. You’ve read the stimulus. You’ve read the question stem. You want to get right after it, go to war with those answer choices. You don’t have time to sit and think about what you are looking for beforehand. But prephrasing is essential.
First off, prephrasing should not be thought of as adding time to your process as much as it should be thought of as investing time in your process. Sure, it takes a few extra moments up front. But by pausing, thinking, and framing the answer choices beforehand, you add clarity to what you are looking for and can ultimately see the logical landscape much better than you would otherwise. When used properly, you can answer more questions correctly AND you can do so in a more timely manner. A good prephrase gives you a defined standard that your correct answer must meet. And although it may be impossible to always predict with certainty what exactly the correct answer is going to say, you can always identify what it must do.
On top of this, remember to utilize the concept of logical opposition to help frame the incorrect answers as well. Perfectly delineating both what the one correct answer must do and therefore what the four incorrect answers must fail to do helps to remove gray areas from your analysis. Every answer must either meet your prephrase or do the exact logical opposite. There is no middle ground. The advantages to using logical opposition are found throughout the test, but are especially evident when handling “EXCEPT” questions and when dealing with Could Be True questions on Logic Games. On many of these questions you will find it far easier to identify and eliminate the four incorrect answers rather than to simply identify the one correct answer.
As you look to improve your prephrasing, the question to ask is: Am I prephrasing consistently? For many of us (myself included), prephrasing is great in theory and we aspire to it, but it can easily break down under the pressures of a timed test. Old habits pop up and we forget to do some of these little, critical things.
Over these last couple of weeks, target your prephrasing on each practice test. Set a goal to prephrase more than your last test. As you review the questions afterwards, especially any questions you answered incorrectly, look to see if a prephrase (or a better prephrase if you already had one) might have made a difference on that question. Practice making those prephrases during your review phase, and look to improve again on the next practice test. Don’t obsess about hitting any particular “magic level” of consistency, just keep focusing on more consistency.
Eliminate Incorrect (Loser) Answers
Don’t wait until your back is against the wall before you start eliminating wrong answers. This should be an inherent part of your test taking strategy, something you are actively engaged in at all stages. Often, answers are incorrect because of just one fundamental problem with their construction. Meanwhile, correct answers are correct because they are free of any problems. That one issue on an incorrect answer can be much easier to spot in many cases. In addition, simply angling for the best “sounding” answer on every question puts you at the mercy of the test makers and all of their creative skill in crafting attractive wrong answers. You must actively engage with the negative side of answers. Look for the disqualifying factors that eliminate answers from contention.
Also, when you do finally get down to the last two answers, don’t abandon this philosophy! Rather than identifying which answer is “better” at that point, look for what is wrong with either choice. You may find that even as you approach the finish line on a question, the fourth incorrect answer is still easier to clearly identify than the actual correct answer. When you get down to it, there’s really no difference between seeing the correct answer and eliminating the final wrong answer. They both get you to the same place.
Once again, ask yourself if you are eliminating answers as consistently as you can, or as often as you should, For most of us, the answer is “probably not.” So again, focus on slight adjustments from test to test, and set a goal to be more consistent in this area.
Choose your battles wisely. It’s important to stay moving during your section and not let any one question, game, or passage soak up too much of your time. If a game is taking too long, look out for any particularly difficult or time consuming questions that can be skipped and move on, perhaps even to another game. If you have time, you can always come back to it. But even if you don’t, there is a good chance that time is better spent on easier questions elsewhere. Skipping questions does not have to be an admission of defeat. In fact, when done properly, it is a very effective resource management strategy (time being the primary resource in this case).
Once again, with less than three weeks to go until Test Day, don’t look to make major changes to your overall approach in this area. With each practice test comes just one more opportunity to make a small adjustment in your strategy. Even when it comes to skipping, forcing yourself to let go of even 2 or 3 questions as you proceed through each section can make a world of difference. For example, if you really think about it, how long do you normally spend on the three longest questions on a given Logical Reasoning section? For many people, the answer to that question might be 7 or 8 minutes ( or higher)! That is almost a quarter of your time spent on perhaps three of the lowest odds questions available. There is a very good chance that time can be spent better elsewhere.
Be ready for the moments when you just simply can’t see the correct answer. Obviously, you are trying to keep these moments to a minimum. But they are going to happen throughout your remaining practice tests, and they are going to happen on Test Day. But this is not a cause for panic. Rather, this is an opportunity to turn to all of the resources at your disposal and play the odds a bit. Hopefully, you’ve been able to narrow the choices down to maybe two or three potential contenders through elimination and prephrasing (the process at work!). At this point, look to all available aspects of the question for opportunities. How are the answers worded? How does that affect their likelihood of being correct? Do any answers use exaggerated language or introduce new information? (Both of these are common problems on Prove Family questions, including most Reading Comprehension questions, for example). How was the passage or stimulus worded?
The bottom line is that, as you take your final practice tests, work to hone your guessing. Trust your insights and experience gained through the weeks and months of preparation. Don’t be ashamed that you turned to these resources and ultimately “lucked” your way into a right answer. Solid, educated guessing is an essential component to your arsenal and should not be minimized. There will be moments of doubt and pain on Test Day where your resourcefulness will be put to the test. And even though you certainly don’t want to count on luck to carry you through, luck has a way of finding those who consistently do the little things that put them in the best position to succeed.
These procedural items are those little things. Whether it’s guessing, prephrasing, eliminating, or skipping, you are constantly taking steps that, even if they don’t guarantee success, consistently increase the probability of success. While none of them may seem that significant when taken individually, marginal improvements in each between now and Test Day can seriously add up. And at this point, every point counts.
Please post below if you have any questions or comments and good luck with your final preparations!