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. You also need to know 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.
The Two Sides of LSAT Prep
Let’s think about LSAT preparation as having both a substantive and procedural side. On the substantive side, you need to learn the various types of questions, games, and passages on the test. Meanwhile, the procedural side involves learning how to optimally move through the test and which tactics you need to employ. Furthermore, you need to be able to do this regardless of question/game type in order to ensure the highest chances of success on each question.
In this post, we talk about how to increase your score when you’re stuck. It mainly targets important substantive issues to focus on in the final weeks prior to test day. For many students, hammering away on these issues can be a major key to breaking out of a score plateau. But, what about the procedural side? Typically, the procedural aspect of the LSAT comes into focus over the first few weeks of preparation. In the beginning, you devote most of your time to learning concepts, understanding questions, game types, passage construction, etc.
In the first few weeks of our courses, we recommend working through practice questions untimed. This allows you to focus on what you see, the patterns at work, and the skills necessary to answer particular questions. As courses wind down and the LSAT draws nearer, students transition to practice tests as the dominant focus of their preparation. After reincorporating timing, the importance of the process becomes even more critical.
The point here is to highlight some key procedural issues and provide reminders of things to keep in mind while practicing in the days leading up to the test. Many may seem trivial, but if you do each of them between now and your LSAT administration, your improvement may add up to a couple of crucial extra points.
I know. After you read the stimulus and 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, do not associate prephrasing with adding time to your process. Think of it as investing time in your process. It takes a few extra moments up front, but by pausing, thinking, and framing the answer choices, you add clarity to what you’re looking for. Ultimately, you’ll see the logical landscape much better than you would otherwise. If you use it properly, you can answer more questions correctly and quickly. A good prephrase gives you a standard that your correct answer must meet. 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.
Remember to utilize the concept of logical opposition to help frame incorrect answers as well. Delineating 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 apparent throughout the LSAT, 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’ll find it easier to identify and eliminate the four incorrect answers rather than to identify the one correct answer.
As you look to improve your prephrasing, the question to ask is this. Am I prephrasing consistently? For many of us, 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 afterward, 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 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 the wrong answers! This should be an inherent part of your test-taking strategy, something you actively engage 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 their creative skill in crafting attractive wrong answers. 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. Stay moving during your section and do not let any one question, game, or passage soak up too much time. If a game is taking too long, look out for any particularly difficult or time-consuming questions that you could skip and move on. If you have time, you can always come back to it. 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, if you do it properly, it’s an effective resource management strategy.
Once again, with the LSAT quickly approaching, 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 a couple questions as you proceed through each section can make a huge difference. If you think about it, how long do you normally spend on the three longest questions on a section? For many people, the answer to that question might be 7 or 8 minutes. Maybe more! That is almost a quarter of your time spent on perhaps three of the lowest odds questions available. There’s 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 the day of the LSAT. This is not a cause for panic. Rather, this is an opportunity to turn to all the resources at your disposal and play the odds. Hopefully, you’ve been able to narrow the choices down to maybe two or three potential contenders through elimination and prephrasing.
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 your preparation. Don’t be ashamed of turning to these tactics that ultimately “luck” your way into a right answer. Solid, educated guessing is an essential component of your arsenal. Don’t minimize its importance! There will be moments of doubt and pain when you take the LSAT where your resourcefulness will be put to the test. 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.
The Little Things Matter
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.