Note: we talked in detail about retaking the LSAT on the PowerScore LSAT PodCast, in episodes 2 and 3. You can access those episodes here on iTunes.
I recently talked about who should retake the LSAT, and this week I'm covering how to properly prepare for your retake. First, I'm going to presume that the last time around you did a fairly decent job of preparing, that is, you worked through a course or some self-study guides, and you took a fair number of practice tests. If you didn't make a reasonable effort the first time around, then your top priority should be to put in 100% this time! The information below will still help you, but you have to be committed to the process; without that, the rest doesn't matter.
If you prepared reasonably well the first time, the natural question that comes up is, "What can I do differently this time around?" The key is understanding that how you study needs to change. For most test takers, there are two challenges: increasing your knowledge of all the various concepts and
1. Identify your current strengths and weaknesses
In some cases, it's easy to know where you are struggling, but in
Score reports are an invaluable tool, and every time you take an LSAT you should input your answers into our free system, available at the PowerScore Self-Study Site. The feedback you receive there tells you about the types of questions you are missing as well as the difficulty of the questions you are missing. Use that information to better understand what you are doing well and what you need to work on.
The other step you must take is to track everything that gives you problems (the study plans available at the prior link have tracking sheets you can use). Miss a question? Mark it down and note why. 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 be patterns! For example, you might miss only a single question of a certain type in each section, so it might not feel like you are having issues, but then when you look over the results
2. Time yourself, and take 5 and 6 section LSATs
Taking practice tests is essential, and since fatigue can have such a major impact on performance, make sure to take a significant number of full practice tests that feature a fifth, experimental section, and even "overdriving" your LSAT by taking tests with six sections (meaning two
How to take a 5 or 6 section LSAT? You can either photocopy a section from another
3. Use Blind Review and other deep review tactics
There are many different ways to review practice tests, but one very useful tool I mention often is Blind Review. While it's a useful approach in
4. To improve specific sections, isolate the elements
Many retakers have to deal with inconsistent scoring. Inconsistency in scoring often relates to how the LSAT tests a wide variety of areas each time, which makes some tests better for you and others worse. I talk about how that works here: Welcome to the LSAT Casino. For students who aren't 100% on the fundamentals or who aren't machine-like in their approach, these variations in exams often reveal themselves in up and down performances. LR is great
A. Your understanding of the stimulus/passage
As you read each stimulus, you should be naturally summarizing what you've read and
Part of the process of breaking down a passage is identifying the argument components, so try the following exercise: read a stimulus at normal test speed
As you try these untimed questions, also stop after the stimulus and make an assessment of how strongly you feel about your understanding of it, and then compare that to how you perform when answering each question. If you see a connection between difficulties understanding the stimulus and answering questions, then you'll know that summarizing and reducing each stimulus into the simplest possible terms has to be part of your study focus. Another way to think of it is like this: everything you need to know to answer any LR question is in the stimulus, so if you don't understand something in the argument, it's going to be difficult to confidently answer the question.
B. Meaningful concept identification
The second element to study is what I sometimes call the air traffic controller role, where it's incumbent on you to recognize when a concept is in play in an argument. Conditionality is a good example of this idea: when usable conditional reasoning is present, you have to recognize it and account for it. When it's not there, you never even have to think about it. Really good test takers recognize when advanced concepts appear, and use the knowledge to their advantage to not only move quickly but also to move decisively.
The problem is, concepts like conditionality occur so frequently on the test that there are also many instances where conditional terms were used but didn't play a useful role. So, one route to take is to study when a problem features an idea where the concept plays a role in solving the problem versus other questions where the concept appeared but didn't play a role. Our score reports indicate when problems rely on a certain concept, and in our LSAT
C. Getting to two answers and selecting the wrong one
Getting down to two answers and choosing the wrong one isn't a terrible problem to have. Why? Because a lot of students can't even reliably get it down to just two answers, so you should look at this as a positive, not a negative. Consider: you've removed 75% of the potential danger. The key to moving forward is to learn those extra little things that will help you properly and consistently knock out the final wrong answer and choose the right one. Understanding the stimulus more clearly (as described above) will help, but another study tactic is to compare the two answers to each other after you've completed the problem and the clock is off.
A. Improve your recognition
After you read any game scenario and rules, you should have a clear idea of what you are looking at, as well as where the game is positioned relative to other games you've seen. This recognition ability helps you more quickly identify how to attack the game and the type of work you will need to do. I don't just mean the broad type of game—although you should know that, of course—but also the notable features present (such as a Numerical Distribution or a limited number of possible solutions). Fortunately, this recognition skill can be practiced and learned. Go through the games you have completed, and re-read each scenario and rule set; identify the broad type of game you are looking at, and the steps you would take to attack it. Then compare it to the setup work you did previously. Do this repeatedly until you can read any game and know what you would do to attack it.
B. Improve your rule representation
While many students initially study the best way to represent rules, this is often an area that becomes less of a focus as they turn towards how to make inferences and how to answer questions. The key is to know how to instantly diagram any rule that is standard (such as blocks or a conditional rule) but then to also carefully log and study any rule that is unusual in either the wording or how it works. The goal is to develop a catalog of rules that are unusual or troublesome for
C. Improve your inference making
Making inferences is perhaps the area most cited by students as a concern. The better your setup and inferences, the more questions you can solve without additional diagramming. A good setup is the embodiment of the old adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. So, focus on your inference-making in order to lower the number of questions that you have to solve using brute force.
So how can you get better at making them? The primary way is to study them, to cultivate a knowledge of different situations where they arise, and especially why they arose. This means stopping after each game to piece together what inferences you made and why, and then comparing your setup to the optimal setup in order to see what else you could have inferred. This is a slow, painstaking process, but it will pay off! And it's during this time that you have to know the game so well that you could recite it clearly even without the text in front of you. In fact, a standard test I use is for a student to make a game
By the way, our blog and forum contain some very useful discussions of inference making: When to Move to the Questions in LSAT Logic Games, Attacking Logic Games—Focus on Certainty!, and Speed and Inferences.
A. Improving Recall
Your memory is like a muscle, and you can make it stronger. Thus, to improve your recall takes practice. Using a set of unused RC passages, approach each one slowly and break down each paragraph. What did you just read? What did the author say, and what was his or her point? If you don't understand part of what you read, read the paragraph again. Write down your thoughts if that helps.
Do this for each paragraph, and then at the end of the passage, put all the pieces together and do the same thing for the passage as a whole.
Next, move on to the questions and try to do them without ever again referring to the passage text at all. This forces you to keep your memory in operation throughout the entire process, and once you've done this 10-15 times, you begin to realize that you have to focus more on recalling elements while reading. That makes you better. Time/speed is not important here, the emphasis is on recall and memory, so take as much time as needed to fix the ideas from each paragraph in your mind.
B. Improving Prediction
After you've completed the above exercise (or at least have started working on it), move to another exercise. In this one, as you read, note spots in the passage that you think you will be asked about. Attempt to predict what the test makers will ask you. Then, immediately after reading and noting the questions you think will be asked, compare what you predicted to what the test makers actually did (this requires you to preview each question stem, which is fine for our purposes here). You may find that you are close in some cases and way off in others. That's okay: you want to be as accurate as possible, of course, but the real point of this exercise is to see how you value pieces of the passage as compared to what the test makers actually do. If your RC Radar is way off, this drill tends to show that immediately.
Keep in mind that not all questions can be predicted, so there's really no such thing as 100% accuracy in this drill. It's the process that is important, more so than a perfect result.
C. Improving Mental Mapping
This is very much the same as Drill 1 above, except here we use our mental mapping tool, ViewStamp, as the testing point. As you go through each paragraph, don't just ascertain the point and what was said, but also all the ViewStamp elements as well. Focus now not just on broad recall, but specific detail recall such as which group stated each viewpoint, etc.
Next, preview each question, and as you preview each one, write down next to the question where in the passage you expect to find the answer. You might put "all" for
The three exercises above help you reinforce specific parts of the RC approach: knowing what was said, knowing what they will ask, and knowing where to find answers. It takes work, but the real value is that it forces you to examine how you take in information, and how well you understand what the test makers are doing. But as you begin to get better at each part, your score and confidence will start to improve. Then, begin doing more and more passages at speed, and you'll find that your reading will be better and you'll be more relaxed within each passage.
5. Do every LSAT; if you have done them all, realize that you can get a lot more out of the questions you've already done
If you only completed a portion of the released LSATs available from LSAC, your first step should be to obtain copies of the tests you have not done. For some people, this means going back further in the LSAT catalog to tests released in the 1990s. This might concern some students since they've heard that older LSATs aren't quite as useful as more recent tests, but this concern is fortunately misplaced. While there have been some changes over the years in points of emphasis, and in the case of RC, the introduction of Comparative Reading, older LSATs are still extremely useful and worthwhile. I talk about why in an article entitled, Should You Avoid Older LSATs?, but the central idea is that the LSAT is based on foundational principles of logic, and logic itself has not changed in thousands of years. There are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of useful questions, including some of the hardest LG, LR, and RC questions of all time. More importantly, you get to see many variations on how LSAC handles certain ideas.
But, what if you have completed every released LSAT question—what to do then? Even if you've seen the questions before, you probably did not extract full value from them. I wrote about this in detail on our blog Retaking the LSAT when you've seen all of the practice questions, but the bottom line is that just having seen a question once isn't usually enough to give you all of the information from it. One way to tell is to go back to any question (or game or
6. Use the "Teaching Test" for mastering questions
The litmus test for reviewing
Because this is the standard of understanding you are attempting to meet, you can see that it is preferable that you spend more time with fewer questions as opposed to simply doing as many questions as possible. For example, it's better to take one LSAT and review it deeply as opposed to taking two LSATs and only giving them a superficial review. Increasing your score on a retake is about getting better at the margins, and that can only come from a deeper analysis and comprehension of what you are doing.
The steps above should help you approach a retake in a different manner than your first attempt (if not, good for you! You did it the right way the first time). If you have any questions about how you should prepare, please post them below—we'd be happy to help!
Image: Passage Den Haag courtesy of Ferdi De gler.