With the October 2010 LSAT fast approaching, these last few weeks are what students call the Home Stretch—that final lap in which those at the front of the pack break into a sprint, those in the middle continue a steady jogging pace, and those walking in the back get lapped yet again. Wherever you may currently find yourself in the pre-law race, here are a few study tips for each test section that will help you cross the finish line with dignity and grace.
Practice reading dry, complex material and engaging with it. Old LSATs are of course an excellent source for dense passages, but so are college textbooks, encyclopedias, and supreme court decisions (often available online). The reading comp passage topics generally fall under four categories: science, humanities, social studies, and law. Reading books or articles about these topics, ideally at a slightly faster pace than you’re used to, is a great way to develop the right mindset.
To prevent your eyes from glazing over, read actively. Do not let the words wash over you. Yell at the author when you disagree (not out loud), underline especially strong points, imagine how you would have approached the topic differently, pretend you’re reading a letter from an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend—whatever it takes to trick your mind into deeply caring about what is (on the LSAT) intentionally designed to be boring and difficult material.
LOGICAL REASONING (ARGUMENTS)
The tricky thing about this section is that you have to choose the best answer out of a number of good answers. Though once in a while a single choice will clearly stand out, the LSAT often offers five very tempting options. Sometimes none of them will seem right, and your job is to select the least of five evils.
To help deal with this ambiguity, always pre-phrase what you want the answer to be before looking at the choices. Ask yourself, “How would I Â state the correct answer if I were writing the exam?” You’ll be surprised at the number of times the actual right answer repeats almost word for word what you had in mind. This strategy is just the tool you’ll need to resist those enticing choices that are worded beautifully but still wrong.
A slightly counterintuitive tip: do not aim for 100% confidence on every question. As mentioned above, these questions are crafted to thwart any feeling of absolute certainty. You simply don’t have time to intellectually wrestle with each until you’re completely sure it’s right. Analyze each one critically for a minute (no more than a minute and a half), then move on.
This doesn’t mean you should always pick the choice you prefer at first glance (this choice is frequently a trap), but it does mean that, after careful consideration, you should feel comfortable making educated guesses. As you get used to the uneasy lack of certainty, you will find that your “guesses” Â more and more turn out to be correct responses.
ANALYTICAL REASONING (LOGIC GAMES)
Most students know to draw a diagram showing the setup, to represent each entity with an upper or lower case letter, and to express the given rules visually to make them easier to remember. After doing all this prep work, they then dive into the questions because they’re worried about time.
Unfortunately, they have forgotten the single-most important timesaving rule: make deductions. For example, if you know that A comes before B, then you also know that B can’t be in the first slot. If you know that B is on Tuesday and that B can’t be with C, then you know that C can’t be on Tuesday. These final deductions only take an extra few minutes, but, as with pre-phrasing in LR, you’ll find that they reveal the answers to several questions even before you’ve looked at them!
For all three sections, practice in mildly uncomfortable situations—when you’re a little tired and unfocused, or in a room with some background noise. Also remember to review the answers to every question, even the ones you got right. It’s important to figure out why you got those questions right. In other words, why did your “gut” work on those questions but let you down on the others? Merely taking a bunch of practice tests without thoroughly reviewing your results will not teach you anything about your strengths and weaknesses, or how you can improve.
As in war or football, the best defense on the LSAT is a strong offense. Never let yourself become a passive test taker. Meet the exam head-on, armed with a passion for the reading material, an ability to determine right answers before even reading them, and a knack for making logical deductions. Victory will be yours.