Hi! I’m Nathan Fox, sole proprietor of Fox Test Prep and author of five LSAT books, including Cheating the LSAT. Ann kindly invited me to respond to the following question from one of her readers:
“I started studying mid march and took a 6 week course at my university. I did around 15 practice test and studied al least 4 hours every day of may and the first week of school. In the practice test I ranged from 146-152. I was very disappointed and surprised when I got the 143 in the actual LSAT since in the diagnostic I got 146! I know that I should change my strategy for the October exam and was wondering if you could recommend any other type of studying that isn’t doing practice test and going over them.”
After I asked a few follow-up questions, the reader responded with:
“i bought the next 10 lsat text book and did them all. ass well as 4 with the instructor at my lsat prep course and 1 of the free tests from Kaplan. i reviewed by going back and rechecking what i got wrong and why. I admit sometimes I would not understand why i got it wrong and continued. I did not have a study parterI changed environments. sometimes at the school library, other times Starbucks, and then at my apartment but i preferred the library. i timed myself on most of them but not all.
The professor is a certified LSAT professor and has been in the business for over 20 years. she does this for living and teaches other entrances exams such as GRE and MCAT”
I appreciate the questions, and I’m more than happy to help. But before I respond to the LSAT issues, let me get something off my chest: Maybe I’m uptight, but it’s hard for me to see past the dozens of typos here. It’s just not lawyerly to drop an accidental “ass” into your written communications. Ever! Yes, many folks treat email super-casually these days…but lawyers? Lawyers do not. Start your career now by giving more attention to the way you’re presenting yourself. Even one-tenth this many typos would be an easy and instantaneous denial if I were reading a law school application. Please forgive me if that sounds harsh. I’ll end my rant there.
Let’s dig into the LSAT issues. This student’s main question is “Can you recommend a type of LSAT studying that isn’t doing practice tests?” My short answer is no. Practice tests are by far the best way to prepare for the LSAT. This student doesn’t need an entirely different method of studying, but she does need to study longer and smarter.
Fifteen tests might not be enough.
The LSAT primarily tests two things. First, it’s a rigorous examination of your English language skills. Second, it tests your ability to work incredibly hard. One way the LSAC tests your ability to work hard is by releasing a huge number of old exams. The most recently released PrepTest is number 69. Many students will do every single one of these practice tests before they sit for the real exam. Some of them will even do every test more than once. Is that crazy? Perhaps. But those crazy people will be your competitors on the LSAT. Those same people will be in the front row, urgently trying to get the professor’s attention, in every class you take in law school. (Ooooh! Ooooh! I know this one! And every one!) And they’ll be in the office—including nights, weekends, and holidays–when you’re in practice. If you don’t like the idea of doing battle with folks who work that hard, law might not be the right field for you. Fifteen practice tests might be enough for some people, but if you’re not scoring at a level you’re happy with, my first prescription is definitely do more tests.
Doing tests is pointless without proper review.
Unfortunately, this student wasted a lot of effort by doing tests on her own without properly reviewing them. Sure, you can often look at a question after checking the answer and figure out what you did wrong. But if you can’t understand why you missed a question, then it’s pointless to crack open a new test until you’ve gotten some help. Your mistakes are your best opportunity to learn. I’m not saying you need to understand every single question on the test—if you’re scoring 150, then the harder questions at the end of each section probably aren’t a good investment of your time—but you absolutely must make sure you understand all of the earlier, easier questions.
The easiest way to reach understanding is to work with a great LSAT teacher. You’ll know you’ve found the one when they make the test look easy and give you many “aha!” moments. (Every time you think, “oh man, I can’t believe I made such a silly mistake,” you’ve made a dramatic improvement. Strive for these moments.)
Great teachers are expensive, of course. Fortunately, you can get a lot of this same benefit by working with a study partner. It doesn’t even matter if your partner is scoring at the same level as you are. If you work with a high scorer, they’ll be able to explain lots of questions to you. And if you work with a low scorer, you might learn even more because you’ll get to explain things to them; one of the best ways to learn is to teach. So get yourself a partner. Ask around in your LSAT class, write a post on Craigslist, or email a local LSAT instructor and ask if they know anybody who’d like to get together once or twice a week over coffee. You’ll be surprised how much you learn, and it will also make the process much more bearable.
A six-week class is probably not enough, and four hours per day is probably too much.
Far too many candidates decide to take the test at the last minute, on insufficient preparation. This student wasted a lot of time with incorrect self-study, then crammed in a six-week LSAT class that doesn’t sound like it was very good. Cramming for six weeks would probably get you an A on any college exam, but the LSAT doesn’t take kindly to cramming. It’s not a test of knowledge; you can’t just sequester yourself in the library and memorize the textbook. The LSAT is a game that requires practice. The typical successful student studies for three to six months.
That said, four hours per day sounds excessive. Quality is more important than quantity. When I prepared for the test, I did an hour, maybe 90 minutes, per day. I advise my students to do one 35-minute section and review it, every single day. If you still have energy, do another section and review it. But after that, go outside and get some sunshine. It’s really hard to improve at the LSAT if you’re not sharp and engaged, and I don’t think many people can stay sharp and engaged for four hours of LSAT in a single sitting.
There are a lot of terrible LSAT instructors out there.
I’ll close with another rant. There are a shocking number of horrible LSAT classes out there. Some of the big prep companies are the biggest offenders; they dramatically underpay their teachers relative to better companies, and they espouse gimmicky methods that seem helpful to a novice but actually hurt many students in the long run. School-sponsored LSAT programs also tend to be subpar. They’re too short, for one thing, and they tend to be taught by under qualified generalists. This student’s teacher might be a terrific person, but 1) there is no such thing as “a certified LSAT professor” that I’m aware of, and 2) the GRE and MCAT are in no way related to the LSAT. You need an LSAT specialist. At a minimum, you should ask your LSAT teacher what score they received on the actual test. Not just a self-administered practice test, the real thing; they should be willing to show you their official LSAC score report. Here’s mine:
At a minimum, you want a teacher who scored in the 99th percentile… that’s around 173. And higher is definitely better… there’s a real difference between a 173 and a 178.
Study smarter and harder.
This student needs to not only do many more practice tests, but she needs to reach a deeper understanding of her mistakes before moving on to the next test. A better class, with a better teacher, would be a great start. And whether or not she can find the right teacher, a study partner would be a huge help.
About the Author
Nathan Fox is the owner and sole LSAT instructor at Fox Test Prep. He is the author of five top-rated LSAT books. He offers an online LSAT class, a live LSAT class in San Francisco, and private LSAT tutoring in person and via Skype. He’s a huge nerd about the LSAT, and he welcomes your questions at email@example.com and 415-518-0630.
I don’t think you can present any evidence that a 178 tutor is better than a 173 tutor. Yes, at some point as you go down the score ladder you start to reach people who don’t have a mastery of the LSAT. A 173 scorer likely has all the concepts mastered and can explain them as well as any higher scorer.
I for one scored a 173 on the LSAT and frequently hit 178s, 179s, and 180s in my simulated practice. I don’t think having a little bit of a hard time with test day stress and turning in a few more wrong than usual would reflect on my ability to teach the LSAT.
The argument that listening to a 173 is better than a 178 scorer seems at least as plausible, i.e. perhaps because a 178 scorer may have had an easier time killing the LSAT they don’t understand the steps necessary to achieve a high score through tremendous efforts.