LSAT prep is a marathon. The test itself is a 4-hour sprint. As daunting as practicing may seem, it is plenty doable and never should be overlooked. I was able to improve dramatically over a few months, from a below average 148 to a solid 163 by the time I took the real thing.
Before starting, I read about what I was allegedly going to get myself into. The Fox Test Prep Quick & Dirty LSAT Primer was very helpful as I learned about how the test was formatted and what the questions looked like. While it did not give me the secrets of the 180 gods, it was a useful ice-breaker.
I planned to take the LSAT in the June of 2017. Granted, this was before the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) decided to add more annual exams, so there was not as much flexibility in scheduling as there is currently.
I took my first practice exam in July 2016. I timed myself, but I only took 4 sections just to get a feel for the test. I finished with a 148 – below average. Needless to say, I had some work to do over the next 11 months.
After that first practice exam, I only casually thought about the LSAT until winter break. The fall semester was very distracting, particularly because of my commitment to the Illinois Trial Team, and it was hard to bring myself to sit back down and take additional tests. It definitely stressed the importance of taking the exams during breaks or when school was not in session! That said, I made sure I was ready to hit the ground running over winter break. I made it a requirement to take at least 8 practice exams over winter break.
For my practice exams, I used the Official LSAT Preptests series. These books are the best LSAT prep resource. I saved the most recent practice exam for my final practice a few days before the actual exam, since that would represent the most up to date version of the test (although the LSAT questions really have not changed much over the last 20 years).
While taking the exams, I tracked my progress in detail. I broke each test down and scored each section on a spreadsheet, and it allowed me to see which sections were giving me the hardest time as well as tracking my growth. I saw a quick spike over my first few tests to the mid-150s, but I plateaued as I approached 160. Break soon came to an end, and I had bagged the 8 tests that I promised I’d take, but I still had until June to continue my improvement.
(My tracking log, which I admittedly did not use much at the very end when I was taking so many tests, so it’s missing 3 or so tests)
To maintain my progress during the spring semester, I took exams approximately once a month. In between exams, I would work on a few sections, particularly logic games since they gave me the most trouble due to the time constraints (7Sage was an extremely useful resource for the games sections, as they go in depth on every single logic game ever, seriously). I kept up this routine until May.
The LSAT’s questions are not all that difficult by themselves; the difficulty is in the brutal pacing. Five sections with only one ten-minute break after the third section become incredibly exhausting over four hours.
The key to success on the LSAT is endurance. When just starting out, it can be extremely hard to maintain your pace through the end of the test. Much of my quick, initial improvement was simply from building my endurance. That said, I would routinely see a few extra points missed in the last section throughout my months of practicing (almost no matter which type of section it was) as I would be mentally exhausted by then.
When practicing, it is absolutely critical to use an unscored experimental section. It should always be within your first three sections since that is how it will be on the exam (I would tend to put it first to get as tired as possible without helping my score). Simply take an old exam section and place it into the practice exam that you are using. The real-test is 5 sections – yours should be too.
Besides potentially at the very beginning, it is not very useful to practice without a clock. The questions by themselves are actually fairly easy, content wise. If everyone had all day to take it, it would be easy to pull upper 170s and even perfect 180s on the current scoring scale. But, alas, that is not the case. You should get used to taking the questions under pressure, always. Getting used to this pressure will allow you to carefully focus on each of the questions instead of panicking about your expiring time.
With my semester finished by mid-May 2017, I went into my final month of LSAT prep. I was starting an internship the week after school as well, so I had to be very disciplined for an otherwise rough 4 weeks. During my work lunches, I would take a practice section, everyday. In the evenings, twice a week, I would take a full practice exam. When I was not taking a full exam, I would take a three section miniature exam right when I got home from work. I am not going to pretend like it was fun, but I knew that I had to get the most out of my last month before the actual test.
Ultimately, there should be no surprises on the real test day. You should have practiced to the point that you know what you will score within a 2 to 3-point range. For me, I was consistently getting 161s and 162s in my last handful of practice exams. I knew that, as long as everything felt close to the same as practice, I would end up around there.
Immediately after the test itself, LSAC gives you the option to prevent your test from being scored. Like a nuclear missile launch, you must fill in two separate bubbles to confirm that you want to cancel your scoring. In very rare instances would this make sense: you were taking the exam as a sort of simulated, high pressure practice; or, you really made some sort of catastrophic failure (like not bubbling in a large chunk of a section).
I ended up getting a 163 on my real LSAT. That marked a 15-point improvement from my first, shoddy practice exam to the actual test. Could I have pushed it up another one or two points? Sure. But I decided against another three months of exhausting practice exams (since I would have had to wait until September for the next round) and because I knew my score could get me into the schools I wanted to attend. With the current schedule, it might be easier to take multiple LSATs since there is not such a long layover period.
That said, law schools still see all your LSAT scores. They are all part of the same report. Unless there is a dramatic improvement off your one score, or there is a specific cutoff that you absolutely must get over, it often does not help very much to improve a little bit. The admissions staff understands that you could have done a point or two better (or worse). By a certain threshold, two extra correct answers are enough to move your score up a full point. As a result, you typically fall into a bracket (i.e. 160-165) for admissions purposes. Long story short, do not beat yourself over one point.
LSAT prep is grueling, no doubt. The best advice I can give is to keep grinding and to stay consistent. Do not go very long without at least touching up on a section or two. You’ll make revealing discoveries about the test specific to your skills and build some serious endurance with a disciplined regimen.
In the meantime, good luck and go get ’em.