You have decided to run a marathon … heaven knows why. The longest distance you’ve ever run is … maybe a couple miles? It’s hard to remember … you accomplished that athletic feat at a so-called “fun run” in middle school, and that was so long ago that it’s hard to remember the exact distance.
So 26.2 miles is a daunting number of miles to run, almost laughably so. You’ll need to work your way up to that. You ask around, and everyone who seems to know what they’re talking about suggests taking an incremental approach. They tell you run a couple miles here and there for a few week. Then add a five-mile jaunt to your training regiment. After you get a hang of those five-mile runs, try to run eight miles the next week, then ten miles a few weeks after that, then twelve a few weeks after that.
Blessedly, no one told you to run a marathon before the big day. In fact these distance running-knowers strongly cautioned against running long distances before your ready. That would present a risk of injury or fatigue that could derail your training process.
OK, OK … that all makes sense in this hypothetical situation, you wonder, but why exactly are you talking about marathons on an LSAT blog?
Well, LSAT student [this is where I would pull up chair next to you, sit down, and get a smug look on my face that signals you are about to witness a veritable Teaching Moment, made possible by the power and persuasion of a Good Analogy] … studying for the LSAT is a lot like training to run a marathon.
You wouldn’t train for a marathon by trying to run a marathon right away. You’d build up to it. You’d work on developing your running form and endurance and cardiovascular health through a series of shorter runs. You’d gradually work your way up to a masochistically long 26.2-mile race.
Likewise, you don’t study for the LSAT by taking a full, timed LSATs right away. You should build up to them. You should work on developing your skills and mental endurance and sound, strategic approaches through a lot of untimed practice. You should gradually work your way up to the masochistically long and difficult 175-minute test.
This advice seems obvious to those training for a marathon. In my experience though, it’s less obvious to those studying for the LSAT. Those studying for the LSAT want to get to timed tests as soon as possible. There seems to be an assumption, shared by many people, that the more practice exams you take before test day, the better you’ll do on the real test.
This is manifestly untrue — about as untrue as the claim that the most successful marathon training regiments involving attempting to run as many full marathon as possible, as soon as possible. Much like trying to run a marathon right away, trying to do a full LSAT before your ready will result in significant setbacks that are better avoided.
Attempting to run a marathon before your body is ready will increase the likelihood that you’ll get injured. Same for the LSAT. Well, not exactly the same — this test will not physically injure you. But you can get, let’s call them, “test injuries.” If you try to do the LSAT at test speed before you’re ready, you’ll reinforce bad habits. You’ll attempt to read too quickly, you’ll overlook important details in the questions, and you’ll likely not engage in the kinds of anticipation that this test requires. As a result, you won’t see a major improvement in your accuracy or your score.
Also, attempting to run a marathon before you’ve built up the endurance will be discouraging. You either won’t finish, or you’ll be left at the end of the marathon as a sore shell of your former self. You might say, “Screw it” to the whole marathon-training business. Same for the LSAT. Trying to do full exams before you’re ready will be a frustrating and joyless experience. The score you get will be discouraging. You might say, “Screw it” to the whole going-to-law-school business.
Before attempting to take full practice exams, make sure your study process involves a lot of untimed work. Make sure you’re developing a sound approach in how to do the Logical Reasoning questions, and Reading Comp passages, and logic games. Make sure your accuracy is on-point before moving to timed practice. Before moving to timed practice, the percentage of questions you answer correctly untimed should be slightly higher than the percentage of questions hitting your target score on the real test would require (check the chart on this post to get an idea of how many questions you could miss out of 100).
And when you’re ready to get timed practice, implement a gradual approach. Much like running incrementally longer distances will better prepare you for a marathon, an incremental approach to timed practice will help you maintain your accuracy. Start by doing ten or so LR question at a time, and give yourself twenty minutes to answer them. If you can maintain your accuracy, slowly reduce the amount of time you give yourself to do all ten questions, until you’re at around fifteen minutes per ten questions. For LG and RC, start with two games or passages at a time, and give yourself twenty-four minutes to do both of them. If you can maintain your accuracy at that time, slowly reduce the amount of time you give yourself, until you’re at about eighteen-minutes to do both of them. Once you’ve reached these times, you’re ready to take full-exams.
In all, it’s important to work your way up to practice exams when studying for the LSAT. Take your time … studying for the LSAT is like a marathon, not a sprint, after all.