After graduating from college in 2013, I decided to study for the LSAT the following summer, with plans to take it in October. I saw a 22 point increase after 3 months of self study (153 diagnostic, 175 final score). I studied intensely for 3 months while teaching English classes to elementary and middle school students part time. I consistently put in 4 1/2 to 5 hours of studying per day with only a few days off here and there when I needed a break.
Before explaining my process, I should say that this was right after I’d graduated college, so I knew my study and learning habits very well, and knew that I’d do better if I studied heavily for a short, concentrated period of time. Everyone has different preferences, and it’s up to you to figure out what works best for you. I was okay with making LSAT my #1 priority, especially if I could do well and be done with it quickly, and my schedule was open enough where I could make that happen. I also liked the idea of self-study, because I could tailor my schedule to my own daily needs. I was living abroad at the time, so attending LSAT classes wasn’t an option anyway, and I didn’t know that online courses were available. Think about how you’re feeling and what schedules gave you the most academic success in the past, and go from there.
I started out by purchasing prep books for each section, based off recommendations from the toplawschools.com (TLS) forums, and working through those. I also bought several packets of past LSAT tests. I’d occasionally do a practice section here and there, but I was mostly focused on learning the material through reading and doing the drills presented in the books. I took notes as I read through the books; my approach to notetaking is to try and articulate the concepts, in my own words, on paper. This forces you to consider whether or not you really understand the material.
Once I’d worked through all the material, which took me a little over a month, I began to focus on doing complete sections, mostly from older tests. I didn’t time myself, instead focusing on approaching each question type methodically, based on what I had learned, until using those strategies became second nature. I did this for a while before moving on to timing at that point I felt comfortable with all but a few question types (assumption Qs, parallel Qs, and certain RC passages).
I started timing not by jumping into preptests, but by doing individual sections and timing myself. At first, I just tracked how long it took me to finish each section, and compared that to the 35 minute limit to gauge how much faster I needed to work. With timing, the goal is to develop a sense of the ideal pace to work at. Then, I started imposing the 35 minute limit. I also started to take more sections in a row without a break essentially, I was working my way up to 5section PTs, starting with 2 in a row, then 3 in a row, then a 4th after a 15 minute break, and finally the full 5 sections.
Taking 4- and 5-section practice tests was tiring, but things were going pretty well I was scoring in the upper 160s, and usually finished all the questions within the time limit. My schedule had changed at this point: I’d do a timed practice test every 2 or 3 days, and spend my off days slowly and carefully reviewing the questions that I got wrong or struggled with. I’d try to redo the question on my own, and after looking up the solution, I’d make sure to go through every wrong answer choice until I could articulate why each of them was wrong. I’d also do a section or two on the off days, sometimes with timing, sometimes without.
I saw steady improvements from week to week, but I eventually hit a plateau at 168170. During my review, I noticed that it was usually the same question types on LR that gave me trouble mainly assumption and strengthen/weaken questions. So I decided to take a step back and relearn my strategies for those question types. I bought another LR book and worked through it over the course of a few days. It was a great refresher, and I much preferred their assumption question approach to my previous guide. Then I drilled sufficient and necessary questions until they were no longer a weakness of mine. This was fairly stressful at first, as I’d built up an aversion to those q.types, and found it hard to focus on them. But that’s exactly why doing it was so important for me to break through my plateau.
When I returned to taking practice tests, my average shot up a few points, and I was consistently scoring around 173. At this point, I was regularly getting 0 on games, 13 on LR, and anywhere from 2 to 6 on RC. I was happy with how I was scoring, but I still had several weeks to go before the test, and at that point, was fully addicted to trying to get better at the LSAT. So I started to drill extra RC sections on my off days. I reevaluated my approach and changed it, starting to analyze each passage during my original readthrough, and taking time between paragraphs to synthesize what I had read. This approach made RC a lot less stressful, and after practicing it for a while, my average score once again went up a few points.
In total, I probably took between 20 and 30 preptests, which was useful, but also might have been slightly overdoing it. Like a marathon, the LSAT is a drawn out, psychological battle. If you slip and stumble on a question or a game, it’s important to take it in stride and approach the next question with your focus and confidence in tact. You have to learn to let go, and taking full timed PTs is a great place to practice that. But it’s exhausting. Taking a lot of preptests is intense. Even though I was spending less time per week on LSAT study than when I started prepping, the PT phase was easily the most mentally taxing. At this point, even more so than before, I found it important to get plenty of rest, and to do some daily exercise and meditation.
The other thing is, I only ever broke through my plateaus by taking a step back and reevaluating and fixing some part of my approach. Blindly powering through preptests without changing my strategy probably wouldn’t have gotten me above 170, and it would have left me a lot more burned out.
By test day, I’d been scoring 174-176 on my PTs for the past two weeks, so my score wasn’t an outlier. That morning, I looked at a couple of LR questions, did the setup for a simple game but skipped the questions, and read one RC passage. When I started the first section, I felt extremely nervous, despite the questions being exactly as difficult as I’d expected. I took a moment to take some deep breaths and focus on the test. After finishing that section, I fell into a rhythm, and it felt just like any other practice test.
One last thing to mention take advantage of the snack you’re allowing to bring for the break after section 3. In fact, once you start doing 4 and 5section practice tests, you should experiment with different snack combinations to see what works best for you (I’m dead serious). For me, it was two granola bars and half a can of Red Bull. A full can would leave me too jittery to concentrate.