How to Improve Your LSAT Study Using Spaced Repetition

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Manhattan Prep LSAT Blog - How to Improve Your LSAT Study Using Spaced Repetition by Chris Gentry

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For me, one of the primary challenges to LSAT study was just putting the pieces together in a way that made sense. And I must admit, I went about it in precisely the worst possible way. I opted for what I would now call a “brute force” method of LSAT study: just doing, and re-doing, and re-doing certain problem types.

But I never gave them much thought. And I wasn’t organized about it. I would do a problem, and then move onto the next, and then the next, and then when I was done with a whole set, I would just go back and do the ones I got wrong all over again. I never gave any deliberate thought to organizing the problems in ways that made sense to me, or prioritizing how I would review them, or even just…how I would review them, other than re-doing them.

This post is not about how to review problems. That’s a larger topic than I meant to address here.

My modest goal is to help you plan when to review problems and give you some ideas on how to progress from review of old problems to attempts at new, but possibly similar, problems.

My thought: can we make modest adaptations to something called a Leitner system to make it appropriate for LSAT study?

First, some description of the Leitner system.

You create “boxes” of things to study. How many boxes is somewhat an issue of personal preference, but let’s say you take five boxes. (And please note that I did not create this system. If you want some more reading on it, this link is one option.) Everything—everything!—starts out in the first box. You look at everything in that first box, and if you know it, it moves to box 2. If you don’t, it stays in box 1. The remaining items in box 1 will be studied tomorrow; the items that “progressed” to box 2 will be studied in two days.

Any box 2 items that you still know after a few days have passed progress to box 3, which you will not review again for…let’s say 5 days. Anything that you get wrong in box 2 (or box 3, when you finally look at that box), anything that you’ve forgotten in the intervening days, goes back to box 1.

Box 1 you study everyday. Box 2 you study every 2 days. Box 3 you study every 5 days. Box 4 you study every 10 days. Box 5 you don’t study again until the week of the test.

Sounds very organized, right? And perhaps a little overwhelming? I agree on both counts. Why is it “wrong” for LSAT study?

It’s built for memorization.

Which would be great, if the LSAT were a memorization test. Hopefully, you’re beginning to realize—if you haven’t already fully realized—that the LSAT isn’t a memorization test.

So what changes may we want to make so that it’s suitable for LSAT study?

First, let’s do away with “everything goes into box 1.” The LSAT is too big. Instead, you’ll have several “box 1”s. At least three box 1s—Logic Games, Logical Reasoning, and Reading Comprehension. You may want to subdivide more than that: Logical Reasoning may have more box 1s. And your first practice test will be its own big box 1, to be divided into the sub-box 1s.

And you will NOT try to study the stuff in box 1 everyday. You’re trying to develop skills, not memorize, so let’s give some time to forget some details. Maybe box 1 will be every 3rd day, while box 2 will be every 5th day, box 3 every 10th, etc.

We’re also going to change the progression. Triage the problems / passages / games into certain vs. so-so vs. terrible.

Terrible stays in box 1. So-so goes to box 2. And certain goes to box 3.

Second, let’s start introducing new material into each box, with the goal of reinforcing necessary skills in each box. So each problem / passage / game that goes into box 1 gets one or two similar item placed alongside it. Each item in box 2 gets one similar item placed alongside it. Box 3 problems have one item placed alongside, but are studied fairly infrequently; if you’re certain on the skills, you’ll just review those skills occasionally, but you don’t need to do more work to reinforce them.

Hopefully, you would see a progression where the terrible items returned to box 1 get progressed to box 2 on the second try at them. If not, that’s okay—but you’re looking for some progression here.

And it’s likely that the two items added to box 1 because they’re similar to the terrible original problem will be pretty bad the first time you’re seeing them. So at least one of them would stay in box 1, with a new similar item placed next to it.

What are the goals?

There are three goals to this system. First, let’s have plans for when we review, and let’s make those plans reasonable. Second, let’s make sure our review schedule reflects the fact this is not a memorization-based test. Finally, let’s always attempt to reinforce pattern recognition: which ideas and skills are repeated across similar problem types?

Let’s take a look at a sample plan for games: you start by attempting the 4 games from PT 62. The first game is a “certain”: you like Relative Ordering. The second game is a “terrible”: you don’t have any idea what the hell is happening here!!! You also don’t feel great about the third game; being cautious (or pessimistic, your choice of definition), you also call that a “terrible.” The last game is so-so: you tend to do alright on ordering, but you weren’t very comfortable with the either-or rules in the game.

So the first game goes to box 3, with the hope that other Relative Ordering games would be similar when you see them in the future. The first game in PT 64 is placed alongside it.

The fourth game goes to box 2, and has the third game from PT 63 placed alongside it—you notice it’s ordering, but there are some either-or rules that pop up.

The 2nd game from PT 64 goes next to the 2nd game from PT 62: the fact that you’re dividing among three groups, with some conditional rules, makes these games feel somewhat similar to you.

You have to search pretty far to find a game that feels somewhat similar to the third game in PT 62: the last game in PT 67. You’re not sure that they’re really that similar, but there’s something kind of similar to the feeling of the numerical “no more than one” “no more than two” rules in that game…

What I’ve just described will be immensely, immensely challenging! I would recommend you take whatever section of the test gives you most trouble, and add this kind of mindset to your studies, but I wouldn’t do this for everything in the test!

It’s also setting you up for a very intense study plan, with a lot of self-reliance on which things “feel” similar. You would, of course, use guides to help you find these similar things, but to choose the one that feels most similar…? You’ll have to do that.

But that’s the point!!! Can you define your own “this problem feels similar to that previous problem, and what did I do there” reactions?

Good luck! 📝


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Chris Gentry is a Manhattan Prep LSAT, GMAT, and GRE instructor who lives in Atlanta, Georgia. Chris received his Bachelor of Science in chemical engineering from Clemson and JD from Emory University School of Law before realizing that he genuinely enjoys the challenge of standardized tests, and his true passion is teaching. Chris’ dual-pronged approach to understanding each test question has helped countless of his students to achieve their goal scores. What are you waiting for? Check out Chris’ upcoming LSAT courses here.

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