When you first begin preparing to take the LSAT, it certainly feels like there is a lot—too much—to take in. There are dozens of practice tests; dozens, if not hundreds, of websites; and dozens of strategy guides! Where do you begin?!?!
First, and most basic—you begin with the test. Take a practice LSAT, and make that practice as much like the real thing as possible. Time yourself honestly. Don’t ‘pause’ midway through a section, even just to answer the phone. And finish the test. Take all of the sections in one morning or one afternoon, with a short break before the last two sections.
The result will likely be alarming…and it should be. Because the LSAT is not like any of the tests you have prepared for in your prior academic life.
Fundamentally, the LSAT tests two things.
- Your ability to use logic to solve problems, both real life and abstract
- Your ability to assess different points of view.
Across all the questions in the test—logical reasoning, logic games, and reading comprehension—the LSAT only tests two things.
What does this imply for your preparation? It means you need to keep a big-picture perspective. And that can be very difficult, because much (probably the vast majority) of your day-to-day preparation will be about applying minutiae. How do you diagram a conditional statement? How do you best eliminate answers in a main purpose question? How do you apply negations to necessary assumption answer choices?
All of these are incredibly important details, but they are…well…details. Do you need to know them? Absolutely. But the kind of score you want will come from putting all these puzzle pieces together.
You need a big-picture view.
We begin with that practice test you just took. A day or two after you finished the test under timed conditions, go back and look at it on a question-by-question basis. Which questions did you feel more and less comfortable with? Make a list. If possible, create or download an electronic version of the test. Screenshot the questions, and put them into Good, Bad, and Ugly files. (Even if it’s just “I didn’t know the correct answer, but I at least understood what the question was asking” vs “I don’t even really understand the question.”)
It’s important to note that nothing in the previous paragraph has any relation to right vs wrong. You may have gotten questions right, even though you were not comfortable with them. These still go in the Bad or the Ugly file.
The first level.
This is what I would call the “first level” of the big picture. What are your impressions of different questions under timed conditions? That gut-feeling response to the way the question reads, or maybe even just the way it looks?
The second level.
The next level of big picture is about your comfort level with the questions without timing restrictions. Look at the questions with all the time in the world, and see how comfortable you are with the solutions. Do your Good/Bad/Ugly categorizations change when you’re not under time pressure? If so, why?
As you progress in your LSAT preparation, maintain this categorization. Revisit old questions a few weeks later. Hopefully, you’ll see some of the Bad and Ugly questions go into the Good file.
Do you have to use a Good/Bad/Ugly system? No, of course not. If you have a different system that you prefer, knock yourself out. The important part is that you have a system: a method to organize your reactions and thoughts that is larger than “oh, this is a closed grouping game.”
Of course, one of the next steps in prepping for the LSAT is to choose your prep method. We’ve got a number of different options, so you should be able to find one that suits your specific needs. As always, you can try both our live course and on-demand product absolutely free, no strings attached.
Chris Gentry is a Manhattan Prep LSAT, GMAT, and GRE instructor who lives in Atlanta, Georgia (and absolutely loves his city; he has family ties that go back over 150 years). Chris received both 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.