If you’re reading this blog post, you probably already know how hard it can be to study for the LSAT. The three different sections cover vastly different subject matter (I’m looking at you, Logic Games), the test is about how you think, not what you know, and on top of all that, the stakes are incredibly high! Because of all this, when you’re studying for the LSAT, you need to be strategic. This article will explore how to study for the LSAT to get the most out of your practice.
How to Study for the LSAT with Learning Science
As teachers, we’re fascinated by the science of how we learn. Recent discoveries in learning science are particularly fascinating because they have upended assumptions people have long held about how to study in general, and how to study for the LSAT specifically.
This is the practice of studying multiple topics in a given study session. When we dedicate an entire study session to doing sets of similar questions, by the end of the study session, we’re probably nailing them. This can make us feel like we’ve cemented our approach to those questions so fully that we’ll be good at them forever. But studies show that studying multiple topics in each session has considerably better outcomes. This may be because, when studying a single topic, we know what strategies we’ll be called on to use. When doing interleaved practice, we have to decide which strategies to use, and this decision-making is a critical first step to answering a question correctly.
Interleave while studying for the LSAT by studying a particular question, passage, or game type just long enough to feel like you have a solid foundation, then integrate mixed practice, preferably on related topics.
This is the practice of studying a topic for a while, then backing off of it for a while, then studying it again. Why do this? Because, somewhat counter-intuitively, we learn things better when we give ourselves the chance to forget them. Spacing out your practice gives knowledge the chance to move out of your short-term memory and into your long-term memory. Some of it is going to get lost along the way, and that’s okay! Digging deep and trying to remember, then jogging your memory and relearning what you forgot, builds the neural connections that will eventually cement your knowledge in your long-term memory so you can use it on test day.
To use spaced repetition when studying for the LSAT, after working with a particular question, passage, or game type in your interleaved practice for a while, put it down. Step away. Do not disturb. A week or two later, reintroduce it to your interleaved practice. If you’re not totally nailing it, go back and review that topic in depth, interleave again, then drop it again. Rinse and repeat.
Studying for the LSAT by Reviewing
A common misconception among those studying for the LSAT: the more questions you do, the better you’ll do them. While it’s true that in order to study for the LSAT effectively, you’ll be required to do a lot of questions, when faced with the choice to do more questions or review the questions you just did, you should almost always opt to review.
Which questions should you review? Any questions you found challenging! Notice that I didn’t say “any questions you got wrong.” That’s because when deciding which questions to review, you should not have checked your answers yet. We call this “blind review.”
- While studying for the LSAT, flag any question you find challenging. (Be sure to include any question where you have it down to two answers and pick between them by going with your gut.)
- Then, go back and retry each of the flagged questions, recording your answers on a separate sheet of paper.
- With this list in hand, check the answer key and mark the questions you got wrong, but don’t record the correct answers.
- Go back to the questions you got wrong again and make a final attempt.
- After that attempt, check your answer.
- Figure out what made the wrong answers wrong and what made the right answer right.
- Then, figure out what made the wrong answers tempting and what made the right answer hard to pick.
- Still confused? Check out our LSAT forum for explanations and discussions of pretty much every LSAT problem ever.
As you study for the LSAT Reading Comprehension and Logic Games (Analytical Reasoning) sections, you’ll need to take some extra review steps aimed at ensuring you get the most out of your work with the passage or game setup.
When studying for the LSAT Reading Comprehension section:
- Re-read the passage carefully, looking for missed opportunities to annotate important features such as the author’s opinion, opposing viewpoints, examples given, and comparisons made.
- Jot down the role each paragraph serves in the passage and what subject it covers (we call this the passage map).
- Articulate the central debate, if there is one, and the central issue if there isn’t.
- Where does the author fall on that debate?
- Finally, in your own words, articulate the main point of the passage.
When reviewing the questions:
- Compare the answers to the big-picture questions with your articulation of the central debate (which we call the scale). Do they match? If not, go back and rehash your scale.
- Compare the answers to the more specific questions with the parts of the passage they reference. Not sure where to look? Then go back and rehash your passage map. You should have a pretty clear idea from your map and your annotations where the relevant info should be found.
- Get a line reference for every specific question you struggled with. Does it contain any missed annotation opportunities?
- Was there a line reference that led you to pick an incorrect answer? If so, dig into it to be sure you get why it was a red herring.
When studying for the LSAT’s Games section:
- Re-do your setup from scratch without looking at your previous version. Be sure to ask yourself easily-overlooked questions such as:
- Does every element have to be used, and can any element repeat?
- Does every element have a rule, or are some totally unrestricted?
- Have I tried to combine any rules that share elements?
- What rules, elements, or relationships are likely to drive this game?
- Is there anything about this game that’s so restricted that it can only play out in 2 or 3 ways? If so, does playing it out cause a domino effect that would make it worthwhile to draw out both (or all three) possibilities?
When reviewing the questions:
- Notice if any are answered by an inference you made the second time around that you missed the first time through.
- Check your mini-diagrams. Are they accurate?
- Consider whether any of the later questions could have been answered using work you did for earlier questions.
How to Study for the LSAT Using Analysis
Studying for the LSAT will necessarily involve taking timed practice tests. A 5-section practice test takes over two-and-a-half hours of your life. That’s two-and-a-half hours you’ll never get back. You better make it worth it!
In addition to thoroughly reviewing all the material you struggled with, you should also perform some data analysis, or better yet, let our LSAT Navigator do it for you!
Plug your answers into the Navigator. It’ll show you the breakdown of each question, passage, and game type and your performance on it. Use this information to target areas of weakness the next time you study for the LSAT.
Take special note of any questions that you flagged or missed that are decidedly within your wheelhouse. Questions on the Navigator are ranked by difficulty. Why did you miss those easier questions? Were you rushing through the easier ones but compromising your accuracy? Or do these misses indicate that you’ve forgotten something fundamental about that question, passage, or game type?
How to Study for the LSAT Without Losing Your Mind
Studying for the LSAT is a test of mental fortitude, and studying for the LSAT effectively requires that you attend to your mental state. Here are the most common pitfalls and how to avoid them.
When you study for the LSAT exhausted:
- If your life pre-LSAT is incredibly busy, you might need to start prepping well before a student who has more time each week to prep. That’s because our brains don’t learn as well when we’re not getting adequate sleep. Giving yourself a longer study period allows you to get the study time you need without burning the candle at both ends.
- Schedule your study time in the morning. The LSAT is administered at either 8:30 am or 12:30 pm, depending on the test. Studying at those times will ensure you’re not too tired from a long day to learn, and it has the added bonus of helping you recall information on test day.
When you study for the LSAT until you’re burnt out:
- Don’t study every day.
- Don’t study in marathon sessions. Shorter sessions spread over longer intervals are better at cementing knowledge for many of the reasons described in the learning science section.
- Use appropriately-spaced longer study sessions in moderation to build the stamina you’ll need for test day.
Studying for the LSAT haphazardly:
- Dedicate some time each week to set out a (realistic!) study schedule. Decide what material you want to cover, when you want to cover it, mark your calendar, and keep your commitment to yourself.
- At the start of each study session, decide on a few things that you’ll try to do during the session (we call this “setting intentions”). You might, for example, set the intentions to articulate why each wrong answer is wrong, and to actively identify the conclusion in every argument. Setting intentions like these makes study more productive because it channels your energy into concrete practices that improve performance.
- Keep a log of the concepts that are challenging for you and specific strategies for overcoming those challenges. Use the format “The next time I see ___, I will ___” to help you identify opportunities to use your strategies and convert them into points!
Studying for the LSAT while you’re thinking about something else:
- Have you ever read an LSAT question and realize that you have no idea what it said? Maybe you were thinking about what to make for dinner? Yeah, me too. To improve focus and help avoid distractions, set aside ten minutes each day to devote to meditation or another mindfulness practice. Studies have shown that a daily mindfulness practice can dramatically improve standardized test scores.
How to Study for the LSAT: The Final Word
It’s best to study with support, whether you’re just embarking on your journey studying for the LSAT or whether you’re well into your LSAT preparation. Whether it comes in the form of free resources like our LSAT forum, LSAT Navigator, and email series THE BRIEF, or it involves working with one of our stellar instructors, we’re here to support you on your journey every step of the way. Want to learn more? Sign up to take the first session of any of our LSAT classes for free! ?
Laura Damone is a Manhattan Prep instructor based in San Francisco, CA. She fell for the LSAT while getting her undergrad degree and has now taught LSAT classes at more than 20 universities around the country. When she’s not teaching, learning, or publishing her work, she can be found frolicking in the redwoods and exploring the Pacific coast. Check out Laura’s upcoming LSAT courses here!