Here’s a guest post from our friend Graeme Blake at LSAT Hacks.
As an independent tutor and creator of LSAT Hacks I’ve worked with hundreds of LSAT students. Everyone always wants to know what to do. But sometimes it’s just as important to know what not to do. From my experience, these are the five biggest mistakes LSAT students make.
1. Not studying for the LSAT at all
If you spend too much time on LSAT forums, you get the impression that your competitors are machines. They will score 170+ – all of them. They eat, sleep, and drink the LSAT. They will crush you.
Let’s just say that they’re a very biased sample of test takers. The LSAC conducts research on students’ preparation methods – it’s that little bubble you can fill in on the information sheet on test day. The most recent research report covers 2008–2010.
2.5% of respondents said they did no preparation at all. But I believe the real number of people who effectively didn’t prepare is higher. Choices 1 and 2 for methods of preparation were the sample questions on the LSAC website, and the sample LSAT test. About 15% of students chose each option.
These options aren’t exclusive, but it’s a safe bet that many of those choosing options 1 and 2 used no other methods. Only 34% of students reported taking an LSAT course, and only 51% of students used self-study. These two categories likely have a big overlap. And only 44% of students used non-LSAC study guides! (e.g. Powerscore, Manhattan)
All told I’d estimate 10–20% of people don’t really study at all. And a good chunk of the rest have poor methods. My anecdotal experience as a tutor supports this. You would be shocked at how many people come to me, having done nothing, and with one a few weeks before test date. I tell them to postpone, but some still try.
So if you’re preparing at all, you’re already avoiding the biggest mistake.
2. Thinking money will solve the problem
You can’t buy your way to LSAT success. I’ve had a few rich clients who want me to solve everything for them. I like to think I’m good at what I do, but there’s nothing I can do for a student if they don’t examine their thought processes to see where they’re going wrong.
Money solves a lot of things in life. Most things, maybe. If you have money, you get used to being able to solve most problems simply by throwing money at them.
But there are many things money can’t buy: love, happiness, friendship, intelligence. I’m convinced that past a certain point, getting better at the LSAT actually requires you to get smarter. You need to examine and refine your thoughts to see where your way of thinking is causing errors. This is something only you can do yourself.
Money helps, a bit. If you pay money, you can talk to someone like me, and we’ll tell you what resources are out there. We can tell you strategies based on our experience, and how to solve each question type most efficiently. We can tell you where some of your most common errors lie.
But we can’t make you smarter. We can’t reach into your mind and change how you think. Not if you pay us $1,000,000. Only you can do that. And you can do it for the cost of a few LSAT preptests. You don’t need me. I can help, but I’m not enough.
So if you don’t have the money for prep courses or tutoring, don’t worry. You’re not really missing out. Just buy preptests, a good strategy guide or video course, and work on your mind. If you do have money, then you have access to more resources, but the most important thing is your own mindset.
3. Focussing on plans and methods instead of practice and learning
Learning is about making mistakes. You have to try things, assess where things went wrong, and try again. Yet many students are petrified about trying the LSAT until they’ve read 1,000 pages of study guides. Here’s some stuff I hear frequently, any of it sound familiar?
I’ll take a timed test, but I want to read the bibles first.
I am not ready. I don’t think timed practice is representative of my score.
I feel I should take untimed sections until I’m ready.
I read all the Manhattan books. I learned a lot, but my scores didn’t improve!
I have nothing against study guides. But they should not be used in isolation. You have to use them along with actual LSAT practice. The LSAT is what you’re practicing for. You may feel bad about your current score, but it is what it is. Your job is to improve it, not mope about it.
Burying your face in a practice guide is an excuse. It feels good, but it’s not what will make the difference. If you read practice guides in isolation, you won’t learn anything. To get better, you need to work at actual LSAT exams, review them, and figure out where you’re going wrong. Once you are familiar with the LSAT, then practice guides are excellent for orienting you.
4. Not spending enough time reviewing
I’ve worked with a few students that went through all 70 practice tests before getting to me. In most cases, their score did not improve! Practice tests are great, but blindly doing test after test is not the answer. You need to figure out where you’re going wrong.
When I first started tutoring, everyone used practice tests 29–38. I went through those tests over and over again with multiple students. I only did those ten tests, and I got much better at teaching, even though I had no fresh material. Why? Because seeing questions again and again forced me to look more deeply at the material. I had to question my methods and improve.
The LSAT has patterns. If you take shortcuts and move on without examining your errors, you won’t learn. I’ve noticed an interesting trend in tutoring: those that score higher have more questions for me on a given practice tests.
When a student scores in the 150s, typically they’ll tell me: “I don’t know what to cover this lesson, I reviewed my mistakes and I only have these 3 questions to ask about”.
Whereas when a student gets 170+, they typically have 10–15 questions they want to ask me about, even some that they got right. The LSAT has incredible depth. Make sure you review properly and try to discover what’s hidden in each question.
5. Saying “I understand”
This ties in with the previous mistake. Just about the worst thing you can ever do in your LSAT prep is to say “I understand”, and pat yourself on the back.
I’m sorry, but unless you’re scoring 175+, you do not understand everything. Even on questions you get right, you are making mistakes. I still don’t understand some things. Students ask me good questions that I have to think about. I’m constantly questioning my knowledge.
Saying “I understand” makes you feel better, but it stops you from improving. Instead, you have to ask yourself “what don’t I understand?”. There are hundreds of little things you need to master to get good at the LSAT. Asking yourself what you still don’t understand helps you find these things.
I know how hard it is to not get the score you want. It’s a blow to your pride and your confidence. It’s natural to want to reassure yourself, to say “I understand”. But it’s a maneuver of weakness. Those who are confident in their abilities constantly question their understanding. They might think their ability is good, but they want to make it better. To do that, ask what you still need to learn.
6. Not taking care of the basics: sleep, food, exercise, stress
You’re busy. On top of the LSAT, you’ve got your regular life to take care of. Something’s got to give. I can’t tell you what to cut out to make time for everything, but I can tell you what not to cut out:
The LSAT is not like your final exams. You can’t just cram for a few days and memorize everything. The LSAT is more like an athletic competition. You have to be at your peak performance to do well. Yet many students cut out one or all of these activities, and they are vital to peak performance. Let’s go over all of these one by one:
Sleep: Our culture has a silly attitude towards sleep. We treat people as heroes if they go on without sleep. “Such a hard worker!”. Well, I’m sorry, but sleep deprivation is similar to being drunk. You wouldn’t study for the LSAT drunk, would you?
Get a full night’s sleep, usually 7 to 9 hours for most people. Every night. A single night of poor sleep will slow your learning.
Eating Well: I’m not going to tell you exactly what to eat. That’s a rather complicated issue in our society. But think about the type of stuff you tend to eat. I’m sure there is a “healthy” version of your diet, and an “unhealthy” version. The healthy version probably takes time to prepare, and the unhealthy version probably gives you a quick fix and is often sugary. The unhealthy version tastes good, but then you feel worse: tired, gassy, etc. You can’t study like that.
Don’t let your diet slide. Eat healthy, whatever that means to you.
Exercise: Like food, exercise is different for each person. As long as you’re moving, I’m happy. I personally lift barbells three times a week, 30 minutes each time, and I walk every day. If that’s what you like, go for it. Or if you like jogging every day, do that. But do something. If you sit around studying all day and don’t move, you will wear yourself down.
Relaxation: I hear so many stories of test day freakouts. You need to manage your stress, or you’ll be a ball of nerves on test day and shoot yourself in the foot. Here are a few tips:
Meditate. Even five minutes a day. This really helps. Try it.
Write down the worst case scenario. On paper. Imagine you got a 142 on the LSAT. What would your life look like? What action would you take to make things better? No one want to bomb the LSAT, but chances are that the worst case scenario is not nearly as bad as you imagine it. Getting things down on paper forces you to be concrete about what you’re actually afraid of. And once you realize that even the worse case isn’t that bad, you can be a lot more relaxed about test day.
Take breaks. You are not meant to work 7 days a week, 14 hours a day. Visit your friends. Nap. Read a book. Get away from the LSAT, and out of your usual environment. Your subconscious will use the downtown to piece together what you’ve been learning, and you’ll come back refreshed.
Note: TV and internet tend not to be good ways to relax, especially if done as solo activities. They give false relaxation. Browsing LSAT forums and blogs is even worse. Step back from the computer, and go outside. It will do you good.
About Graeme + Free LSAT email course
Graeme Blake scored a 177 on the LSAT, and has taught hundreds of students all over North America. He’s the creator of LSAT Hacks, a site of free explanations for the LSAT.
Graeme has a free five day email course on the LSAT, which will walk you through all aspects of preparing for the test: Email Course