Anyone considering studying for the LSAT should start the same way: with a practice test. However familiar you are with the instructions and questions, an initial practice test will show you what you are up against.
The score you receive on this first practice test means little. It does not indicate the floor or ceiling for your performance any more than your first golf lesson shows your handicap. Rather, the experience of taking the test reveals which sections you find most intuitive or interesting, and where you will need to put in the most work. With this context, you can start learning fundamental skills from a course or self study.
Where you go from this starting point depends on your specific situation. Most law school applicants should set aside at least four months to master the test. Below are examples of four-month study plans for three different kinds of applicants:
— The anxious test-taker.
— The ace at standardized tests.
— The procrastinator.
The Anxious Test-Taker
Many law school applicants start off with little or no experience with the LSAT and a hatred of standardized tests. Convinced that they are “not good at tests,” such applicants approach the LSAT with apprehension, low confidence and the potential for self-sabotage.
Instead of investing time early on in mastering difficult but critical concepts like methods of logical reasoning, test-takers burdened by negativity will practice compulsively, reinforcing unhelpful thoughts and habits.
In reality, the LSAT is best mastered through methodical, focused practice. Applicants with test anxiety should adopt a structured approach. They should build a fail-safe, confidence-building study plan with a course, a tutor or comprehensive study materials.
They might start with a few weeks of learning how to handle each question type, then a few weeks of rigorous untimed practice, and finally at least two months of timed section practice with periodic check-ins and review.
Such applicants should also acknowledge their own anxious feelings about the LSAT and manage those emotions through journaling, visualization or other coping strategies. The test is too intense and fast-paced to waste time with self-doubt.
The Ace at Standardized Tests
Other applicants come to the LSAT with more confidence, having performed well on past standardized tests. While they should still learn the fundamentals of each section type, they may not need the structured environment of a course or comprehensive prep books. Rather, they should move more quickly to timed practice tests and in-depth practice on trouble spots.
Such test-takers should not make overconfident assumptions about their own strengths. They may find, for example, that they consistently miss questions on the reading comprehension section, which is not as straightforward as it seems.
Through regular timed practice tests, they may find their score increases steadily before hitting a wall. Rather than lose interest or push themselves to try harder, they should home in on exactly what kinds of questions are giving them trouble and devote multiple days to sustained practice on areas of weakness.
[Read: What Is a Good LSAT Score?]
They may find the fresh perspective and targeted help of a tutor or online tutorials helpful for breaking through bottlenecks.
Some law school applicants struggle to set aside regular time for LSAT practice due to competing priorities, low motivation or inattention. Realistically, even if such applicants set an ambitious four-month study plan or sign onto a comprehensive course, they may not follow through.
Rather than studying in fits and spurts like a half-hearted follower of a fad diet, test-takers with limited time should start with a condensed course or practice book and then set small, achievable goals to master the content. They should take periodic practice tests, perhaps every two weeks, to measure progress and identify their weak points. And they should try to fit in shorter intervals of practice questions, even 15 minutes a day.
They should set regular weekly or biweekly check-ins to confirm progress and adjust their study plan accordingly. For example, if they can dedicate only a few hours each week to LSAT prep, they should maximize that time and perhaps consider setting aside occasional half or whole days to consolidate what they have learned.
These three archetypes are not intended to be exhaustive. Everyone approaches the LSAT with their own preconceptions, habits and strengths. Only by carefully monitoring performance can a test-taker evaluate the effectiveness of his or her own study strategy.
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4-Month LSAT Study Strategies Tailored to Your Needs originally appeared on usnews.com