A lot of people giving prep advice, particularly people selling it, are a little over-concerned with making LSAT prep students feel good about what they are doing to prepare to take the test. We here at LSI are more concerned that you get the best score you can. This means doing what you should do, even if you might break down in tears and throw your books across the room a few times during your LSAT prep. In this post, we take our gloves off and hit you with five harsh truths about what you are doing wrong to study for the LSAT.
You Aren’t Prepping Hard Enough
My estimate from back when I was professional tutor is that over 80% of prep students weren’t doing enough prep to max out their score on the LSAT. Taking the LSAT is a skill. THE ONLY WAY TO GET BETTER AT A SKILL IS THROUGH INTENSE PRACTICE. Unless you are already getting a 180 on every single practice test, you can benefit immensely from intense practice.
I have heard people say things like, “The LSAT is only 3 hours long, so I didn’t see the point in ever studying any longer than that any given day” or, “Your brain works best when you only prep for an hour, so I only study an hour each day. Quality is what counts.” This is all 100% pure, unadulterated nonsense.
Proper intense prep is something closer to three hours plus on three days of the week and five hours plus at least two days of the week. See our schedule for full recommendations. Bear in mind this doesn’t mean you should study intensely each minute of the hours you devote to prep in a given day. Take plenty of little breaks throughout or space out the prep considerably over the course of a day. If prep feels like you are torturing yourself all the time, you are doing it wrong. That said, it will take mental focus and commitment to make the required effort — LSAT prep isn’t easy.
In my time observing LSAT prep students, the ones who were really serious and intense about it grossly outperformed the slackers on the real test and made way bigger improvements along the way. When you do LSAT prep you are literally trying to foster new connections in the brain. Do it like everyone else who is serious about getting better at a skill. Chess masters train intensely. Great tennis players train intensely. Great LSAT takers should train intensely as well.
To this end, make sure you look at the daily LSAT schedules we’ve set up. They won’t be easy, but that’s a good thing. If you aren’t up to the kind of self-motivated work involved in LSAT prep (and more so in law school), it’s best to know now.
Premium Day-by-Day LSAT Study Schedules
Following a rigorous schedule is a relatively small investment for potentially massive returns. 3 or 4 points either way on the LSAT can mean the difference between a large scholarship at your dream school or just getting in. It might be a long time before you earn this much money with that little work, so take the opportunity and get down to business.
You May Have Wasted Time & Money
On Terrible LSAT Prep Materials
If you are new to the LSAT prep world, you can be excused for not knowing this, but some LSAT prep companies have a much better reputation than others. Kaplan, Princeton Review, Barron’s, and McGraw-Hill are all companies that really have no business teaching the LSAT. They are just throwing a lot of advertising dollars around and trading on their reputation for helping students prep for the SAT to make a quick buck. Kaplan isn’t as bad as the rest of them, but they are still second-rate. It’s a bit like Nike making skateboards. This just isn’t their niche. If you are thinking of going with these companies, don’t do it. No one is paying me to saying this. Look around the internet and you’ll see that other disinterested experts agree with me.
When I started my LSAT prep I went out and bought everything that was at my local bookstore. Only later, when I wasn’t seeing the improvements that I was hoping to make, did I begin to do some serious research. I found that Powerscore’s Logic Games Bible was the top choice of most top-scorers.
When my copy came in the mail and I cracked it open, I quickly realized that it was hand’s down better than the other books that I had been using. Even though I had already learned the Kaplan system, I made the decision to begin using PowerScore’s techniques instead. Only then did I begin to see real improvements in my LSAT score.
Make the switch to better instructional materials and you will see real benefits. Even if you are halfway or more through your LSAT studies, it isn’t too late to go over to a decent prep company. With logic games especially, it is of paramount importance that you have a good system. Diagramming logic games correctly helps you go faster, plain and simple.
Go with books from a company that started in the LSAT world. Powerscore, Manhattan LSAT, Blueprint, Fox Test Prep – all of these companies carry good reputations for helping people get top scores on the LSAT. Of course you also need a ton of actual, official LSAT Practice Tests.
Here is our list of LSAT books that we strongly recommend:
To learn how to get the most out of these materials, make sure to check our recommended study schedules.
Don’t Expect an LSAT Prep Course
To Save You From Under-Preparing
I think a lot of people sign up for a prep course and just go on autopilot from there, lazily doing only some of the assignments and thinking that they are getting everything they need. This despite the fact that every good LSAT prep course tells you outright THAT YOU HAVE TO DO PLENTY OF PRACTICE ON YOUR OWN.
Even the best LSAT courses are designed to complement to self-study. They tend to run two months and stop well before the LSAT to allow you time to do plenty of full simulated practice tests before the actual date of the test. Incredibly, I saw lot’s of prep students who would do the course then basically do nothing up until the test. What are you doing??? Your brain is going to totally atrophy in that last month!!!
Obviously this is closely related to harsh truth #1, but I want to focus here on length of prep. One month of prep is certainly not enough time to study for the LSAT. Two months of prep is cutting it damn close, and doing two months right probably requires too much work such that you run the risk of burn out. Say it with me: I will prep two and a half months or more for the LSAT. I. Will. Prep. Two. And. A. Half. Months. Or. More. 3 months is the ideal in my experience. I don’t know why this is the magic number exactly, but it works. As LSAC themselves note, performance on the exam correlates strongly with length of prep, so don’t put off LSAT prep until there’s not enough time.
You Can’t Expect To Hit Your PT average
On The Day of the Real LSAT
If You Don’t Simulate Exam Conditions
I was guilty of this some of the time during my LSAT prep, but really, don’t make it a habit. If you’re doing simulated tests with only 4 sections and taking little breaks between sections to get up and stretch and get water, you aren’t really doing the test the way it will be on test day.
At least half the time that you do full simulated LSAT preptests, make sure you do it just the way it will be on test day: add a fifth section from an older test to simulate an experimental section. Do 3 timed sections without stopping, bam, bam, bam. Then take a break. After that do two more timed sections without a break. Stop. You just did a simulated correctly.
If you don’t do this on a regular basis, don’t expect to hit your practice test average on test day. You won’t have built up the proper stamina to think at full speed for the entire five sections.
That said, it’s perfectly okay to often do just 4 sections with breaks in between. My theory of test prep is that you have to get good at things under ideal conditions before you make it harder on yourself.
You Can’t Do Your Best On The LSAT
If You Don’t Stop Partying All The Time
I saved perhaps the harshest truth for last. I’m sorry if this makes you cry, but you just aren’t going to hit your top score on the LSAT if you are knocking your brain around by blacking out every Friday night. All the science I don’t understand, but drinking is just terrible for the learning mind. If you are going to run at full speed, you have to cut out binge drinking for at least two months before the LSAT.
I know this is especially painful because many of you are in your senior year of college and are trying to have fun with friends. Frankly this is one of the reasons why I advocate not going straight through to law school. Seriously consider doing this test later when you won’t be missing out as much.
That said, it’s okay to go out and have a couple of drinks. What I’m really advocating is that you cut out the heavy drinking. Both of us totally abstained from drinking during LSAT prep and we are convinced that we have never been smarter in our lives than when we walked in to take the test. I had a huge martini afterwards, still the best tasting drink I’ve ever had. Don’t worry. The world will still be waiting for you when you get back from the LSAT.
Now that I’ve played LSAT bad cop for a while, let me point you toward some more soothing advice: how to relax and manage stress before the LSAT. While we aren’t your therapist, you may find it comforting that we are here to answer your LSAT and law school related questions. If you need some real expert advice from someone who will give it to you straight up, ask us anything in the comments or on twitter @onlawschool. Good luck!