In this article, Evan takes a deep dive into one of the most common problems students encounter when preparing for the LSAT: Timing.
Although most students find that overcoming timing issues is one of the most difficult challenges of their LSAT prep, we realized that there seemed to be a lack of concrete & actionable advice on this important topic.
As we’ve worked closely with hundreds of students in the LSAT Mastermind Study Group over the past 12 months, we’ve developed a system that has helped many of our members overcome their timing issues.
In this post, Evan publicly unveils this system for the first time. Follow these step-by-step details & I’m confident that you’ll be on your way to overcoming your LSAT timing issues!
This is one of the most frequent questions I get as an LSAT instructor: “When should I start doing timed LSAT problems?”
The first part of my answer is usually: “not for a while.”
Although LSAT questions are hard, it’s the time pressure that really makes this test a truly spectacular intellectual trial. If you try to incorporate timing before you are ready, it’s just going to create a big mess.
Add timing too early and at best, you’ll just end up guessing most of the answers. At worst, you risk developing bad habits that could be difficult to break.
Simply thinking through and solving LSAT questions is hard enough as it is— and have you get really, really good at it.
After you begin to feel more comfortable solving the questions untimed, which can take a while. Then, and only then, are you ready to tackle timing. How long it takes to get there varies from person to person, but we will give you some benchmarks to judge your readiness in this post.
Slow Down to Speed Up: Learning to Solve Untimed LSAT Questions the Right Way
Before introducing the timing component of the LSAT, you don’t just have to learn how to solve questions—you need to learn to solve them the right way.
Take logic games for example: Given all the time you need, you can just try each answer choice one at a time, laboriously check whether it is valid or invalid against all the rules, and either cross it off or mark it as the right answer.
Unfortunately, doing it that way doesn’t even faintly resemble how high-scorers tackle LSAT logic games. Proper attack follows a logical method to save time and mental energy.
It is absolutely critical that you learn the right methods to use to solving games, from the the ground up.
The best resource to get you there is one that Josh and I have designed specifically to give you the right foundation in logic games: our extensive Introduction To Logic Games.
You can also learn with respected LSAT prep books. In any case, do not set out to develop game techniques on your own. The proper way to approach them has been honed over years of experimentation, so learn from experts instead of trying to reinvent the wheel.
There are no points for originality on the LSAT. If you simply learn to do it as an expert does, you will be in great shape.
Likewise, when prepping for the logical reasoning section of the LAST, you have to learn a good number of concepts and techniques simply to solve the questions correctly.
Here, your natural skills might get you a long way. Logical reasoning is much more intuitive than Logic Games. But trust me, you are still better off learning proper techniques from a solid prep resource.
The LSAT has been around for quite a while now, and we LSAT instructors have gotten very good at figuring out how to solve these problems, and how to teach you to do it to. Take advantage of our years of experience instead of fumbling around in the dark & you’ll be off to a great start.
Your early prep efforts will be focused on learning the fundamentals & proper techniques. By the end of this phase of your prep, you will have a strategy for handling any problem you see on the LSAT.
During this initial phase of prep as you’re building a solid foundation, pretty much all of your work should be untimed.
How Long Should All This Untimed LSAT Practice Take?
Even with diligent study, and I’m talking about 3+ hours 4-5 days a week, I think it takes even quick students at least a month to have the techniques down to the point where they might be able to wade into some timed practice.
If you are only able to study a few days a week or it isn’t sinking in well for you. It’s going to take longer.
Here is the benchmark that you should shoot for before beginning timed practice:
A good target to consider yourself ready to start timing is if you can take a section of the LSAT untimed and get about 90% of the problems right.
9 out of 10 generally shows that you have a good handle on the mechanics of solving these problems. It also shows you have the discipline to think your way through to a right answer.
If you’ve been studying a couple of months and aren’t getting at least 90% of questions on a section right untimed, you can and should be hard on yourself about it. Don’t let yourself off the hook. Redouble your efforts and fix it.
Generally, there are one or two problems at work: Either you don’t have the techniques down or you are just plain being lazy.
If you’re simply guessing between two or three potential answers rather than getting down to the hard work of justifying why one is right and why one is wrong, then you’re being mentally lazy.
Mental laziness is a common problem for LSAT learners. The test is designed to encourage you to make these types of mistakes. Learn to recognize when you are doing it and force yourself out of the habit.
If you’re working too quickly through problems early in your prep, it’s a bit like taking stabs in the dark: you’re flailing around trying to hit something & even when you’re occasionally on target, you still can’t see what you did right.
If you’ve been thorough & taken as much time as you need to answer a question to the best of your ability and you still can’t get a problem right, you’ve actually learned something about what you need to work on to improve.
Say it is a flaw question and you can’t wrap your head around why the argument is flawed. That would indicate it’s time to head back to lessons on flaws and make sure you understand argument structure and what makes a flawed argument.
If you train yourself to avoid mental laziness and continually address your weaknesses then trust me, you will eventually be able to correctly solve 9 out of ten questions on an untimed LSAT preptest. It may take some months, but it is doable.
Establishing this base, where you really truly know how to do the problems, is going to result in a much higher score down the road.
What if LSAT test day is approaching and I’m still not answering 9 out 10 untimed questions correctly?
It is, of course, important that you work through plenty of LSAT preptests under timed conditions before test day. We generally like to see people switch over to timed practice at least 5 to 6 weeks before test day.
More is ideal. We recommend that LSAT students do about 30 tests under timed conditions before test day. While that is theoretically doable in a month provided you aren’t employed or in school, it would be a pretty miserable month.
If you have less than 1 month to prepare for the exam and you are still not hitting the ideal 9 out of 10 benchmark, you should consider delaying and taking a subsequent LSAT.
Holding off to a later LSAT always makes sense here. I have yet to see anyone who put truly put their mind to it and was unable to hit the 9/10 untimed benchmark. If you can take the time, persevere, and get there, things are going to go much better when you start incorporating timing, meaning a better score on test day. Don’t sell yourself short.
Now, let’s talk about what to do when you can regularly an average of hit 9/10 right on a section.
Transitioning to Timed Practice
Now that you’ve built a solid foundation in the fundamentals, it’s time to move on to timed practice.
First off, I strongly recommend that you get a high-quality LSAT watch like the Answer Watch. That watch is going to be VERY important on test day, and the more prep you do with the watch, the better. I’ve heard many people say they prepped with an iPhone timer only to feel lost without it on test day. You won’t be able to use a digital timer or a stopwatch on your phone on test day, so you shouldn’t allow yourself to look at one during your prep. Do yourself a favor and get yourself a watch like this now, and start using it every time you prep between now and test day.
Begin doing full sections regularly as opposed to the mix of sections and question type drilling you were doing at first, only this time, you work under timed conditions. This will help you begin to develop an awareness of pacing.
The average time for each logic game, for example, is 8 minutes and 45 seconds. However, some games are designed to take longer, and some should ideally take less.
Start seeing how long different games, LR questions, and RC passages are taking you. Experiment a little with going faster than you would usually be comfortable with. At this point, still, finish every problem, but note if it has taken you much longer than the average.
Also, note how long the sections are taking you in total.
After about a week of this, you should be ready to tackle your first fully timed test. Here are some guidelines that will help you along the way. I do not expect you to hit these benchmarks while staying accurate right away, but they will give you an idea what ideal timing looks like.
Ideal Timing: Logical Reasoning
- The first 10 questions are generally easier than the remaining questions. Ideally, you want to plow through this in about 10 minutes (1 minute per question)
- The next 10 questions should ideally take about 15 minutes (average 1.5 minutes per question)
- This leaves you ten minutes for the last 5 questions. Ideally, you can solve them with a few minutes to spare, allowing you to go back and check any difficult questions.
Ideal Timing: Logic Games
- The first game is almost always significantly easier than the rest and would ideally take somewhere between 5 and 7 minutes.
- The remaining games are less predictable. Any exceptionally hard game will be balanced by an easier one somewhere else in the section. Expect there to be two games that will take longer than average (8 minutes 45 seconds is average) and two games that will ideally take less than the average (the first game is always one of these two).
Ideal Timing: Reading Comprehension
- Timing for reading comprehension is about the same as games, though there tends to be less variability in the amount of time individual passages take. Expect most RC passages to take between 7 and 10 minutes. Any harder passages will be balanced out by ones that should take less time elsewhere in the section.
Again, these are ideals. Almost everyone has trouble hitting these and keeping that 9 out of 10 accuracy they built up before introducing timing. We call this the gap.
Once you introduce the timing element of the exam, I fully expect you won’t be getting an average 90% or better right anymore.
For the rest of your prep, your primary goal is to slowly close the gap between your untimed & timed scores until you’re hitting about the same level of accuracy on timed exams that you had achieved in untimed conditions. We call this closing the gap.
Closing A Big Gap
If your accuracy falls through the floor when you introduce timing (for example, if you fall from 9/10 to 7/10 or worse), then you have some serious timing issues.
My recommendation is to hold off on doing 35 minutes sections for a bit. Take a test untimed again and see how long it takes. Say sections were taking you 45 minutes to complete untimed. Now, we’ll try to shave a little bit off of that each day. Cut a minute or two off your section time each day.
If at any point your accuracy drops severely again, hold off and practice at that time constraint for a while until the accuracy comes back. Then, start dropping it again. Eventually, the goal is to get down to the 35 minutes with somewhere close to that 90% accuracy (or better ideally).
Closing A Little Gap
If you just have a little gap to close (with timing, you are getting around 80% right), then the best way to improve is just to hone in on what question types are giving you trouble.
Keep taking tests at that 35 minutes per section pace, and keep a log of your errors/any questions you find difficult. You’ll use this log to hone in on those weaknesses with drills. Check out this post for a full explanation of how to review LSAT preptests to get the most out of it.
In between pts, drill weak points and you will improve on this question type. Keep targeting weaknesses and eventually, you will run out of weaknesses!
Everyone is going to encounter their own set of issues on the way to LSAT greatness. If you are motivated to crush the LSAT and want personalized help without the cost of an LSAT tutor, join our LSAT Mastermind Study Group now while we are open to new members.
It’s a lifetime thing: once you are in, you are in until you gotten the LSAT score you want AND gotten into the school of your choice (we help with admissions questions too).
Here is a testimonial from one of our members:
Thank you is in order. I took the September LSAT after joining the Mastermind group, somewhat casually reviewing your materials, and doing roughly 10 practice tests. My highest score on a PT at that point was a 167, which I was more than happy about. However, I studied less than I should and stressed more than I should prior to test day, and my September score ended up at 160. I completely bombed RC (-12), and had room for improvement in LG (-5) and LR (-4, -6)
Getting a 160 brought me down a peg and I rededicated myself in order to retake in December. I did every single RC and LG section from all five of the 10-series book (not necessarily timed), re-reviewed the Trainer and the bibles, and used the LSAT hacks books you posted religiously. My goal for the December test was a 167 so I could get into Vanderbilt or UT – Austin. I started averaging 167 on my timed PTs and my high was 168.
On test day #2 I took Evan’s advice of doing a couple of RC passages, a couple of pages of LR, and a couple of LG games before the test. I woke up early, ate a good breakfast, and leisurely made my way to the testing center. After all of that, including 6+ months of studying, I somehow came out ahead of the game. Long story short, I scored a 170 (97th percentile) on the December test. I went -1 on both LR sections, and -5 on both LG and RC (by far my weakest section).
My score far exceeded my expectations and was outside of what I considered the realm of possibilities. Thank you so much for the free materials at lawschooli.com (I go to your website at least once a day) and also for setting up this low cost/high value group.
For those of you out there who haven’t taken the LSAT or are considering a retake, feel confident that you can definitely crush the LSAT with Josh and Evan’s advice.
Also, keep checking out the site. We started as a fully free LSAT advice blog, and remain committed to helping everyone get a better score than they thought they could. With the June LSAT on the horizon, we’ll be posting at least twice a week, so sign up for our newsletter to get the posts fresh to your inbox.