Monday, August 29, 2011

7 Deadly Sins of LSAT Prep

The 7 Deadly Sins of LSAT Preparation

My name is Brent Dunn. I am the founder of ACE Test Preparation, and have been helping students prepare for the LSAT for over 15 years. I am not going to bore you with all the cool things that I have been able to be a part of in that time. I probably know some of the people reading this from previous classes. I am going to be as blunt as possible about the mistakes that many LSAT takers make in their study. I realize that there are exceptions to each of these. Many people have a “friend of a friend who just took the test on a whim and got a 177.” If you are going to do well on the LSAT you should probably start by applying your critical reasoning skills to those sorts of stories, and decide if using those as a basis for your preparation is likely to yield the desired result. 

1-Failure To Study
Unlike the SAT and ACT where your schoolwork offers at least a reasonable amount of preparation for the exam the LSAT is a different creature altogether. Not many people take Logic Puzzles 201 as part of their college coursework. Even very intelligent people who have succeeded gloriously in their undergraduate programs are often humbled by the LSAT. There is a reason why the more than half of the LSAT test takers score below 60 percent. College classes generally are not going to prepare you all that well for the test. I tell people in my classes that we love people that go in and take the test cold...someone has to be bottom quartile, and better them than you.

2- Procrastination
This really goes along well with the first deadly sin. People have a tendency to underestimate the amount of time that they will need to put into the test. Those people who have taken the time to gather the data have found that about 300-400 hours of study is what most people need to reach a consistent score pattern that will be close to their diminishing returns point. If you decide to start studying two months before the test that means you would need to be putting in 40 hour weeks studying LSAT. Most students simply don't have that kind of time or stamina.

3- Studying the Wrong Things
There are over 3000 pages of actual previously administered tests available. Books/classes that use their own created questions/tests are just trying to cut costs, but it is your score that will suffer. LSAT tests are extremely nuanced, and people who create their own questions/tests nearly always fail to achieve the same level of intricacy. People who have taken real LSAT questions enough to have achieved high level competency can usually spot a 'fake' LSAT question fairly easily.

4- Trying to 'Game' the Test
This goes along with the previous deadly sin. Doing well on the LSAT isn't a matter of learning how to guess, or trying to create some system for trying to pick out the easiest/hardest questions. People who do well on the LSAT learn to master basic skills of analysis, put in the time to learn the patterns of reasoning, and drill until their skills are habit. Cramming, or taking a 2-3 day class right before the test isn't going to do much for you.

5- Hubris
For those who do put in the time to study, most will encounter questions that they don't like. Even after seeing what the credited response is, they will say, “Well, I still think my answer choice is better.” Newsflash—you don't get to grade the LSAT, so it doesn't really matter what you think. Are you planning on adding an addendum to your application explaining that the admissions committee should add 4 points to your score because you think your answers were better? Good luck with that. What you really need to do is figure out why LSAC thinks that is the better response, and then adjust your thinking to match theirs (at least while taking the tests).

6- Failure to Take Simulated Tests
Based on the data that many different groups have collected, one of the strongest correlations between preparation activities and actual score is based on the number of timed, simulated practice exams. You need to regularly take timed practice tests in conditions as similar to the actual test conditions as you can create. Any good LSAT class will have these as a part of your study, but if you study on your own you should find a group of people and reserve a room for practice tests a least weekly.

7- Choosing the Wrong LSAT Class
I am not going to advocate any particular class, because I obviously have my view on what is best. Instead, I am going to tell you things that you could verify by reading posts on forums, or talking to law students. Look more for a good teacher than at the class itself. Read any chatboard and you will find this popping up over and over. “My teacher for company X was great, and really helped me.” Later on someone will post, “No way, that company sucks, I had a horrible experience.” Find out about the teachers, their background, how long they have been teaching, what sort of student successes have they generated, what sorts of reviews have they received. If possible go sit in on their class. Sometimes it is a matter of a teaching style that matches your learning style. An LSAT class is a big investment. Not just from the roughly $1000 dollars you are going to spend. What you get on the LSAT has the potential to make the price you pay for a class seem like a pittance. Take the time to find the class that gives you the best chance of success.  


  1. Brent, ideally, how early should someone begin studying for the LSAT?

  2. I agree with all of your points, especially points 5 and 6. I actually went to the effort of reserving the room where I was scheduled to take the test for the weeks leading up to the test so I could practice in the same room at the same time and and on the same day of the week as the actual test. I went to a huge amount of effort to simulate test conditions (even to the point of wearing the same clothes each week). My friends made fun of me for it, but when we got our results, I had the highest score.

    I agree with your second point except as to the amount of time necessary. You state that 300-400 hours is necessary, but I studied about 160 hours. Nevertheless, my highest score was the actual LSAT, so perhaps with more time I could have improved my score (but not by much as I scored in the 98th percentile).

  3. Clint-- I would optimally start about 6 months prior to taking the test. That makes it so that you really have time to get to your personal peak.

    Daniel--Congrats on the great score! Sounds like you not only put in the time and effort to do well, but that you picked up on the concepts quicker than most people as well. Kudos!
    Of course the researcher in me wonders if continuing your study for another couple hundred hours would have pushed that score up into the mid 170's, but that may not have been worth it to you for the amount of time it would have added.

  4. Brent -

    I've had that same thought. Like I said, my best score was on the actual LSAT and my second best score was the week before the LSAT. I had plateaued prior to that (getting the *exact* same score each week for 8 weeks) and it was only in those last 10 days or so that I found a way to make my studying more effective. With more time, maybe I would have done better.

    That being said, most of the people that took the test with me (there was a large group of us who took the same prep class) had plateaued and some had started to decline. Again, this may be more a product of my efficiency v. theirs. But you are right about the relative cost. I had made studying for the LSAT my one and only priority, and because of the rigorous study schedule and my obsession with creating exact test conditions, I had gotten into the routine of fighting with my wife the night before the test. (I never planned these fights, they just happened.) If it had gone on much longer, it could have been bad.

  5. Daniel,
    In that case I think that you definitely made the right decision to take it when you did. There are some things that are worth more than a good score.
    On a somewhat random note, those fights may have helped you. It may sound odd, but we have found that people tend to do better on the test (and the LR in particular) when they are a irritated.
    I often joke that it might explain some of the stereotypes about lawyers. If there was an element of selection for irritable people in the law school application process, then it might suggest a higher concentration of such people in the legal profession.
    Regardless, it is a great tribute to you that you were able to manage that balance between performance, and quality of life. I think that is a tricky one for lots of people.

  6. Brent,

    I am interested in taking the course from you. What is the best way to reach you?

    Dunia Alrabadi