From the Vaults: Using Practice Exams to Experiment with Your Approach
- May 08, 2018
- General LSAT Advice, LSAT
I broke my hand recently. Well, technically, I broke my hand two-and-a-half weeks ago, then spent the next fortnight icing my swollen hand and swelling my dumb head with false hope that my hand wasn’t broken.
When I finally got it checked out by a doctor, I found out there are two ways to deal with a potentially broken hand. The first way is to get it checked out immediately, allowing a medical professional to set it and ensure that it heals properly. But then you have to spend about a month in a cast.
The second way is to not see a doctor immediately, instead waiting for the swelling to subside, before self-examining the alignment of the bones in your hand, prompting you to say, “That looks messed up,” and then seek medical attention. Then, following an x-ray in which even the lab technician can tell you have two fractured metacarpals, receive gentle reproach from your doctor, who tells you that not seeking immediate medical attention for a hand injury can lead to permanent damage (and, if your health care provider happens to be Kaiser, you respond, “But couldn’t hasty treatment lead to Permanente damage?” to your now stone-faced doctor), before the doctor concedes that your hand is healing fine and that you now only need to spend 10 days in a cast. I can’t recommend that you take the second approach should you break a hand, but it worked out well enough for me.
But anyway, now I’m in a cast that seems intentionally, vindictively bulky. Thank you in advance for keeping me in your thoughts and prayers. Yes, this is pretty much the worst injury that could befall a blogger. Maybe the worst thing to happen to anyone, ever.
But despite that, I’m doing great. In fact, once you have only one functional hand and a nonfunctional Megaman hand, previously mundane tasks become enlivened. Showering, putting on clothes, and carrying your daily belongings become logistical puzzles to be assessed and solved. I’ve discovered new techniques for putting on a backpack and draping a jacket over my shoulders. Even blogging this post has forced me, with my WPM drastically hampered by dint of cast, to write a pen and paper draft, a welcome return to my high school essay process. I find conquering these challenges to be mini-rewards meted throughout my day. With each new logistical predicament vanquished, like say figuring out how to shampoo with one hand, I get closer to being a happy, functional adult human being.
And now that you’re in (or at least should be in) the late stages of your LSAT study plan, you have a few logistical puzzles of your own to solve. Mainly, it’s the puzzle of how to maximize the number of questions you answer correctly while maintaining your hard-won accuracy. And much like I experimented with various ways to hold a fork and knife, you should use each practice exam and timed section you do as an opportunity to develop new techniques to help you solve the logistical quagmire that is the LSAT.
Now that you have a solid approach to each Logical Reasoning question type, Reading Comprehension passage, and Logic Game, you should try to experiment with different approaches to how you tackle each set of questions, games, and passages in the 35 minutes allotted.
Believe it or not, there’s no rule on the LSAT that makes you go through the questions in order, or that you have to attempt each and every question, or that you can’t give up and guess on some questions. Sometimes making a big score increase is just a matter of finding the best logistical approach, as I did when I figured out how to open twist-off lids with one hand. Here are some approaches you can experiment with to see if you can get that big score increase.
The main thing you should try to work on during your LR sections is finding the right pace to take when working through the questions. All of the LR questions are worth the same amount of points, but not all of the LR questions are worth the same investment of your precious time. Some questions are shorter and easier and are worth less of your time, and some are longer and more demanding and require more of your time.
You want to develop a timing strategy to help you leave enough time to do the harder questions. Of course, you won’t know which questions will be the most difficult until you actually do them. However, LR questions typically get more difficult as the section progresses. Too many, especially when starting out, do the first half of these questions (the first 13) in about half the allotted time (17 or 18 minutes). That unfortunately means they leave the same amount of time to do the second-half of much more difficult, time-consuming questions. Consequently, their accuracy plummets in the second-half. Not because they don’t know how to do these questions, but simply because they didn’t give themselves the appropriate amount of time.
So you want to develop a strategy to help avoid this predicament. Try breaking down the entire section into a few sub-sections, and set timing goals for each sub-section. For instance, try to complete the first 10 (generally easy) questions in 10 to 12 minutes, and then the next 10 (generally more difficult) questions in 15 to 17 minutes. That will leave you about 1:45 to 2 full minutes to complete each of the remaining (generally most difficult) questions.
Or maybe those specific timing goals don’t work for you. Maybe 10 minutes is too little time for you to get through the first 10 questions accurately, and you need to dedicate more time up front, and you’ll plan on just guessing on some of the later questions (that you’re more likely to miss anyway). As long as you have a timing plan in place, you’re good.
And that’s the beauty of these practice exams — they give you an opportunity to practice and refine your timing plan until you find the one that allows you to answer the most number of questions correctly.
Another thing to work on for LR is skipping questions. All questions are worth the same number of points, but not all questions give you the same probability of earning that point. We all have questions that we read and prompt us to say, “The hell did I just read?” That’ll happen, and it’s really not a big deal, as long as you don’t give those questions more time than they deserve. After you read a stimulus that makes only a modicum of sense to you, take a look at the answer choices. If you can’t eliminate more than one or two of them, guess, and move on. You probably weren’t going to get that one anyway. It doesn’t make sense to sink 3 or 4 minutes into that question that almost certainly wasn’t going to yield a point when you could dedicate that same amount of time into a several questions that will. Experiment with how and when you’ll skip questions, and you can maximize the number of questions you’ll answer correctly.
Pretty much everyone feels the time pressure on Reading Comp. Those who consistently finish with time to spare are, in my observations, usually reading too quickly to maintain any semblance of accuracy. But with a well-honed, strategic approach to RC, you can at least minimize the likelihood that you’ll have to rush through a ton of questions.
Each passage should take somewhere between 7 and 11 minutes, so it’s advantageous to budget an appropriate amount of your 35 minutes to each passage at the start of each section. Allocate less time to earlier passages (which are usually easier) and more time to the later (which are more difficult). Also give yourself more time to passages that have more questions (7 or 8) and less to those with fewer (5 or 6).
But once you do that, there are a variety of ways to tackle the section. You’ve probably been doing them in order, from the first to the fourth passage. That’s a good approach for some test takers — those who consistently finish all four passages and don’t feel significantly more fatigued on the fourth passage than on the first. In my experience, this is a small minority of test takers. Instead, you can play around with a few different approaches.
Another way to do these passages is to do them backwards, starting with the fourth passage and ending with the first. That way, you’ll do the hardest passages when you’re the sharpest and won’t have to rush through the hard stuff. The drawback, however, is that you may have to rush through the first passage and risk leaving easy points on the table. For that reason, this approach is good for those who want to finish all 4 passages in a section, but typically find that they lose focus throughout the section, but not recommended for those who find the difficult passages very very difficult.
Another way is to do the passages based on how many questions each has, in descending order from most questions to fewest questions. This way, you’ll definitely have the time for the passages that will yield the most points. Plus, if you have to rush through a passage, at least it’s a passage with only a few questions. So this is a great strategy for those who do not plan on finishing all 4 passages in a section, or who find that they typically finish between 3 and 4 passages. That said, bubbling in the scantron is complicated with this strat, so make sure you’re practicing with a scantron if you use this approach and find that you get easily confused by scantrons.
Or maybe you like doing the first three long passages first to maintain continuity in your approach, and then save the comparative passage last. Again, use your practice exams as an opportunity to play around with strategies to see which is best for you.
For Logic Games, typically the first two games are significantly easier than the last two. For this reason, you always want to start with the first and second game, get that easy money, and then move on to the last two games. And ideally, you’ll have around 20 minutes to do those last two games.
However, if on a practice exam you’re left to do games 3 and 4 without the requisite time (which happens to us all), don’t fret. This gives you another opportunity to experiment with how you’ll maximize the number of points you earn in that situation.
One thing you can do is just read the intros to both games 3 and 4 and choose which one to do based on the type of game each are or which one looks more manageable.
Another thing you can try doing is construct the set-up, symbolize the rules, and then do the first elimination questions (which does not require any deductions) for both game 3 and 4. At that point, one of the games should look more manageable to you — do that game in full. Or if they both look equally difficult, just do the one with more questions. Take the time you need to do the game you selected. If any time remains after you finish, try to do some of the conditional questions for game 4. If you did the first game perfectly (and if, you did games 1 and 2 perfectly), plus the elimination question and maybe one of guesses for the second, you can leave a games section with 20 or 21 points, despite not even doing one of the games. In fact, I’ve had students consistently score in the 170s despite planning on only doing 3 of the 4 games ahead of time, because they were well practiced in their strategic approach.
So play around with some of these strategies on your next practice exam. This can lead to a major break (pun very much intended) -through for your LSAT score.
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