How Many Practice Exams Should You Take?
- Nov 13, 2019
If you were tasked to complete a complex medical procedure, would you prep by simply throwing on some scrubs and gloves and trying to complete this procedure on unsuspecting victims? For most of us who found remedial biology classes a bit too complicated, we could not start that way, plus our state or province probably has some laws that say that it also would prefer we didn’t.
Basically, trying to do a bunch of surgeries would not be the best way to prepare to do surgery. Surgery requires a refined set of skills, knowledge, and experience. Doing this requires the slow accumulation of skills and knowledge and careful application of those skills and knowledge.
Of course we want doctors to get experience before committing to surgery. We, like, make them go to school for that. But then, when we start studying for something else that requires the application of a refined set of skills and knowledge — the LSAT — so many of us sort of forget that. We say, “OK, let’s get to taking some practice LSATs.”
“How Many Practice LSAT Exams Do I Have to Take Before I’m Ready for the LSAT for Real?”
I hear this question all the time. But the answer is different for everyone. As you’ll soon learn to say in law school in response to hypothetical fact patterns, the answer is really, truly, “It depends.” We’ve compiled a list of questions to ask to find about the right number for you.
1. Where Are You Starting?
It depends, largely, on whether you are starting with the refined set of skills and knowledge that the LSAT tests. If you asked a licensed surgeon how many practice attempts they’d need to get ready for a complex procedure, their answer would certainly be, “Zero.” They already have the skills, knowledge, and experience.
Likewise, there are some (truly annoying) people who sort of naturally possess the skills and knowledge for the LSAT. They don’t need any practice exams to get ready for the LSAT.
For the rest of us, we might need quite a few more, and we may even need an LSAT tutor.
2. What’s Your Practice Exam Score?
But there’s no magic number of LSAT practice exams you should schedule. Some students are able to earn excellent scores with only a few exams. Some take literally every available practice exam and still don’t acquire that satisfactory score.
The number of exams people take isn’t that strongly correlated with the score they eventually receive. Whether these students took the time to master the concepts and strategies tested on the LSAT is a far greater predictor of success.
3. When Should You Start Practicing and Timing Yourself?
I sympathize with people’s desires to start taking timed practice exams as soon as possible and to take as many exams as possible. Most people start with an initial diagnostic exam — which almost inevitably goes not so well — so they want to redeem themselves as soon and as frequently as possible. But curb your enthusiasm! Faster isn’t better.
When I’m customizing a study plan for a student after they took their first diagnostic exam, I don’t even have them do any timed practice until I know they’ve acquired all the skills and nailed down all the strategies for this test.
I don’t have them take a full, timed exam until they’ve gotten a least a few weeks’ timed practice, slowly and incrementally easing into the speed required by a full exam. Then, and only then, will they take a full practice LSAT.
Until you get to that point, I don’t think taking a practice exam is a terribly productive use of your time. If you take an exam before that point, you’ll probably repeat many of the mistakes you made on your first diagnostic exam. Your score won’t materially change. You’ll probably be discouraged. And you’ll have wasted a better part of an afternoon.
4. Once You Have the LSAT’s Skills, How Many Practice Tests Do You Need? Fewer Than You Think.
But once you get to the point, you don’t need all that many practice exams, to be honest. After you get to this point, use whatever time you have remaining until the LSAT to take some exams, review them carefully, try to pinpoint areas you can review and improve upon.
For Blueprint LSAT course students, we like to give them 13 practice LSAT exams with explanations, and then use the rest of the questions from the other released exams in their homework.
There are certainly some students I would recommend taking a greater number of practice exams. Those who experience significant testing anxiety, for instance, can benefit from a lot of practice exams (especially if they take those exams outside their homes in less-than-ideal testing conditions). Those who need to build the mental endurance to stand up to a nearly four-hour exam can also benefit from a lot of practice exams. Even if these sound like you, though, you should still wait until you’ve mastered the skills and approaches required by this test before you start taking those exams.
I mean, you wouldn’t risk criminal charges by operating a patient without first becoming a licensed medical professional. Likewise, don’t rush into practice exams until you’re ready.
BONUS: While We’re Talking Practice Exams, Here Are Four Big Misconceptions.
1. The more the merrier: With practice exams, quantity doesn’t trump all else (… that was kind of the point of this blog [if you missed that … hooo boy, Reading Comp isn’t going to be fun for you]). Focus on quality instead. You should be well-rested for each practice exam. You should try to replicate test conditions as closely as possible (which entails doing the exam outside your home). And you should thoroughly review each exam. A single quality practice exam will help you more than multiple of haphazardly taken exams.
2. The score tells you everything: The scaled score (the number between 120 and 180 we’re all freaking out about) tells us only part of the story of a practice exam. Frankly, the score is a dumb, brutish number. It won’t tell you how you’re improving or which areas you need to review. To get the full picture of your performance, you have to dig a little bit deeper. Get some blind review of the practice exam. Try to take stock of the types of questions you’re improving on, and which questions you still need some work on.
3. Anyone can “practice test” their way to a great score: The dirty secret about practice exams is that they don’t, in and of themselves, really improve your score. LSAT Practice tests are great for a few things: measuring your progress, giving you experience working under the time constraints of the exam, and working out testing strategies. But they don’t help you understand the material on the exam and they don’t really improve your accuracy. In fact, given the duress you’re under while taking the exam, exams can sometimes hinder your accuracy. To help improve and maintain your accuracy, it’s important to mix in untimed review in between your timed practice exams.
By the way, you may hear from many people on the internet [cough, Reddit forums, cough] who claimed that they simply took X number of practice exams and then earned a great score. In all likelihood, these people are the previously mentioned, potentially annoying people who already possessed an intuitive understanding of this material. They came to the test already with the skills and concepts; they just needed a little bit of experience through the practice exams. It’s important to remember that these people are the exception and that most of us need to start with and continue to work on understanding the foundational concepts of the LSAT.
4. You can expect your score on the real test to drop by at least a few points: People meet or exceed their practice exam scores on the real test all the time. Those who say you should definitely expect your practice exam scores to drop a few points on the real test are telling on themselves. The real test will be, in all relevant ways, the same as any practice exam you took. Sure, the conditions might be a little less hospitable, but the same strategies that work on those practice exams will work on the real exam. The only reason you should expect your score to drop would be if you didn’t master the bedrock skills before taking the test, but instead relied on things easily shaken by a change in testing conditions, like your intuition. (And if you just took diagrammed and took the contrapositive of that statement to figure out why those people who told you to expect a score drop on the real test experienced a score drop themselves, congratulations. You have at least some of the bedrock skills required by this test).
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