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Looking Past Your Practice Exam Scores

  • by Ross Rinehart
  • Aug 27, 2018
  • General LSAT Advice, LSAT

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As you know by now, after completing and scoring a practice exam, you get assigned a three-digit number. And as you must also know by now, that three-digit number carries quite a bit of weight. It can be a source of consternation or pride, of panic or promise, of dread or relief. In fact, that three-digit score can seemingly say so much that many test takers believe the score is the final word on that practice exam.

But here’s what you may not know yet: those three-digit practice exam scores don’t say as much as you think. Sure, you’ll eventually get a real three-digit LSAT score that will speak volumes to admissions counselors. But it’s not as if those same admissions counselors care about the scores you were registering on practice exams before the real test. And while the practice exam scores can function as rough benchmarks that help you measure your progress, they really can’t tell the whole story.

The scores, in and of themselves, don’t tell you what kinds of questions you’re missing, or why. They don’t tell you what concepts or strategies you need to review. They can’t tenderly whisper into your ear, “Hey, buddy, I know this score isn’t what you hoped it would be, but take a moment to appreciate how much you’ve improved in Logic Games.”

So now that we are officially in the last twelve days before the September LSAT, you’ll be taking a number of practice exams to prepare for September 8. But if you’re just letting the score speak for your practice exam performance, you’re not hearing everything. After taking an exam, here are few things you can do to lean in, and really listen to all the news — good and bad — that an exam can tell you.

1. Look at a question-by-question breakdown

On a practice exam, score reports communicate much more than that three-digit score. That three-digit score is, frankly, a vague and dumb number for the purposes of a practice exam. It doesn’t tell you which questions you’re missing, or which sections went well and which went poorly. It can’t tell you whether you’re nailing the medium-level questions but struggling with the harder questions, or whether you’re actually doing well with the more difficult questions, just leaving theoretically more-easily-attainable points on the table by making silly mistakes on the easy questions. Heck, it can barely even tell you how many questions you’re missing. Score reports, on the other than, tell you all that stuff and more.

So after taking a practice exam, the first thing you should do is use a score report to take a more granular look at your performance. Ideally, the score report you see will tell you see how you did on each type of question, passage, and game. This will allow you to notice trends across multiple practice exams — letting you know which types of questions you miss most consistently, and should consequently prioritize in your review. And, even if you’re not already a Blueprint student, signing up for our free account will let you score any LSAT and get just this kind of question-by-question score report.

2. Re-try the questions you missed

I’m aware it’s a big ask — after doing a 190 grueling minutes of a practice exam, the last thing you want to do is go back in for seconds. But one of the most helpful things you can do after an exam is to go back and re-try any Logical Reasoning question you missed or Reading Comp passage or Logic Game you did worse on than usual.

Most test takers, in my experience, just want the explanations of the questions they missed. They want to know right away why the answer choice they selected is wrong and why some other answer choice is correct. Those explanations can reveal important info about that particular question, but they don’t reveal much about the test takers themselves.

As a test taker, you want to know why you are selecting the wrong answer choices and passing over the correct ones. There are a number of reasons why you got a particular question wrong. Maybe you were rushed for time on that question, and you made a silly mistake. Maybe you were just mentally drained by the time you did that question. Or maybe your grasp on how to do that particular question isn’t as strong as you previously thought. Whatever the problem may have been, there’s a solution. And trying the questions a second time can give you a decent picture of why you missed that particular question, and what you can do to rectify that issue before the next exam.

So take at least a few hours — or even the rest of the day — to recharge after an exam. And then charge back into the questions you missed. Try to do those questions, passages, or games again, without seeing the correct answers or the answers you selected the first time. If you’re able to answer a question correctly on the second try, and you were able to anticipate the correct answer and explain why all the incorrect answer choices are incorrect, that’s a great sign. It means that you know how to do that particular question. You, in all likelihood, missed it on the test because of some timing issue or because you were mentally drained by that point in the exam. Fixing that will entail more timed practice, so you’ll want to do another test or get some more timed practice.

If you are able to answer a question correctly on the second try, but you had trouble anticipating what the right answer should look like, or if you couldn’t articulate why certain incorrect answer choices were wrong, that just means you haven’t quite mastered that question type yet. You should try to find really hard versions of that particular Logical Reasoning question type, passage type, or game type, and do some untimed practice. After challenging yourself with that type of question, passage, or game, it should be easier to get it right on the next exam you take.

If you miss that question again, that’s OK. But you’ll have to do a pretty extensive review of that particular LR question type, passage type, or game type. Especially if it’s a very commonly tested question type, passage, or game, or if you consistently get that particular question type wrong based on the review of your question-by-question breakdown, you’ll need to do a wholesale review of that question type. Review the strategic approach and any attendant concepts that are frequently tested on those questions. Then, get lots of untimed practice with that question, passage, or game type. Once you start to see improvements to your accuracy on that particular question type, you’ll be ready to take another practice exam and hopefully see the gains reflected in your performance there.

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You’ll have take a number of practice exams in the next two weeks, and each of them will tell you a lot how well your studies are going. But the three-digit score is a lot of noise — the real signals are in the details.

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