How to Use Practice Tests to Study for the LSAT
The LSAT is a test of endurance under time pressure, like a mental marathon.
It would be inadvisable to run a marathon without first training to run a full 26.2 miles. Likewise, it’s a bad idea to take the LSAT without first training with real practice tests.
That said, very few athletes run daily marathons. Instead, they vary their training with shorter intervals and complementary forms of exercise. They might focus one day on sprinting or climbing hills and another day on strength and conditioning at the gym.
In the same way, LSAT test-takers should use full practice tests judiciously. Taking one test after another, day after day, may seem impressive, but it can reinforce bad habits and lead to burnout.
Improvement comes from focused and methodical practice with careful attention to review and experimentation. Still, real practice tests belong at the core of any LSAT study strategy, as long as they’re used well.
Accessing Real Practice LSAT Tests
Unlike other standardized tests, real LSAT tests are not hard to come by. In fact, the Law School Admission Council, which administers the exam, has made available more than 70 full, real, past LSAT tests for purchase, either through paperback compendiums of practice tests or through Official LSAT Prep Plus, which is currently priced at $99 and provides one year of access to an online bank of practice tests.
The LSAC also provides one free sample test online and five practice tests for members who sign up for an online account. Even more tests are available through private test prep companies.
Choosing a LSAT Practice Test
With so many tests available, where should law school applicants start? Since the mid-1990s, practice tests have been numbered in chronological order. More recent tests provide the most relevant practice.
The LSAT has changed a bit over time. In 2007, the reading comprehension section began including a comparative passage, and in 2019 the LSAT moved to a digital format. LSATs that date back to the 1990s may include less clear questions and more elaborate types of logic games than recent tests.
It’s also easier to find discussions and explanations of questions online for more recent LSATs.
That said, sections from old LSATs can be great substitutes for experimental sections. On the actual LSAT, one section will be experimental and unscored. Experimental sections often throw test-takers for a loop, precisely because they haven’t been correctly balanced and refined. Since older tests also feel a little offbeat, they achieve the same effect.
Using Timed and Untimed Practice
Taking full timed practice tests is great for simulating test conditions and getting a sense of your current LSAT score range. Most of the time, however, it is better to break each practice test into individual sections. Taking each section at full attention, separated by downtime for rest and review while the questions are fresh in your memory, is more conducive to learning than taking a full test at once.
A good LSAT study plan should start with a period of mastering fundamental techniques learned from a book, course, online program or tutor.
Once you have the basics down, practice them by taking untimed sections. Work slowly and deliberately, as if you were learning how to swim or ski for the first time. The questions you get wrong with unlimited time are exactly the kinds of questions you should focus on in your practice and review.
It may come as a surprise, but you will pick up speed more reliably through untimed practice than through timed practice. Slowly working your way through difficult questions will help you break each question into a series of steps that eventually feel intuitive and automatic, like muscle memory. In contrast, time pressure makes it too tempting to cut corners.
Once you are performing consistently with untimed practice, move to timed section practice. Periodically take full practice tests, as a marathoner might space out long-distance runs.
Weeks of timed practice will help build stamina, so you can sustain the focus you need to perform at your best. By knowing exactly what you’re up against, you’ll face less test anxiety.
Following this plan will help make test day feel like just another day of practice – hopefully your last!