LSAT For Dummies, 2nd Edition (2014)
Part I. Getting Started with the LSAT
Chapter 2. Test-Taking Basics: Setting Yourself Up for Success
In This Chapter
Using certain strategies to maximize your test score
Going about guessing the right way
Preparing yourself for the test the night before and the morning of
Deciding what to do when the test is over
If you're contemplating law school, you're almost certainly a veteran of standardized tests. You know what to expect. Just like the SAT, ACT, GMAT, and GRE, the LSAT is another morning of filling in bubbles on an answer sheet. You've been there, done that. Getting up early, walking into an unfamiliar classroom, and sitting in a room of nervous strangers tapping ubiquitous No. 2 pencils is old hat. You know this drill.
In this chapter, you learn strategies and considerations specific to the LSAT, as well as some general test-taking basics, in the hope of making your experience as painless as possible. You also find out what to do after the test, including considering whether you need to retake the test.
Planning Your LSAT Test-Taking Tactics
You'll have an easier time on test day if you consider some strategic matters beforehand. The following sections provide a few simple strategies to ease your test-taking venture.
You can't “beat” the LSAT; no one can. These strategies aren't tricks to outsmart the test, but they can help you do better.
Maximizing your chances
Some people are naturally good at taking standardized tests. This strength doesn't mean they make better law students or better lawyers; they just find these tests easy. Other people have a harder time. They find tests stressful in general and LSAT questions especially annoying. Whichever type you are, you can undertake some basic strategies to help you improve your score and have a more pleasant test-taking experience. (Well, maybe not as pleasant as a spa visit, but better than a root canal.)
Here are a few things you can do to maximize your chances of getting a good score:
· Answer every question. The LSAT test-makers don't penalize you for guessing, so you'd be crazy not to make sure every number on the answer sheet has a bubble filled in, even if you don't have time to read the question that goes with it. See the section “To Guess or Not to Guess” later in this chapter for more on guessing.
· Take your time. You may get better results by answering three-quarters of the test accurately and then guessing on the last quarter than by racing through the whole thing too fast to be accurate.
· Budget your time. You get 35 minutes for each section. Decide how to spend it. Allotting each question exactly 1.3 minutes may not be the most effective approach, but be careful not to get so caught up in the first analytical reasoning problem that you have only 5 minutes to work the last three.
· Don't worry about answering questions in order. Especially in the analytical reasoning and reading comprehension sections, some questions may be easier to answer after you tackle others regarding the same passage or logic game. You don't get extra points for answering the questions in the way they're presented, but you may earn points by answering them in the order that works best for you.
· If you get stuck on a question, forget about it. Move on to another question. (But be sure to circle the question in case you have time to come back to it.)
· Ignore your companions. What they do makes no difference to your score. If you have a major problem with your surroundings — the stench of cheap perfume from the woman next to you, the snuffling of the allergy sufferer behind you — speak to the proctor, but don't count on getting moved; test centers are often fully booked. If you're positive your performance has suffered, you can always cancel your test score and try again later.
· Stay on target. You may get bored, and your mind may want to wander somewhere more pleasant, but don't let it. Use visual cues to help yourself stay focused. Point to questions with your pencil or finger, and circle key words in the questions that help direct you to the correct answer.
Don't forget to answer every question!
Taking the straight or the winding road
Should you start with the first question and work every subsequent question until you get to the last one? Or should you jump around? It's entirely up to you.
The analytical reasoning and reading comprehension sections are both divided into four approximately equal parts, and if you want to pick the easiest part first and work your way to the hardest, by all means do so. Just be careful to match your test book and answer sheet numbers. Also, remember that initial assessments of difficulty are rarely accurate; a more productive way of choosing your first problem is to pick the analytical reasoning problem or reading comprehension passage with the largest number of questions — that way you maximize the number of questions you actually answer.
Although starting with a reading comprehension passage or analytical reasoning problem that isn't the first one in your test book is okay, after you pick one, stick with it until you're done. Trying to jump between two or three passages or problems at the same time will likely confuse you.
Skipping around on the logical reasoning sections works too. If your practice reveals that you're great at answering questions that ask for the answer that weakens the argument, tackling all questions of that type first fosters confidence and ensures that you have time to maximize your strengths.
Some test-prep experts recommend that if you really can't finish an analytical reasoning or a reading comprehension section, you cut your losses and just do your best on three of the four problems, tackling the scariest at the end if you have time. Sounds crazy, but this approach actually makes more sense than trying to speed through all four passages or problems; you maximize your accuracy on the parts you do instead of doing the whole section too fast and getting half of it wrong. If you do three-quarters of a section and get all those questions right, you get 75 percent, which is better than finishing the section and getting only half right. Of course, you should still fill in the bubbles for the questions you don't answer because there's no penalty for wrong answers. See “To Guess or Not to Guess” later in this chapter for more info on guessing.
Filling in the dots
The LSAT answer sheet is one of those fill-in-the-bubble things. Using a No. 2 pencil, you fill in the bubble corresponding to your answer. A machine then reads the dots and scores the test.
Debates rage on the best way to fill in these bubbles. Should you fill them in as you answer each question or is it preferable to concentrate on the test booklet for an entire page of questions and then transfer your answers in one block? Some people insist that saving up your bubbling to the end of a page is the only sensible way to proceed, and that any other method is insane. Other folks prefer to bubble in their circles after they answer each question.
The truth: Whether you bubble now or later doesn't really matter, just as long as you fill them in before time runs out. A circle takes about the same amount of time to blacken either way. So don't spend your time worrying about this; just pick a style that works for you and go with it.
When you fill in your dots doesn't matter, but the following items are very important. Don't forget to complete them before time elapses and you're stuck with a half-empty answer sheet.
· Double-check your question numbers. Getting off-track and filling in your answer sheet incorrectly is easy; all it takes is skipping one question, and then every bubble on your answer sheet is off-kilter. For every question, look at the question number in your booklet, say it to yourself or put your finger on it, and then fill in the right bubble.
· Fill in every dot completely. The machine reads completely blackened dots the best.
· Fill in an answer for every question. If you can't finish a section, pick a letter and use it to answer all the remaining questions. (For more on guessing, check out “To Guess or Not to Guess” later in this chapter.)
· Don't get caught up in the geometrical pattern formed by your dots. Sometimes several questions in a row have the same answer. That's okay.
· Erase mistakes completely. The machine may misread your answer if you leave half-erased marks in the wrong bubble.
Taking the occasional break
When you take the LSAT, you spend about 3½ hours actually sitting with a test booklet open in front of you. The only break you get comes after Section III, and it only lasts about 10 or 15 minutes — enough time to dash to the bathroom and wolf down an energy bar. The entire day may take five hours or so, with all the paperwork and registration business you have to do before and after the test.
So the LSAT is a test of stamina as much as anything else. It's a long test, and it's tiring.
That's why pacing yourself is crucial. When you finish a chunk of test — an analytical reasoning problem or a full page of logical reasoning questions — take a break. Close your eyes, twist your neck, loosen those tight muscles in your shoulders, breathe, and let your eyes focus on a distant object. Don't take more than ten seconds or so, but do take the break. It helps you more than fretting about how little time you have left.
Have you heard the story about two guys who were cutting wood with axes? They worked side by side from morning until evening. The first man worked straight through without a break, swinging that axe from dawn ’til dusk. The second man sat down and rested for ten minutes every hour. At the end of the day, the men compared their piles of wood. The man who rested every hour had a pile much bigger than that of the other man. The first man asked the second one how he managed that feat, especially because he spent so much of the day resting. The second man replied, “While I rested, I sharpened my axe.”
Your brain is like that axe. You bring it to the test sharp, but the LSAT is designed to make it dull. Take those breaks and sharpen (and rest) your brain — the breaks really help.
To Guess or Not to Guess
When in doubt about the answer to a question, guess. Always guess. The LSAT test-makers don't penalize you for wrong answers, so guessing doesn't hurt, and you always have the chance that your random pick may be the correct answer. What's certain is that you won't get credit if you don't answer it at all.
The joy of statistics
How likely is it that you'll get a question right by random guessing? Not very.
On questions where you have no idea of the correct answer, you have better luck if you pick a letter and stick to it for all your shots in the dark. Why? Each answer choice appears at more or less the same frequency. If you answer an entire test with one letter, you'll probably get about 20 percent right. You'd get the same results if the test were in a language you couldn't read or if you didn't bother to read the questions or answers. If you vary your answer choices from question to question, you just may miss everything.
Is Choice (B) really best?
Many people talk about which letter is statistically most likely to be the right answer. Many people recommend Choice (B) as the best choice. We conducted a little survey of some recent LSATs to see how many times each answer choice was correct.
In some sections, Choice (B) was more frequently correct; in others, the winner was Choice (D). All in all, the percentage that each of the five answer choices was correct didn't vary greatly. Based on this information, we can't come up with any letter that would always be better than any other, though we'd probably stick with Choice (B) or Choice (D) if we had to choose.
Increase your odds: Eliminate the duds
A better strategy than random guessing from a pool of five choices is random guessing from a pool of two or three choices. Your odds of getting a right answer improve if you can eliminate a wrong answer or two.
To increase your odds, use a process of elimination to get rid of wrong answers on every question. Take this step first, unless you get one of those rare questions where the right answer jumps out at you. Crossing out the wrong answers — crossing them off in your test booklet so they don't distract you — makes spotting the possible right answer easier.
Readying Yourself for Battle
All your preparation will be in vain if you don't get to take the test. And if you don't feel calm and collected, you may blow questions that you should get right. So keep in mind the following checklist to help you before and during test day:
· Prepare your 1-gallon zip-lock bag the night before. Make sure you have your identification, passport-sized picture, and several sharpened No. 2 wooden pencils (mechanical pencils aren't allowed). You may also have a pencil sharpener, a highlighter, an eraser without a sleeve, a 20-ounce beverage, some tissues, and your silent analog watch on the desk with you during the test. Digital watches and all other electronics aren't allowed. Pack a snack to nibble during your break. Collect your supplies the night before so you aren't frantically trying to find a pencil sharpener the morning of the test! No need to add to your stress.
· Don't stress yourself out that evening. The night before the LSAT, if you feel compelled to study (I know, you can't help yourself), don't do a new test. Instead, review a section you've already done and know the answers to, which can reinforce strategies and boost your confidence.
· Get enough sleep the night before the test and several nights before that. Don't stay up partying. Definitely don't stay up studying; you're not going to discover anything extra at that point.
· Wake up on time. If you live far away from the test center, set your alarm extra early — or even consider spending the night at a hotel nearby. Staying alert through the test is hard enough without combating a lack of sleep, too.
· Eat breakfast. Your brain functions better if you feed it. Drink coffee if you like to drink coffee (though not too much — it's a diuretic, which makes you have to use the restroom more often). Try to eat something sustaining — protein and whole grains last longer than a sugary donut. For suggestions, see the nearby sidebar, “The test-day diet.”
· Make sure you know how to get to the testing site. Don't wait until the morning of your test to find directions. Take a test drive a day or two before. If you don't know exactly where the site is or where to park, call the test site earlier in the week for complete directions. If you have trouble parking, leave extra early. If you have to feed a parking meter, bring enough coins.
· Get to the center early. Doing so gives you time to get settled in, handle any last-minute emergencies, and make a last preemptive bathroom stop.
The test-day diet
A growling stomach and a full bladder can drive you crazy when you're trying to work out the details of an LSAT question. Are there ways to prevent these problems? Sure! Protein, fat, and salt are the keys. One of the reasons low-carb diets work is that protein and fat prevent your appetite from rumbling back too soon. For example, if you eat a meal heavy in protein, you don't get hungry for several hours. Try it — eat something like two eggs with cheese cooked in olive oil and see how long it takes you to get hungry again. As for the full bladder, you can do two things: Don't drink too much, and consume salt. Water, coffee, tea, cola, and orange juice all have a diuretic effect, which can send you running to the bathroom or wishing you could. Salty snacks can reverse this phenomenon, helping your body hold on to its fluids. Beef jerky, peanuts, and sports drinks with electrolytes can prevent your bladder from filling too fast. Hey, it may not be the healthiest diet, but desperate times call for desperate measures.
After you finish these steps, you're ready to take the test!
If your test starts at 8:30 a.m., you must be at the testing center by 8 a.m. If it starts at 12:30 p.m., you must be there by noon.
What to bring
Don't sabotage your LSAT score by forgetting the essentials. The following items are imperative for a smooth test experience:
· Your admission ticket, a passport-sized photo of yourself, and a photo ID: You can't get into the test without them.
· Many sharpened No. 2 pencils, functional erasers, and maybe even a small sharpener: The erasers can be attached to the pencils or separate; just make sure they fully erase, don't leave smudges, and aren't enclosed in a sleeve.
· A clock of some kind: The test center should have a clock, but don't count on it. You need to be able to time your tests yourself. Your watch must be analog and can't make noise. Oh, and it ought to be fairly small; a grandfather clock isn't a good idea.
· A sweatshirt or jacket: Wear something with short sleeves underneath. An overenthusiastic climate control system can cool classrooms to about 50 degrees in fall and spring and warm them up to 85 degrees in the winter. Like an explorer in the wild, you need to be prepared for any eventuality.
· A snack: Don't eat it during the test, but if you're hungry, definitely shove it into your mouth at break time. Try to make it something sustaining — an energy bar, nuts, or a candy bar packed with peanuts. Protein helps alertness; carbohydrates make some people sleepy.
What to leave behind
When taking the LSAT, you and your fellow test-takers should be focused on the test. You want to avoid anything that could bother you or others. The following list includes items you can't (or shouldn't) bring into your test site:
· A calculator, a dictionary, an LSAT strategy book, or any other reading material: These items are all taboo in LSAT Land.
· A cellphone or pager: No electronics are allowed at the testing site, and their use is banned even during the break.
· Heavy perfume: Other test-takers may be sensitive to it, and you really don't want to sabotage their efforts.
· Worries, anxieties, and angst: Worrying doesn't help now. Breathe deeply and remember everything you read in this book.
Life after the LSAT: What to Do Now?
So you've done it; you've completed an LSAT. What now? Are you happy with your performance? Great! Sit back and wait for your score. Unhappy? You don't have to accept your score; you can cancel it if you really want to. Got a score that you don't like? Try, try again, if your heart is still in it.
Yeah, that worked for me
If you liked what you did or you're just relieved that you're finished and can't be bothered to worry about it now that it's done, you don't have to do anything except wait for your results. If you registered online, your score arrives by e-mail in about three weeks. Printed score reports arrive about four weeks after the test for those without online accounts. The LSAC website (www.lsac.org) has more information.
Wait, I can do better than that!
What if you weren't happy with your performance? You may have choked on an analytical reasoning problem and not managed to finish the section. You may have been too sick to think straight. You may have kept a running tally of questions you thought you got wrong and decided that this test wasn't going to give you a score that you wanted.
Canceling a score
If you decide that your life would be better if your score on this test never saw the light of day, you can cancel it. You have two ways to do this:
· You can cancel the score before leaving the test center; talk to the test administrators.
· You can send the LSAC a signed fax or overnight letter requesting that the LSAC cancel your score. You have six calendar days to take this action. If you miss the deadline, your score stands.
If you cancel your score, that's the end of it. Neither you nor anyone else will ever see the score, though your score report will indicate your decision to cancel.
Requesting a rescore
What if you're sure you got a certain score, but when you receive the official report, it's much lower than you expected? You can ask the LSAC to rescore your answer sheet. An actual person reads your answer sheet, comparing your answers with the correct ones. You have 60 days to request this service, which you must do in writing. Send a letter or fax to the LSAC with your name, Social Security number or LSAT ID number, test center name and number, your reason for requesting a hand score, and payment of the fee.
If you encountered a problem at the test center — for example, if you had no desk and had to hold your test on your knees — report it to the test supervisor. To make sure the problem is considered, you must also report it in writing to the LSAC; you have six days to do this.
Repeating the LSAT
If you're disappointed with your score and you're sure you can do better, you can take the LSAT again. The LSAC's data shows that scores often improve (slightly) for repeat test-takers. Scores also sometimes drop.
Before you commit to retaking the LSAT, look at the policy of the law schools you want to apply to. Most law schools average your LSAT scores, so even a big improvement may not make that much difference. However, because of a recent change in American Bar Association reporting rules, more and more schools look at the best score only.
The LSAC allows you to take the LSAT three times in a two-year period, which includes any tests whose scores you cancel. That means you can't just take the LSAT every time it's offered, hoping to get the perfect test that gives you the perfect score.
Even if your score improves dramatically the second or third time you take the test, law schools still see your lower scores. The LSAC sends all LSAT scores in its reports to law schools. It also informs the law schools that the true measure of your ability is the average of your scores, not the highest score, especially if you took the tests during a short period of time. In the score report, your scores appear individually and averaged.
You don't have to let your scores speak for themselves. If something happened that made you score badly, tell the law schools when you send in your application. Think of this as an opportunity to practice your persuasive writing skills. If you do a good job, the law school may be so impressed with your potential as an advocate that it will accept you despite a low LSAT score.
The LSAC's score report automatically includes the scores of all the LSATs you've taken (or registered for and missed) since June 1, 2008; cancellations also appear. If you took the LSAT between June 1, 2004, and June 1, 2008, and you want law schools to see that score, you can send a written request to the LSAC. If you took the test before June 1, 2004, the LSAC won't report the score. If you decide to apply to law school but your only LSAT scores are more than ten years old, you have to take the test again. Lucky you!
Looking to the future, some (but not all) state bar associations demand the law school admission records of applicants. To be safe, keep all the paperwork from your law school admission process until you've been sworn in and added that lovely “Esq.” to your name.