The 4 Advantages of Taking Practice Tests UNTIMED
If you’ve been looking for LSAT advice from traditional sources, you’ve probably heard many times about the importance of taking timed practice tests to prepare for LSAT. After all, the argument goes, the time limit is something you have to get used to, and what better way to do that than by practicing with it?
Unless you’re a complete stranger to the MasterLSAT method (if you are then welcome!), you’ll know that these traditional sources are half right: yes, taking practice tests is the best way to improve your LSAT score, but no, treating each practice test like the real thing and only allowing yourself 35 minutes per section is most definitely NOT the most efficient way to master the test. In fact, unless you’re already scoring in the 170s, you’ll be lucky if you see any significant improvement at all by doing this, not to mention that you’ll be frustrating yourself to no end with your high-stress study sessions.
Rather, the quickest and most reliable way to hit your target score on the LSAT is by doing slow, methodical practice – in other words, by taking practice tests and allowing yourself as much time as you comfortably need to feel like you got every question right, and only then moving onto the next question.
If this is the first time you’re hearing that – bear with me! It might sound crazy, but as unconventional as it may be in the world of LSAT prep, it’s extremely conventional and intuitive when you consider how the brain learns new things.
In fact, here are four distinct advantages to studying the LSAT this way, and why it’s the most efficient way you can spend your practice time:
- It allows you to actually get good at doing the questions.
Unless you’re consistently scoring 180s, there are some questions on the LSAT that pose difficulty for you. To state the obvious, that’s okay. In fact, that’s more or less the reason you’re taking practice tests in the first place – to allow your brain to get the practice of working through the tough questions that, had you taken the test today, would have come in between you and a 180.
Let’s say I gave two equally intelligent people the same very difficult skill testing intelligence question, except I gave one of them 1 minute to solve it, and I gave the other one 12 hours. And let’s say you had to bet money on who you think is more likely to have gotten the right answer. Which person would you put your money on?
Now let’s say I gave one of them 1 minute and 20 seconds (about the average time you get per LSAT question on a timed test) and I gave the other one 4 minutes. Again, assuming they were equally intelligent, something tells me you’d put your money on the 4 minute person every time.
The point is, accuracy in logical thinking is largely a function of time, and the greatest evidence for that is the fact that standardized tests have time limits in the first place – if time limits made no difference, then why not give everyone as much time as they needed (or at least, a slightly more comfortable time limit)?
Whatever your current skill level, the more time you have on a question, the more likely you’ll be to come up with the right answer, and the less likely you’ll be to miss an important word or make a thinking error. And if the whole point is to learn to get the tough questions right, why minimize your chances of doing that?
The reason we repetitively practice any skill we want to improve at, physical or mental, is to condition ourselves to do that thing – the more times we do it, the more used to doing it we’ll get. But we’ll only get used to doing it the way we are practicing doing it. Doing a pull-up with the same bad form 100 times in a row will make you more likely to use bad form on your 101st attempt. Similarly, rushing through LSAT questions and making thinking errors dozens of times will make you more likely to make the same errors on similar questions in the future. This is the reason that many people don’t improve at all from taking practice tests. They are training themselves to get the same questions wrong every time. In other words, someone who started with a 145 could essentially be conditioning herself to get a 145!
Practicing slowly allows you to comfortably think through each question and minimizes your chances of making mistakes. In this way, you are conditioning yourself to do the questions properly. And once you get good at getting the questions right, you’ll be surprised at how naturally you’ll get faster at them – do something well over and over again, and you’ll automatically start doing it faster each time. Do it poorly over and over again, however, and you’re unlikely to ever gain speed or accuracy.
- It allows you to isolate and rectify your weaknesses.
For the average LSAT-taker, completing a Logical Reasoning section within the time limit can mean guessing a bunch of questions at the end (I’m defining “guessing” here as answering a question in 10 seconds or less). It also usually means rushing through a bunch of questions more quickly than desired when there are only a few minutes left.
If you picked one of these rushed questions and asked a test taker why he picked an incorrect answer, the answer is likely to be something to the effect of “I can’t remember exactly why I picked that – I was rushing.”
Maybe, with more time, that person would have gotten that question right. Or, maybe not. We’ll never know. One thing’s for sure – he didn’t get the practice of thoroughly thinking through the question.
Had he done that – had he comfortably analyzed the stimulus, analyzed each of the answer choices, and had a coherent reason in mind for picking his answer – then, in the event that he did get the question wrong, he’d at least be able to remember what his thinking pattern was that led him to that answer. And, he’d be able to identify exactly where his error in reasoning was, and in going over that question, he’d be able to commit himself not to make that same error in reasoning next time.
On the other hand, had he made the mistake simply due to rushing, he has no evidence of any specific error to rectify for next time, except for “don’t rush next time!”
As much as you hate them, the questions you get wrong on the LSAT are a powerful tool. They are snapshots of exactly the types of thinking mistakes you are prone to make on the LSAT, and as such they allow you to isolate and work on those errors so that you can improve your score for next time. By rushing through questions, you are lessening the effectiveness of these snapshots.
- It conditions you to doing the test in a relaxed state of mind.
In addition to the cognitive conditioning discussed above, psychological conditioning is also very real. If every time you ate a green apple, you discovered that you won the lottery, then part of you would get ecstatic every time you saw a green apple.
I know, I like to use bizarre and extreme examples to illustrate my point. But if you were stressed out and harried every time you sat down to take the LSAT, then wouldn’t the mere sight of the first page of an LSAT put you on edge?
If, instead, you were calm, relaxed, and confident every time you took an LSAT, knowing that you had all the time in the world to comfortably get to the end of the test, with no stopwatch making your heart pound every time you looked at it, then wouldn’t the sight of an LSAT make you feel good? Excited? Hopeful?
This kind of mentality switch alone can have a gigantic impact on your performance. In fact, in order to get those near-perfect 170+ scores, you’re going to need to be in that unflustered, “Zen-like” state – it takes a tremendous amount of focus to get through all of that dense material making almost no mistakes, and the slightest bit of stress or unease is all it can take to throw you off-kilter on any question. So if your goal is a 170+, and if in order to do that you’ll have to be acclimated to taking the LSAT calmly, then why not start now?
- It makes practice far less stressful.
This is not the same point as #3.
Regardless of the effectiveness of study methods, when all is said and done, if something causes you pain or anxiety, you’re much less likely to continue doing it than if it were a comfortable (and, dare I say, enjoyable) activity. And certainly, the thought of sitting down to take an LSAT with that soul crushing, confidence destroying 35-minute timer can’t bring you too much pleasure.
I know, today you have the clarity of long-term vision to know that you’ll stick to your study method through thick and thin. (Spending time on this site tends to have that effect…) Of course, when it comes to the fate of your legal career over the next several decades, how could you not have the discipline to put those grueling hours in, despite how painful they may be?
Makes perfect logical sense – and normally I’m all about logic when it comes to the LSAT – but we both know that humans are imperfect creatures. Decisions to slack on studying don’t come in the form of “I’m going to be irresponsible and quit studying for the next 4 weeks – woohoo!” They are more likely to come in the form of “I’ve been studying hard…ugh this awful practice test is about to take up my whole evening…my friends are going out and I don’t want to let them down…come to think of it, it would be rude and insulting if I did…I still have 2 months before the test anyway…what’s one night off?” But as we all know, taking one night off is a chip in your armor that makes it much easier to take a second night off (“I took a break last week and I’m still alive!”), and before you know it, you’re getting passed for interviews in your second year at Cooley Law School. (No offense to any Cooley alums of course. The employment stats are awful, but if you got a desirable job out of there then more power to you.)
Anyway, stop letting me get off topic! The point is that humans have an evolved biological tendency to avoid pain – it’s what keeps us alive. As disciplined as you think you are (and you may be), your own human nature will do whatever it can to push you away from doing things that put pain in your brain. You wouldn’t need much discipline, however, to commit to eating a piece of chocolate cake everyday (assuming you don’t have celiac disease). Think of taking an untimed LSAT, in which you have all the time in the world to comfortably and confidently answer every question, like eating a piece of chocolate cake. With extra icing.
Maybe you can tell that I’ve been having a bit too much fun writing this post. A perfect illustration of the same concept – if I didn’t let myself have fun, then how would all of this writing ever get done?
The Bottom Line
Yes, most people take their practice tests timed. But then again, most people don’t hit a 170. MasterLSAT is an elitist movement – since when have most people been right about anything?
Trust me (and these people) – if you take untimed tests, and really study the questions you get wrong in between them, you’ll have no choice but to improve – and probably faster than you ever have. And what of the time limit? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the most efficient way to get fast at something is by doing it well, not by doing it quickly and poorly. If you can get a 180 in 60 minutes per section, then it’s only a matter of repetition before you can do it in 35.
And Godspeed to that end. Happy studying!