To 170+ hopefuls: stop taking so many practice tests.

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mickeyD
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To 170+ hopefuls: stop taking so many practice tests.

Postby mickeyD » Fri Aug 24, 2012 9:34 am

Hi all, it's been a while since I was on these forums in your position- prepping for the LSAT, putting in crazy 6 hour days and striving for a 170+. The information on TLS was a huge help for me, so now I'm back to share some of my own wisdom. For full disclosure, I started at a diagnostic of about a 153 and ended up with a 174 on the real thing. Now I teach LSAT courses for a major test prep company. After my own experience making a huge improvement, and teaching other students to do the same, here's some advice that I believe all students can use, especially those aiming for the 170s.

My general thesis is that students who aim for 170+ (and especially TLSers, though this goes hand in hand) place way too much of an emphasis on practice exams. Instead, here's what you should do:

How to improve your score (the one that will count, not PT#XX)

-Review the concepts
you should review the ENTIRE method for a question type before starting a problem set. My preference is the memorize it- every single piece of the process, AND the common right and wrong answers (for example, before a starting a set of main point questions, I would recite: "Look for the conclusion, and don't worry if it's valid or not. Watch out for sub-conclusions- "Thus" and "Therefore" are often traps. Look for a shift in the author's attitude, and remember, the conclusion is usually not the last line). It's not good enough to just do a bunch of questions of one type- you need to be thinking about the correct strategy the whole time while you're doing questions, and consciously be trying to apply them. "Oh, a Sufficient Condition question: I should look for a new term in the conclusion that isn't mentioned in the premises, and find an answer that creates a link between that term and the premises."

-Isolated practice by type
Almost all test-prep courses and books, regardless of company, are structured a certain way: isolate each question type one by one, master the LSAT in piece by piece, and then put it together later. They're all like this for a reason- there is no super secret 170+ strategy, where I tell advanced students to take practice tests and tell the rest to go piece by piece. All students should practice concepts one at a time because it's more effective for students to master the LSAT in parts, instead of trying to do it all at once. It's hard enough to learn flaw questions doing 100 of them in a row, let alone switching between flaw, must be true, and parallel, and sufficient/necessary. Even if you're trying to get an elite score, the strategy is no different. You've taken 10 practice tests and you average a 171? That just means you're screwing up under time, and you need to take more tests right? You'll get it right the next time? Consistently averaging a 171 means you're consistently getting 9-10 questions wrong, and there's something fundamentally flawed in your logic skills that you need to find. It can be difficult to identify- students always expect their weaknesses to manifest themselves as a question type- ("8 of my 10 wrong answers were strengthen") but for 170+ hopefuls, that usually doesn't happen. It's more likely that its something smaller than spans multiple question types- identifying conclusions correctly, diagramming, etc.

-Untimed practice
If you can't get it PERFECT in slow motion, how can you possibly get close to perfect under a time limit? When you practice, you should aim for 100% accuracy, and take all the time that we need to get there. If that means you only do 20 questions one day instead of 100, so be it. Quality over quantity. While you're prepping, you don't get any real points for getting the questions right- your goal shouldn't simply be to select the right answer. What you're trying to accomplish while drilling questions is to learn from them, and take away lessons for the future. Timing yourself doesn't allow you to do that. For example in logic games, I tell students to time themselves, but starting at 0:00. I say don't look at the clock- take as long as you need to understand the game, finish it, and just use the timer to see how long it took you. Maybe a game takes you 13 minutes one day, and you got 5/7. Then you redo that game 3 days later, go 5/7 again, but did it in 11 minutes. Then 6/7 in 9 minutes, etc. A timed practice test wouldn't have allowed you to make that improvement. You probably would have given up at some point due to the pressure of time and need to work on the other games.

-Reviewing the content
It's not enough to just do the questions. Like I said, you need to review them so you can learn from them. When I was prepping, I liked to take notes on questions: I write down what I did wrong ("I didn't pay attention to the cannot be together rule") and then give advice for the future ("cannot be together rules create options!"). When you answer a question incorrectly (especially in LR and RC), you've done TWO things wrong: you've read a logically incorrect answer and said it was correct, and you've read the correct answer and determined it was wrong. It's up to you to prove to yourself, in concrete terms (not just "oh, i get it") what logical deficiency makes the wrong answer 100% wrong and what by what logic is the correct answer 100% right. You also need to review the questions you answered correctly, to make sure you were correct for the right reasons. If you had a 50/50 question where you're deciding between A and B, liked A more, and correctly chose A, you haven't learned all you can from that question. You need to find out what makes B 100% wrong. Because the next 50/50, you may not be so lucky.

-Reviewing yourself
You can understand the concepts fully, but not be applying them correctly. For example, plenty of students understand what makes a statement strong or weak but don't use it to eliminate answers. When reviewing questions, I regularly ask myself:
-What did I do wrong? Why did I like the answer that I chose?
-How could I have avoided it?
-What should I have done to get it right?
-What should I do moving forward?

How NOT to improve your score:

-Blowing through questions
I meet a lot of students who took a different prep course or self studied and have done almost every LSAT question, but are still doing terrible. That's because you need QUALITY practice, not just quantity. Avoid the mentality that says to yourself, "I will be better after I finish these 100 questions." There's more to it than that.

-Timing yourself
A common misconception is that in order to test faster, you need to practice fast. No. You go faster by being better at logic. You go faster by having a better mastery of the concepts. You go faster by having broken down so many questions untimed, that you can quickly recognize patterns from previous questions. Yes, timed practice does have a few benefits- of course, at some point you're going to need to establish the right pace, and practice going at that pace a few times. You'll also reduce some test day anxiety by getting used to the clock. But none of this doesn't MAKE you faster, and students will too often believe that "time management" is the reason they're missing questions. But the best way to get faster is gain a better mastery of the underlying concepts, and that requires going slow.

-Taking practice exams
Practice exams are the most overrated part of LSAT prep. I understand why people want to take them- eventually on game day you are going to take a test, so you need to practice taking a test. But here's the problem. You do not learn anything from taking a practice test. At the end of a 4 hour practice exam, you are not better at understanding and applying LSAT concepts than you were before you took it. All you get from a practice exam is a snapshot of how good you are at the LSAT that day. You've audited yourself and gotten a result- maybe you bombed and are more motivated, or maybe you did well and you have some peace of mind. But you're not any better. You could have taken those 4 hours and drilled concepts one by one. Untimed, isolated practice. That's where improvement comes from.

Disclaimer
Don't get me wrong, practice exams are indeed an important part of LSAT study. Eventually, you need to take all those concepts that you've mastered and practice doing them all at the same time- switching back and forth from question type to question type, flipping from one strategy to another. You need to practice working under stress, keeping your cool, and maintaining your desired pace. But this should not happen until you are extremely accurate in an untimed setting. This is ESPECIALLY true for 170+ hopefuls. Those few points that you have left to gain are the most difficult. I tell my students, a 170 requires about 90% accuracy. How do you get 90% accuracy in a timed setting? By shooting for 100% accuracy in an untimed setting.
Last edited by mickeyD on Fri Aug 24, 2012 11:01 am, edited 3 times in total.

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smaug_
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Re: To 170+ hopefuls: stop taking practice tests.

Postby smaug_ » Fri Aug 24, 2012 9:47 am

I'm sorry, this advice is worthless for many. I'm sure if your start prepping at a 153 you need to spend more time learning the basics. That said, you also need to realize that many people who aim for a 170+ start near or above a 170. The goal at that point isn't to learn new concepts; rather, it is to limit the number of mistakes. You're not trying to get more points, you're trying to minimize risk by ensuring that you have practiced as much as possible and know the timing of the test well. A high scorer should strive to build endurance and consistency, two things best developed by taking timed practice tests.

I've spoken to many other high scorers, and the consistent advice was that if you want to improve your numbers above a 170, practice tests should be your bread and butter preparation. Yes, you still need to review and understand why you missed the questions you messed up on. Yes, there is time to go through sets of practice questions outside of practice tests. But, it is silly to claim that people should stop taking practice tests. Taking practice tests worked quite well for me. You're doing people here a disservice by offering poor advice.
Last edited by smaug_ on Fri Aug 24, 2012 11:05 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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dresden doll
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Re: To 170+ hopefuls: stop taking practice tests.

Postby dresden doll » Fri Aug 24, 2012 9:48 am

I absolutely owe my score to taking practice exams.

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20130312
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Re: To 170+ hopefuls: stop taking practice tests.

Postby 20130312 » Fri Aug 24, 2012 9:52 am

hibiki wrote:you also need to realize that many people who aim from a 170+ start near or above a 170.


Image
Last edited by 20130312 on Fri Aug 24, 2012 9:52 am, edited 1 time in total.

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alwayssunnyinfl
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Re: To 170+ hopefuls: stop taking practice tests.

Postby alwayssunnyinfl » Fri Aug 24, 2012 9:52 am

Sabotaging the competition: very nice.

milanproda
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Re: To 170+ hopefuls: stop taking practice tests.

Postby milanproda » Fri Aug 24, 2012 9:55 am

I think you both make good points. For people who are retaking (after a relatively high score) and who understand the concepts pretty well, then it makes sense to do practice tests. If you just started, it makes more sense to go over the basics. Overall, the quality or quantity is the most important and the hardest to consistently apply. I often get questions wrong and still do not understand them after review. Then again I am not in the 175 plus range as many people here are. Just my two cents.

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smaug_
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Re: To 170+ hopefuls: stop taking practice tests.

Postby smaug_ » Fri Aug 24, 2012 9:57 am

InGoodFaith wrote:
hibiki wrote:you also need to realize that many people who aim from a 170+ start near or above a 170.


Image


This shouldn't be shocking. People don't want to mess up. People don't feel secure. If you score a 169 on your first practice test, you should be thinking either "how much can I improve" or "how can I do this again." To those people, the advice given by OP is beyond unhelpful. Moreover, if you're starting at a 160, you should probably follow the OPs advice (or something closer to it) until you start hitting 170. At that point, you absolutely need to do full length practice tests to minimize risk.

ETA: I sincerely hope that nearly anyone who takes this idea seriously can 180 an untimed test after a small amount of prep. Part of the reason I think this advice is so awful is because the LSAT really isn't that hard conceptually. Everyone messes up some when they take it, but that doesn't make the underlying concepts difficult or hard to apply.

(fixed cussin')
Last edited by smaug_ on Fri Aug 24, 2012 10:01 am, edited 1 time in total.

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20130312
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Re: To 170+ hopefuls: stop taking practice tests.

Postby 20130312 » Fri Aug 24, 2012 9:59 am

Okay, but just to be clear even people that start PTing in the 150s can and should get up into the 170s.

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alwayssunnyinfl
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Re: To 170+ hopefuls: stop taking practice tests.

Postby alwayssunnyinfl » Fri Aug 24, 2012 10:00 am

InGoodFaith wrote:Okay, but just to be clear even people that start PTing in the 150s can and should get up into the 170s.

I'm one of those people. But PT's are fucking essential.

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smaug_
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Re: To 170+ hopefuls: stop taking practice tests.

Postby smaug_ » Fri Aug 24, 2012 10:00 am

InGoodFaith wrote:Okay, but just to be clear even people that start PTing in the 150s can and should get up into the 170s.


I totally agree. I just think that they too need to take some practice tests once they get up there.

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Samara
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Re: To 170+ hopefuls: stop taking practice tests.

Postby Samara » Fri Aug 24, 2012 10:04 am

I only did practice tests and found "drilling" and whatnot to be insufferable and detrimental. u mad, OP?

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Pete Venkman
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Re: To 170+ hopefuls: stop taking practice tests.

Postby Pete Venkman » Fri Aug 24, 2012 10:10 am

People tend to flame pretty hard on this site, but I do agree with several posters above that practice tests are essential, at least by the time you are six weeks out or so from the test. Drills and taking it slow are ok before that, but one of the most important, possibly the most important aspect of the test, is being able to finish on time.

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mickeyD
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Re: To 170+ hopefuls: stop taking practice tests.

Postby mickeyD » Fri Aug 24, 2012 10:51 am

Everyone keep in mind, I agree that practice tests are essential. I just find that students often take too many in hopes that it will increase their score, when in reality they would benefit more from untimed practice. Even for students scoring 170+, I do not believe that the jump from 171 to 178 comes from more and more tests. It comes from mastery.

And I've edited the title to reflect this message a little better.

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BlaqBella
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Re: To 170+ hopefuls: stop taking practice tests.

Postby BlaqBella » Fri Aug 24, 2012 10:53 am

mickeyD wrote:[Don't get me wrong, practice exams are indeed an important part of LSAT study. Eventually, you need to take all those concepts that you've mastered and practice doing them all at the same time- switching back and forth from question type to question type, flipping from one strategy to another. You need to practice working under stress, keeping your cool, and maintaining your desired pace. But this should not happen until you are extremely accurate in an untimed setting. This is ESPECIALLY true for 170+ hopefuls. Those few points that you have left to gain are the most difficult. I tell my students, a 170 requires about 90% accuracy. How do you get 90% accuracy in a timed setting? By shooting for 100% accuracy in an untimed setting.


To those flaming the OP, reading is essential. Please see bolded.

He or she is not disqualifying the importance of practice tests. He or she is rather suggesting it shouldn't be your bread and butter until you have 100% nailed down the concepts and can put it altogether under timed conditions.

Thank you OP for this post.

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BlaqBella
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Re: To 170+ hopefuls: stop taking practice tests.

Postby BlaqBella » Fri Aug 24, 2012 11:02 am

mickeyD wrote:Everyone keep in mind, I agree that practice tests are essential. I just find that students often take too many in hopes that it will increase their score, when in reality they would benefit more from untimed practice. Even for students scoring 170+, I do not believe that the jump from 171 to 178 comes from more and more tests. It comes from mastery.

And I've edited the title to reflect this message a little better.


Hmm, I disagree and agree with the bolded. While I feel untimed practice is important, I think it only applies for when trying to deconstruct question types as part of the beginning process of learn the rules and meat and potatoes of the construct of LSAT questions. Once those rules are nailed down, timed testing becomes important. Of course you will get faster by being able to quickly identify type and how the correct answer looks but for the sake of mimicking as closely as possible what you will encounter on test day, I believe timing becomes essential mid-way into your studies.

We must remember that the LSAT is an endurance test and is not just about getting questions accurate but getting them accurate under timed constraints.

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mickeyD
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Re: To 170+ hopefuls: stop taking practice tests.

Postby mickeyD » Fri Aug 24, 2012 11:09 am

BlaqBella wrote:
mickeyD wrote:Everyone keep in mind, I agree that practice tests are essential. I just find that students often take too many in hopes that it will increase their score, when in reality they would benefit more from untimed practice. Even for students scoring 170+, I do not believe that the jump from 171 to 178 comes from more and more tests. It comes from mastery.

And I've edited the title to reflect this message a little better.


Hmm, I disagree and agree with the bolded. While I feel untimed practice is important, I think it only applies for when trying to deconstruct question types as part of the beginning process of learn the rules and meat and potatoes of the construct of LSAT questions. Once those rules are nailed down, timed testing becomes important. Of course you will get faster by being able to quickly identify type and how the correct answer looks but for the sake of mimicking as closely as possible what you will encounter on test day, I believe timing becomes essential mid-way into your studies.

We must remember that the LSAT is an endurance test and is not just about getting questions accurate but getting them accurate under timed constraints.


The thing is, what I've found is that it is not as simple as 1. Learn concepts 2. Take tests from here on out. It assumes that the student has mastered everything on the first go around, which normally isnt the case.

With that said, I don't think we necessarily disagree.

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BlaqBella
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Re: To 170+ hopefuls: stop taking practice tests.

Postby BlaqBella » Fri Aug 24, 2012 11:14 am

mickeyD wrote:
BlaqBella wrote:
mickeyD wrote:Everyone keep in mind, I agree that practice tests are essential. I just find that students often take too many in hopes that it will increase their score, when in reality they would benefit more from untimed practice. Even for students scoring 170+, I do not believe that the jump from 171 to 178 comes from more and more tests. It comes from mastery.

And I've edited the title to reflect this message a little better.


Hmm, I disagree and agree with the bolded. While I feel untimed practice is important, I think it only applies for when trying to deconstruct question types as part of the beginning process of learn the rules and meat and potatoes of the construct of LSAT questions. Once those rules are nailed down, timed testing becomes important. Of course you will get faster by being able to quickly identify type and how the correct answer looks but for the sake of mimicking as closely as possible what you will encounter on test day, I believe timing becomes essential mid-way into your studies.

We must remember that the LSAT is an endurance test and is not just about getting questions accurate but getting them accurate under timed constraints.


The thing is, what I've found is that it is not as simple as 1. Learn concepts 2. Take tests from here on out. It assumes that the student has mastered everything on the first go around, which normally isnt the case.

With that said, I don't think we necessarily disagree.


So what is step 2? Drilling question types and deconstructing? Working from wrong to right and being able to explain why an answer is wrong or right?

And is it safe to assume you agree students should apply whatever you consider as step 2 to the review of timed tests?

What about taking untimed exams? I personally try to avoid doing this.

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mickeyD
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Re: To 170+ hopefuls: stop taking practice tests.

Postby mickeyD » Fri Aug 24, 2012 11:18 am

BlaqBella wrote:
mickeyD wrote:
BlaqBella wrote:
mickeyD wrote:Everyone keep in mind, I agree that practice tests are essential. I just find that students often take too many in hopes that it will increase their score, when in reality they would benefit more from untimed practice. Even for students scoring 170+, I do not believe that the jump from 171 to 178 comes from more and more tests. It comes from mastery.

And I've edited the title to reflect this message a little better.


Hmm, I disagree and agree with the bolded. While I feel untimed practice is important, I think it only applies for when trying to deconstruct question types as part of the beginning process of learn the rules and meat and potatoes of the construct of LSAT questions. Once those rules are nailed down, timed testing becomes important. Of course you will get faster by being able to quickly identify type and how the correct answer looks but for the sake of mimicking as closely as possible what you will encounter on test day, I believe timing becomes essential mid-way into your studies.

We must remember that the LSAT is an endurance test and is not just about getting questions accurate but getting them accurate under timed constraints.


The thing is, what I've found is that it is not as simple as 1. Learn concepts 2. Take tests from here on out. It assumes that the student has mastered everything on the first go around, which normally isnt the case.

With that said, I don't think we necessarily disagree.


So what is step 2? Drilling question types and deconstructing? Working from wrong to right and being able to explain why an answer is wrong or right?

And is it safe to assume you agree students should apply whatever you consider as step 2 to the review of timed tests?

What about taking untimed exams? I personally try to avoid doing this.


Step 2 would be yes to all you have said, minus untimed exams. What I am advocating is not any different than the PithyPIke method, which encourages mastery piece by piece for 2 months, taking practice tests only sporadically.

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mickeyD
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Re: To 170+ hopefuls: stop taking so many practice tests.

Postby mickeyD » Fri Aug 24, 2012 11:27 am

I also want to clarify that this advice is for students who are trying to get more points. If you're averaging 171 and just want to maintain, then by all means continue taking tests. But if you want to jump to the high 170s, I believe striving for 100% untimed accuracy is the way to get there.

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05062014
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Re: To 170+ hopefuls: stop taking so many practice tests.

Postby 05062014 » Fri Aug 24, 2012 12:03 pm

mickeyD wrote:I also want to clarify that this advice is for students who are trying to get more points. If you're averaging 171 and just want to maintain, then by all means continue taking tests. But if you want to jump to the high 170s, I believe striving for 100% untimed accuracy is the way to get there.


You're def. onto something. I was stuck in the low 170s for a while. Giving myself a few extra minutes did not magically give me the prowess to get the 2-3 LRs per section correct. I think ideally at this point in lsat prep, you should be taking tests timed, and get a roomie/friend/snuggle buddy to grade your test and then give it back to you and let you work on the few questions you think gave you trouble without knowing which ones you got wrong. Hopefully, without annoying whoever is helping you, you won't need more than one go-around before the second time it gets graded-- and it is a 180. I hope to reach that point in mid september as I am stuck in the lower/mid 170s. Balancing timed and untimed prep is critical at this point, no doubt about it. Timed prep will intensify 3 weeks out though. Can't fuck up on gameday

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Balthy
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Re: To 170+ hopefuls: stop taking so many practice tests.

Postby Balthy » Fri Aug 24, 2012 12:48 pm

Someone on Pithypike's LSAT thread mentioned that most of us follow the same general pattern for studying for big tests: accuracy, speed, and then endurance. I think jumping into timed PTs is like mashing all of that together. Some people can still achieve high scores, of course, but I think it's much easier to reach the same score if one followed OPs advice before hitting the PTs.

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Re: To 170+ hopefuls: stop taking practice tests.

Postby perplexedconfused » Fri Aug 24, 2012 2:09 pm

mickeyD wrote:Everyone keep in mind, I agree that practice tests are essential. I just find that students often take too many in hopes that it will increase their score, when in reality they would benefit more from untimed practice. Even for students scoring 170+, I do not believe that the jump from 171 to 178 comes from more and more tests. It comes from mastery.

And I've edited the title to reflect this message a little better.


I agree with you, and also agree with some of the other posters. When I took the LSAT several years ago, people continuously said to take as many practice tests as you can. While I agree that practice tests are essential, not knowing the material/concepts is detrimental to the score (obviously). I ended up doing awful. This time around, I am going to really study the concepts first and then move onto the untimed practice (following PithyPike's study guide) and subsequent practice tests. I am not going to try to do 40 timed practice tests though, I do not think it is necessary to do that many to succeed on the test. I think it really just depends on a person's individual learning style.

Whoever posted that that is not helpful for those starting in the high 160's on their first test, I have not seen that that is the norm, especially for people in this forum.

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Re: To 170+ hopefuls: stop taking so many practice tests.

Postby notedgarfigaro » Fri Aug 24, 2012 3:12 pm

My problem with this advice is that timed practice tests are a much better way to identify any blind spots or problem areas that one may have. As such, I still think after a person learns te basics, a timed practice test routine is the way to go as long as people review the problem types that keep hurting them. More data equals better chance at fixing the problem.

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Re: To 170+ hopefuls: stop taking so many practice tests.

Postby 06102016 » Fri Aug 24, 2012 3:16 pm

..

09042014
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Re: To 170+ hopefuls: stop taking practice tests.

Postby 09042014 » Fri Aug 24, 2012 3:20 pm

hibiki wrote:I'm sorry, this advice is worthless for many. I'm sure if your start prepping at a 153 you need to spend more time learning the basics. That said, you also need to realize that many people who aim for a 170+ start near or above a 170. The goal at that point isn't to learn new concepts; rather, it is to limit the number of mistakes. You're not trying to get more points, you trying to minimize risk by ensuring that you have practiced as much as possible and know the timing of the test well. A high scorer should strive to build endurance and consistency, two things best developed by taking timed practice tests.

I've spoken to many other high scorers, and the consistent advice was that if you want to improve your numbers above a 170, practice tests should be your bread and butter preparation. Yes, you still need to review and understand why you missed the questions you messed up on. Yes, there is time to go through sets of practice questions outside of practice tests. But, it is silly to claim that people should stop taking practice tests. Taking practice tests worked quite well for me. You're doing people here a disservice by offering poor advice.


To true 170+ people no individual LSAT problem is very hard. It is the logic equivalent of an adding and multiplication test. The only problem is the time crunch. Churning through tests you learn how to go faster, and avoid mistakes.




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