October 18, 2016 at 6:01 pm #2789Mike KimKeymaster
One of the most common questions I get from students is, “How many tests should I use for my practice?”
The short answer is that it is really is different for everyone—for some students ten tests might be enough to get to where they need to get, and other students might find they need more than thirty tests worth of experience before they start really feeling comfortable—and, as I’m sure you’d expect me say, the manner in which you utilize these practice exams is just as important, if not more so, as the amount of tests you go through.
I’m pretty sure that short answer doesn’t do much good for anyone — here is the longer response — give me a few minutes of your time and I hope that by the end of this post you’ll have a better sense of how to organize your practice for maximum effectiveness.
Part One: Goals
First, let’s start off by laying out, in a very specific way, what it is that we want to get out of our practice.
1) You want to use your practice to develop greater wisdom about the test
Wisdom about both how it’s designed, and what strategies help you best succeed on it.
Developing such wisdom requires growing your understanding of various facets of the exam, methods, and so on, and getting smarter and smarter about how it all comes together.
2) You want to develop the right habits
And, especially if you want going after a top score, it is very important that you work to not only develop the right habits, but also that you do your best to avoid creating bad habits — if you do too much practice without being careful about how you do it, you may end up unwittingly developing bad LSAT habits that limit how high you can go.
Part Two: Some scenarios
Now, I ask you to think about two extreme hypotheticals —
1) You only have one previously administered LSAT to use for your prep, and several months to study this one exam worth of problems.
2) You go into your studies having decided that you will utilize exactly 20 exams, 30 exams, 40 exams, or whatever, and tell yourself that you will be done with your prep when you have completed that number of tests.
When we juxtapose these situations, a few things become clear:
1) You do need to make sure you get enough practice.
If you do only study from one test, no matter how carefully you study that test, you’ll almost certainly feel ill-prepared to perform at your best on the actual exam.
Though every LSAT is extraordinarily similar to every other LSAT, you do need to expose yourself to a variety of problems in order to get acclimated —
2) However, if you go in knowing that you are going to practice a ton of tests, it’s almost impossible to force yourself to extract as much growth from each of those exams as you would if you knew you only had one test to practice with. You finish the first of forty exams, you still have 39 left. So, you’ll just naturally have an expectation that you don’t need to study that one test you just took as much, because, well, you have the 39 left to learn from.
And again, as I alluded to earlier, a significant danger of doing so much practice without enough intelligent planning, review, and so on is that you may very well end up developing habits that will limit how good you can get at the exam.
Part 3: My Tips
Here’s another thing, and, to me, this is as critical a consideration as there is when it comes to your LSAT prep:
If you tell yourself that you will be finished with your prep once you’ve completed X number of PT’s, or once you’ve gone through a certain study schedule, or finished certain study materials, prepared for a certain number of hours — whatever the criteria might be — and you use these figures as the primary gauges of your preparedness, you will not go into the exam feeling as prepared as you would like.
I know that sounds harsh, and I know that I’m harping on something I also stress a ton in the Trainer, but I really feel that just a small change in mindset, if you can really buy into it, can have a huge impact on how you consider, organize, and maximize your practice.
This is my first and most important tip:
1. Use your skills and habits to as the primary determinants of your preparedness.
You want to make sure you practice enough to develop strong skills and habits for all of the types of challenges the test might throw your way (for each type of RC question, each type of reasoning issue, each type of Logic Games characteristic, and so on) —
And you want to make sure to practice enough to develop a strong macro-sense of all the different types of skills and habits the test as a whole requires of you, how these relate to one another (when to use which skills and so on) — and confidence that you have a full complement of these skills and habits.
Put more simply — nothing else will make you feel as prepared for the exam as 1) having a clear sense of all that can appear on it + 2) having confidence in your ability to handle anything that can appear on it.
Obviously, achieving those goals is easier said than done, but you give yourself the best chance when you understand these goals and build your prep around them.
2) Help yourself with #1 by utilizing various gauges
One tool you can use is the Readiness Checklist —
And an exercise I recommend (great to do this often) is trying to create big, macro-maps / charts / drawings / tables / whatever of how everything you are studying comes together — for example, a map of how all LR q’s relate to one another, a compendium of every diagramming notation you’ve had to use, etc. — constantly doing this is a wonderful way to help your brain develop more and more wisdom about how everything it’s learning comes together, and, at a certain point, you may find yourself really, really satisfied with your macro-maps/big picture summaries — and when you find yourself at this point, you’ll, I promise you, also feel far, far less worried about something unexpected showing up on test day, and far, far more confident that you are prepared for anything that can come your way.
3) Start with a certain base number of tests, but, just as importantly, expect to do more or less work depending on how you feel about your skills and habits.
Again, remember to have the mindset that your skills and habits are the primary drivers of your planning —
So you may start off with a plan to use ten tests worth of practice, or twenty, or thirty, but, as you set your schedule and plan your work, expect to, and do, adjust these plans per how strong you are feeling about your skills and habits —
So, for example, if you are following a schedule that assigns a certain number of Logical Reasoning Strengthen Q’s — if you find yourself really comfortable with these q’s, you may know you need less than the allotted practice and move on to your next assignment faster than you might otherwise. On the flip side, if you finish the allotted homework and doing feel as comfortable with your skills and habits as you’d like, you should plan to get in additional work.
4) In my experience, 20 pt’s is a great # of tests to start with in your prep, and that’s why I design most of my study schedules around doing 20 pt’s worth of practice. But again, this number is different for everyone, and if you feel strongly, going in, that per your situation you need less practice or more, go for it. And, of course, remember to think of this just as a starting off point and expect to adjust it throughout per how you feel about your skills and habits.
That’s it — hope you all found it helpful and if you have any questions please write them below —
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