Suggestions For Timing Your Practice Exams (Drilling & PT Tips, Part 2)

    • April 22, 2016 at 8:20 am #1755
      Mike Kim

      When you sit down on test day, you will have two critical and overlapping timing concerns:

      1) The pace of your problem-solving process — how fast you can solve individual problems.
      2) Time allocation — how you decide to distribute or assign the limited time that you have during a section.

      Here are some thoughts on how to best utilize your practice to improve in both of these areas.

      1) Seek to get faster and more accurate at the same time.

      Think about getting better at solving algebra or arithmetic problems. As you got better and better at them, you simultaneously became more accurate and faster. This is because you got better at knowing what to think about and what not to and your brain got faster and more comfortable with arriving at the right answers.

      The exact same thing should happen with LSAT problems — as you get better at games, for example, you should be able to diagram them both better and faster, as you get better at reading LR arguments, you should get more selective about what you pay attention to (and what not to), which, again, will help you get both better and faster at the same time, and so on.

      It’s very important to keep this in mind and recognize that it is a defining characteristic of LSAT improvement — if your methods for trying to improve accuracy cause your timing to balloon or vice-versa, that’s a strong sign that something is wrong.

      2) Avoid developing habits that will later force you to sacrifice accuracy for speed.

      On an objective level, you could describe these habits as ones that try to make up for a lack of focus by overcompensating in carefulness.

      A simple example — imagine a student who has a lot of trouble finding the argument in the stimulus, or is unaware of the importance of doing so, feels that he/she can never predict what part of the stimulus will be important, and thus adopts methods that allow that student to check answers against the entirety of the stimulus, methods which will invariably cause him/her to having both accuracy and timing issues.

      A great remedy for combatting this is timing as much of your practice as possible — this will help you notice such problems far better than if you don’t put timing pressure on yourself.

      3) For most of your prep, focus more on getting faster, rather than time allocation concerns.

      For almost all test takers, it will be true that there will be at least a section or two for which the test takers doesn’t have enough time to answer all the questions in 35 mins —

      In these situations, how the student decides to allocate his or her time can be critical for determining the student’s overall performance.

      So, you definitely want to work on time allocation and make sure that before test day you’ve come up with and practiced time allocation strategies that allow you to get the top score you can.

      However, in my view, it’s best to wait until the end of your prep to work on these time allocation strategies — for one thing, you will (hopefully) be a very different test taker closer to test day than you are farther away from test day — hopefully a much better LSAT test taker — and so your timing concerns may be totally different then than they are now. And secondly, working within time allocation restrictions — which might, for example, force you to deal with a certain LG on a PT in 5 minutes or whatever, will cause you to miss out on actually practicing that game for real.

      Until you get toward the end of your prep, I recommend that you just focus as much as possible on getting faster and faster, and, when it’s near test day and your skill set is pretty much hardened, then start focusing on how to maximize it and practice maximizing it on your final PT’s.

      4) But do practice not over-investing time.

      The one time-allocation habit that is universal and something I encourage you to always practice is not spending too much time on any one problem —

      It’s important to remember that all LSAT problems are designed to be solved quickly, and if you feel that you are spending too much time on a q, chances are very high that the problem will continue to stump you even if you spend more and more time. So, when you find yourself spending too much time on a q, and don’t see the solution in sight, you need to practice moving on (and perhaps coming back to the q at the end of section one more time).

      5) Do practice reminding yourself every problem is worth the same amount.

      This is very closely related to the previous point —

      Keep in mind that your habits are ingrained in you from all other tests you’ve taken in life, and for nearly every one of these other exams, it has been the smarter strategy for you to allocate more of your time and energy to the hardest problems.

      We all have this instinct, and all of us are prone to being hindered by it on tests like the LSAT where every problem is worth the same amount. Remind yourself that your goal is always to get as many problems right as possible, and not to just get those hardest q’s right.

      6) Time yourself and always finish the section.

      As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, for various reasons I warn against too much untimed practice —

      I believe that timing yourself as much as possible, and, more importantly, always practicing with a focus on pace and a sense of urgency — will help you improve faster and improve more than solving problems with no sense of timing concerns.

      When it comes to timing your PT’s, I believe the best way to do it, in the middle of your prep, is to take as long as you need to finish a section, whether that be 32 minutes, 36 minutes, or 45 minutes, but, if you want to gauge your score, do so using the work you’d done up to the 35 minute point.

      And, though you can certainly expect some inconsistency, expect and seek to, over time, lower your average time with more and more practice (without sacrificing accuracy).

      I believe that this is, over a period of practice, the smartest way to help ensure that you get your timing under control by using win-win methods (improved pace + accuracy) as opposed to win-lose methods (having to sacrifice accuracy for pace).

      7) If your timing is far off where it needs to be, work to improve mastery.

      If you are seeking a top score and finding yourself uncomfortably far away from finishing close to the :35 minute mark (I’d say, roughly, :45 and beyond for a section is, 2 months away from the test, what I would consider “uncomfortably far away”), or if you aren’t seeking a top score but rather just a solid one, and you aren’t close to where you’d like to be using your :35 marker scores, it’s highly probable that, in order to make the type of improvements you are seeking, you need to reassess your understanding, strategies, and skill set, and actively work to address certain weaknesses.

      This is when you may want to take some time away from drilling to review your study materials, get help from teachers or tutors, focus your practice on a particular issue, and so on.

      8) If your timing is close to where you want it to be, trust in the process, and seek to get under the :35 mark mainly by getting faster and faster through practice.

      As long as you are not beholden to strategies that cause you to constantly sacrifice too much accuracy for pace, you should expect, with more and more practice, to naturally get faster and faster — and, if you are already close to finishing a full section near the :35 mark, with your accuracy level where you’d like, I encourage you to just keep focusing on getting in more and more practice, and, for top, top scorers, I strongly encourage you not to let up at the :35 mark. If you can get yourself to a point where you know you can average :30 on a section, without having to rush things, you will have a tremendous amount of confidence going into test day.

      9) Focus on time allocation toward the end of your prep.

      And finally, as you get toward the end of your prep — when you have finished the vast majority of your development and are taking your last half-dozen or so pt’s to get ready for the test day experience, that’s when I believe you ought to shift your gears to focusing more carefully on maximizing that :35 minutes — deciding on strategies for doing so, and getting in tons of practice with those strategies so that you can feel fully prepared to correctly make the tough allocation decision on test day.

      As always, feel free to use any advice you think might benefit you and please feel free to ignore anything you don’t think applies — and, if any of you have any follow up q’s about any of the above, just let me know —


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