By Mike Kim.
So, you want to set up your own personalized LSAT study schedule, based on your timeline, the amount of practice you’d like to include, and the learning products of your own choosing. This article can help you do just that. By the time we’re done, you will have yourself a smart, flexible, and personalized study regimen that you can use to guide you through your study process.
We’ll be utilizing the following free resources, which we’ll discuss further later in the article:
Let’s get started.
(Note: If you are looking for The LSAT Trainer study schedules please click here.)
The 4 key elements
The most effective LSAT prep regimens typically include a combination of learning (from courses, study guides, or other materials), drilling (that is, doing sets of like-problems together), and full practice exams, with plenty of careful review throughout (if you would like more information about each of these components, please check out this companion article: “How to Study for the LSAT.”)
Ideally, you want to get in most of your learning early on in your prep. That way you can go into your drilling and practice exams with an understanding of the exam and an arsenal of strategies.
Once you have a solid base, you want to move on to drilling. Drilling involves solving sets of similar questions—perhaps Logical Reasoning questions of a certain type, or Logic Games with certain characteristics. In my experience, drilling is the step where students who make huge leaps in score tend to make their biggest gains, and so, if you have a lot of prep time and want to invest some overflow in one area, drilling would be the one that I’d suggest first.
And of course, an effective study regimen should include a substantial number of practice exams. The most important practice exams are the ones you’ll take in the weeks leading up to test day. It’s also beneficial to take a test or two at the beginning of your prep, so that you can get a sense for what it feels like and what your natural strengths and weaknesses (everyone has both) might be, and it’s beneficial to take a test or two in the middle stages of your prep to see how you are progressing (don’t worry if your score doesn’t show a consistent projection upward—it rarely does).
Each of these phases will be far less effective if you do not know how to properly review. Proper review can help you ensure that you’ve accounted for all facets of the exam, and it can expose issues or areas where you need improvement, and it can, of course, help you grow your overall base of wisdom. (Again, for more about learning, drilling, practice exams, or review, please check out the companion article “How to Study for the LSAT.”)
The ideal progression
Now that we’ve discussed the various facets of an effective study regimen, let’s quickly discuss how to bring it all together.
Ideally, you will want to focus on learning first, then shift your focus to drilling, then finally to practice exams. Additionally, it can be extremely beneficial to overlap your learning and your drilling so that, for example, you practice a set of a certain type of question right after you study methods for how to deal with it.
A simple way to satisfy these concerns is to break up your study schedule into four phases:
Phase 1: Your primary focus will be on learning.
Phase 2: You will focus on both learning and drilling.
Phase 3: Your primary focus will be on drilling.
Phase 4: Your primary focus will be on practice exams.
If you plan on using more than one learning product, an effective way to do so is to go through one of the products completely first, and then integrate the second product with your drill work.
One thing that’s true for most students is that their study routine won’t go exactly as planned—that’s fine. Maybe your learning products take more or less time to utilize, or maybe you get stuck on a certain type of game and want to drill some more of it—an effective study schedule is one that is flexible enough to allow you to make changes as you see fit. So, if possible, build in some extra time in case you do want to make changes or do extra work down the line, and don’t be afraid to adjust your plans as you go along—you’ll surely know more about how to get maximize your prep deeper into your studies than you will at the beginning.
Avoid these 4 extremes
Only taking practice exams
Very often this goes along with a distrust of, or a lack of respect for, LSAT learning products. Keep in mind that there is a lot of information to uncover about the exam (such as the different types of questions, the tendencies for them, and so on), and while you can most certainly do this work yourself, there are many others who have gone before you and figured it out already, and it makes sense for you to take advantage of the work that they’ve put in. In addition, it’s important to keep in mind that practice exams are not as effective as drill work for setting effective habits that align with specific situations.
Focusing too much on learning products
If this were a different sort of exam, it would make perfect sense to spend all, or most, of one’s prep time studying in courses, learning from books, and so on. However, since the LSAT is a performance-based test, it’s critically important that you get plenty of practice at applying what you learn, by solving tons of actual LSAT problems.
Not studying at all
This instinct is often driven by a misunderstanding of the exam or of its place in the admissions process.
The LSAT is very learnable, and it is the most important factor in the law school admissions process. Knowing these two things, if one still chooses not to prepare for it, well…the result will typically be what it ought to be.
Being excessive…in the wrong ways
Some students might be excessive in terms of utilizing every learning product under the sun, others in terms of solving every problem ever published, and so on. While additional products and additional work can most definitely be helpful, it’s equally true that if one were to fully utilize their learning products and practice work, it’s highly unlikely that such excess would be necessary for getting as good as you are going to get at the LSAT. You want to focus on maximizing the improvement you do get from the work that you put in, and you want to gauge your progress and readiness based on your skills and habits, as opposed to the number of problems solved, or the number of dollars or hours spent.
A danger with each of these four methods is that for every one of these cases, there are stories of wild success that will refute my advice — some people will invariably get a top score by not studying at all, or by taking every published exam ten times, and they might declare that this is the way you ought to get a top score — but again, in my experience, for most students, these are four extremely ineffective ways to prepare (or not) for the exam.
Let’s set up your schedule
Now that we’ve gotten all that out of the way, follow these steps to set up your very own personalized study schedule.
Determine which study product(s) you’d like to start with, how long you plan to study, and how many tests worth of practice problems you plan to utilize. Ideally, in order to fully maximize your prep, I recommend that most students use one or two learning products, study for a minimum of twelve weeks (more if possible, especially if you are working or going to school full-time), and plan to utilize anywhere between twenty and thirty exams worth of problems for practice. Of course, every situation is different, and you know yourself best, so please feel free to ignore or adjust these recommendations as you see fit.
Determine which of your official guide problems you want to use for drilling, and which ones you want to use for full practice exams. In general, I recommend about a 50-50 split between the two. So, for example, if you’ve decided to use exams 52-71 for your practice, you may want to use the problems from exams 52 – 61 for drilling, and exams 62 – 71 for full exams. If you are going to be working with fewer exams, you may want to consider overlapping drilling and practice exams, so that, for example, you re-use the problems from a couple of the practice exams you take earlier on studies for some of your drill work later on in your studies. If you are going to be working with a lot of exams, at some point full practice tests begin to offer diminishing returns, so you may want to consider using more problems for drilling than for full tests.
Once you’ve determined which problems you’d like to drill, you can use the Lsatters question organizer tool available here to break your drill work down to separate assignments. For example, you can use it to find all Identify the Flaw questions from exams 52-61, and so on. If you’d like, you can also print the PDF version of the question breakdown and use it to note which problems you’ll use for what.
Many learning systems have their own ways of categorizing question types, and, ideally, you’ll want your drilling to match up with your learning system. If you don’t feel like you are ready to decide on how you want to separate out your drill assignments, you can always wait to take this step until you’ve gotten through more of your learning. So, for example, you can just decide, for now, to utilize exams 52-61 for drilling, but wait to figure exactly how you want to split that up those problems for drill work until you know more about all the different question types and game types and so on.
Write out your schedule using the free Lsatter schedule templates, or using your own system.
Split up your study time evenly for the four phases of prep that we discussed above. If you feel that, because of the learning products you’ve chosen, you need a bit more time for that phase, or, because you want to focus more on drilling, you want a bit more time for that, don’t hesitate to adjust things as you see fit. You can always change things along the way as well. Then, break that work up as evenly as you can into individual weeks, and, when the time comes, break up that work into days.
Do your best to not over-cram your schedule. Ideally, you want some extra, unplanned study time—this will make it easier for you to stay on top of your work and make adjustments as necessary.
That’s it! Once you are done with these three steps you will have yourself an efficient, flexible, and personalized study schedule that can help to ensure that you’ve done all you can to perform at your best on test day.