Timing can be everything – especially on the LSAT. Running out of time to answer questions is one of the most frustrating – and universal – problems test-takers face. The test is designed to challenge your ability to pace yourself and allocate time efficiently. If you find the clock is wreaking havoc with your ability to answer all the questions and answer them accurately, then listen in as our guests outline a plan to put you on pace to get everything done within the allotted time and give you the tools you’ll need to maximize the number of points you earn.
- Noah Teitelbaum, Manhattan LSAT, Executive Director, Academics
- Glen Stohr, Kaplan Test Prep, Senior Manager for Content Development
- Steve Schwartz, LSAT Tutor, Editor LSAT Blog
- John Fowler, LSAT test-taker and Columbia Law School student
Welcome to Law School Podcaster, your source for inside information and advice on the law school application process. I’m Diana Jordan.
Aiming for that elusive 180 on your LSAT? Get your pacing down, and you might just get close. Or, if you’ve already taken the test, you can improve your current score, whether it’s now in the 150s or even in the low 170s. In this show, you will learn that there are proven strategies for maximizing the number of points you can earn, and we’ll delve into LSAT time management techniques that will put you on pace for a higher score.
As the Executive Director of Academics for Manhattan Prep, Noah Teitelbaum says, “There’s a strict 35-minute time limit in there, not so much to test how fast you think, it’s to test whether you know how to prioritize what to do.”
And along with pacing, knowing when to skip questions and techniques for which questions to tackle first, or just leave on the table, there’s something else to keep in mind, says Steve Schwartz, a professional LSAT tutor and the man behind LSAT Blog, “You’ve got to really develop an appreciation for the LSAT. I certainly did.”
We’ll hear some encouraging words from our student, John Fowler, now in his third year at Columbia Law School. “It is a learnable test. Most people can get a score that they’re comfortable with.”
We’re also joined by Glen Stohr, who is Senior Manager for Content Development in the Graduate products division at Kaplan.
Kaplan’s Glen Stohr notes that each section of the test is 35 minutes, but that doesn’t mean everyone will finish. He says the LSAT is built to distinguish students along a bell curve. “Part of what helps the test- maker to do that is of course the difficulty of questions, the order and selection of tasks that are in the questions. But then also, there’s the aspect of time. If everyone who took the test had an endless amount of time, it would be harder to distinguish folks, because time management and zeroing right in on really important criteria in an argument, zeroing right in on really important rules in a pattern of rules — that’s a law school skill. And it’s something that, in law school, folks that are getting ready for that have to remember they’ll feel again there that they don’t possibly have enough time to do all of the reading that’s been assigned and to keep up with all of their work. And so, there’s no doubt that effective time management and being strategic about how you read, strategic about what you zero in on, is a skill that helps you be prepared for the rigors of law school.”
John Fowler is a 3L at Columbia Law School. He says time management was the biggest problem he faced in taking the LSAT, at least the first time, when he scored 163. His second score was 175. Logic games presented the biggest time management challenge at first, then reading comp, and he says he had fewer issues with logical reasoning. “For logic games I think I had the problem with timing because I couldn’t give up on a problem when I wasn’t going to get it. For very obvious questions in each logic game problem – and usually they came earlier in the problem – when I got to the hard ones I would get hung up on them. And you know, of the four logic games that were available, I would get through maybe two. I would get hung up on those hard questions. I couldn’t, [as they say], ‘cut bait’, I think, and just move on. [I had a] similar problem with reading comp, as well. I wasn’t letting things go when I couldn’t figure it out, and it would eat up time. I was averaging something like 30 seconds to a minute per question on most of the questions. Then I would get to these hard ones and use three to four minutes then. And obviously you can’t finish if you’re kind of misallocating time in that way. So I think that was the thrust of it. I just wasn’t triaging in an effective manner.”
First consider what score you are reasonably shooting for, says Steve Schwartz. “Top scorers will be able to consistently complete each section with at least a few minutes to spare. But it’s still going to be a [taxing process], especially given that some of the exam’s sections are back-to-back. I think that for test-takers who are shooting for 165 and above, they’re going to want to attempt every single question on the exam. And doing so requires speeding through the easy questions, in order to allow enough time for the more difficult questions.”
There are the easy, the tough, and the impossible questions, according to Manhattan Prep’s Noah Teitelbaum. “It’s on the easy questions and the impossible questions that you can save time. The easy questions should be the things that are in your wheelhouse, the things you’re really good at and you know how to do it; you know what’s coming; you can move fast. And so you burn time. And what you don’t want to do is enjoy these easy questions. And that can be something people do – they luxuriate, Oh, I love this question, it’s so easy. Let me really, you know, let me get my full point, really. No, instead, move faster on those. On the impossible questions, I hate to break it to you, but if they’re impossible, they’re impossible. So, just move on. You know, the faster you can get that wrong, the better, because you want to save time from both the easy and the impossible questions, for the tough questions. These are the questions where you need a little bit more than the average amount of time. Now in terms of average amount of time, it depends on the section and whatnot, but that… let’s say for logical reasoning, on average, you’re spending a minute and 20 per question. If you save some time for some tough question you could afford to spend a minute and 50. And then that’s what you need for that tough question, perhaps, to get it right.”
How fast you zip through the sections should depend on the score you reasonably desire, according to blogger Steve Schwartz. “For someone who’s shooting for a 165 or above, should attempt every question on the exam. And for that reason, [they] shouldn’t spend any time thinking about the order in which to complete things, because that takes time, and time is a major component of the exam. So instead, I think they should just simply attack the questions in the order in which they’re given. However, for someone who is not planning to complete every question within a section, if they see something they know is going to be really tough for them, they might want to skip it if it doesn’t yield to resistance… yield to any attempt to solve it relatively quickly. And then maybe hope to come back to it later in the section if they have time.”
Practice all the sections at once because each complements and informs the others, recommends Teitelbaum. He says what bogs you down is wanting to be perfect. “The things that are bogging people down, the number one thing again is this drive to get every single question right. Unless you are really in the ballpark for a 180, like where you’ve been getting 177s and ’8s and ’9s, or maybe 180s on your practice test, you’re not going to get every question right. So, go and get some wrong, and get the really hard ones wrong that are really time-consuming.”
Fowler found that wanting to be perfect got in his way, “And I think just becoming more comfortable with the test itself, figuring out how the test is scored, and having the confidence to say, I can move on. And I can be okay with moving on, because I know that I can get a score that I want…I’m moving on. And in fact, if I don’t move on, I’m not going to get a score that I do want.”
Focus on your current goal, like five or ten points higher, and Teitelbaum says your strategy will depend on that. “Let’s start with logical reasoning. For folks who are trying right now to get up into the low 160s, you want to have finished about half the logical reasoning section in about half the time. And this means you’re going to be a little compressed in the second half. But the truth is that’s where you’re going to get questions wrong anyway. So, go and get that first half right, because that’s the bulk of your points. And then make the tough decisions in the second half — ‘I think this question really, really sucks – I’m only going to give it 30 seconds because I can tell. And if I have time at the end I’ll come back and give it a shot.’ So, that’s what I want the low 160 aimers to do.
“The people who are right now trying to get into the 170s, they’re probably already doing that timing, or even better. And the timing for those folks should be the first 15 questions in 15 minutes. So about a minute a question, or even better, because you need to burn through those early questions, most of which are going to be pretty easy, so that you have time to spend on those tough questions.
“In terms of reading comp and logic games, we can actually group those together, because they have a similar structure. They both have four things. So, four passages or four games. And they tend to get harder through the section, but it’s not always true. A rigid timing strategy is not going to work with these, because one game or one passage may be tougher for you than another. So you can’t say, ‘Oh, well then the first one I’ll do quickly; the second one I’ll do a little bit… you know, I’ll spend a little more time, and then the last one I’ll spend the most time.’ It may just be that the second one is significantly harder than the third for you. So instead, what I recommend is the idea of a time bank. Give yourself eight minutes per game, or eight minutes per section, and if you burn through one of those faster, then you’ve put some time in the bank that you get to spend. That’s a more flexible idea, and one that you need to practice on several LSATs, if not more, in order to really put into practice.”
Take a minimum of three months to practice and prepare for the LSAT. Pacing is vital, and again, Schwartz says, it’s up to you. “Logic games and reading comprehension can both very easily be divided into quarters because there are four games per section, and four passages per section. So that gives you an average of eight minutes and 45 seconds per game or passage, given that there’s 35 minutes per section. However, not every logic game is equally easy, and not every reading comprehension passage is equally easy. So for that reason, you might want to devote less than eight minutes and 45 seconds to a particularly easy game or passage, and then allow yourself more than that average, maybe 10 minutes or 11 minutes for an especially difficult game or passage.
“And then for the logical reasoning section, since everything is in a general average order of difficulty, you should attempt to get through the first questions of the section in less than the average amount of time, which would be less than a minute and 25 seconds or so per question, to allow yourself more than that on the more difficult questions.”
Students have boosted their scores as a result of boosting their own confidence, observes Steve Schwartz. “With regard to the logic games section, each correct answer is mathematically very high, but you can deductively arrive at a correct solution for each and every question in the entire section. You don’t have the same ambiguities of language that you do in logical reasoning and reading comprehension, which can create trouble and get test-takers down to two choices and not able to choose correctly between them.
“I think another aspect of the exam that test-takers find especially frustrating is the inclusion of science-themed reading comprehension passages and science-themed logical reasoning questions. And I think that test-takers would be aided by remembering on those questions that this is not a test of knowledge. It’s a test of thinking, and of argumentation, so you want to find the conclusion of any argument that you see, and the evidence for it, just as you do with regard to all of the other logical reasoning questions.”
John Fowler would time himself per passage or game to figure out where the time sucks were happening. “In terms of pacing I just started doing things untimed first – untimed as in not sticking to a 35-minute time limit. Then I would go back and see, adding up all the times for each section, figuring out which was the most time, which was the least, and then kind of calibrating to… it had to map to my strengths and weaknesses, and then focusing on the weaknesses as opportunities for improvement.”
You have the option of skipping around in each section, and in fact, Teitelbaum says, go get all the easy answers first. “So I’m a big advocate in starring questions, after you’ve tried them for a little bit and realized it’s really too hard, putting in an answer on your answer sheet just in case you don’t end up getting back to it, and saying to yourself, I’ll come back to this question when I have time. It’s really crucial for getting your top score.”
Should you skip? Guess? Strategize. Triage your questions and dispassionately decide which questions to take first, suggests Stohr. “Your job is more correct answers. And if you get… if you get those by skipping one question, or guessing on a couple and having the time then to get other questions right, you’re a smart test-taker. Don’t ever… don’t ever on the LSAT skip because you feel defeated, or guess because of you telling yourself, I couldn’t do it. Skip and guess because you’re a smart test-taker, and you’re saying, The best way for me to get more points is to let this one go for a minute, get through the rest of the section, and if I have time then I can come back to it. But you know, think of yourself maybe like a good hitter in baseball – if you swing at every pitch you’ll be out pretty soon. But if you say, I’m going to let that one go by, and I’m going to let that one go by, and then you get the one that you can hammer…home run! That’s really… that’s really an important thing to remember about the test.”
There are a few strategies for when to guess or to skip, which Fowler uses. “As long as I could get rid of two, I would guess, because the penalty is relatively small for guessing. In terms of skipping questions, I would do it when I knew that I couldn’t figure it out immediately, or I knew… For example, with a logic game, I didn’t have a trick that would help me shave off time. If I looked at a logic game, or rather a question regarding a logic game, and I knew that it would require me to sit down and make a chart, maybe do an equation, as horrifying as that sometimes was, or kind of just walk through a lot of steps, that’s when I would skip it, and tell myself, ‘It’s okay not to have an answer here; if you do have time at the end, you can go back and do it. But if this looks like it’s going to take, you know, three times longer than these other questions, it doesn’t make sense to dump the time here, because all the questions are equal in the end.’”
There is no penalty for guessing, so Teitelbaum says, guess. “A lot of times when you get to a really impossible question, you have some tools to use to eliminate some answer choices. A lot of times we’re guessing between three or even two. And you know, there’s a point of diminishing returns. You keep spending… you know, [if] you spend two and a half minutes on a question, the likelihood of you getting that right is actually pretty low, if it’s that tough. So you might as well just spend that time somewhere else. But definitely guess.”
There’s also a strategy to filling in your answer sheet. Teitelbaum bubbles after every question, and there are two reasons for that: “One, I need a slight break between questions. So when I’m bubbling I take a breath; it helps me clear my mind; I’m ready for the next question. The other thing is, I don’t want to have to calculate how much time am I going to need to bubble in at the end of the test? Because knowing me, I might start to play with them, like, well I know I could do it in a minute, but maybe I can do it in 45 seconds. You know, let me see if I can spend a little bit more time on this last question. I’d rather know that I can work all the way up to the last moment. So I strongly recommend bubbling as you go. I know some people bubble at the end. I’m amazed; it seems to me a recipe for misbubbling, but… I like to do a question; I look at the number; I look at the number on my answer sheet; I say the answer; I put it in and I’m taking a breath — next question.”
Be strategic and manage your time. And it’s a good idea to really study your results. “Just be really diligent and support yourself in working through these problems, because just taking them again, and again, and again doesn’t actually mean you’re learning. But going back and figuring out why you got things wrong is sort of the definition of learning. Don’t repeat the same mistakes.”
[If] the test feels so fast, you don’t read too slowly, you read too many times, says Stohr. “They will wind up for one question rereading that paragraph three or four or five times. What they need to learn to do is to do each step that’s required for that question once, and do it right. Read the question stem first, what’s my task? Aha, now I know what to focus on in the stimulus. There’s the author’s conclusion. There’s her evidence. I understand what she’s assuming. She’s assuming a link between that evidence and that conclusion. I will use that understanding as a prediction of the right answer. I do not need to read that stimulus again. Using my prediction, does A match her assumption? No, it does not. B? No, it does not. C? Yes, it does. And what that has done is actually allowed you to take a dense piece of text and five probably closely written, very carefully written answer choices… but for any part of that question you have looked at it once; you have extracted what’s relevant or important for you as a test-taker; and now you can apply it with efficiency.”
The LSAT will determine not only the schools you can get into, but also the amount of scholarship money you’ll receive. “And that’s something that I think it’s easy to forget when we’re applying through the process, because we’re looking for everything. It’s exciting to get into these great schools, but it’s also incredibly, incredibly expensive. $220,000 for three years, including housing and all of that, is a lot of money. And being able to have options, I think, is a great thing to have, and the LSAT can play a big role in figuring out those options.”
Don’t try to hit a homerun. A single or a double will serve you well. That’s because the LSAT can be really demoralizing, according to Teitelbaum. “Just set your goal one point higher than your last prep test. So, if you got a 163, go in there on your next practice test and get a 164. Just one point at a time, and you’ll get there. And celebrate those achievements. Don’t… when you get that 164, don’t say, ‘Well, I didn’t get a 166.’ No, you got one point higher than last time – great. And then if you get another 164 right after that, great, you’re now consistently able to get a 164. So, celebrate those achievements, and keep yourself realistic.”
One of the best strategies for picking up points is to not luxuriate on the easy questions, as Teitelbaum says. Zip through those as quickly as you possibly can so you have time for the hard questions. And then there are the impossible questions – skip those, and go back if you have time in the end. If you can narrow down your answers, consider guessing, since you only lose points if you don’t answer. Discover where you’re losing points by timing yourself during practice sessions. Devise a strategy that you like for bubbling accurately, and for giving yourself a beat to pause and refocus between questions. There’s a lot riding on the LSAT. By shaving time and increasing your score, you may be expanding your options with better law schools and more scholarship money.
For more information, a transcript of this show, or to sign up to receive more law school podcasts, visit www.LawSchoolPodcaster.com. Look for us on Facebook and Twitter to get the latest news and insight into the world of law school. I’m Diana Jordan, with Law School Podcaster. Thanks for listening. Stay tuned for more shows as we explore another topic of interest, to help you succeed in the law school application process, and beyond.