Everyone who tries to land a huge improvement to their LSAT score will go through a long stretch of their LSAT score not improving. Back in the day when I first studied, my scores improved really quickly and easily. However, after just a few months of studying and increasing my score about 7-8 points (from 158 to the mid 160s) my progress just stopped. No matter how much I practiced, I was just stuck in the mid 160s. Because I had a low GPA, I absolutely needed a high LSAT–something in the 170s. Being stuck in the 160s drove me nuts!
I decided to kick my LSAT prep into overdrive. Back then I was super intense, and I tried a bunch of different things to try to improve just one or two points on my practice tests. Eventually I was able to get my practice scores into the 170s, and received a 170 on my actual LSAT. Getting a 170–a 98th percentile score–was absolutely important because admissions officers for my target schools revealed in public statements that a high LSAT score could overcome a bad GPA. Today I’ll share five methods that I found most effective. Basically, to sum up:
How to get 170 on the LSAT:
- Stop taking practice tests and do drills instead.
- Prioritize Logic Games, then Logical Reasoning, then Reading Comprehension.
- Focus on your strengths and have at least one perfect section.
- Improve your test-taking skills.
- Be patient. Over time you will see results.
#1. Stop Taking Practice Tests and Do Drills Instead
In the beginning, improving your score is simple. Just take lots of practice tests, grade them, find your mistakes, and learn from them. Doing this alone will help you increase your score. But after you’ve plateaued, this is NOT the right way to practice. You need to study your mistakes and look for patterns. There are probably a few types of questions that you’re getting wrong consistently. Or maybe there are questions you get right but take up an inordinate amount of time to answer. Do drills to improve these types of questions. If you’re not sure how to drill, there are plenty of resources on the Internet (books, courses, or tutors) who can help.
Note: If doing drills doesn’t feel uncomfortable or demoralizing, you’re doing it wrong! As renowned performance expert Anders Ericsson says in his new book Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise:
Research on many specialties shows that doctors who have been in practice for twenty or thirty years do worse on certain objective measures of performance than those who are just two or three years out of medical school. It turns out that most of what doctors do in their day-to-day practice does nothing to improve or even maintain their abilities; little of it challenges them or pushes them out of their comfort zones.
Deliberate practice–which drives improvement in performance–is inherently a very, very uncomfortable activity. When I studied, I was extremely anxious about improving my score and within several months, quickly blasted through 40 of the 41 officially released preptests. The problem was my score wasn’t where I wanted it to be but I basically ran out of questions. (I ended up having to re-take practice tests.) Although this is probably less of an issue today since there are far more released preptests, it’s still useful advice. You don’t want to use up the best LSAT practice tests (e.g. the ones from the past five years) too early or else you won’t have good practice material later on.
#2. Prioritize LG, then LR, then RC
Always remember that certain LSAT sections are easier to improve than others. If your worst section is Reading Comprehension (RC), but you’re still getting a few questions wrong in Logical Reasoning (LR) and Logic Games (LG), consider working on the latter two sections before tackling RC. That’s because improvements to Reading Comprehension come very, very slowly. The core ability RC tests is your reading ability which you’ve already been doing for a long time. LR and LG on the other hand, contain unique types of questions that test relatively unfamiliar skills. Accordingly, one can easily become familiar with them and quickly improve performance through practice.
Logic Games is probably the easiest section to improve. There are plenty of resources out there that can help you think about questions in the right way, properly diagram scenarios, and explain to you common questions. Back when I was studying, the Logic Games Bible by Powerscore was the premiere LG resource–but today there may be many other great resources.
#3. Improve Your Strengths and
Have at Least One Perfect Section
After you’ve taken a few tests you probably can identify your strongest section. (Preferably either LR or LG because as discussed above, RC is difficult to improve.) If you’re getting just a few questions wrong, work on trying to get at least one entire section 100% correct. That may mean you’ll have to drill the hardest of the hard questions. Or it may mean being so familiar with the “easy” questions that you can blast through them really quickly so you’ll have a lot of extra time to focus on the hard questions. Having a “perfect section” helps you psychologically in many ways. It’ll allow you to then focus exclusively on your biggest weaknesses.
When I practiced I was naturally better at Logical Reasoning questions. I sought to get at least 1 of the 2 LR sections 100% correct. This made me feel less stressed about my LG and RC sections (which I struggled mightily on) which helped me improve performance. Apparently worrying about how well I did on my weak sections made my performance worse. When I didn’t care as much, my performance improved! So having a “perfect section” reduced stress, which helped me increase my score.
#4. Improve Examsmanship Skills
Sometimes your plateau isn’t caused by your LSAT skills per se. Instead, it’s your test-taking ability. It’s kind of hard to explain what specifically encompasses “examsmanship” but it’s some combination of: (1) your stress levels while taking the test; (2) your ability to avoid making mistakes filling in bubbles; (3) how to not get mentally distracted by noise or if you end up at the test center from hell like I did. Improving examsmanship is highly dependent on the person–for some people meditation will work, for others confidence-building self talk works. And don’t underestimate bubble-filling skills–there’s a good chance you’ll run into this problem during the exam and even if you notice a discrepancy and fix it quickly, that’s time you’ve wasted that could have helped you answer the hard questions.
When I took the LSAT I found it helpful to write up a quick last minute self-talk guide so that I would remember all the little things before I took the exam. I included information such as:
in logical reasoning, the first ten questions should be done at a rough rate of one question per minute.
read reading comprehension questions VERY carefully. be sure about what the question is referring to.
you’re not shooting for a perfect raw score on the test, and you can sacrifice a question here or there. besides, odds are you will come back to it later and get it correct.
if you do actually feel like you bombed a section, DO NOT LET THIS AFFECT YOUR PERFORMANCE IN LATER SECTIONS!
You’ll notice that this information is highly customized to me personally and based on my mistakes during practice tests. If you create a self-talk guide, you need to create one customized for yourself that addresses your own unique strengths and weaknesses.
#5. Let Time Do the Heavy Lifting
Often improvement comes when we least expect it. I’m no scientist but from what I understand it takes time for our brains to make the proper connections (synapses or something) when we’re learning. You may find yourself drilling, drilling, and drilling with no improvement. Then suddenly one day everything clicks and your practice scores jump from 167 to 172. Taking time away from practice has long been cited as one way to drastically improve your LSAT score. It’s unclear why taking long breaks helps but some reasons may include avoiding burnout or reducing stress.
I was stuck in the high 160s on my practice tests for a really long time. Then, suddenly out of nowhere, I started scoring in the 170s. (Granted a lot of these were re-takes, but previously when I re-took the exams I still scored in the high 160s.) Sometimes it just takes time for your practice to sink in and become automatic. You can’t force it–it just takes time. That’s also why I often recommend to pre-law students to take as much time as possible to prepare for the LSAT, even if it means putting off law school for one more year.
If you enjoyed this post, please read my other law school admissions posts, including How to Get Into a Top Law School With a Low GPA.