How long is the LSAT?

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LSAT Frequently Asked Questions

How long is the LSAT?
The LSAT consists of five sections of 35 minutes each, making for a total of 175 minutes of actual test time.

Note: four of these sections count toward your LSAT score, and one of these sections does not.  You will not know which section is the “unscored” section.

Note also:  the “LSAT Writing” section (formerly called the “Writing Sample”) is now administered separately from the rest of the LSAT.  It is not one of the five sections described above. 

Dead-battery performance curve

LSAT performance curve #2: the “dead battery”

As discussed in the first article of this series, which article discussed the “ramp-up” LSAT performance curve, question-by-question score results indicate that test-takers often fall into certain patterns.  In some of these patterns, a test-taker performs well at certain times and poorly at other times during a given administration.  Maximizing your score on LSAT day requires avoiding under-performing patterns.

The “dead-battery” curve

The dead-battery pattern occurs when the LSAT-taker runs out of energy before finishing the test. Here’s what the pattern looks like.

Dead-battery performance curve

Dead-battery performance curve

As shown, the test-taker who exhibits the “dead-battery” pattern performs well during the early sections of the LSAT but loses her effectiveness toward the end of the test.  Obviously, this pattern hurts the test-taker’s score with each question that missed, regardless of how well the test-taker performed in the earlier sections.

Causes for the dead-battery phenomenon vary.  In some cases, the test-taker is not in good physical health going into the test.  Perhaps the test-taker has a cold or is just not physically fit enough to maintain maximum concentration for the entire duration of the test.  In other cases, the test-taker did not prepare well, at the self-care level, leading up to the test—she didn’t get enough sleep during the days and weeks prior to the test or hasn’t been eating a healthy diet, for instance. Another reason could be that the test-taker sees “light at the end of the tunnel” with the approach of the end of the LSAT and subconsciously starts to “coast,” i.e., to take it easy rather than continue to work as hard as possible.  Whatever the reason, it’s important to avoid the dead-battery pattern.

Guarding against the dead-battery curve

To avoid falling into the dead-battery pattern, here are some tips. First, build your fitness level.  A big part of performing well mentally is being in good shape physically.  Exercise and a good diet are essential parts of one’s LSAT prep.

Second, take good care of yourself in the weeks leading up to the test.  Sleep has a dramatic impact on people’s ability to perform, whether on the LSAT or in some other activity.  Give yourself the opportunity to rest up fully each day.  You’ll get more out of your study time, and you’ll be ready to go the distance on test day.

Third, be aware of the risk of this pattern.  Recognize ahead of time that it’s easy to “slack off” when the test is almost over and when most of the work has been done.  Make a conscious commitment to be ready for this possibility and to immediately re-focus yourself if, during the latter portion of the LSAT, you feel your intensity waning.

The next article in this series will address the “roller-coaster” pattern.

 

 

successive narrowing example

Bar exam prep for essays: successive narrowing

When writing essays for the bar exam, bar review students should get in the habit of using “successive narrowing,” both in how they think about issues and in how they address issues.  This article seeks to introduce the basics of successive narrowing and its benefits.

Successive narrowing

Here’s a simplified “decision tree” diagram demonstrating successive narrowing in the context of a bar exam issue.

successive narrowing example

successive narrowing example

As shown, the first step is to identify the body of law in which the given issue falls (e.g., torts, criminal law, contracts).  Then move to the next-broadest layer (i.e., the layer that is immediately narrower) of issues.  After that, move to the next-broadest layer of issues, and so on.  Proceeding in this stepwise fashion, the bar exam essay writer successively narrows the issue from the broadest layer (what body of law) to the narrowest layer (perhaps elements of a cause of action, or even particular issues that arise within the context of a given element).

Essay writing in the successive-narrowing form

Each layer should get its own heading.  When a “freestanding issue” arises, i.e., an issue that does neatly fit into the decision tree, break that issue out, put a heading into the essay at approximately the point where this issue arises, and discuss it as any other issue (ideally, in classic ILFAC form).

Benefits of successive narrowing when writing essays

By disciplining oneself to think in terms of broadest to narrowest, one can significantly improve one’s issue-spotting ability.  Ask yourself questions along the lines of:

  • Is there a layer that’s even broader than the one I’m working on now?
  • Is the issue I’m working on now a subset of some other issue? (for instance, we may have jumped right to “battery” without first discussing “intentional torts”)
  • Is the issue I’m working on now one into which other issues fall?  (for example, while working on the “person of another” element in the illustration above, we may realize that we need to go on to discuss what “person of another” means or includes)

Beyond issue-spotting, successive narrowing also helps with the writing process itself.  Discussing issues in this manner feels easy—which is good—because it’s a logical way to proceed.

Moreover—and perhaps most importantly—reading and grading a bar exam essay written in the successive narrowing fashion is easier than one that proceeds haphazardly from one legal issue to another.  And easier grading produces a happy—indeed, grateful—grader.

 

"Ramp-up" performance curve

LSAT performance curve #1: the “ramp-up”

Test-taking performance on the LSAT sometimes adheres to certain common patterns that can be generally graphed on a timeline, with performance being the vertical axis and time being the horizontal.  This series of articles aims to provide an overview of the most common patterns and some guidance regarding how we can avoid the bad patterns.

The “ramp-up” curve

The ramp-up pattern occurs when the LSAT-taker gets off to a slow start.  Here’s what the pattern looks like.

"Ramp-up" performance curve

“Ramp-up” performance curve

As shown, the test-taker who exhibits the “ramp-up” pattern doesn’t really hit her stride until the second section of the LSAT.  This is not good, of course, because those points that have been missed in the first section—while the test-taker was still “ramping up”—cannot be gotten back.  Those points are gone forever, regardless of how well she performs on the later sections of the test.

It could be that the given test-taker hasn’t settled into the testing environment.  It could be that the test-taker is distracted by test anxiety or just hasn’t fully “woken up” yet that day.  But whatever the reason, it’s important that we avoid the ramp-up pattern, i.e., that we are performing at the very best of our ability from the very first question of the LSAT.

Avoiding the ramp-up pattern on LSAT day

To avoid falling into the ramp-up pattern, here are some tips.  First, familiarize yourself with the test environment before test day. Visit the testing center a few days prior to the day on which you will be taking the LSAT and get comfortable with the environment (e.g., know where the bathrooms are, how bright it is).

Second, be aware that anything can go wrong on test day; bad proctors, technical difficulties, uncomfortable temperatures, a last-minute change—all of these things can happen. Reconcile yourself to these risks ahead of time, and prepare to roll with the punches, to take everything in stride without getting flustered.

Third, if you are at all susceptible to falling into the ramp-up pattern—you know yourself to be, for instance, a “slow-starter”—then do a little warm-up routine on test day.  Before you leave home and head for the testing center, take a couple of logical reasoning questions, read a reading comprehension passage and answer the main point question, and set up one game.  That exposure to the types of material you’ll be seeing on the actual LSAT will get your wheels turning.

The next article will discuss the “dead-battery” performance curve.

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The speed myth

“I just need to go faster”

Students preparing for the LSAT, GRE, bar exam, or other standardized test often assert that they “just need to go faster.”  Students believe that speed is their main obstacle because, when the clock runs out, they still have several questions left unanswered.  Their inability to “race against the clock” successfully is, in their view, what prevents them from answering those questions and attaining a higher score.

But this emphasis on “speed” mischaracterizes what’s really happening, and that mischaracterization can cause a student to develop bad study habits, thereby decreasing her return on investment or “ROI” for study time.  This article seeks to dispel the “speed” myth.

You can’t go faster than you can go

Analogizing to other performance settings can be very beneficial when preparing for a test.  That’s because the process involved in other performance settings, such as the “performing arts” (e.g., music, theater, dance) and sports (e.g., soccer, swimming, fencing), are much more readily apparent to the external eye or ear than are the internal workings of a test-taker’s mind.

Imagine a music student who is just beginning to read music and to play piano.  The student is, understandably, struggling to read and to play the simplest material.  She plunks one note on the piano keyboard, then looks at the sheet music, deciphers what is written there, looks back to the keyboard, counts around to find the right key, looks at her fingers, and then plunks another note.  This one-note-at-a-time phase is something through which almost all piano players must pass.  Even the greatest piano players in the world had to start somewhere.

If we were to hand this one-note-at-a-time beginner a page of sheet music from, say, West Side Story and command the student to “play this piece at the intended tempo [speed]—now,”  what would be the result?  A big mess.  The student simply can’t play the piece yet at anything close to resembling the intended tempo of the song.  If the student attempts to play much faster than she is currently capable of playing, the result will only be noise, a cacophony of wrong notes banged out on a piano with virtually no resemblance to the piece nominally being “played.”  Moreover, the student will gain almost nothing from such a practice session (unless the student’s goal is to become better at making noise).  Worse, in attempting something far beyond her capacity, the student may develop bad habits or lose heart, focus, and commitment to the task of learning piano altogether.  She may even conclude “I can’t play piano,” give up music, and move on to some other activity.

The above discussion applies equally to test-takers:  a student who attempts to go faster than her current skill level allows will soon just be doing little more than guessing at each answer—and developing bad habits and a bad attitude in the process.

To summarize, speed cannot be increased independently: if one attempts to go faster than one can go, nominal “speed” will increase at the expense of other aspects of performance, resulting in nothing but literal or figurative “noise.”

This discussion will be continued in a separate article.

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Bar Exam Prep: Augmented Reading

Maximizing the “return on investment” of solitary study time

While time spent in passive activities, such as attending a bar review class or meeting with your bar exam tutor, is beneficial, the reality is that most of your bar prep time will be spent alone.  This alone time will, for the most part, comprise reading, writing, and test-taking.  Maximizing the return on investment—the “ROI”—of this time calls for, among other things, creating the right study environment.

Disrupted reading

Reading comprehension can get derailed when a person encounters a word that she doesn’t fully understand, even with respect to the words in the given passage that she does understand.  It’s as though that one gap disrupts the entire mental apparatus required for effective reading comprehension.  This disruption may occur because the reader loses concentration, or experiences an increased sense of anxiety, or doesn’t feel certain about how to mentally “file” the remainder of the passage in the absence of the missing information.  Whatever the reason, this disruption is bad for one’s ROI.

Augmented reading

In order to avoid such disruption, LEX recommends that all bar exam study be performed in an “augmented reading” environment.  Some aspects of an augmented reading environment—good lighting, for example—are covered elsewhere; the present article focuses on the presence of other materials in one’s environment during the reading process.

In particular, when a person is reading bar exam materials, such as bar review books pertaining to torts or contracts, one should always have the following items within arm’s length, i.e., literally “within reach” so that you can stretch out your arm and pick them up:

  • a recent hard copy of Black’s Law Dictionary, or equivalent
  • a recent hard copy of Merriam-Webster Dictionary, or equivalent

Presence and proper usage of these resources will allow you to offset the reading-comprehension disruption discussed above while also allowing you to move boldly through the material in confidence that you’ve “got backup” when you need it.

NOTE:  a physical copy (“hard copy”) of the above two dictionaries is highly preferable.  Electronic, and particularly web-based, dictionaries are much less desirable. Reading comprehension for electronic publications is lower generally, and looking up something in such a resource is itself disruptive, particularly if the given resource also includes a bunch of clutter (advertisements, etc.).

Process for Augmented Reading

When reading your bar review materials, each time you encounter a “regular” word—i.e., one that has no special meaning in law, is not a “term of art” for law—that you do not fully recognize, stop right then and there (at the end of the given sentence) and look that word up in your Merriam-Webster Dictionary.  Even if you just feel a little “shaky” on the meaning of that word, look it up.  Study the definition until you’ve “got it” and then return to reading, either at the beginning of the sentence that included the word, or, if you’ve lost the context, at the beginning of the paragraph in which that word appeared.

Similarly, any time you encounter a legal word—one that does have a special meaning in or occurs exclusively in law—that you don’t fully recognize, look it up in your Black’s Law Dictionary and follow the process as described above.

Through augmented reading, you will improve the return on investment of your study time: better reading comprehension, better retention of what you’ve learned. You’ll also decrease any anxiety you may experience while studying.  And you’ll also increase your vocabulary along the way—always a good thing for people entering a word-intensive profession like law.

 

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LSAT Prep | Reading Comprehension

Original posting date: Feb. 2, 2007

Introduction

The law school admission test (LSAT) consists of four scored sections, each section representing one of three section types: (i) logical reasoning, (ii) analytical reasoning, oftentimes called “logic games “, and (iii) reading comprehension or “reading comp”. This blog entry will focus on the reading comprehension section of the LSAT.

Reading Comprehension Overview

Reading comprehension accounts for approximately 28% of the scored questions on the LSAT, while logical reasoning makes up about 50%, and logic games about 22%. Reading comprehension is therefore the second most important section of the LSAT in terms of numerical impact on one’s score.

However, reading comprehension seems to have become increasingly difficult in recent years, making it the “haymaker” section of the LSAT for many students, including those who are scoring well into the 170s. This increase in difficulty may be attributable to a heightened recognition by the test makers that reading comprehension is an indispensable and top-value skill for the successful law student. But whatever the reason, students must be aware that reading comprehension cannot be treated as an afterthought in one’s study regimen—which is all too commonly done as a result of the over-emphasis of the “games” section by most LSAT prep companies.

Check this blog periodically for more information on how you can “Test at Your Best” on actual LSAT day.

Happy reading — and comprehending!