Education Research Reveals that Testing Is a Learning Experience: Some Implications for LSAT Preparation (and Why Just Testing Doesn’t Go Far Enough)

The journal Science reports the findings of a study that testing itself is one of the best ways to learn and master difficult material.  Better than studying without testing—lots better.  That confirms what I’ve known for a long time about the LSAT and is part of Advise-In’s Free White Paper, “Five Key Reasons LSAT Takers Fail to Achieve Their Highest Score.”  One of the best ways to prepare is to take actual LSATs—under conditions that replicate the test as well as possible—often.  But it’s not enough.  It’s the type of practice and its focus that matters, not mere practice.  The get the best LSAT prep, you’ll need focused practice.

About half my LSAT clients are former customers of other LSAT preparation programs, including Kaplan, TestMasters, PowerScore, Princeton Review and Knewton.  These programs generally asked students to take 4 or 5 LSATs or simply left the number up to the individual student.  Aside from the small number, however, the practice is remarkably unfocused.  That’s why these clients are often considering retaking the LSAT.  It won’t help you to take 4, 5 or 50 exams if your program doesn’t do serious post-exam work.  Here’s what you and a good LSAT prep course should do.  After every practice LSAT, you should make sure that you understand each of your errors as well as questions you got right but were unsure about (and if you don’t understand, that you have a person committed to you whom you can call and who will call you if your analysis isn’t accurate).  That’s why I look at every piece of paper my clients produce—not just the answer sheet scans but everything.  I want to see and discuss with each of them individually how they’re working through questions, marking choices and passages, diagramming games—everything.

Even those analytics, helped by Advise-In’s proprietary database, aren’t enough.  To work on accuracy and timing, you’ll need to take some time getting comfortable with techniques and approaches on days you’re not taking LSATs.  You’ll need to make the exams—practice and real—simpler and more transparent to you.  The best way to do that is through carefully selected LSAT questions outside the exam format.  So, in addition to exams, I select such LSAT questions for each of my clients in exercises that focus on areas of weakness, lock in advances and otherwise trouble-spot.  Then those are analyzed.  Is a person consistently missing a certain type of question, skipping over key words like quantifiers and qualifiers, taking too long with certain kinds of questions, etc.?  Are certain techniques working better than others for this person?  Has that changed over time?  Then we take what we learn into the next practice.

That’s focused, consistent practice.  I received a call from a person who had, she told me, taken “every LSAT available” but her score hadn’t improved.  The reason was that it was just one darn thing after another—she hadn’t paused to analyze patterns, and the program she was enrolled in didn’t emphasize, much less help her with, that analysis.

Nor do some companies’ online resources help very much, in my view.  For one thing, they rely on the student to figure out the problem.  That can get you just so far unless you have no need of any LSAT prep course.  What the best LSAT prep courses should do is have an expert who independently analyzes all of your work to uncover issues you didn’t know you had as well as homing in those you knew about.  That’s why you’re paying them, isn’t it?  For expertise, not to just take your money.  We won’t even talk about the internet chatter coming from people who are in the same position you are—trying to figure this thing out.  The frankly goofy strategies of trying to figure out statistically whether “A” is a better choice than “B,” which types of questions you should skip and so on, are all distractions in themselves and take extra time that you don’t have (and if you have extra time, you don’t need the strategies).  Nothing substitutes for calmly and efficiently just doing your job on the question in front of you and then moving on to the next one.  The internet exchanges persist, I suspect, because LSAT takers have been left to fend for themselves by their LSAT prep courses.

Of course, it’s also odd that most major companies programs have their customers do so few LSATs.  Odder still is that most persist in giving 4-section exams rather than the 5-section exam you’ll actually take on exam day.  That means that most of their practice tests aren’t likely to achieve even what Science says they should, because they’re not really LSATs at all—they’re partial LSATs, which defeats the purpose.  You can’t build endurance and consistent concentration for the real LSAT if your practice LSATs are knock-offs.

Test-taking is a learning device, and a good one, provided that it actually replicates the test format, is repeated often enough and, most important, is followed by detailed, personal analysis and corrective exercises that aren’t simply more random practice.

~ by Kyle Pasewark at Advise-in Solutions on January 27, 2011.

2 Responses to “Education Research Reveals that Testing Is a Learning Experience: Some Implications for LSAT Preparation (and Why Just Testing Doesn’t Go Far Enough)”

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  2. […] of cognitive research that shows why simply repeating practice isn’t sufficient and it’s also common sense.  We’re not down with Allan Iverson, who famously dissed the importance of practice; if you […]

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