LSAT Test-Taking: Why Understanding LSAT Content Isn’t Nearly Enough for Your Best LSAT Score

The October test cycle ended today (best of luck to all those who sat for the LSAT today!), and I had a chance to reflect (and catch up on some long-overdue reading). In reviewing the most recently released LSAC data on test performance, and some of the blog responses thereto, I was reminded of something important. Most articles and prep programs spend an abundance of time and energy discussing methodology of LSAT preparation. At Advise-In, as you may know, we take a more holistic approach (see my white paper here) to helping clients achieve their best score on the LSAT. There are innumerable things that affect test-takers’ achievement, and simply glossing over existing data with a “but this doesn’t account for our prep program’s superior methodology!” does test takers a disservice.

Now, although I’ve had guest bloggers relate to the issue in the past, I’m not so concerned here with speculating as to why, on average, women have been scoring a few points lower on the LSAT than men (or intriguingly, why the “Gender No Response” subgroup has the highest mean LSAT score across the 7 testing years covered by LSAC’s analysis). One thing I’m sure of: there’s no gender-based difference in the ability to understand the LSAT and command the material. And I’ve also observed that there’s no difference, among Advise-In clients as a whole, between the scores that women and men have obtained, or their improvement. None.

But the LSAC performance data did cause me to consider, in the context of my own practice, are there hidden factors that tend to hold test-takers back?

The answer is yes, and I think the best way to classify them is as psychological test-taking factors. In my own experience as an educator, method and comprehension are rarely the complete picture when a student is trying to do his or her best. In other words, there are things not related to ability or work ethic that can affect how one performs on tests.

I work hard with my clients on test-taking. As I tell prospective clients, at some point for most people, the majority of issues on the LSAT flip from being questions of content to questions of test-taking. In fact, I strongly believe that different test-taking accounts for an average of at least 7-10 correctly answered questions among people with comparable command of the material. In my own experience of the test, my perfect score reflected no better understanding of the material than did my earlier practice scores of 165 — it was all test-taking.

The importance of test-taking is also one of the reasons why, unlike any other company (to my knowledge) in the LSAT market, Advise-In’s data about score improvement takes the difference between an initial practice test and clients’ actual LSAT performance, not the difference between a diagnostic test and their last practice test; the latter, I believe, inflates the numbers. Advise-In’s success rates — 25% of clients in the top 2.5% of all test takers (that’s 170 or above), with average 16-point improvements to get to that score, and 40% of clients in the top 10% of all LSAT test takers — are based on actual scores, not a meaningless last practice test. Further information about how Advise-In’s data are calculated is found on our website.

Every test-taker is different, that is a key point. But if what follows rings at all true for any prospective takers of the LSAT, good, I hope it can help. If it doesn’t, also good, since you might have one less thing to worry about.

Here are the three most common test-taking obstacles which I see in my own clients:

  1. The underconfident test-taker.   This test-taker makes errors because he/she is indecisive and doesn’t trust the techniques learned and the abilities he/she has already honed in approaching the test. They have a little less self-confidence and a little more fear of the test.

    I ask my clients to do an analysis of questions they get wrong and I review what they tell me. It’s a lot of work for both of us but it pays off.  What I hear from such a test-taker — a lot — is that ‘well, I did my work and had an answer that was right, but…I thought it was too obvious’; or ‘I doubted that I was doing this the right way’; or even ‘the LSAT is a little beyond my ability’.

    Consequently, there’s a lot of trying to convince this group that they are as good at the LSAT as I think they are. I’m not lying when I tell some clients that they are (although I’m not sure they all believe me). They see the same data I do, so there wouldn’t really be any point in fibbing. Sometimes it’s striking, however, how little the data matters to confidence.

  2. The overconfident test-taker.  This test-taker’s issue lies in overconfidence, or an unwillingness to listen — not to me, but to the test. This group loves to argue with the LSAT. ‘My answer is as good or better than the test’s answer,’ is something I hear too frequently from this group.

    That means that they’re less inclined to try to learn the way the writers of the test think, which is the single biggest factor in success on the LSAT. Unlike underconfident test-takers, who will hesitate and not decide, overconfident ones often commit to an answer and then justify that answer against every other possibility. And that is just as damaging as hesitating too much.

    Consequently, I find myself explaining to these clients why they’re wrong and the LSAT writers are right. Most of them do overcome their tendency to argue with the test, but it is an obstacle and the earlier you overcome it, the better off you’ll be.

  3. The external pressures test-taker.  There are many versions of this issue. I’ll mention just one: the test-taker who places a lot of emphasis on making someone else happy through a great performance on the LSAT. While this might sound like a good motivator, I have actually found that too much emphasis on what others will think can have a dampening effect. To the extent that anyone is worrying too much about whether their family or spouse (or, for that matter, me) will be disappointed if they don’t get a great score, that person is less likely to get such a score.

    So I also spend a little time counseling being selfish — it’s your test, your score, your time. Any family member or friend worth his or her salt isn’t going to think one bit less of you if you get this score or that score, as long as you did your best.

It’s no accident that Advise-In’s clients do as well as they do. In the end, the accomplishment belongs to my clients. Some of it, surely, is due to my methodology: introduction of techniques, explaining answers, simplifying the test, working until we find the best technique for each type of question for each client, and working on execution efficiency. And a fair amount of it, equally surely, is in recognizing and dealing with any psychological obstacles that individual clients may have. Those have nothing to do with intelligence or ability. They have to do with seizing the moment in the best possible way.

It’s a long process but it usually works and when it does, on test days like today, I hope I’ve helped accomplish something that helped my clients not just on the LSAT, but will help them in the law and, more importantly, in life.

~ by Kyle Pasewark at Advise-in Solutions on October 5, 2013.

One Response to “LSAT Test-Taking: Why Understanding LSAT Content Isn’t Nearly Enough for Your Best LSAT Score”

  1. […] a candid and excellent reminder that when it comes to the content side of the LSAT (test-taking is another, and very important, matter), the single most important factor in LSAT success is learning to think […]

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