If you’re planning on taking the LSAT, you know that there are plenty of online and in-print resources with tips and tricks for mastering the exam. You also know that there are few places to find all of that information — hundreds of web-tutorials and thousands of workbook pages coupled with real-world experience and expertise — summarized in only a few pages. If you have started your LSAT studies and are seeking a comprehensive “cheat sheet” of tried and true LSAT recommendations, look no further than this curated list from Noodle Pro Kevin Shea.
For Your Prep Process
1. Use real tests. The LSAC has released more real exams than any other test company. Take advantage of that! Buy some of the 10 Actual Preptests books to use for prep.
2. Establish a baseline: take a practice test from a recent book to see what score range you’re starting in, and what sections pose the biggest challenge.
3. Now, take it differently. If you want to change your score for the better, you have to change the way you take the test. This isn’t like a history exam, where “knowing things” will change your score; it’s not even a test where many hours of pure, undirected “practice” will make you considerably better. It’s a test of reasoning processes. You need to change your test behaviors for the better in order to change your score for the better.
4. Zero in on what you’re worst at. Mostly, people hate this —but if you don’t work on the sections in which you’re missing the most questions, you won’t get significantly more questions right.
5. Keep in mind that Logical Reasoning is half the test. Don’t just compare single sections; if you’ve got 6 wrong on each Logical Reasoning section, and 7 each in Reading Comp and Logic Games, those 12 are still hurting you more than either 7. You need to be good at Logical Reasoning to do well on the test.
6. Try to find a pattern that unites many of the questions you missed in your worst section. This is difficult, but it’s likely the part where tutoring is most beneficial. People studying alone can use 7Sage’s tool to break down percent correct by question type, but this misses a great deal of possible strategy patterns.
7. Devise or select a strategy targeting the pattern. For example, if you’re getting all the Parallel Reasoning questions wrong, try to diagram the prompt argument first, to compare the answer choices to something that is simplified.
8. Focus on testing something on each test (or section)–using the example above, do a section or two where you try and do that, and see if your accuracy on Parallel Reasoning improves. Try not to test multiple variables for the same question types on the same sections, because you won’t be able to tell which ones help; don’t take one section as proof of an exact amount of improvement, because they’re variable.
9. Keep a log. It will be hard to tell how your interventions are working without being able to review how you’ve done on practice tests and sections. Keep an ordered, dated log of sections with the number (and ideally, the type) of questions you got wrong on each one.
10. Use resources to find strategies. It’s hard to figure out an intervention for many question types on your own. Effective tutors will be able to help you with this. If it’s not possible to get a tutor, the PowerScore Bibles for each section are universally respected and may be a good place to start practicing; you can build up habits and strategies based on them (especially if you’re starting from 0 on the Logic Games and formal logic).
11. Save some recent tests for nearer to your administration date. You’ll want to use them periodically to get a sense of your real score range. Do the bulk of your early timed practice using sections from earlier tests.
12. Avoid surprises. As the test approaches, take tests as “realistically” as possible. Wake up on a Saturday, as early as you’ll have to in order to get to your administration. Drink the amount and type of coffee you’re planning to drink at the time you’re planning to drink it. Eat the breakfast you’re planning to eat. Take a practice test that starts at your test time with the analog watch you’ll use on test day, eat the break snack you’re planning to use, and see how it goes. If anything was off (e.g., twitchy? Too much coffee), switch it up and try again.
Overall Test Tips
13. There is one correct answer. This is a lawyer test. It’s in English, but it’s really in logic. Maybe one or two questions per test can be invalidated by virtue of not being perfect, but otherwise, they’re written like contracts.
14. That means if you’re waffling between two, you haven’t yet seen the distinction that makes one right and the other wrong.
15. There are (x = 35 ÷ # of questions in section…) usually around 1.4 minutes per question, so as long as you never exceed that much time on a question, you will not only be able to finish, you’ll be able to spend at least one minute on each question.
16. That means pacing=prioritizing correctly. It’s not about going fast, it’s about not getting bogged down. It’s discipline.
17. You can use a Stopwatch app to see this in action. Time a section in which you usually move slowly, hitting “lap” after each question you complete (and after each passage, if reading). Most likely, you’ll note that relatively few of the questions you’re spending way too long on are eating more time than the small overruns on the others. (You may also find you get these wrong anyway, really highlighting the waste).
18. When you find yourself spending too long, pick your favorite answer choice and circle or box the question number. You can always go back if the extra time is available, but if it isn’t, you would have run out of time and you could never get back. If, like me, you’re a bit obsessive, using a circle or box helps your brain justify the question as “completed” for now.
19. Personally, I circle total guesses, and box questions if I like my answer but don’t know exactly how to disprove the trap answer or don’t have time to disprove the others (during a pacing disaster). You can use whatever system you like, as long as it’s consistent enough to streamline using your leftover minute.
20. If you haven’t been able to fix your weakness on a specific question type, skip it and come back to do it last. This automates some of your pacing; it will localize the effect of your question type weaknesses to those question types. Otherwise, you might burn too much time on these and hurt yourself on questions you’d otherwise get. (This is mostly applicable to the Logical Reasoning sections or the final passage/game for the other sections).
21. Use your analog watch intelligently. At the beginning of the test, have your watch hands set on 12:00 with the crown pulled out. As the section begins, press the crown in. You’ll be able to easily track how much time has elapsed and how close you are to the end. Then, when the section ends, reset your watch to 12:00 and repeat.
22. Process eliminate on every (non-Logic Games) question. You want to get in a flow where each answer choice is being quickly and efficiently considered. If an answer choice is wrong, cross off its letter, and if you think one is likely right you can ✓ it and keep checking the rest, but also:
23. Use “maybe” marks. On my first pass through the answer choices, I draw a ~ next to the letter of any answer choice I’m unsure about, or that might work.
24. Use “what?” marks. On my first pass through the answer choices, I draw a ? next to any answer choice written so confusingly I don’t get it on the first go, or so seemingly out of left field that I don’t see whether or how it relates to the prompt.
25. Using the above marks allows you to deal with an answer choice temporarily before seeing the others. Some questions have correct answers that are confusing, weak, or not immediately intuitive. If you were to eliminate one of these before realizing the others are wrong, you’d be very unlikely to bring it back and very likely to waste considerable time trying to decide between wrong answers, doomed to get the question wrong anyway. Leaving the answer choice as a maybe until you see the others means that, when they’re eliminated, you’ll know it has to be right (even if you don’t understand it!) On the flip side, if you ~ or ? these, and then come across a clearly ideal answer choice E, you will likewise not need to engage with ~ or ? to select E. This is a hugely important timesaver.
26. Consciously consider this a two-part process. Because most incorrect answer choices are not particularly compelling traps, you’ll usually be able to eliminate 2 or 3 without much effort. When you’re down to the remaining, trickier answer choices, it’ll be harder to evaluate and you may need additional information or consideration. Consider this a two-part process and “switch gears” for the second part.
27. Keep your pencil moving, whether under the text you’re reading or eliminating answer choices. This will keep your brain actively considering what you’re moving over, and stop you from wasting time zoning out or replaying the same sentence in your mind.
28. Get very comfortable with formal logic. Though the test largely limits the use of formal logic to “if-then” statements, transitivity and contrapositives, formal logic underlies most of the test. Much of the difficulty will be translating between English and formal logic, and you won’t be able to easily do so unless you’re very solid on it to begin with.
29. Prominently write the “cast of characters”. If Andrew, Beth, Cory, Dennis, Edith and Frances are giving speeches in a certain order, write ABCDEF. This will help to see what you’re missing when you’re part-way through a solution.
30. Draw a big, unalterable slots diagram for the game. You can refer to this whenever you create a potential solution.
31. If there are an indeterminate number of elements used in any group, determine the maximum and minimum number of elements used. You don’t necessarily need to be entirely sure; I often begin with a simple estimate as to the maximum number of elements in a group, and lower it when I realize the rules don’t allow for that many.
32. Draw slots for the minimum number of elements, and “ghost slots” for the remaining possible elements. I draw my ghost slots as dotted lines, helping me visualize what needs to go where and what may go where. If I infer that some rule means the maximum is actually lower for a group, I’ll erase the extra slots.
33. Mark the diagram with all important, unchanging info: if there’s someone always in the same slot, write them in on your diagram. If there are people who can never be in a given slot, mark these crossed off under your slots.
34. Make sure you infer “X not last” from “X goes before Y” and “X not first” from “X comes after Y”; this extends through multiple instances (e.g., if it comes after two things, it can’t be in the first or second slot).
35. If the list of elements that can’t occupy a slot is getting extensive, consider listing those elements that can. If there are seven elements in the game and four “not here” elements listed under my slot, I consider writing X/Y/Z in the slot to show the limited possibilities. If two of these are already placed (X,Y for example), it must be the third (Z). I always write X/Y if only two elements are left to occupy the slot.
36. Mark out any “blocks”: groups always adjacent, always one apart, etc. These help visualize the restrictions on the game.
37. List in a central location any remaining rules that don’t easily fit on the diagram–e.g., if-then statements.
38. Immediately list any contrapositives of any listed if-thens.
39. Use subscripts to simplify rule notation. E.G., “If M is first, N must be sixth” lists as “M1→N6”.
40. Note that if there are only two groups, say A and B, “~MA” can be written as “MB”.
41. Do the “which of the following could be a complete and accurate list” question first, using the rules one-by-one for process of elimination.
42. Translate the correct answer into your diagram format in miniature, and box it near the question; this is now ammo.
43. Next, solve questions with local rules (which generally start with “If”).
44. For these questions, add those rules to a new diagram written near that question.
45. Box any resulting acceptable solutions from these, too.
46. Do could/must be questions last when you have the greatest number of solutions to check against.
47. BUT don’t let that stop you from scanning all the answer choices for these before starting to check answer choices against your available solutions, in case of obvious intuitive or solved answers.
48. To check against solutions: any acceptable solution having an element in place proves it “could” be there.
49. All of your diagrams having an element doesn’t prove “must be” unless you’ve diagrammed every solution; however, any correct diagram not having one disproves it. This is easier.
50. Don’t be afraid to work out solutions; if you commit to solving right away and can tell when you’ve gone as far as possible, you’ll be able to most effectively explore rules.
51. Don’t worry about not having a lot of the once-a-decade weird format games to practice on. They’re generally pretty easy once you settle on a really basic diagram for them, so (if one comes up) just diagram it however seems natural. (But it probably won’t).
52. Advanced: if you realize there are basically two different diagram scenarios (e.g., “X is either the first appointment or the last”), feel free to write both versions as your prototype diagram. Just make sure you don’t waste time deciding.
53. Begin to categorize all the question types. The Logical Reasoning section has relatively few different question types.
54. Work through a section super slowly before you start practicing at full speed, diagramming every question in formal logic (or Venn Diagrams for certain types), eliminating any incorrect answer choices (writing why they’re wrong next to them), and proving (with written justification) the correct answer choices. This process helps to reinforce that there is always one right answer. This is just an exercise; you won’t behave this way when timed.
55. Always identify the conclusion. This is obviously necessary for the “Identify the conclusion” questions, but you’ll also need to use the conclusion for the “strengthen/weaken/justify/necessary assumption” questions; get in the habit of finding it every time. The only exceptions will be for prompts without a conclusion (generally the “reconcile seemingly conflicting information” or the “what can we conclude?” questions).
56. Take notes in a shorthand that works for you.
57. Reframe the question to make what you’re seeking more clear. “Each of the following answer choices weakens the argument EXCEPT” is more easily stated as, “Which answer choice doesn’t weaken the argument?”
58. If something seems “formal logicky”, immediately formalize it. If a philosopher starts making an argument, you can basically assume you should do this.
59. Assumption questions are properly considered as two separate types: finding “sufficient” or “necessary” assumptions.
60. For sufficient assumptions, your answer has to be strong enough to prove the conclusion, or even stronger.
61. For necessary assumption, your answer can be what proves the conclusion, or a subset of that assumption.
62. Reverse tricky necessary assumption answer choices to easily evaluate them. If the choice not being true would invalidate the argument, then it’s a necessary assumption!
63. For parallel reasoning questions, formalize the arguments as sparsely as possible (removing any of the elements that relate it to the actual argument in favor of “X”, “Y”, etc.) Then compare this “skeleton” version of the argument to the answer choices.
64. Take special note of “if true” in the question stem; the answer choices are pre-supposed to be true in this case, so there’s no concern about their plausibility; in fact, more extreme answers are often more desirable here.
65. Take note of “flawed” in parallel reasoning questions. Sometimes, you’ll want to save time and avoid drawing exact parallels to each possible answer choice by just saying “well the reasoning in this answer choice is actually sound, so it doesn’t parallel the flawed reasoning”.
66. If there are “some, most, all,” consider using Venn Diagrams instead of formal logic.
67. No pattern? There still is — you’re falling for traps. Consider that you might be using additional assumptions (“well, maybe if photosynthesis relies on nitrogen”) to justify wrong answers.
68. Understand how standardized Reading Comprehension tests work. They set them up to seem like you should just read the passage, comprehend it, and then answer the questions based on that understanding. That is, of course, the worst way to approach a standardized reading comprehension test. Instead,
69. Don’t overread on your first pass through the passage, because
70. You’ll have to go back in order to effectively answer the questions, which ask for precise information about a passage too long to keep in your working memory. Therefore,
71. When you first read through, focus on understanding the overall argument and mapping out where everything specific is discussed; this way, you can find the specifics you need to answer questions quickly.
72. Find clue words in the questions to help you figure out where to go for the necessary evidence.
73. No clue words in the question stem? Look for a pattern in answer choices to generate a clue; you’ll often see that two or three answer choices are on the same small topic. You can then go back to where that topic is discussed to find useful evidence for evaluating the answers.
74. For “main idea” questions, the correct answer must fit the whole passage. Incorrect trap answers will be too specific, or too general.
75. Do main idea questions last, because you’ll have spent additional time reading the passage as you answered the other questions.
76. For “EXCEPT” questions, go point by point eliminating answer choices (and consider restating the question in a simpler way — see #57).
77. Take the complex questions in small steps. Even the hardest, most Logical Reasoning-like questions are based on some specific principle from the passage. Go find it, and use it to evaluate the answer choices.
78. If you’re having trouble deciding between two answer choices, go back to the question and read it again. Questions on the Reading Comp section are more varied than those on Logical Reasoning; focusing on the exact question may help resolve your uncertainty.
79. Begin to identify the passage types as you take the tests; if you consistently do worse on one type (i.e., the natural sciences one, the legal one), save it for last. That way any pacing trouble you have is confined to questions you were already less likely to get right, and getting time trapped on these won’t bleed into your stronger passages.
Things to try
If you’re having difficulty with certain sections or tasks, you can make any of these shifts to see if they’re helpful (they often are).
80. Starting from #9 on Logical Reasoning. When I prepped for the recent LSAT, I found I was spending far too long on the easy questions; because I was used to going over the difficult questions with students, easy ones were almost like curveballs. I decided that I’d start from #9 and go back around to the early ones, so that if I was low on time, I’d be limiting time for the questions that don’t need as much of it.
81. Checking the question stems first for Logical Reasoning problems. Or, if you were doing this already, see what happens if you don’t.
82. Checking the questions first for Reading Comp. Or if you were doing this already, see what happens if you don’t. This helps some students focus on the relevant portions of the passage.
83. Break down Reading Comp passages by claims, support. The Reading Comp passages nearly all make or describe arguments or principles; they take the format of making claims, and then offering support for those claims. To understand the overall argument or passage, you can simply follow the claims: the support are all specific evidence to which you can return for answering questions. If you get good at identifying which is which, you can read the claims and skim the support.
84. For Logic Games with two different groups/attributes for the elements, (photographers and writers going to London or Minsk), consider drawing a diagram for each of them. I find it’s often difficult to tell which arrangement will be more helpful until you try them out, and that it’s often helpful to use both at once like a single diagram. Your mileage may vary.
For Logic Games with many if-then statements, you can try either of these two setups:
85. List all if-then statements together, and combine rules into chains of statements so you can easily see all the outcomes of an element’s placement. So if C→D, Y→C, X→Y, then X→Y→C→D. This lets you really easily check the full explicit outcome of an element’s placement (meaning an “if X, what must” question with a “D” answer is solved instantly.) It also lets you easily handle the same for contrapositives. You can flip the whole chain to ~D→~C→~Y→~X. It just means you’ll have to search carefully for any element you need to examine in the chains.
86. List all if-then statements (without chaining) in a single column, so you can easily scan down the left side for any elements in question and find any necessary outcomes, then repeat the process with the new (outcome) elements. This lets you achieve a flow where you quickly implement rules with many in a row.
In the months or weeks leading up to the test
It may be worth it to shift your sleep schedule ahead (if you wouldn’t usually feel very alert at 9am.) It’s unlikely you’ll suddenly be able to go to sleep much earlier than usual the night before the test. If so, each day:
87. Begin to wake up early consistently, even on weekends as possible.
88. Get sun in the early morning and limit light exposure at night (f.lux and similar apps on your devices may help.)
89. Eat something (preferably insulin-inducing) immediately upon waking to shift your schedule earlier. Like sun exposure, this will significantly affect your circadian rhythm.
90. Decide whether you’ll be using caffeine or not for the test. If you usually use caffeine and don’t intend to for the test, it’ll take weeks of abstention to reverse your caffeine tolerance. If you are using caffeine, you’ll need to plan for it (see below.)
The week of the test
91. Get your test-day stuff ready to go. Buy a bunch of whatever snack, drink, pocket tissue pack, etc. you’re going to bring, and get a set ready in your ziplock bag. Get your watch, pencils, eraser, sharpener, etc. ready to go too. Print out your admission ticket. You don’t want to be worrying about this stuff before the test, and you’ll want to practice with the stuff you’ll be using during your last practice tests.
92. Plan for caffeine maintenance (if applicable). You’ll want to use the practice tests leading up to the exam date to see how various amounts and types of caffeine affect you for the test. Keep in mind that if you’re planning to have coffee at home, a long time will elapse between drinking it and the beginning of the test — as you travel to your test center, potentially wait in line, check in, get seated, fill out your answer key, and finally begin. So wake up, drink the coffee, and wait the proper amount of time before your practice test. Caffeine dosing this way does set you up for a steady decrease in blood caffeine levels, though, meaning you might wind up spiking too high early or dropping too low later on. Personally, I brought a clear 20 oz bottle of water and an emptied clear 20 oz water bottle half-way filled with iced coffee in my ziplock bag. I had a moderate amount of coffee early on and then, during my break, decided I would re-up slightly from the bottle to keep myself at optimal levels.
93. Second to last practice test: focus on efficiently using all the strategies and skills you’ve built up over your prep time.
94. Review that test, see what you’re still getting wrong, and prep for your last practice test (to be taken a couple days before the real admin). This is the time for any last-minute tweaks; consider reviewing this list of tips
95. Take the last practice test and focus on executing your strategies and skills. That’s what you should be focused on during the real test, so you’ll want to practice it now. All other prep that matters has already happened by this point.
The day before the test
96. Don’t prep any more questions. It’s not going to help significantly, and may hurt you relative to resting prior to the test.
97. If you do think of the test, think only of the general strategies you’ll be employing. You can use these as a sort of mantra, running through the various sections of the test and remembering what your plan is.
The day of the test
98. Focus on process, not outcome. Thinking “I need a 170” does nothing to help you get a 170; thinking “I need to skip Parallel Reasoning and do it last” does. You have prepared for this. Focus on putting your prep–your newfound skills and knowledge of the test–to work.
99. Keep in mind that there’s only one way a single question can significantly affect your score: if you agonize over it, thinking you have to be perfect, and waste time that burns you for other questions. Some students suddenly have pacing difficulty on test day that didn’t appear during their prep. The explanation is that single questions seem suddenly fraught with importance because OMG IT’S THE REAL TEST. You have to keep taking it the way you have been; no one question is worth more than any others, or worth spending too much time on (until you come back with extra time.)
100. Kill it.
Noodle Pro Kevin Shea is an LSAT expert. He has been tutoring since 2011, and personally achieved a perfect 180 score on the September 2017 LSAT administration. He specializes in tutoring students with scores in the 150s and 160s, and recently pulled a student from 153 (stalled after a prep course) to 164. He has extensive experience tutoring online and is able to work with students worldwide in any time zone.