How Skipping Questions Helped Branden Score a 175 on the LSAT

clock-bigToday’s post comes from the astute Branden Frankel, Marketing Director at Blueprint LSAT Preparation, 2010 graduate of UCLA School of Law, and a guy who just happened to score a 175 on the June 2006 LSAT.

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I’ve taught Blueprint’s LSAT prep course over a dozen times, and I can’t count how many times a student has said, “I could answer every question correctly if I just had more time.” The LSAT offers lots of questions, arguments, and lengthy passages on inscrutable subjects, but what it offers very little of is time. For many students, time is a remorseless, implacable foe.

However, when a test measures one’s performance against that of other test takers*, like the LSAT, something that is a handicap for others becomes a strength for those who master it. You may be no smarter than the guy or gal sweating profusely in the desk next to you, but if he or she can’t manage time efficiently and you can, you win.

So how does one master time?

Skipping questions.

Skeptical? I took a prep course that helped me improve my score significantly from my first practice exam, but I was topping out at 168 in subsequent practice exams. That’s a great score, but I knew I could do better.

When I developed a plan for skipping questions intelligently, my score shot up immediately, and I topped out at 177 on practice exams.

There are two facets of skipping questions intelligently, and you may find one or the other more useful.

  1. Plan to skip a specific set of Logical Reasoning Questions/Logic Games/Reading Comp passages.

For many test takers, there’s no viable path to answering every question on some or even all of the section types. If this is the case, you must make sure that you’re not putting time into questions you won’t get anyway.

With some exceptions, the questions on any particular section of the exam get harder as the section progresses, although the hardest questions are usually not the very last ones. You should therefore have a specific set of questions you plan to skip. For Logical Reasoning, the hardest questions are usually around #20-#24. So, just go ahead and skip those.

In Logic Games, the hard game is usually third or fourth, but which is which? Since it takes less than a minute to read the introduction and rules to a Logic Game, it’s fine to read both. If you can’t determine which is harder, try to create the setup of the one that seems easier. If you get stuck, move on to the other.

For Reading Comprehension, it’s the third or fourth passage, but making the determination is more time intensive. Read the first paragraph of each to see which is more understandable. If one covers subject matter that you find particularly difficult or presents more difficult language, bail on it.

Remember to bubble in answer choices for those that you skip. There’s no guessing penalty.

  1. Use this idiot-proof method for bailing on hard questions.

When I studied for the LSAT, I had this pointless habit of banging my head against questions – sometimes quite literally – that I just wasn’t getting. I just knew that I could get the right answer, and so, while time was blithely ticking away, I was reading and re-reading a question and its answers. When I scored the exam, I’d find that I’d missed the question(s) that I’d dumped so much time into as well as other, easier questions that I had to rush through as a result. “Self,” I’d say, “next time we’re going to just bail on hard questions.” Then I’d promptly make the same mistake on my very next practice exam.

To square this circle, I developed a simple, unambiguous rule. I applied it to questions on all three section types, but here’s how it worked for Logical Reasoning: I’d read the prompt (the question stem to some), then the stimulus, and then I’d do my best to answer the question, crossing off any clearly wrong answers – all par for the course. If I couldn’t determine the right answer, I allowed myself exactly one more pass at the stimulus and answers, and, if I couldn’t come to the right answer, I was required to move on. I’d circle the problem number so that I could come back to it, time permitting.

The first time I used this method, my score jumped seven points. Not only did I have time for the easier questions that I’d been missing, I was actually getting the harder questions that I’d skipped.

On the LSAT, careful reading is of the utmost importance.

It’s very easy to skip over one crucial word like “not” or “only,” and you’ve blown it. When you re-read the same paragraph obsessively, you make the same mistake. However, when you come back to it with a fresh set of eyes, you read it anew, and, just like that, it all makes sense.

Try these methods out, and think critically about how you take the test. If you aren’t wasting time on out-of-reach questions, you may find your score jumps like mine. Good luck!

* It’s not quite as simple as a curve, and the makers of the LSAT call it “normalization.” Take a look at this article for a detailed explanation of the process.

Thank you, Branden, for your excellent tips and advice. If you found this article helpful, I encourage you to check out Blueprint’s LSAT prep resources. You can also contact them at info@blueprintlsat.com or 1-888-4-BP-PREP. Best of luck with your studies!

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