“How do I go faster on the LSAT?” – James
“I know the material, but when I do a full timed practice section, I can’t go fast enough.” – Sarah
“Without time and pressure I can get almost ever single logic game correct, add time and I can’t get through them. How can I improve my speed?” – Ben
“I take really long reading the passages (timed myself 3 to 4 mins) then I tend to not refer back to the passages thinking there is no time. I read the passages intensely and then end up staring at the answer choices. It’s the time pressure that really hurts me… what should I do?” – Julie
Sound familiar? These are variants of the most common question I get about the LSAT: how to go faster. Unfortunately, the short version is that you can’t. The question itself is based on a misunderstanding. A lot of LSAT students assume that LSAT knowledge and speed are two separate, unrelated issues.
Speed is directly related to competence. And unfortunately, it’s very hard to assess how much you know about the LSAT. For instance, you might be able to do LR sections untimed and get everything right. But that doesn’t mean you know everything about those sections! Instead, you only know 60% of what a 170+ scorer would know about that section. With that 60% knowledge level, you can still get everything right untimed. But when you do it timed, that lack of knowledge will slow you down and cause you to make mistakes.
It feels like a speed issue. But really, it’s a knowledge issue. If you can get untimed sections right, but you get timed sections wrong, then the issue is that you know less than those who get higher scores. To fix the problem, you have to start asking yourself “what don’t I know yet?”.
If you know something well, you can do it fast. That’s just the way it is. There are no tricks. As you get better at the material, you’ll go faster. Focus on improving your knowledge of the test, and speed will come as you make improvements.
I have another warning: if your PT scores aren’t improving, then whatever studying you’re doing probably isn’t leading to actual improvements in knowledge. You can use speed and timed scores as a way to measure the effectiveness of your prep. Good methods should lead to more speed and higher. You need to hold yourself accountable. Unless your timed PT scores are going up, don’t kid yourself that you’ve been learning the right things.
I do still have some speed tips for each section. But really these are tips at getting better at those sections, and they also happen to impact speed. Here are my speed tips for each section:
And here are some general speed tips. Point three is especially important if you’re slowed down by stress or panic.
1. Don’t worry about finishing the whole section. Do what you can with proper form, and guess the rest.
If you’re not finishing, it’s tempting to rush forwards, especially if you’re aiming for a high score. But rushing will lead to a lower score and also prevent you from learning. To get fast, you first have to get good, and rushing through questions will prevent you from even trying to understand them.
So if you’re not yet finishing sections, you should focus on doing the questions well, and not rushing. Then guess whatever is left. You’ll get 20% of the questions you guess right, so this is actually the score maximizing strategy. Meanwhile, your efforts to take your time will pay off. You’ll be able to focus well enough on the questions to actually learn something, and you should find you can answer more and more questions as time goes on.
This also applies for a weak section. For instance, you may find you can do all sections fine except RC. There are 27 questions in a reading comprehension section. The first three passages will have around 21 questions. If you focus on doing the first three passages perfectly, you should be able to get those 21 points, plus around two questions on the final passage from guessing. 23/27 isn’t bad. The same thing applies to logic games. It’s better to focus on doing 2-3 games perfectly, guessing the rest, and then work your way up to doing a whole section.
2. Focus on the setup, not the answers.
On logical reasoning, spend more time than you think you should on understanding the stimulus. On logic games, spend more time than you think you should memorizing and drawing the rules. On reading comprehension, spend more time than you think you should on understanding the passage.
Why “more time than you think you should”? Because you’re almost certainly overestimating how much time you spend on the setup of the question. Most students do. This is typical: you rush through a LR stimulus in 25 seconds, and miss a major concept. Then you waste 70 seconds deciding between answers, when you could have got through them in 10 seconds if only you had read the stimulus properly. Most students vastly underestimate how much time they waste on the answers.
The LSAT rewards you if you understand the stimulus/setup/passage. Meanwhile, the answers are designed to be confusing. They subtract information. Spend extra time on the setup, and you’ll save time on the answers.
Obviously, there are limits to this. You can’t spend 9 minutes reading a passage. But you can definitely spend an extra minute.
3. Bubble answers every two pages
This tip is a small tweak, but it makes a difference. This one’s about how to bubble in answers on your answer sheet.
(And first of all, I should check that you are using a bubble sheet whenever you do timed practice. Filling in the bubbles takes 2-3 minutes, which is 10% of your time for that section. If you aren’t using a bubble sheet, you’re not timing yourself properly.)
Now, as to how to bubble. I recommend you bubble answers when it’s time to turn a page. That usually means you’re bubbling 6-7 questions at once. This has a few advantages over other methods:
- If you bubble after every question, there’s a high switching cost. This can double your bubbling time.
- If you bubble only at the end of the section, you may run out of time to bubble. You also increase the odds of a misbubbling.
- If you bubble when you turn the page, you are pausing to bubble at the precise moment you’d be taking a break anyway.
Proper bubbling can save you a minute or so, and reduce the odds of a bubbling error, so it’s worth doing. This method also gives you a chance to restore your energy. Mental energy is crucial for the LSAT (more on that below) and top performers give a lot of thought to their energy levels. Taking time out for a few seconds to breath meditatively can increase your speed by restoring focus. So while you bubble, breathe deeply and calmly. Relax. This short 15 second break can greatly improve your efficiency on the next set of questions.
Video: When to bubble LSAT questions
I know I should take a minute and refocus but when the clock is running I can’t force myself to spend time not solving questions. – Anonymous Reddit comment
I hear the quote above a lot. When you’re under time pressure, you feel like you just have to keep going and do the questions.
This is actually not the attitude of top performers. Across all fields, top performers are acutely aware of mental state. Plowing forwards is a bad move.
I personally take micro breaks on the LSAT, when lifting barbells, when writing, or anything I’m considered “good” at. The nature of the break depends on the activity.
In barbells I breathe meditatively as I’m lifting, and focus within my body if I notice my thoughts stray. When writing, I meditate, do household chores or look at pictures to take breaks in writing.
When doing the LSAT, I just take a breath or two with my eyes closed. Total of 5-7 seconds. Gives me my mind back. How can you afford not to do that? I go fast because I take micro-breaks when needed. I do this if I feel stress, panic, etc. and the short break lets me nip those feelings in the bud and get back to work with a fresh mind.
So relax. You’ve actually got plenty of time. You can afford to take a moment to gather your senses. When you notice stress or panic, step back from the question, and take 3-4 deep breaths. This will save you time, by preventing you from spacing out.
Meditation helps too. Try meditating for five minutes a day. Anyone can fit a few minutes of meditation into their daily schedule. Meditation isn’t some woo-woo spiritual thing. This five minute meditation is focus training. When you meditate, other thoughts will come up. Your job is to acknowledge them, then return to the present (your breathing). This directly applies to the LSAT. When you’re doing the LSAT, other thoughts will come up. Your job is to acknowledge them, and return to the present (the question you’re working on). So meditation directly trains the skill you need to do well on the LSAT. The alternative is not being able to manage your thoughts, and spacing out for minutes on end.
- How to go faster at reading comprehension
- How to go faster at logic games
- How to go faster at logical reasoning
Update: Like podcasts? I made one with Steve Schwartz of LSAT Blog. It’s called LSAT Pros, and you should subscribe here!