LSAT Insight: General Pacing Strategy

If you were trying to score 100% on your typical high school or college exam, you’d need to do two things: 1) answer all of the questions, and 2) answer all of those questions correctly. The logic of that is not lost on most people. Unfortunately, many people preparing to take the LSAT walk into that test with similar logic, often to disastrous results.

Let’s be clear about something: the LSAT is not your run-of-the-mill school test. It relies on a whole host of different paradigms by which the game needs to be played. Chief among those paradigms is how one goes about achieving the score one wants. And if we apply the logic of doing well on school tests to the LSAT, we’ll be doing ourselves and our score a disservice.

Often, the key to doing better on the LSAT does not mean doing more questions. It means doing fewer. One thing should be clarified here before we move on: what we talk about when we talk about “doing questions” (yes, that’s a Raymond Carver allusion) is time invested on questions. It does not speak to entering an answer for every question (which you should ALWAYS do). Often, spending more time on fewer questions results in a higher total number of raw score points, which means a higher scaled score.

Let’s take a look at a couple hypothetical test-takers, and talk about why we might observe what we do.

Test-taker 1: The Low-scoring Speedster

TT1, as we’ll call him, rushes through most of the questions in each section in an attempt to “answer” them all in the allotted 35 minutes. Here’s what his numbers might look like:

Original Pacing Plan Revised Pacing Plan
Questions answered: 95
Average time/question answered: 1.47minutes
Answered Correctly: 30
Average time/correct answer: 4.67 minutes
Guesses: 5
Correct Guesses: 1
Total Raw Score Points: 31
Scaled Score (approximate): 134

Now, let’s say TT1 slows down a little and only tries to answer 75% of the questions as opposed to 95%. Here’s what the results might look like (in the right-hand column):

Original Pacing Plan Revised Pacing Plan
Questions answered: 95 Questions answered: 75
Average time/question answered: 1 min 28 seconds Average time/question answered: 1 min 48 seconds
Answered Correctly: 30 Answered Correctly: 36
Average time/correct answer: 4.67 minutes Average time/correct answer: 3.75 minutes
Guesses: 5 Guesses: 25
Correct Guesses: 1 Correct Guesses: 5
Total Raw Score Points: 31 Total Raw Score Points: 41
Scaled Score (approximate): 134 Scaled Score (approximate): 140

So, what do we see here? Clearly the biggest thing is a 10-point jump in the raw score and a 6-point jump in the scaled score. Bear in mind this includes no changes in knowledge or ability. Simply slowing down will usually yield more points. Why? Ask yourself. Do you usually do better at things when you have more time or less? There are few places where time to think is bad (Baseball, Golf, Sky-diving). In most everything else, including the LSAT, time is good. Here, since we saw 20% more time to work questions, we assumed a 20% increase in accuracy (which is only 6 questions in this case).

Now you’re probably thinking, “yeah, but this only works on the lower end of the scale.” Wrong. It works all over the place. Why (besides the aforementioned point)? Here are a few reasons:

  • More time means fewer mistakes and careless errors
  • For every 3 correct answers you can essentially guarantee yourself 2 more scaled score points
  • Less Questions + More time = Less Stress + Higher Score
  • Randomly guessing is almost as good as rushing through questions
  • Pick and Choose which questions to do

Let’s take a look at the potential higher up the scale:

Test-taker 2: The High-scoring Perfectionist

TT2 is striving for that top-tier school and the 165+ its going to require to get in. To achieve that goal, she thinks she needs to be perfect. And so…

Original Pacing Plan Revised Pacing Plan
Questions answered: 100 Questions answered: 90
Average time/question answered: 1 min 20 seconds Average time/question answered: 1 min 30 seconds
Answered Correctly: 80 Answered Correctly: 83
Average time/correct answer: 1 min 40 seconds Average time/correct answer: 1 min 36 seconds
Guesses: 0 Guesses: 10
Correct Guesses: 0 Correct Guesses: 2
Total Raw Score Points: 80 Total Raw Score Points: 85
Scaled Score (approximate): 161 Scaled Score (approximate): 164

TT2′s improvement is not as large in terms of scaled score, mostly because there are fewer points for her to get (but it is an impressive jump in %-ile, from ~85% to ~92%). However, the underlying principles remain the same: slowing down a little usually pays easy dividends for just about anyone scoring under the mid-160s.

The moral of the story: Do yourself a favor and slow down.

  • Mercy

    Thank you for this. When I started prepping for the LSAT a few months ago, I sped through the diagnostic and ended up with a 142. My last practice test today was a 160 and that jump happened mostly because I learned to slow down. Trying to read and answer everything really fast just creates more anxiety and never translates into anything good.

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