Timing Is Everything… But Not What You Think

Timing Is Everything… But Not What You Think

Last week I started a series of email lessons with the directive to just do one question. It’s such good advice that I’ll repeat it here: If you feel stuck, like you don’t know what to do next, just go do one question right now. (You’ll need a free LSAT Demon account.) Logical Reasoning questions are particularly suitable for doing just one question since they’re bite-sized. If you have a bit longer, do one RC passage or one Logic Game. It doesn’t matter exactly what you do—just do a little tiny bit, whenever you have time.

This week, I want to talk about timing. New students always ask me when they should start doing timed sections and timed practice tests—should they study for a week before their first timed test? A month? Six months?

None of the above. All students, even novices, should start timing themselves right away.

If this is scary for you, you’re not alone. There are many misconceptions about the purpose of timed practice tests. I’ll list some of them here:

  • The purpose of timed practice tests is to “get good at managing your time.”
  • The purpose of timed practice tests is to “determine your ability.”
  • The purpose of timed practice tests is to “learn how to finish the sections.”
  • The purpose of timed practice tests is to “keep moving, so you don’t waste too much time.”
  • The purpose of timed practice tests is to “get a score so you can evaluate yourself.”

None of these statements is true.

At LSAT Demon, we believe that the purpose of timed practice tests is to get comfortable:

  • Get comfortable ignoring the clock. Most students can’t—and shouldn’t try to—finish each section in 35 minutes.
  • Get comfortable calmly, carefully answering the easier questions that appear at the beginning of each section. This is where every student gets the bulk of their points.
  • Get comfortable struggling with a few of the medium-difficulty questions in the middle. Take your time with each one! The questions get harder later in the section, so don’t give up on these too soon.
  • Get comfortable taking even more time on the even harder questions that start to pop up late in the section. These require more of your attention, not less. Skimming is never the answer.
  • Get comfortable guessing on whatever questions remain at the end of each section—these guesses are free points on the test’s hardest questions.
  • Get comfortable seeing your score at the end, whatever it turns out to be, and immediately starting your review process.
  • Most importantly, get comfortable learning as much as you can from each of your mistakes.

If you study with us, it’s never going to be about pressure, stress, or judgment. It’s going to be about staying in the moment and accepting whatever comes.

During our 35-minute sections, we’re going to calmly answer each question correctly before moving on to the next. Sure, we’ll struggle on a few. But we’ll take even more time on the harder ones because those take more time to solve. If we ignore the clock and take our time, we should get most of the questions we attempt right.

At the five-minute warning, we’re going to fill in a random guess for each question remaining in the section. (I was always on Team D with my guesses, but it doesn’t matter what letter you choose.)

After clicking our guesses, we’re going to spend the remaining four minutes and 45 seconds calmly answering one more question correctly—then one more after that, if there’s time. But we’re not going to skim these questions or rush through five questions in five minutes. That’s a sure recipe for disaster.

When time is up, we’re going to accept our score, whatever it is. This isn’t a judgment on our worth, it’s just a snapshot of one single performance. There’s a ton of randomness in numeric results, especially when we’re looking at single data points. No matter what the score is, good or bad, we’re going to shrug and move on to the most important part of the process, which is review.

During our review, we’re going to carefully review each of our mistakes. Why was the right answer right, and why didn’t we pick it? Why was the wrong answer wrong, and why did we pick it? How can we avoid these mistakes next time? We’ll use the LSAT Demon’s exhaustive collection of video and written explanations to reach a full understanding of each question before moving on to the next one. If the explanations don’t get us all the way there, that’s okay. We’ll use the Ask button to submit a question and the LSAT Demon’s team of tutors will respond in 24 hours or less with help.

Racing the clock during our timed sections will only ruin our accuracy. When we master each question through thorough review, we start to see how easy the questions can be. The right answers are predictable. The wrong answers are garbage. The better we get at answering each individual question, the less time future questions will take.

The point of timing ourselves isn’t to develop a stressful race-the-clock mindset. It’s to learn to ignore the clock entirely, do our best on each individual question, then master each question during our review.

Every practice section is an opportunity to practice this calm, composed mindset. The official LSAT will be timed—but by then, we’ll have learned not to worry about the timing at all.