New LSAT students think that speed and accuracy are equally important. That’s not true. Consider two hypothetical students: Mr. Speed and Ms. Accuracy.
Mr. Speed attempts every question, but he gets only half of them right. Ms. Accuracy attempts only half of the questions, but she makes no mistakes. Who scores higher?
Your gut might call it a tie, but it’s not. Ms. Accuracy wins big.
The math’s simple. If there are 25 questions in the section, Mr. Speed gets 12.5 points from the questions he answers correctly. He gets zero points from his mistakes.
Ms. Accuracy gets 12.5 points from the 12.5 questions she attempts. On the remaining 12.5 questions, she bubbles in random guesses. Maybe she chooses A for accuracy—it doesn’t matter. Since there are five answers, she gets one of every five guesses right purely by chance. That’s another 2.5 questions correct for Ms. Accuracy—free points with no investment of time.
Final tally on the section: Ms. Accuracy 15, Mr. Speed 12.5.
If these two students take a full test—three scored sections—Ms. Accuracy ends up with 45 questions correct against Mr. Speed’s 38.
Superficially, that might look like a narrow victory for Ms. Accuracy. But it’s not. Given the LSAT’s highly compressed 120–180 scale, it’s an ass-kicking victory.
On the most recently released official LSAT scoring scale, the scoreboard says Ms. Accuracy 154, Mr. Speed 149.
Accuracy beats speed every time, at every level.
On the high end, perfect accuracy on 90 percent of the questions beats 90 percent accuracy on 100 percent of the questions, 172 to 171.
On the low end, 75 percent accuracy on 25 percent of the questions is a 136. That’s bad, but 25 percent accuracy on 75 percent of the questions is a truly abysmal 125.
Note that, in each case, Ms. Accuracy does less work than Mr. Speed, but she gets paid more.
Did I mention that the questions tend to get harder from the front to the back of the section? Mr. Speed, rushing headlong to the end of the section, makes casual mistakes on the easy ones. Then he misses some of the hardest ones anyway—they’re the hard ones, after all. Mr. Speed gets paid zero for his mistakes, no matter how much time he spends on them. He wastes time by going so fast.
Meanwhile, Ms. Accuracy just cooly gets all the easy ones right.
Ms. Accuracy doesn’t spread her attention too thin. She’s careful and accurate on the questions she invests time in. She refuses to do shoddy work at high volume. Instead, she works meticulously on a slightly smaller body of work. Because she makes no mistakes, she gets paid for the work she does.
If you focus on accuracy, you’ll do less work and get paid more.
And there’s an even better reason why accuracy beats speed: Ms. Accuracy is a better candidate for improvement than Mr. Speed is.
Ms. Accuracy has committed herself to the idea that she can understand each question. She expects to get each one that she attempts right. When she makes a rare mistake, she is surprised, and she reviews that mistake completely so she won’t make it again.
She is sending herself the message that the LSAT is easy if you just take your time to understand what you’re reading. Over time, she will predict more and more of the correct answers, and the wrong answers will look worse and worse. Her increase in speed won’t be immediate or dramatic, but she’ll get steadily faster over time.
And every additional question she attempts will give her one additional point. She gets paid for the work she does. Her score improves steadily.
Mr. Speed never reaches actual understanding because he’s obsessed with finishing all the questions even if it means skimming. He makes many mistakes on every section, which means he has more review work to do each time. But it’s hard to focus when he reviews—he’s used to missing questions. It’s not surprising at all when he misses a bunch. It’s almost like he’s practicing at it.
At LSAT Demon, we constantly encourage our students to emulate Ms. Accuracy, not Mr. Speed. If you study with us, you’ll be studying for understanding.
Next time, I’ll write about job one for all LSAT students at every level: Get the easy ones right.
And I have a secret. They’re all easy.