Why you should NOT shoot for a 180

I hear this advice quite often. "Shoot for a 180! What do you have to lose?" I know these are merely words of encouragement. Along the lines of "Do your best," and "Be all you can be," or "Win one for the Gipper." It's a nice gesture to encourage our friends to aim for perfection on the LSAT. "Aim for the best, you might just hit it."

Unfortunately, this is not good advice. There is an ideal pace for every skill-level on the LSAT, and the mathematics behind the test reward those who recognize their own abilities and alter their strategy to compliment it. Likewise, it punishes those who bite off more than they can chew.

LSAT takers should take multiple diagnostic exams not only to improve their scores and hone their skills on the test, but also to assess their overall abilities and craft a strategy that plays up their strengths. The later goal is too often ignored, and students keep beating their head against a wall when they can't break a score of X.

Getting a 180 requires attempting every question on the test. Shooting for a 180, then, requires the same. But most LSAT takers SHOULD NOT ATTEMPT EVERY QUESTION. The vast majority of students are not accurate enough to reliably find the credited response in the time required to finish the whole test. It sucks, but if this were otherwise, the test would be pointless. Slowing down is an important tool to raise that accuracy. Higher accuracy plus random guessing, balanced properly, yields more points than rushing to finish in hopes of approaching a 180.

This example is a bit extreme, but the lesson applies to most people taking the test. I had a student who was doing very poorly. She literally was getting 10 correct on an args section attempting about 25 questions. Her correct answers were mostly at the beginning where the easy questions lie. I made her calculate the average time she spent on each question. 1 minute 24 seconds. Then I asked her to calculate the time spent per question if she only attempted 15. 2 Minutes 20 seconds. I said, "Okay, 56 seconds is a long time. If you spent an extra 56 seconds--almost a full minute--on each and every question to doublecheck that you ID'd the question right, found the conclusion, found the flaw, and made sure the answer fit what they're asking for, do you think you might be able to get just one more right?" Of course she could, and I said, "Well, then your score's gonna go up."

More importantly, when she snags that extra question, her score doesn't just go from 10 raw points to 11. She gets 1/5 of a point for picking D on each of the 10 questions left. By purposely NOT shooting for that elusive 180, she is likely to raise her raw score 3 points on that section.

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