1. Quality, not quantity. The good news about this maxim is that not only is it true when it comes to effective LSAT studying, but it can also save you loads of time. Instead of sitting down and saying, “I’m going to do three sections no matter how long it takes me,” sit down and say, “I’m going to turn off my cell phone, shut the door, close my computer, and do these three sections without any distractions. Benefits are manifold—your studying is better, and you’re done sooner.
2. You are what you consume. I don’t mean to sound like your mom or your doctor, and I’m sure we’re all well-versed in basic nutritional principles, but it is true that if you are living on excessive amounts of caffeine, you’re probably not studying as well as you can be due to the anxiety and overall jitters that it is known to cause. So again, don’t mean to be your babysitter here, but if you’re having trouble focusing and are one of these constantly-sipping-java-or-soda folks, consider cutting back a bit—replace it with decaf tea or seltzer every now and then.
3. Change the time of day you study. When I was preparing for the LSAT, I found that my morning sessions were really productive and satisfying while my night sessions often dragged on and left me tired, discouraged and feeling like I didn’t get enough accomplished. I’m a morning person, always have been. If I could do it all again, I’d just cut out the night sessions, or trim them substantially, and add to my morning sessions. You know what your own circadian rhythm is. Don’t try to bend it to your will; you’re better off bending to accommodate it, not vice versa.
4. Sprints, then breaks. Focused study is the best study. Short stints of untainted focus on the material is superior to longer sessions during when you doze off or check your texts or read Twitter or grab another handful of chips. If you have trouble focusing for a longer period of time (which is what we call “being a human”), set an achievable goal like: I’m going to focus only on the LSAT for the next 15 minutes. Then I get a two-minute break. If that sounds short to you, great! That means you can do it! Try. If it’s easy, add some. But training yourself to focus for shorter bits, then adding to those bits, beats punishing yourself for your inability to sustain focus by making yourself sit half-focused for longer stretches. Forcing yourself to sit unfocused for long stretches teaches you to sit unfocused for long stretches. Forcing yourself to focus for stretches of any length teaches you to focus.
5. Teach someone—yourself or someone else—the hard problems. To be able to teach means to truly understand. Albert Einstein said that. Just kidding, I said that, but keep reading, anyway. When you have to teach something to someone else, it forces you to think about it in a way that just learning it doesn’t. You can’t hide. You have to get it. Good standard for mastery, right? Understanding as a requirement? I find mothers to be an excellent source for make-believe LSAT students.
6. Create realistic, defined goals. Some of the most discouraged, burnt out, and plateaued students I’ve worked with are the ones who set unrealistic expectations for themselves that are so unachievable that they wind up in this vague and ambiguous space permeated with chronic disappointment. “I’m going to study for as long as I possibly can every day,” may sound like a really impressive, ambitious approach, but what it really does is set you up for failure. You study four hours and are exhausted, and instead of congratulating yourself on studying for four hours, you spend the rest of the day thinking, “Could I have studied longer? Should I be studying now?” The same is true for two or eight or nine hours, because you have no standards by which to measure your actual achievement. This is bad for another reason: affirmation and the feeling of satisfaction are very important to your progress. We don’t excel by feeling like failures all the time. We excel by feeling like failures when we’re not doing our best, and feeling great when we do. We get hooked on that feeling and want more of it, and that’s a good thing. Give yourself goals that you can achieve so you can reach this feeling and allow it to motivate you to keep moving forward. Studying for the LSAT is a long and hard process. Don’t make it more miserable for yourself than it needs to be.