Updated: Feb 24
For many LSAT students, their first diagnostic score often comes as a complete shock. In this article, I give five important tips for handling a low diagnostic score.
Harsh Reality Check
Many LSAT students receive a harsh reality check upon taking their first diagnostic. The LSAT, unlike other standardized tests, is not a knowledge-based exam. As a result, some students taking their first diagnostic do not know what to expect at all.
For many, by the time they think they've gotten a good grasp on their first game of the Logic Games section, 35 minutes have already elapsed.
It is not uncommon for the first-timer to get only 4 or 5 questions correct on their first try on the LG section and attempt only 16 or 17 questions in the Logical Reasoning section.
Getting a LSAT diagnostic score in the 140s and the 150s range can often be demoralizing to students with high aspirations, especially for those who excelled in their undergrad.
Here are five things you should do when you get a low first diagnostic score:
Five Essential Tips
Process your emotions
Use your low score as a motivation
Objectively diagnose your strengths & weaknesses
Devise a study plan accordingly
1. Accept Reality
I have seen countless students struggle to come to terms with their first prep test score. One common coping mechanism is to take an LSAT prep test again to "prove" that they could do a lot better.
I was in the same boat. My first diagnostic score was a 151. I was devastated and in self-denial. A day later, I took another prep test and scored a 152. Not only have I burned a valuable prep test to drill later on in my LSAT studies, the 152 discouraged me even more.
Your first diagnostic may not be the most accurate reflection of your analytical reasoning, logical reasoning, and reading comprehension skills, but it may give you a good sense of where you roughly are in comparison to other LSAT test takers.
As much as it is difficult to swallow, you must accept the reality of your score. It may not define your upper limit, but you must avoid dwelling on the notion that if you just take the test a couple more times with no serious studying, you will see a significant increase in your score.
2. Process Your Emotions
If you have pent-up emotions regarding a low diagnostic score, you should let it out in a healthy way. It is unhealthy to suppress our emotions. Avoid letting it boil inside and do not let it fester.
If you are a guy reading this, it is okay to cry if you are feeling it. I cried after my first diagnostic and many more times in my prep journey.
The best way to process your emotions is to accept it and let it naturally dissipate by doing something else or through the passage of time. Often, the more you try to fight your emotions, the more they will snowball.
The reason I emphasize the importance of fully processing your emotions is that you want to avoid any unnecessary distractions in your LSAT studies. The last thing you want is to be constantly down on yourself because you had a poor first-showing.
I find exercising, taking a nap, and crying it all out to be the best ways to fully process my emotions.
3. Use your Low Score as Motivation
After taking an extended nap after my poor first diagnostic and upon attaining a serene state of mind, I was on a mission to improve. I channeled my low diagnostic score as fuel to propel me forward in the beginning stages of my LSAT prep.
Look, the bottom line is that if you want something badly, you will go after it. And if it is to get into law school in your case, you will do whatever it takes to conquer the LSAT no matter how discouraged you initially were confronting a bad first diagnostic.
Now, use your low first score as an even greater motivation to achieve your dream. Use it to create a strong sense of urgency to study by day and by night.
Knowing that I'm starting out in the low 150s, I knew I had little time to waste. I had to work very hard to achieve a score competitive for admission into most Canadian law schools.
Let your first score be the catalyst that catapults you into serious and dedicated study.
Also Read - "Should I get an LSAT Tutor?"
4. Objectively Diagnose your Strengths & Weaknesses
Once you have processed your emotions and have committed yourself to serious LSAT studying, it is time to use your first diagnostic to assess your strengths and weaknesses. It is called an LSAT "diagnostic" for a reason.
Did you get destroyed on the Logic Games section? Did you find RC to be a breeze? Were you constantly debating between two answer choices in LR? This is when you perform a self-diagnostic: I really, really need help on a, b, and c, and not so much on x, y, and z.
Believe it or not, there are people out there who are so naturally adept in deductive reasoning that they can finish the entire LG section in 20 minutes on their first try, sometimes even without having to draw a single diagram, but find RC to be their absolute nightmare.
In your review of the Logical Reasoning section of your first diagnostic, you can gain valuable insight into the types of questions you struggle most. Some people have more trouble assessing arguments, while others struggle more in drawing inferences from the stimulus.
Try to be as objective as you can with your diagnosis. Steer away from asking "what if's" as much as possible. There are no "what if's" in your score on your actual exam.
5. Devise a Study Plan Accordingly
After you have assessed your strengths and weaknesses, it is time to make a study plan. You can get a private tutor, take a course, find a study partner, or study on your own.
In my LSAT journey, I never once got myself a private tutor, and I regretted it. I studied on my own for a year and walked many unnecessary paths. Even though I improved my score significantly after one year, it took way longer than I'd hoped.
Nonetheless, I had a concrete study plan. I knew LG was my weakest section and I spent a few months drilling each game type. I did nothing in life during those months except drilling the LG questions by their degree of difficulty.
In fact, I got so proficient in the LG section that near the end of my LSAT prep journey, I would consistently score -0 in LG with several minutes to spare, which translated into a -0 in LG on my actual exam.
The bottom line is that your assessment of your first LSAT diagnostic should translate into an actionable game plan. You should consider how much time you have left to study for the LSAT and then allocate your prep time wisely.
Realize that your initial study plan can very well change as you move further along your LSAT prep journey, and in the right situations, they should change.
Your first LSAT diagnostic should largely shape your initial game plan.
I want to conclude this article by expressing some heart-felt thoughts: your first LSAT diagnostic score does not define who you are, nor will your actual score on the LSAT. You are a person much greater than the sum of all your test scores.
Courage is not the absence of fear, but the resolve to carry on in spite of it.
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