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If you, like me, prefer to take your LSAT studying poolside during these hot summer days, here’s an analogy that you’ll relate to: Note-taking on the LSAT is like applying sunscreen. Like sunscreen, if you use too many notes on certain parts of the LSAT, you may be left with foolish-looking marks that didn’t end up being especially useful; but use too little, and the test will scorch you just like the sun. Also like sunscreen, there’s a time and place for notes on the LSAT. Unless you’re hanging at a nudist pool, you probably don’t need sunscreen literally everywhere, nor do you need notes everywhere on the LSAT. Unfortunately, figuring out sunscreen is generally a lot simpler than figuring out note-taking on the LSAT. Since this is an issue many of my students grapple with in all phases of their preparation, here are a few guidelines, and here’s hoping you’re reading them by the pool.
Logic Games: Heavy Note-Taking (SPF 80)
Most students start a logic game by drawing a diagram, but I’ve seen a lot of variation in the way that students diagram inferences and the amount of work they show on the questions. A word to the wise: you should write down every inference you think of on a logic game, even the obvious ones. I often find that simple “cross-off” inferences (like when I figure out that M can’t go in space 4) often lead to bigger ones down the line and sometimes even answer questions all on their own. You may think you’ll remember an inference if it seems obvious in the moment, but two questions later, you’ll have a whole different set of variables swimming around in your brain, and it may slip your mind if it’s not on paper.
Additionally, you should be doing quite a bit of writing as you work through the questions. First of all, if you work through all the answer choices in your head, it’s pretty darn easy to make a mistake, because you’re juggling so much information. Writing out your work, especially on early questions, can also pay huge dividends later. On that question, if you can’t find the correct answer, you’ll be able to look through your work to see what went wrong. But more excitingly, on future questions, you’ll be able to use your previous work to eliminate or choose answers! There’s no more thrilling feeling (at least in the context of the LSAT) than realizing you can answer question #20 in two seconds based on the work you did for question #18.
Reading Comprehension: Varied Note-Taking
On Reading Comprehension, you should think of note-taking as a sort of crutch. If a passage is very difficult, underlining or writing notes off to the side may help you process it better. If a passage is very easy, note-taking is most likely just slowing you down. I recommend that most students adjust their note-taking based on the difficulty of the passage.
Furthermore, it’s a great idea to try a few different styles of note-taking before you settle on one that you love. As you determine your note-taking style, think about your weaknesses as a reader. If you struggle to know the function of different paragraphs, it may help you to circle transitions (like “however” or “secondly”). If you have a hard time identifying the main idea, you may prioritize marking sentences that contain the author’s opinion. If you find yourself reading but not absorbing what you’ve read, maybe you should stop after each paragraph to jot a shorthand summary of the key ideas.
Logical Reasoning: Extremely Minimal Note-Taking
Most questions in this section are best answered with almost no note-taking, although you should certainly continue to slash off wrong answer choices and star questions that you’d like to come back to. There are a few exceptions:
1. Conditional Logic or Quantifier questions: For these questions, it can be helpful to use shorthand to jot down the relationships and re-organize them. This is especially helpful when the information presented is difficult to organize in your head. If there’s conditional logic but it makes perfect sense to you, no need to jot it down.
2. Marking the Conclusion: Because it is very helpful to accurately identify and frequently refer closely to the conclusion of Assumption Family questions and Analyze the Argument questions, some students benefit from underlining or otherwise marking the conclusion. This would be particularly helpful if you sometimes forget to look for the conclusion or misidentify it.
Finally, a caveat: the most important thing about note-taking on the LSAT is that it works for you. Some students ace Reading Comp passages by using their pencil only to bubble, while others find that jotting notes is critical to improving their score. Similarly, I’ve seen students solve problems with both more and fewer notes than I would use personally. So the greatest barometer of note-taking success is your score. If you’re not scoring as well as you’d like, consider whether a different method of note-taking on the LSAT might help you. If you’re flying high on your 170+ practice test scores, keep doing what you’re doing, even if it doesn’t line up with my advice above! 📝
Allison Bell is a Manhattan Prep Instructor who lives in the Washington, DC metro area. Allison first encountered the LSAT while getting her Bachelor of Arts in English and history at Duke University. In college, she scored a 178 and very nearly applied to law school. In the end, she followed her true passion, teaching. Allison currently has the pleasure of being an eighth grade English teacher in Northern Virginia. As an LSAT teacher, she has the opportunity to blend her love for teaching with her passion for logical argument. Check out Allison’s upcoming LSAT Complete Courses here.