Interpreting Your Diagnostic Test

Nathan Fox

Nathan Fox

Nov 17, 2021

Congratulations, you’ve completed your first practice LSAT. There are 90-something more of them available. Most students will do at least 10 tests before they’re ready for their first crack at the real thing. (Many students will do 20 tests, or 40 tests, or more.) You’ve dipped your toe in very big water. Nice job!

Let’s start by talking about what your diagnostic test is not.

  • Your diagnostic, no matter how high, is not a guarantee of success in law school or in a legal career. My own diagnostic was right around 170. This indicates an aptitude for the LSAT, for sure. But I was miserable in, and sucked at, law school. I was never cut out to be a lawyer, despite my high LSAT diagnostic.
  • Your diagnostic, no matter how low, is not a limitation on your potential. It does not indicate that the school of your dreams is impossible. It does not preclude you from getting a full-ride scholarship.
  • Your diagnostic is not grounds for discouragement. Students can improve by 10 or 20—sometimes even 30—points from their initial score.
  • Your diagnostic, critically, tells us nothing about your capacity for work. Work ethic is handsomely rewarded on the LSAT, in law school, and in legal practice. Your LSAT diagnostic is just a snapshot, one single data point. It tells us nothing about what gains you might achieve if you work your ass off—which you will if you were ever meant to be a lawyer in the first place.
  • Your diagnostic is not an excuse to immediately do another practice test, pulling the lever on the LSAT slot machine in hopes of a different result. Students who “study” this way, hammering test after test after test, don’t actually learn anything. It’s magical thinking and a waste of time.

Okay, so what is it then?

Your LSAT diagnostic is an extremely useful jumping-off point. It’s a critical first step. The benefits are manifold.

  • Your diagnostic is the first in a long line of data points that will allow you to track your progress over time. If you follow my advice, there’s near-limitless upside from here. The LSAT Demon will keep track of your progress automatically. Do all your tests in the Demon if you’re a subscriber. If you’re not studying in the Demon, use a spreadsheet. It will be gratifying to see your scores improve over time.
  • Your diagnostic gives you a glimpse of your strengths and weaknesses. Most students need to work on all three sections of the test—Logic Games, Logical Reasoning, and Reading Comprehension. If you have a glaring weakness in one of the sections, you’ll want to spend more of your study time on that section. No shit, right? Yeah, but you wouldn’t even have known about that weakness if you had not done a diagnostic test. So congratulations on sucking it up and doing your first practice test. We can make progress from here.
  • Your diagnostic, most importantly, offers jumping-off points for improvement. Every mistake you’ve made is a golden opportunity to understand more of the test. Why is the answer you chose wrong? Why is the right answer, the one you didn’t choose, right? The LSAT repeats itself. Certain flawed patterns of reasoning, like confusing sufficient for necessary, show up on every test. If you missed any of those questions on your diagnostic, you need to figure out why—otherwise you’ll miss them again next time. I can’t stress this enough: Go deeper on each mistake. The LSAT makes perfect sense, and the vast majority of your mistakes at this early juncture come from simply not reading carefully enough.

But Nathan, what does score X mean, really?

First, please stop asking this question. Instead of focusing on your 120–180 score, you need to ask about individual LSAT questions that you failed to solve correctly. (By the way, I love the word “solve” in reference to the LSAT. The test makes perfect sense, and the correct answers are right there on the page. When you miss a question, you have failed to do the work of a lawyer and figure that shit out. You should expect to solve each question. When you can’t solve a question, you should figure out why. That’s where your teachers can really help—tell them what you don’t understand, so they can help you!)

If you really must ask, “What does this score mean?” it doesn’t mean that much. But in broad strokes, it does indicate something about your level of understanding:

  • If you’re scoring anywhere in the 120s, it means you’re understanding almost nothing. You’re sitting there for 35 minutes—or 53 or 70 if you’re accommodated—thinking you’re doing the questions, but you’re really not. If you’re scoring anywhere in the 120s you are adding almost zero value for the time you’re spending. Random guesses would lead to the same result. At this level, you need to slow way, way down and start getting the first five questions in each section right. If you solve just the first five questions and randomly guess on the rest, you should see your practice tests break into the 130s immediately.
  • If you’re scoring anywhere in the 130s, you’re starting to understand some of the questions—you can’t score in the 130s via random guessing—but you’re still not understanding very much. Students at this level have no business doing any question higher than number 15 in each section. In fact, you should probably reach only question number 10 or so. If you solve just the first 10 questions and randomly guess on the rest, you should break into the 140s.
  • If you’re scoring in the 140s, you’re starting to understand the easy ones. Keep focusing on accuracy. Get the first 15 in each section correct and you should break into the 150s.
  • In the 150s, you’re getting most of the easy ones and some of the harder ones. But you still have no business trying to finish the section. Focus on accuracy on the first 15–20 questions in each section until you reach the 160s.
  • In the 160s, you’re getting almost all of the easy ones—and starting to realize that they’re all easy if you just slow down and carefully solve each one. You should still focus on accuracy, not speed, even at this level. If you can just nail the first 20 in a row on each section, you’ll already be in the 170s.
  • In the 170s, you’re understanding that the LSAT makes perfect sense. You can’t half-ass your way to this score. You’ve realized that every question has one correct answer and four wrong answers. If you take your time, you can get every one right. At this level, you still don’t need to worry about speed. You just need to steadily solve each question, one at a time, while getting paid for your work.

But Nathan, when should I start worrying about speed?

Never. Lawyers don’t rush. If you focus on accuracy and think about solving each question before moving on, the test will get easier and easier. As that happens, you’ll steadily progress deeper into the sections without even trying.

From here, all you need to do is carefully review every mistake you make. The test makes perfect sense, and we’re here to help you make sense of it.

I promise I can show you how easy the LSAT can be.

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