Test Prep

5 Simple Strategies for Getting a Top 1% Score on the LSAT or GRE

You have the potential to get a top 1% score on the LSAT or GRE test. Each year, roughly 100,000 people take the LSAT test and 500,000 take the GRE. Out of those 600,000 people, only a few thousand were fortunate enough to score in the top 1%. Who were those people getting elite scores? A small handful of them were exactly what you would expect. They are the class valedictorians, the children of high-powered lawyers and famous university professors, and some are obsessive studiers who spent years preparing for that one big moment. It’s no surprise that many of these elite few did so well on test day. But don’t worry if you aren’t one of those people, you do have what it takes to get a top 1% score on the LSAT or GRE. You really do!

Most of the people who score in the top 1% on the LSAT and GRE are normal people just like you and me. We have something more important than impressive pedigrees and years of preparation: we have passion and the ability to create and carry out an intelligent game plan. Yes, it is that simple. Anyone, and I do mean anyone, can score in the top 1% of a standardized test. You just need to combine two key ingredients: passion and planning. That it. All you need is passion and a plan.

Say it with me: All I need is passion and a plan.

If you’ve read this far, it’s fairly safe to assume that you have the passion. You want to succeed. You have big goals in life and you are determined to make a difference. But what about a plan for conquering your big test? While everyone who scores in the top 1% of the GRE or the LSAT followed a different game plan that is unique to them, we’ve asked top scorers what the most important parts of their plan were and we are ready to share those secrets with you.

Use these 5 tips from the pros to get started on your path to becoming an elite 1% scorer on the LSAT or GRE:

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1. Prioritize Your Mental and Physical Health

Elite students and professional athletes know a secret about being successful that most of us just don’t seem to understand. Are you ready to hear it? Its simple: you are a human being. Most people know they are human, but they don’t really comprehend the significance of it. We are living, breathing creatures. We are emotional. We get tired and we need time to rest and recover. The LSAT and the GRE are both more than tests of your intellect, they are also tests of your mental and physical endurance.

You can train your body and your brain for peak performance just like a professional athlete. If you want peak performance on test day, then that means that you need time to rest, you need time away from the test prep books, and you need things like plenty of sleep and a healthy diet. The people that score in the top 1% of the LSAT and GRE usually don’t drink gallons of coffee and put themselves through all-night study sessions. Their desks aren’t buried under mountains of empty candy wrappers and dirty coffee cups. They eat well, they sleep well, they feel well, and because of that they perform well. Sure, having an occasional cup of coffee or tea can help you focus, but you need to pace yourself.

Moreover, top scorers on standardized tests also understand that your biggest enemy is your own self. You will doubt your ability, you will feel anxiety and fear, you might even have a few moments of panic where all you want to do is open a pint of ice cream and start binging on Netflix. It’s natural to feel this way. In fact, more than a few pints of Ben and Jerry’s met their fate when I was studying for the GRE. It happens. Deal with it and move on.

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Remember, you are human. That’s the big secret. And part of being human is learning how to recognize, manage, and work with those emotions and psychological realities. Everyone is different, but never underestimate the power of simple exercises like deep breathing, stretching, and pausing occasionally to assess and rethink your feelings. Even something as simple as taking a 20 second break to stretch your shoulders and to take in a few deep breaths after answering a difficult question on your test can mean the difference of a point or two on your score. Those little points make all of the difference in the world.

Make sure that your study plan includes a plan to manage your physical and mental health and build those habits into your studying. Make it a ritual to pause several times during your studying to stretch, take a few deep breaths, or even give yourself a mental pep talk during your practice sessions. Do this like clockwork while you practice so that it becomes a habit.

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When I was studying for the GRE, I made it a point to pause for a stretch about once every 20 questions. I did it every time I studied. I did it while I was studying in coffee shops, I did it at the library, and I did it at home. Yes, I was that weird guy at the coffee shop who was rolling his shoulders and touching his toes in public places. Sure, it was embarrassing at first. But you know what? When my test day finally arrived, I had built up a healthy habit to manage my tension and stress.

I walked into the test center feeling calm and centered. While everyone else was sweating bullets and hunched over their computer screens furiously taking the GRE, I was taking regular breaks to stretch and breathe. I looked relaxed and I felt great. Despite my sense of calm, and my Zen-like exterior, I was feeling razor sharp mentally. My habits kept me calm and focused and because of that I was able to answer questions with the practiced ease of a seasoned pro.

When I left the test center, one woman even stopped me and talked to me about my relaxed attitude. In her eyes, my relaxed demeanor and the fact that I took frequent breaks could only mean that I hadn’t taken the test seriously. “Why, she asked, “weren’t you focused on the test? Don’t you know this will affect your chances of getting into grad school?” She looked at me with pity when I told her that I was just taking my time and trying not to stress out.

As we parted ways she told me, with a gentle pat on the shoulder, that I should have been more focused and that timing was very important for getting good scores. I just smiled and laughed. I never saw her again, but I’m sure that if she saw my 99th percentile scores, she would be rethinking her misguided advice.

You are human and you can either let your own limitations hurt you on test day or use your humanity to your advantage. Be smart and acknowledge your humanity.

Build habits that will distress you and put your body in peak condition on test day. It pays off!

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2. You Can’t Do It Alone

Most “geniuses” don’t work alone and neither should you. You need someone to study with. A person much wiser than me once said that “genius is like asparagus, it grows in bunches.” In our culture, we seem to have forgotten this. We are in love with the image of the lonely genius, the high-powered intellectuals who innovate and invent in the privacy of their office or apartment. They are portrayed as disheveled and obsessed, working all hours of the night. Our movies and books are filled with these kinds of individuals, often presented to us as historical fact. Well, I have news for you, most of those stories are wrong. Geniuses are rarely isolated individuals. Don’t believe the hype.

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Bill Gates didn’t start Microsoft all by himself. You may have never heard of Paul Allen, but trust me, Bill Gates didn’t become the richest person in the world all by himself. They did it together and with the help of thousands of other people. Even famous artists like Vincent van Gogh weren’t always isolated and tortured individuals. Van Gogh would not have painted his famous Sunflower paintings if he hadn’t been collaborating with Paul Gauguin.

So what is my point here? You can’t be an isolated genius. Finding somebody to help you in your studies is a great way to reach that goal of a top 1% score on your LSAT or GRE.

Real geniuses know that you need to surround yourself with people who inspire you and help you achieve greatness. Remember: Asparagus grows in bunches. Be like asparagus. Find someone else to grow with you and to help you grow.

Yes, the overwhelming majority of your LSAT or GRE preparation will be spent alone taking practice tests and going over your books in a quiet library or at your desk. I shudder every time I think of how many hours I spent at my local library, doggedly tackling practice questions. It was brutal. You have to study on your own. You have to do it A LOT.

But, you don’t have to be alone all the time.

You should also find someone to work with you from time to time. Study with a friend or roommate once a week or join a study group that meets at a local university or coffee shop a few times a month. Ask your boyfriend or girlfriend to quiz you during a long car ride. Call your mom and talk to her about it. Heck, talk to your cat or dog about studying. They are great listeners! Even just venting to a friend about your studies every once in a while can make a world of difference. Better yet, hire a trained professional tutor like those at Ivy Academic to teach you and keep you on track. The more support you get, the better your score will be.

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3. Study Strategically

The majority of people who plan on taking the LSAT or the GRE buy a couple of test prep books and work through them cover to cover. Most people also get disappointing scores on the LSAT and GRE. Ouch. Don’t be “most people.”

Most people don’t get top scores because they aren’t being truly deliberate in their approach. But you can get a top 1% score because you are going to be strategic.

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You need to create a study plan that optimizes your time. This begins with assessment. After familiarizing yourself with the test and doing a few practice problems, you need to take an assessment test. This should be an official LSAT or GRE test taken under timed conditions.

After you do this, take a deep breath. You probably failed miserably.

I’m not even going to tell you what my assessment scores on the GRE and LSAT were…they were bad. Really, really bad. And yours probably will be too. But don’t worry, that’s the point of an assessment. You need to figure out where your weaknesses are.

Once you know which parts of the test you are good at and which parts make you want to curl up into a ball and binge-eat ice cream in front of the television for the next six months, you now have a sense of how you should plan your studying. You need to turn your weaknesses into strengths.

Get off the couch, put down the ice cream, and start working on those weaknesses. That means finding specific resources to focus on the parts of the test that are the most difficult to do. You’ll need lots of books, you can download practice questions online, and you can even find some practice tests to work with. Variety is the key here because you need to attack those weaknesses from every possible angle.

You’ll also need to do more than just study from a book. You should plan timed and untimed drills, you need to seek expert advice, and you need to constantly reassess your strengths and weaknesses so that your study plan targets key skills. Don’t waste your time over-preparing on the sections you are already good at. Time is precious. Be strategic and conquer those weaknesses first. Of course, if you need help assessing your skills and you want a game plan to help you ace the test, Ivy Academic Prep has got you covered.

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4. Create a Schedule and Stick to It.

If you are going to study strategically and if you’re going to take care of your mental and physical health at the same time, you’ll need to create a schedule. People who earn a top 1% score on the LSAT and GRE usually study a few hours a day, every day, for 3-4 months.

Compare this to how the average person studies for the LSAT or GRE: The average person crams in marathon study sessions on weekends and then spends the last week or two before their test day staying up late and studying frantically to get caught up. They are stressed, they are frazzled, and they are full of doubt. Unfortunately for them, they also have the unimpressive test scores to prove it.

Here is how you will be more strategic:

First, you need to set aside 2-3 hours a day, 6 days a week to study with a little bit of extra time during the last few weeks. Some of those days, perhaps once every 2 weeks, you’ll need a bigger chunk of time where you can take a timed practice test.

Having a day off is important, so make sure you give yourself one day each week to let your brain rest. Use that day to relax, hang out with friends, and do some self-care like working out or going hiking.

Second, you need to plan out what you will be doing on each day. Around 70% of your time should be allocated to working on the parts of the test that are most difficult for you. The rest of your time should be spent on the easy parts of the test.

Third, you’ll need to fit in some practice tests as I mentioned before. These tests are your diagnostics that will help you shape and modify your schedule as you progress in your studies. These tests should emulate real tests. That means putting away your cell phone, locking the door, and working under strict time restraints. The most common complaint from test takers is that there isn’t enough time on test day. Being able to perform well under strict time conditions is crucial.

One of the key strategies our top scorers report using was to take a practice test once every couple of weeks during your first month or two of studying. Then, when you are about three or four weeks away from test day, you should start taking regular practice tests at least twice a week. When I took the LSAT, the last 7 study sessions were dedicated entirely to taking timed tests or portions of timed tests. This put me into test mode and when test day finally arrived, working under timed conditions was a breeze because I’d already been doing it all week.

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Lastly, and this is very important and it will make a big difference on test day, you need to build extra time into your schedule for relaxation right before your official test day.

Don’t study the night before the test and certainly don’t study the morning of the test. Your brain needs to be rested. If it isn’t rested, you’ll lose focus and lose valuable points. Yes, if you need to, you can spend ten or fifteen minutes doing a few warm-up questions to get your mind ready before the test, but don’t spend more time than that.

Let’s repeat that last point. You need to relax the night before and the morning of the test. You might even want to take a few other days off as well. When I took the GRE, I only studied on 3 days during the last week and spent the rest of my time taking hikes, going to the movies, and playing board games with my friends. I didn’t cram for the test because I already had the right skills. Instead, I gave myself the time I needed both mentally and physically to be well rested for test day.

Another person, Natalie, who scored a 174 on the LSAT, studied each and every day during the last week before the test, but she only dedicated for about 30 minutes per session instead of the usual 2-3 hours. She knew that it would make her worry and doubt herself if she took whole days off like I did, so she just dialed her study time back a few notches. Everyone is different, so how you create time for rest will look different for you.

The key is to create time for rest and to resist the temptation to do last minute cramming.

Write your schedule down on a calendar. I like to use Google Calendar, others like to have a paper calendar which they hang on the wall above their desk, and others prefer to use apps on their smartphones to manage their time. The key is to plan it out, write it down, and follow through with your plan.

Now that you’ve written your schedule out, you’ll need to implement it. The schedule is your key to success. Stick to that schedule. Live the schedule. Be the schedule.

5. Have fun

Here’s another well-guarded secret. You are going to have to study hard, it is going to be painful, and there will be days where you are going to want to quit. But that doesn’t mean that it always has to be that way.

People who get exceptional LSAT and GRE scores and students who get straight A’s in school usually don’t get great results because they make themselves miserable. They get good grades because they love to learn. This means that they enjoy studying and they find ways to make it fun.

Felipe, another top 1% scorer on the LSAT, put a jar on his kitchen counter when he was studying for his test. For every hour that he studied, he put a five-dollar bill in the jar. By the end of his 3 months of studying he had saved up enough money to take his fiancé on a weekend beach trip. Every time he put money in that jar he dreamt about sunny skies, ice cold drinks, and swimming in the ocean. It gave him something to look forward to. It made it fun. And you know what? He got a 173 on the LSAT and the very next day he and his fiancé were on a beach sipping cocktails.  

Linda, who aced the GRE, had just moved to New York City when she started studying for the test. Since she was new in town, and since she had to spend a few hours studying each day, she decided that she would find a new coffee shop to study in each and every week. Instead of being a chore, studying became an adventure! She explored neighborhoods all over the city, she discovered other interesting places like bars and museums that were off the beaten track, and she met dozens of new friends. Not only did she conquer the GRE, but she discovered a whole new city in the process.

So let’s sum it all up. Getting the best scores on the LSAT and the GRE is complicated. But, there are some key things that you should be doing: You need to prioritize your mental and physical health, you will get better results by finding people who can help you, being strategic in your studying will make you stand out from the crowd, sticking to a schedule is absolutely essential, and you should also try to have fun studying.

And, as always, Ivy Academic Prep is here to help you with our elite 1-on-1 test prep tutoring. Working with one of our elite one-on-one LSAT or GRE tutors can give you a competitive edge that will give your scores a much-needed boost.

You can get a top 1% score. You have the passion and now you have a plan….Be smart, be strategic, be successful. Good luck!

Posted by, Matthew T. Riley, PhD. Founder and Director of Ivy Academic Prep.