Knowing What You Don’t Know


There’s a difference between what you know you know and what you don’t know you know. On that LSAT, that difference is measured in seconds or minutes of indecision. How long do you hover over an answer before you move on to the  next question?

Psychologists and business schools recognize how important this difference is. The “Johari Window” shows four possible states of knowledge, ranging from the “things you know you know” to the “things you don’t know you don’t know.”

The Johari Window


Knowing these four categories helps you on the LSAT. If you know what you know, you can save time by nailing certain questions and moving on without thinking twice or looking back. If you know what you don’t know, you can flag those questions and get back to them if you have time left. By contrast, “unknown knowns” and “unknown unknowns” are a problem. Each question you get right without being sure of yourself (an “unknown known”) slows you down when you need to be moving fast, while each right answer you cross off (because you don’t know what you don’t know) hurts you more than just guessing. It only takes a second to guess an answer and you have a 20% chance of guessing right. By contrast, it takes more time to choose between four wrong answers and you have a 0% chance of getting it right when you’re done.

Using this information for LSAT preparation is easy and effective. The first step is to identify “known knowns.” How sure are you that you got a question right? I sometimes ask my students to “bet” on questions when they take a preptest. Pick a chore you hate (for me, it’s polishing my huge copper bathtub). If I “bet” I got it right but I really got it wrong, I have to roll up my sleeves and get out the polish. If I’m not willing to take the bet, I do a “blind review” of that question. (If you don’t know what a blind review is, here’s an hour-long workshop to fill you in!)

If you can take all four sections of a preptest without “scrubbing your tub,” you have already achieved a high degree of accuracy. You know what you know. If, on the other hand, you find yourself consistently losing “bets,” you will soon either have the world’s most sparkly bathroom or you’ll actively zero in the question types that deceive you.

That leaves the questions you are unsure of. With the “blind review” method, you answer every question under time pressure and then go back and take as long as you need to think through the questions you were unsure about. Figure out why every wrong answer is wrong, and make sure that each right answer is right. See if you can prove that every single answer in the section is correct before you score the test. (If you can’t demonstrate that there is one and only one right answer and you know what it is, then you’ve just discovered a question type where you need help.)

When you finally score that test (or section), pay special attention to any wrong answers that survived the blind review. These are answers that you didn’t know you didn’t know. For people who aren’t preparing properly, this is the worst possible situation, because they will make that same mistake again and again. For someone who is eager to discover what  they don’t know they don’t know, this is the best possible situation. Each one of these “unknown  unknown” questions is a pure gold from a practice perspective. The minute you identify an unknown unknown, it becomes a known unknown which you can conquer.

One thought on “Knowing What You Don’t Know”

  1. Mr. Somerville,
    Thank you very much for this post. As I count the days on one hand before the 6 June LSAT, I notice too how slowly I am answering questions. The Johari Window and your special application of it have lit a path for highlighting what I don’t know yet. Ultimately, I believe by saving the questions which frequently confuse me for the end will save time for processing the question types I confidently answer regularly.

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