Preparing for the LSAT

If you hope to get into a good law school, doing well on the LSAT is essential. Every accredited law school requires an LSAT score before they will even consider admitting you. The LSAT is the best known predictor of first year law school success.

What Should I Expect from the LSAT?

The LSAT exam is designed to measure skills that are considered essential for success in law school: the reading and comprehension of complex tests with accuracy and insight; the organization and management of information and the ability to draw reasonable inferences from it; the ability to think critically; and the analysis and evaluation of the reasoning and argument of others. The test has five 35-minute sections of multiple choice questions and an essay. The score is derived from four of the five multiple choice sections. One section is un-scored and is used to pretest new questions. You should not try to guess which section—even seasoned professional test takers have confessed that they don’t know. The written section is not scored, but it is sent to law schools.

You register for the test at the Law School Admission Council(LSAC) website. On the site you can find other information about the test, including some free practice materials. The test is given in February, June, October, and December. The most popular time to take the test is October, but the recommended time is June so that you don’t have to be distracted by your other studies.

Last year over 171,500 aspiring law students took this test. These prospective law students are competing for around 58,000 law school seats. 2 out of 3 potential law students will not have a law school seat. Only half of the test takers even apply to law school. Of those that have good enough scores to apply to law school, 1 out of 3 will not make it.

In general, you can expect to have a difficult time getting into law school if your score is below 150. Assuming a decent GPA, scores in the 150’s will give you a legitimate chance at some law schools, but you are not going to be in the presumptive admits; your application will be scrutinized. When you make it to the 160’s you will be in the presumptive admits for all but the top 50 or so law schools. With a 169, you have a legitimate chance at virtually any law school. In the 170’s you will be a presumptive admit in all but the top 10 law schools.

Because of its weight in the law school admissions process, the LSAT should be taken seriously. If you would have scored in the 150’s without preparation, and you are able to work your way into the 160’s, it will make all the difference in your choice of law school. In the 160’s, with a 3.0 G.P.A. you can be confident in a seat at a top 100 law school, and almost guarantee a seat at a Tier 3 or 4.

How Can I Be Ready for the LSAT?

The LSAT does not test knowledge. Instead, it tests skills (critical thinking and reading). The LSAT does not assume that any test taker has knowledge of a particular academic discipline. The only thing that LSAT assumes is that you read and write English at a college level. Undergraduate college courses that require logic, writing, or critical thinking, will help develop LSAT skills.

You should plan on a minimum of 3 months to study. If you are great at standardized tests, you might get by with 2 months, but why risk it? If you are terrible at standardized tests, you should plan on budgeting even more time. With a little practice and familiarity, your score will improve by a few points immediately. It will usually take another 150 hours of study before any more significant improvement occurs. Most people experience an immediate improvement, when they learn a few little logical tricks that they didn’t have before, and then they plateau for a while. If you want to see real improvement, and not just a small bump of five points or so, then you need to understand that studying for the LSAT requires consistent effort. It’s rumored that the writers of the LSAT have stated that a person should study for six months if they want to do well.

Study Process:

At a minimum, you need to find some good prep books. If you look to the right column, we have recommended some good, and very reasonably-priced, books to use. Or, you can run down to the local bookstore and pick a couple out. The LSAT requires you to think differently than you are used to. And, there are concepts you need to learn about basic logic, and the significance of words like “if,” “only if,” “unless,” “necessary,” and “sufficient.” These prep books are going to give you the foundation you need to begin this transformation.

You should strongly consider studying for an hour or so a day, instead of trying to do marathon sessions. If you study frequently, you will be in the habit of getting into the test taking zone that will help you on test day. While each book and system is going to recommend a slightly different study schedule, you should expect to pick an area of focus, review the study materials for that area, work on practice questions, and review and score your answers. It is important to attempt to understand why each answer is correct, and to gradually work on increasing your speed at the questions.

Because of the importance of the LSAT, we recommend taking a prep course. Studies consistently show that people who attend an LSAT prep course do better on the LSAT. Even if your score is only a few points higher from this process, it could mean the difference from having a seat at law school or not. And, even if you are reasonably confident you will get into a law school, a few points can make a major difference in the quality of law school that you are admitted to.  On the right is a link to a free Kaplan LSAT Practice test.  At a minimum, take advantage of this free offer. 

The courses are going to take an investment of money. Expect to pay about what you would pay for a normal 3 hour class at a university. But, they organize the material for you and keep you disciplined. The instructors give you individualized attention and tailor their advice to your unique weaknesses. Often you will not even notice the problem that a professional will help you to identify and correct. The course will also cover everything you need to know for the LSAT. You will also get an accurate gauge on where you stand with your score, information you can use in determining whether or not to postpone the test or hire a personal tutor.

General Strategies for the LSAT

The most important advice we have for LSAT takers is to be confident that you are achieving your highest potential score before you sit for the test the first time. Do not go into the LSAT planning to retake the test if you are unhappy with your score. If needed, postpone the test so that you have the opportunity to do your best.

The LSAT test is scored by counting the number of correct answers. You are not penalized for incorrect answers. So, the worst thing you can do is leave a question unanswered. If you find that you are out of time—hopefully your prep will minimize this occurrence—then you should guess at any unanswered question.

The LSAT randomly mixes the level of difficulty in its questions and contains a variety of easy and hard questions. On the LSAT, easy questions count just as much as hard ones. If you are spending a lot of time on a hard question, guess and move on. There are easier ones to come. With practice, however, you can learn to identify the hard questions and skip them altogether. In general, in the Logical Reasoning section, look for the shortest questions—they are the easiest; in the Reading Comprehension or Analytical Reasoning sections, look for the least intimidating game or passage to start with. Once you have completed the easier questions, you can spend whatever time you have left on the hard ones.

Answer each question carefully the first time you go through the exam. The LSAT is designed to be time constrained. You will not have time to review your answers.

Take a timed practice exam so that you can gauge how you handle the questions when you are under the time limits you will face on exam day. You should save a full practice exam that you have never seen before for this purpose.

The Writing Sample of the test will not count in your score, but each law school you apply to will get a copy. Given two identically scored applicants, it could make a difference. Spend a few minutes outlining your essay. It is a basic, persuasive essay. The writing sample question poses a situation where there are two more-or-less equal alternatives, and your task is to make an argument about why one alternative should be chosen over the other. A good answer would discuss the pros and cons of both alternatives but then make a case why one alternative is better. (For example: While A provides such and such, B provides such and such as well but also has the added bonus of so and so; therefore B is the better option). There is no right answer to this question: the question simply tests your ability to make a clear, well-organized, well-supported, persuasive argument. A well-organized, concise, essay will serve you better than a long, rambling, essay that makes brilliant points.

What Do I Do if I Bomb the LSAT?

Hopefully, the advice we have given you has adequately prepared you to do your best on the LSAT. But, if something happens and you know that you have really messed up during the test, you can consider cancelling your score. There are two ways to do this. You can cancel the score on your answer sheet by following the instructions given. If you mess up on this part, LSAC will report your score. You can also fax LSAC a score cancellation form within 6 calendar days of the test. If you are cancelling your score, you might consider doing both.

If you get a score, and it is worse that you wanted, you may be tempted to retake the LSAT. According to one study, candidates who took the test a second time earn scored on average 2.7 points higher than their first scores. But, remember, this number is an average. Many test takers achieve higher scores but also many test takers actually earn lower scores. Some law schools will look at the higher score, but many will average the scores. All law schools will know that you have multiple scores. So, should you retest?

We think it depends. If your score is not good enough to get you into a law school, the answer is yes. But, you should definitely spend time in a live prep class and consider a personal tutor. If your score is ok but you know you can do better, we don’t recommend that you retake the LSAT unless you are very confident that you will increase your score by at least 8 points.

For more tips, be sure to check out the Law School Coach Guide to Law School Admissions.