A handy reference article to help map out your LSAT prep
Written by: Nancy Rapp, JD/MAT
From the cost of the LSAT to the question format to how to study, this article identifies the most important factors to keep in mind as you prepare for this all-important exam.
Though you may have hoped to end your days of standardized testing like the SAT and ACT once you left high school, the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) is an obstacle for everyone who plans to apply to law school. The test is tedious and focuses on your ability to read carefully and analyze. This article helps law school candidates prepare for this potentially daunting exam.
Does my LSAT score matter?
Though many colleges are dropping the SATs from their admissions requirements, the LSAT is still required by most law schools. Most law schools consider your score at least to some degree, and the “better” law schools demand high scores. Though you’ll have the same “juris doctor” next to your name no matter where you go to law school, if you’re heart is set on an Ivy League school then you’ll need to score a 170 or higher to even be considered. (A perfect score is 180.)
The good news is you can take the exam multiple times, and only your highest score will be considered by most schools. If you’re retaking the exam after you’ve sent in your application, you can let the schools know another score is coming.
Like most standardized tests, you’ll pay a fee to take the LSAT. Currently, the exam costs $190. If you try to change test centers, register late or ask for hand scoring, the price increases by at $100 or more. In a few cases, fee waivers are possible as are $50 refunds, but those require contacting the Law School Admissions Council directly.
Enjuris tip: In addition to paying for the LSAT, law school applicants must pay $195 for the LSAC to compile your application information and send it to your desired schools.
What is covered on the LSAT?
The LSAT is broken down into 4 sections. Each section is 35 minutes long, and you’ll have one, unmarked, “experimental” 35-minute section that won’t impact your score. The sections are:
1. Analytical reasoning
This is the infamous “logic games” section of the LSAT. The questions are similar to what you’d find on a Mensa exam, and ask you to solve puzzles such as arranging a dinner table where some people can’t sit next to each other.
2. Logical reasoning
Logical reasoning makes up 50% of the LSAT as it’s the only section that appears twice, so it’s important to devote a fair amount of time to these questions. The types of questions vary significantly, but this section tests your ability to analyze arguments and draw conclusions.
3. Reading comprehension
The reading comprehension questions on the LSAT are similar to other standardized tests you’ve probably taken. The difference is these passages are nonfiction and densely worded. The good news is the questions themselves don’t vary much, so proper studying will help you anticipate what you’ll need to look for in each passage.
4. Writing sample
The unscored writing sample can’t be overlooked. You’ll be asked to pick a position on a specified topic and will need to explain yourself thoroughly. Though this section won’t impact your grade, your answer will be sent to the schools you apply to. It’s unreported how many schools actually look at the sample, but it would be unwise to give anything less than your best effort.
How to prepare for the LSAT
There’s no denying the LSAT requires adequate preparation. Many test takers find the different sections challenging, and the test is designed to be tedious. The reading comprehension questions, for example, contain passages that are meant to be long, uninteresting and a bit confusing. Law school applicants are encouraged to perform their “due diligence” and use this 3-step guide when studying for the LSAT:
Step 1: Take at least one practice test BEFORE you start your official test prep.
Before you sign yourself up for a $1,500 LSAT prep course, give yourself a chance to see how you perform on the test “cold turkey.” Many different websites offer practice questions, and several sites have the full exam available for you to preview. Take the practice test seriously and give it your all. Your score will help you gauge what prep you need and will also give you a starting point to track your progress.
Enjuris tip: When you run out of free tests, Amazon and other retailers also sell official LSATs for you to use as practice for as low as $5 a test.
Step 2: Consider all of your options.
LSAT study options are plentiful. Whether you want a tutor, an online prep course, an in-person class or just a study guide, you’ll certainly be able to find what you’re looking for. Selecting your choice of test prep, however, can be overwhelming.
No one prep is considered the “best,” so you really need to buckle down and think about how you would benefit the most. If you tend to zone out in classes, maybe a tutor is your best option. If one section was particularly difficult, consider getting a book centered on that particular question format.
Just because your university offers an LSAT prep course doesn’t mean it’s the right test prep for you. Exam prep also doesn’t have to be expensive. Really think about what methods help you learn best and research the options you’re considering.
Step 3: Practice, practice, practice.
Simply telling you to practice isn’t the point of this step. Your exam prep must be meaningful in order to actually improve your score. Here are some dos and don’ts to studying for the LSAT:
DON’T take practice tests in unrealistic circumstances. You won’t have music or the TV playing while you’re taking the real test, so eliminate external stimuli from your study habits. Try going to the library or other unfamiliar quiet locations.
DO keep track of your scores on every test. You need to know if your score is improving, and if one section is dragging you down more than the others. If you’re not seeing improvements, it’s time to change your method of test prep.
DON’T assume that once you get a high score you’ve done “enough. The tests vary each year as do each section’s degree of difficulty. One year the Analytical Reasoning will have the trickiest questions. The next year could be a different section or the same. In order to truly gauge how you’ll perform on the real test, you need to see several top scores before you can consider yourself ready.
DO try to mimic the actual exam in terms of length. Many students don’t consider the impact of the unscored experimental section on the actual exam as well as the unscored writing sample. Though these won’t affect your grade, you need to realize how much of a mental marathon the LSAT will be. Thus, you should practice taking the test at its true length as best you can. Make yourself write a paragraph and add some old practice questions to stretch out your practice LSAT’s length.
DO follow the standard test prep rules you’ve used for years. It may seem obvious to say, but preparation for the LSAT also involves plenty of sleep, eating well, stress relief exercises, etc. Too often college students fixate on their LSAT score and forget to maintain their physical and mental health. Allowing yourself to panic and think the future of your law career depends on one test won’t put you in the right mindset for the exam. Do the best you can, but know you can always take the test again or consider other perfectly qualified law schools that will accept you without an impossibly high score.
Now that you know the most important factors to consider when taking the LSAT, it’s time to buckle down and get to work. Happy studying and good luck!