A good score on Law School Admission Test, better known as the LSAT, is viewed by many to be the most important part of getting into a top-tier law school. Rather than testing what you've already learned, it's designed to measure and project your ability to excel in law school. Because of this narrow focus, the LSAT is vastly different from many other standardized tests that students take in high school or college. Its unique nature requires that you clearly understand its format and the type of questions that will be asked.
The test is broken into five separate sections: analytical reasoning, two logical reasoning sections, reading comprehension, and a writing section. The writing section is unscored, but it's provided to each law school to which a given student applies. The other sections are each 35 minutes long and contain 24 to 28 questions. Given that there are two logical reasoning sections, that portion of the test carries the most weight—it counts for 50 percent of the final score. Those sections test your ability to analyze and criticize arguments that are presented to you. The analytical reasoning section contains four "logic games," which test your ability to understand the structure of complex relationships. The reading comprehension section more closely mirrors those that can be found on other standardized tests, asking you to understand what you read in the limited time you're given. The maximum score for the test is 180, but a score of 170 usually puts you in the 98th percentile.
Given that the LSAT is considered by many law schools to be the most accurate measure of your ability to perform in law school, it is given a tremendous amount of weight in the application process. Admissions officials feel that solid performance in undergraduate classes might not necessarily correlate to success in law school. So, it's important to invest significant time and energy prior to taking the LSAT. Use these seven tips to get started:
1. It's a marathon, not a sprint. Oftentimes aspiring law students will let LSAT preparation slip by the wayside during their busy weeks in school or at work, only to spend hours on the weekends cramming and taking an endless number of practice tests. While practice tests are important, it's best to keep your mind LSAT-ready at all times, practicing a new section each day with the occasional or weekly practice test thrown in the mix, experts say. Andrew Brody, national content director for LSAT programs for the Princeton Review, compares preparing for the LSAT to training for a marathon. He encourages students to keep their minds sharp at all times, but not to overwork them. "You wouldn't run a marathon every day to train for a marathon," he says. "But you also wouldn't do nothing all week and then run miles and miles on the weekend. You do a little bit of focused work [everyday] to keep yourself in shape with occasional long runs—or practice tests—mixed in."
2. Help yourself, not your buddy. While there are benefits to studying anything with a friend, the LSAT exposes your personal strengths and weaknesses more clearly than any other standardized test, experts say. Given the analytic nature of most questions, what comes easily to one person may prove to be a challenge for their friend. Studying in a group can be detrimental, given that it might make you prone to review the test in a general fashion rather than focusing on your specific weaknesses. Because the test does not quiz you on content but rather how you use logic and think analytically, cramming with a friend is of little benefit. It's best to learn what gives you the most trouble and drill yourself on those questions alone or with the help of a tutor or LSAT instructor. Because the LSAT is a skills-based test "every student is unique," says Jeff Thomas, director of pre-law programs at Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions. "If a student and a buddy are prepping for the LSAT and if they go along the same course of action, same assignments, same prep exercises, they're going to have immensely different results. Every student is different."
3. Don't just practice. Analyze. Because of the unfamiliar nature of many of the questions you'll encounter on the LSAT, you must practice them regularly to get accustomed to their format. Mere practice isn't enough, however, testing experts say. After you work through a timed practice section or timed practice test, don't just tabulate your results and record your score. Instead, look closely at each question you missed and try to discern what led you to the wrong answer. Students who have received high scores on the test note that practice without analysis leads to little improvement. "A lot of students take a prep course and assume it's the course's job or the teacher's job to make the learning easy for them, like they don't have to do the work," says Cody Goehring, who received a 173 on the LSAT and will be attending Harvard Law School this fall. "They never actually look at the ones they miss. If you really want to improve that's really the most effective way to improve—to review every question that you miss and understand why you miss it before you move on."
4. Shape your critical thinking in class. While the LSAT doesn't test content learned in either high school or college, some college classes can help you get in the right mindset to tackle the test. Taking classes in logic, philosophy, or critical writing can prepare you for the test because they require you to analyze complicated theories or texts and present ideas gleaned from those texts in a concise and logical manner, which is similar to what the LSAT demands. Experts note that these classes are far from mandatory for LSAT preparation or even getting into law school, but say that they can make a difference, even if it's only a few points. It's ultimately not what you learn in these classes that matters, but how you learn to understand and express complex concepts. "Any course that requires lots of dense reading on unfamiliar topics is helpful, as the LSAT's reading comprehension topics are specifically chosen to be areas with which few test takers have any prior familiarity," says Steve Schwartz, an independent LSAT tutor and author of an LSAT Blog. "Being comfortable with dense passages on new topics is very helpful when the LSAT suddenly throws you a curveball topic on test day."
[See our rankings of Best Law Schools.]
5. Be sure to play games before the test. Testing experts agree that the test's analytical reasoning, or "logic games" section, is one of the most difficult sections for students to wrap their minds around initially because it's vastly different from anything else they've seen on standardized tests. The four games in the section each pose five to seven questions that require students to understand complex hypothetical relationships between multiple parties or objects. The easiest way to solve these is to diagram the relationships so they can be more easily visualized and understood than what can be garnered from simply reading the text and answering the questions. "Don't try to keep everything in your head," Brody says. "The logic games section instructions say, 'You may want to draw a rough diagram,' but that's crazy. You do want to draw a diagram. You do want to keep your work." Though these games may be challenging at first, there is an upside. "Logic games is the section of the test that is the most foreign and most feared by students," says Thomas of Kaplan. "But it's also the most coachable. We tend to see the most dramatic improvements in that section."
6. Answer everything. Unlike the SAT, there is no penalty for getting an incorrect answer on the LSAT, so it's important to at the very least make an educated guess on each question. Leaving it blank does you no good. Also, every question is weighted the same. Tougher questions count just the same toward the final score as their simpler counterparts, so don't get bogged down trying to answer the difficult ones. Answer as many easy questions as you can and revisit the tough questions with your remaining time. It's much wiser to tackle questions that are in your wheelhouse first and guess on the harder ones than to dwell on the difficult ones and rush through simpler ones as your time expires, potentially botching them because of the time crunch. "The questions that you spend the most time on are the ones you're most likely to get wrong," says Goehring. "Even if you were guaranteed to get the question right, but you had to spend five minutes on it, how many easy questions would you have gotten right in that same amount of time?"
7. Know where to find the easier questions. According to regular Kaplan studies on the structure of prior LSATs, the questions in the analytical reasoning and reading comprehension sections tend to get harder in succession. There are exceptions, but it's usually the case that the first logic game is simpler than the next and the first reading passage will be easier to discern than the ones that follow. In the logical reasoning sections, the difficulty also increases as you progress deeper into the test but eventually plateaus in the middle and the sections become easier near the end, according to Thomas. "It rewards the test taker that understands there are easy ones to be had in the back of the section," he says. "When it gets harder toward the middle, it's often advantageous to go to the back and work backward."
Searching for a college? Get our complete rankings of America's Best Colleges.