The Law School Admissions Test or LSAT is, as the name indicates, a standardized test for students wishing to enter law school. It is currently required by all ABA-accredited law schools and administered by the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC). Unlike other graduates admissions tests, such as the GRE and GMAT, the LSAT is still given as a pencil and paper standardized test, not a computer adaptive one.
As such, the LSAT has been shown to respond to preparation and, given that it is a requirement for law schools to obtain ABA certification, it is a test both worth preparing for and one where proper preparation can make a large difference.
Though most law schools don’t publicize their LSAT requirements, there are several places that report on average and minimum applicant scores, giving students an idea of the score range they need to aim for in order to get into a desired school. This information can make it easy for students to determine how much preparation they need and when they may want to take the exam.
But despite all of these advantages, many potential law students are intimidated by the LSAT. Not only have many been away from school for a lengthy period of time and may have lost some of their test-taking skills, the test has a much more narrow focus than other standardized tests, dealing solely with reasoning and comprehension.
On that note, understanding what is on the LSAT and preparing for it accordingly can be the difference between a mediocre score and an excellent one, or even the difference between getting into the law school you desire or settling for a second choice.
The Basics of the LSAT
The LSAT underwent a major transformation in the early nineties when the scoring system was done away and several sections of the test were removed, including math and science portions. For this reason, test questions and practice tests based on versions given before 1990 are not viewed as modern and should not be used.
The current test has four different sections including three multiple choice, each at 35 minutes in length, and one writing portion. Those sections are as follow:
1. Reading Comprehension: The reading portion of this exam consists of a series short passages on a variety of topics, each roughly 500 words in length, and has the student answer a set of questions about it. This section of the test is very similar to the critical reading sections on the SAT and should be very familiar to most students.
2. Analytical Reasoning: This section of the test consists of four different logic “puzzles” that are followed by a series of questions. These puzzles generally set up a series of rules for the situation, such as the order numbers must be in when creating a product code and the test then asks the examinee to make determinations and inferences based upon this setup.
3. Logical Reasoning: This section of the test looks at the examinee’s ability to analyze, complete, refute or understand an argument. This section involves a series of prompts, consisting either of a series of facts or an argumentative statement, and then asks the test taker to interact with it in some way. Most prompts are followed with just one question though some do have two.
4. Writing Sample: The last section of the test, the writing sample, asks the student to make an argument based upon prompt that gives them one of two choices. The goal of the prompt is to give the examinee the chance to write at length on the topic, without being too controversial or introducing personal bias.
In addition to the graded questions, the LSAT includes one ungraded multiple choice questions that will not affect the student’s overall score but will be used for research purposes and for question selection in future tests.
The LSAT treats an incorrect answer the same as an incomplete answer, meaning that it is in the examinee’s best interest to guess on questions that they are unsure of the answer.
Overall, the LSAT is a normalized test, meaning that scores are adjusted to fit on a bell curve. The scores range from 120 to 180, with 150 being the median. It is important to note that the written portion of the test is not graded but, instead, is copied as written to any schools that the student applies to for their own evaluation.
All in all, compared to the GRE and the GMAT, the LSAT is a relatively simple test to prepare for as it is not dynamic and the nature of the questions is very predictable. With that in mind, many different sites and companies have created LSAT preparation programs, many of which are free.
Preparing for the LSAT
Since the LSAT is such a standardized test, preparing for it can be done by both studying the subjects covered in the LSAT and taking sample tests/questions to understand the the logic process of the exam. Though the test doesn’t measure much in the way of specific factual knowledge, one can strengthen the general areas of testing before walking in.
Here are some of the places that a future examinee can prepare for the LSAT:
Official LSAT Preparation: The LSAC offers a variety of resources for those that are considering taking the LSAT including one previous test, sample questions with answers and explanations as well as additional past tests available for purchase. They also offer a series of official books and guides on the LSAT.
Yahoo! Education: Yahoo! has partnered with Kaplan to create a test preparation section on the LSAT, which includes practice questions for each of the sections of the test, including all three multiple choice sections, as well as general strategies for the LSAT and an overview about the writing section. This resource is completely free.
Powerscore: Powerscore offers a variety of live instructional lessons as well as three self-paced courses for LSAT preparation. These courses range in price from $50 for a self-paced course in one of the three multiple choice sections to over a thousand dollars for a 80-hours of live instruction
TestPrepReview: TestPrepReview, provides a lengthy series of practice questions and answer keys for free as well as a self-improvement directory that can help a future examinee fill in any weak spots they may have with their preparation for the LSAT.
AdmissionsConsultants: AdmissionsConsultants provides many free resources for potential test-takers including articles about general test strategies, sample questions and even a short video explaining some things to keep in mind when considering taking the LSAT.
With the LSAT the best preparation is generally to take practices tests and questions to become comfortable with the test and to understand how to pace oneself through the exam. Due to the short time for each section, 35 minutes, it is important to be able to move through the questions quickly.
Retaking the LSAT
Previously, most law schools averaged multiple LSAT scores, which remain valid for five years. However, most law schools now simply take the highest of the scores and use it as if it were the sole test. This means that retaking the test now has a much greater advantage and comes with less risk as a worse score does not penalize an applicant.
That being said, it is important to find out, if at all possible, how your desired law school handles multiple scores as every admissions program approaches the LSAT different.
In the end, the LSAT is a very different graduate-level entrance exam than the GRE and the GMAT. Not only is it a traditional pencil and paper exam, rather than a computer-adaptive one, but it is very narrowly focused on verbal and logic skills rather than covering a more broad range of topics.
Though the test structure may be more familiar to most of its examinees, it is important to take the LSAT seriously and treat it as a difficult test that must be well prepared for. Not only does it play a very important role in determining what law school you will likely attend, but it can open the doors for scholarships and even better jobs.
Fortunately, preparation for the LSAT has been shown to be effective in improving scores and there are plenty of resources out there to help you study before you walk in on test day.