Are you stressed about the LSAT? That’s perfectly normal; almost everyone who takes the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) has at least a little anxiety. After all, there’s a lot at stake. Studying for the LSAT is essential for anyone who is planning to go to law school and then go on to become a practicing attorney.
According to the organization that administers the LSAT, the Law School Admission Council (LSAC.org), “The test is designed specifically to assess critical reading, analytical reasoning, logical reasoning, and persuasive writing skills — key skills needed for success in law school.”
Offered periodically throughout the year, the LSAT costs $200, takes approximately four hours to complete and is considered to be extremely difficult.
So, how should you study for the LSAT? Many people prepare by taking an LSAT prep course or at least by doing thorough online research and taking practice tests. Here are some tips to help de-stress your LSAT preparation and get you ready and confident for the big day.
How to Prepare for the LSAT [Overview]
OK, the LSAT is a notoriously challenging test and thorough preparation is absolutely essential. This is not one of those tests you can cram for at the last minute and ace thanks to your baseline smarts and all-nighter acumen.
The LSAT is administered in two parts — a multiple-choice exam covering reading comprehension, analytical reasoning, logical reasoning skills; and a written essay. You’ll want to have a strategy for familiarizing yourself with question formats and for tackling each of the multiple-choice sections.
Traditionally, the LSAT was administered at in-person testing sites. However, that situation is changing. The LSAT switched to a digital (tablet) format in mid-2019, with students taking the multiple-choice sections at a test center and the writing section at home. In response to COVID-19, the LSAC has created the LSAT-Flex, which is a three-section digital exam that students take at home; this was administered in May and is expected to be the format for Summer 2020 tests and perhaps into the future.
There’s a reason why many people take the test a second or third time. A high score can make the difference between gaining acceptance at the law school of your choice and settling for Plan B or C. Statistics show that at any given testing site approximately 75% are taking the LSAT for the first time, while the rest are retaking it to try to achieve the highest possible score.
With so much riding on the outcome, most students devote themselves to in-depth, time-consuming study sessions, and many choose to further increase their chances for success by taking LSAT prep courses.
Register for the LSAT
To register for the LSAT, start an account at LSAC.org and apply online. You can also register by calling (215) 968-1001.
It is generally considered a good idea to register well in advance. According to LSAC, “Many law schools require that the LSAT be taken by December for admission the following fall. However, taking the test earlier is often advised.” For one thing, locking in on your test date helps provide motivation and curb procrastination when it comes to studying.
Start Preparation Months Ahead of Your Test Date
Earning the best possible score on your LSAT is said to require at least three or more months of consistent study. Test-takers are urged to understand this and begin studying for the test as far in advance as possible. Starting early is considered essential, and it is consistently emphasized that procrastination and last-minute cramming will likely yield less-than-satisfactory results.
Block Out a Study Schedule (Months Ahead of Test Date)
It is often recommended that students devote 2 to 3 hours per day, 4 to 5 days a week to their LSAT preparation work. To keep up that pace for at least 6 to 8 weeks, and up to 3 months or longer, requires a formal schedule. Otherwise, it can be easy to let LSAT studies slip by the wayside.
Therefore, it can be helpful to think of your test preparation as if it represented another course on your already busy schedule. This can help you block out your calendar with regular, designated LSAT study hours.
Start By Taking an LSAT Practice Test
It is generally recommended that you start by taking a free LSAT practice test to begin to get a feel for the exam and also to get a baseline score so you will have a better idea of where you stand. The LSAT is scored on a scale of 120-180. The average score is about 150, but those looking to gain entrance to top law schools are motivated to attain scores above 160.
The exam is divided into five sections of multiple-choice questions — Logical Reasoning (two sections), Analytical Reasoning, Reading Comprehension and an unscored experimental section — plus a writing sample.
According to LSAC:
“Taking practice tests under time constraints will help you estimate how much time you can afford to spend on each question. It will also identify which question types you need more practice with. Knowing in advance what the test instructions and the question types look like will minimize distractions from your main focus on test day: answering test questions and budgeting your time wisely to do so.”
Advice varies greatly on how many LSAT practice tests to take during your months of preparation, but many students end up completing several dozen sample exams.
Additional practice test advice includes:
- Taking both timed and untimed tests
- Thoroughly reviewing every practice test you take
- Identifying and analyzing every mistake you made
- Revisiting any questions that took too long to solve
Some students create a spreadsheet-type record of their practice test regimen that includes info on each answer missed, so patterns involving mistakes can be analyzed.
Understand the LSAT Sections and Question Formats
Since the LSAT covers several distinct sections, you’ll want to make sure that you are adequately and effectively preparing for each of them.
It is important to be aware that the Logical Reasoning component essentially makes up half of your score, since it comprises two of the four sections used for scoring. Many people respond to this factor by devoting twice as much study time to Logical Reasoning as to the other sections — Analytical Reasoning and Reading Comprehension. Note: Students taking the LSAT are not told which section is the unscored, experimental section mentioned above.
Taking practice tests is considered to be one of the best ways to familiarize yourself with how the questions are structured in each of the multiple-choice sections.
The writing sample section does not count toward your score, but it is provided to each law school to which a student applies. Though unscored, the writing sample is important because law school admissions officials may assess your writing sample as part of their overall consideration of your application, so this is an opportunity to impress them with your communication skills.
Practice Logical Reasoning
According to LSAC, “Logical reasoning (LR) questions assess your ability to analyze, critically evaluate, and complete arguments.”
As seen in this LSAT – Logical Reasoning video, you’ll read short argumentative passages of 20-100 words and be asked one question about each passage. There are about 25 questions per section, 50 for the entire test.
The video examines a sample question to help you understand how the questions are structured. Commonly used question structures may require you to read an argument and determine:
- Which one of the following is the overall conclusion of the argument?
- Which one of the following is most strongly supported by the statements above?
- The argument commits which one of the following errors in reasoning?
- Which one of the following, if true, most strengthens the argument?
Subject matter knowledge is not required for these questions, so cramming does no good. The only option is to hone your powers of Logical Reasoning through study and practice testing.
Practice Analytical Reasoning
According to LSAC, “Analytical reasoning (AR) questions measure your ability to understand a structure of relationships and draw conclusions about that structure.”
As seen in this LSAT – Analytical Reasoning video, this section requires you to read passages of 130 words or less that describe a scenario and a set of rules that apply to the scenario, then answer 5-7 questions about what can or must be the case. The questions require test takers to review the scenario and the rules that govern it, then answer questions.
Tips shared in the video include:
- Read the passage and questions carefully and literally (watching out for subtle nuances that might lead you astray)
- Sketch out tables or diagrams where helpful (for example, to visualize the relationships being described)
- Make your own shorthand versions of the rules (helpful for when you will need to refer back to them to solve the question)
- Pay close attention to words like: only, exactly, accept, not, must be, cannot be (since they contain essential information)
- Pay close attention to conditional statements (often phrased with an “if, then” construction)
This section, which tests your ability to understand the structure of complex relationships and is sometimes described as “logic games,” is one of the most challenging since it is unlike anything most students have encountered on tests.
Practice Reading Comprehension
According to LSAC, “Reading comprehension (RC) questions measure your ability to read and understand examples of long-form, complex materials that are similar to those that you'll encounter in law school.”
As seen in this LSAT – Reading Comprehension video, this section challenges students to answer approximately 27 questions, divided into four sets, about different reading passages. There are two basic formats:
- 5-8 questions about a single passage of approximately 460 words
- 5-8 questions testing “comparative reading” skills with questions about a pair of related passages
The multiple-choice questions focusing on a single passage typically use the following formats:
- Which of the following most accurately expresses the main point in the passage?
- Which one of the following can be inferred from the passage?
- The author of the passage is most likely to agree with which one of the following statements?
- Which one of the following principles is operative in the author’s argument?
Questions on two related passages are typically presented as follows:
- Which one of the following is a topic that is central to both passages?
- The authors would be most likely to agree on which one of the following?
- Which one of the following most accurately characterizes the relationship between the two authors?
Top tips for tackling these questions:
- Read each passage carefully (skimming the passage is asking for trouble).
- Try to identify the main point and the other points of view.
- Keep contrasting points of view straight.
- Try to see the implications of the passage.
This section may feel more familiar to students since it has some similarities to the verbal- or reading-related sections on other standardized tests.
Take an LSAT Test Prep Course
Conventional wisdom suggests that hunkering down and doing months of prep work is essential for success. But in practice, devoting so much time to preparing for a test that is months away can be very challenging for students to commit to.
Taking an LSAT prep course is incredibly valuable for a number of reasons:
- First, it provides some external motivation to keep you fully engaged in the process.
- Second, it gives you a comprehensive review of the overall test, the specific sections, the question formats, strategies for excelling on each section and access to practice exams.
- Perhaps most important, it connects you with an experienced LSAT coach who can help you identify strengths and weaknesses, and also connect you with helpful insights that you might miss in your intensive, independent study.
There are numerous LSAT prep courses to choose from. For example, the highly regarded LSAT prep course offered online by the University of San Diego enables you to complete the work online, on your own schedule, while enjoying access to an experienced instructor.
Best of luck in your studies! Contact us today to learn more about the LSAT test prep opportunities offered through the University of San Diego.