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What is the Law School Admission Test (LSAT)?
The Law School Admission Test (LSAT) is one of the most daunting graduate school examinations. It's nearly impossible to enter a top law school without a great score. However, it is possible for most students to gain the skills necessary for success. This page is here to serve as a guide to college students who are seeking admission to law school. In the sections below, you will find information regarding the fees, scoring, and preparatory materials relating to the LSAT.
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Who Typically Takes the LSAT Test?
The LSAT is perhaps the most important exam for students seeking admission to the best law school. It seeks to test future lawyers on the skills that they will need to succeed as law students and lawyers after that. Scores on the LSAT are weighed very heavily in the admissions process, so students often spend months or longer preparing. However, times are changing, and some law schools have shifted their requirements and now accept the GRE as an option. However, the LSAT is still the most commonly accepted test for those looking to get into a great law program.
The test is broken down into four types of questions/problems: arguments, logic games, reading comprehension, and essay. The arguments section tests how good students are at pinpointing key parts of an argument, applying logic, and analyzing manuscripts for the most pertinent portions. The logic games section is comprised of four games that have four to seven questions attached to each. The reading portion will likely be familiar to those who have taken other standardized tests. Students will need to apply high-level comprehension to scholarly texts. The writing sample tests a student’s ability to formulate cogent arguments using written English.
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The three-and-a-half-hour examination can be retaken many times, if needed. Students are able to have their scores sent to their top-choice law schools. Since the GRE has a rising importance in even the best law school admissions, students might consider taking both, particularly if it seems that the GRE demonstrates abilities not reflected in their LSAT score.
Who Administers the Exam?
The LSAT is administered by the Law School Admission Council (LSAC). The Law School Admission Council (LSAC) is a non-profit organization that seeks to establish a standard for law school admissions in a fair and equitable fashion. Their Law School Admission Test (LSAT) is the chief criteria for budding law students in the United States, Canada, and a growing number of nations elsewhere. It is universally accepted by law schools accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA). The test is administered to 100,000 law school applicants every year. While the test has traditionally been a pencil-and-paper exam, LSAC began transitioning to full digital distribution starting July 2019.
Where and When Can You Take the Test?
The LSAT is administered approximately eight times per year, primarily through the standard academic calendar year, including one date in the summer. Thus, there are dates to take the test from September through April, excepting December, and then another date in July. The test itself is administered at testing facilities that are typically located on a college campus, though a Prometric testing center may provide the service. The testing centers are often booked well in advance, so test takers find it beneficial to book a seat months ahead of time.
Since the test typically uses college campus facilities and not a dedicated testing center, locations may vary from date to date. Thus, it can be beneficial to do numerous searches on the LSAC site to find the perfect match of test site according to date and place. For instance, in some states the LSAT might only be offered at one location for a specific date but on numerous campuses the following month. Furthermore, it cannot be assumed that the LSAT will be administered at the same campus more than once per year. It may only be offered on that campus once every year or they may offer it one year and decide never to do so again if there wasn’t enough interest. Since the test is not state-specific, it might be beneficial to search test dates and times in neighboring states, assuming you live close enough for it to be worth driving there.
How Important is the LSAT for Law School Admission?
The LSAT is of primary importance for those seeking admission to law school. Law schools rely on the test to provide them with top scholars who will then turn into top attorneys, judges, and even politicians. When admissions counselors review applications, they factor in LSAT scores, GPA, recommendations, and a personal statement. The two most important factors are the GPA and the LSAT score, and often the LSAT is given far more weight. A high GPA will help students gain a school's attention, but their LSAT will decide whether or not they are admitted.
Some students who score in the highest percentiles receive letters of acceptance from law schools they have never applied to, nor heard of. Top LSAT scores can also prompt scholarship offers. In these cases, law schools may use the LSAT score to collect a pool of scholarship candidates who must then interview for the ultimate prize.
What are the Fees and Cost to Take the LSAT?
The Law School Admissions Test is not free, nor cheap, however it is a great value considering the career that lies ahead for those who go on to graduate from law school. To take the LSAT itself, the fee is $200, but test takers are likely to need to need other services.
Specifically, the $195 Credential Assembly Service is required by all ABA-accredited law schools. It serves a great benefit to students, who need only submit their transcripts, personal essays, and any other application materials to the system one time. The CAS will distribute application materials on demand, thus saving everyone a lot of time. For those who take the LSAT multiple times, the CAS can be a terrific service. Additionally, students will need a Law School Report, which costs $45 per school application.
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The Law School Report is assembled for each individual law school application, and students must pay for each report. This applies to reapplications in a later admission year. The fees are waived for reapplications sent within the same year. Thus, if a student retakes the LSAT and wishes to update their application, there is no fee, assuming this takes place in the same admission year.
What is the LSAT Test Structure?
Every lawyer needs to be able to form the very best arguments possible. Thus, when applying to law school, it is imperative to demonstrate logical reasoning skills by means of the LSAT. The Logic section is broken into two parts of 35 minutes apiece.
These sections test a range of skills that directly apply to reasoning and critical thinking abilities. The test will provide examples of arguments from a wide range of sources, none of which are of a legal nature. Students will need to identify the parts of the arguments and be able to describe how they relate to each other. This section also tests one's ability to reason by means of analogy, recognize flaws in arguments, and be able to identify the most logical conclusion to a premise.
The test examines many other aspects of logical reasoning, so if you're planning to take the test, you may want to brush up on the skills learned in Philosophy courses, especially Informal Logic. However, the test does not ask for any specialized jargon related to argument. The LSAC is looking for overall logical ability.
This 35-minute section is also called Logic Games because it is composed of four logic games that are paired with 4-7 questions each. The core of the questions rests in how different items relate to one another. Thus, correct answers will show how a group of things should be ordered or grouped. For instance, fire personnel and teachers might fit in the group public servants, but the fire fighters wouldn't find themselves in a group of teachers and nurses, who are in helping professions.
The AR section helps law school applicants demonstrate that they are capable of drawing inferences from available information. Thus, if a man is found hanging from a noose in an empty room with nothing but a puddle beneath him, astute test-takers will determine that he stood on a block of ice to commit his heinous act.
Students will also be asked to recognize when statements are logically equivalent, how to reason with if-then statements, and how to apply facts and rules to solve a problem in light of hypotheticals. Where the logical reasoning section asks test-takers to apply their skills to informal, non-legal arguments, the AR section looks to apply logic in a stricter fashion. Thus, the LR section tests more practical applications while AR is more abstract, but equally practical in application.
This is a section test-takers have seen for years. Reading comprehension is a significant part of standardized tests from our earliest years. On the LSAT, however, the LSAC asks a lot more from future attorneys. This section posits small writing samples that students need to analyze. There is 35 minutes allotted to this section and it encompasses approximately 27 questions over four passages. Three of those passages are written by a different author and the remaining item is comprised of two passages from two authors discussing the same subject.
The reading samples on the LSAT are drawn from a wide range of sources including the humanities, social sciences, hard sciences, and the law. Some items ask test-takers to read and assess a single passage, while others offer two selections for comparison and contrast. The reading comprehension section tests a range of skills related to effective reading. Students should be able to draw correct inferences from the passages, find the main idea in a passage, identify relevant information to address a query, and be able to parse dense prose from scholarly sources.
The Unscored, or Experimental Section is comprised of up to 28 questions and takes 35 minutes. The LSAC includes this section to determine which new questions will later become a part of the examination. These sections are not explicitly identified, as the idea is that test-takers should respond to all questions as though each counted. Thus, the unscored section will be an additional section of either logical reasoning, analytical reasoning, or reading comprehension.
Since the legal profession is essentially based on the written word, every budding attorney should be able to demonstrate that they can write at an advanced level. Since a key part of the LSAT test-taking process is an application to law schools, the LSAC facilitates each student's writing sample for their application. That is, students submit a writing sample to the LSAC that serves as the writing portion of their application. The writing sample is not scored but should reflect the candidate's best writing as law schools will use this to decide if you have the skills necessary to get through law school. To ensure your best performance, the writing portion can take place independently of the rest of the LSAT and be proctored electronically. Test-takers needn't complete the writing portion of their LSAT on the same day as the multiple-choice questions.
The writing sample is administered online using secure software that test takers install themselves. Students are asked to find a quiet room where they will not be disturbed, must not bring any outside electronics with them, and otherwise agree to behave honorably while taking the exam. Their computer must have a webcam and their face must remain in view for the entirety of the session.
Though students frequently take the LSAT multiple times, there is no need to re-submit a new sample. That is stored as part of the student's application file and will only be replaced if the student chooses to pay for a new test.
Scoring for Admissions
Once the test is complete, law school applicants receive a score between 120 and 180. This score is derived from the raw score, which is taken from the total number of correct responses. Thus, each item on the test is weighted exactly the same. When candidates come across an item for which no clear correct response is evident, they should attempt their best educated guess.
The LSAC also provides a score band. While the score is designed to indicate a candidate's proficiency, it is far from an infallible number. Thus, the LSAC provides the score band which demonstrates how the actual proficiency can be a few points higher or lower. The only way to find a more accurate measure of proficiency is for a student to take the test multiple times. Indeed, the band is calculated differently for those who take the test multiple times. This is because, unlike other standardized testing schemes, LSAT scores are averaged. Thus, the more data a student provides, in the form of test scores, the more accurately the test can measure their proficiency.
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Another anomaly in the LSAT schema is the fact that law schools look at how candidates perform against others. They thus look not only at the score, but at its percentile ranking against test takers from the previous three years. Scores above approximately 165 are in the 93rd percentile and 152 is approximately the 50th percentile and represents approximately 60 correct responses, around 60% of the exam. Sometimes, an excellent law program will consider students in the 50th percentile, or lower.
What Score Should You Aim For?
Law school candidates should aim for the highest score possible. However, it is important to keep in mind that law schools make their admissions decisions based on a candidate's average score, not the highest overall result. It is thus imperative to take the test as few times as possible, with one time being an ideal number.
Since the sole purpose of the LSAT is law school admissions, one should build a test-taking strategy around one's ideal school. Students should research the score range their ideal law schools accept and then decide whether that is a reasonable goal. If that seems too high based on practice tests, it's advised to reassess the target school. After all, a great LSAT score is the one that results in admission to one's chosen law school. Furthermore, great law careers are not necessarily contingent on which school you receive training from.
Where Can You Find Study Materials?
Before scheduling a test, it's a good idea for all law school applicants to either take a review course, or to at least study LSAT prep materials. There are a variety of companies that offer LSAT prep materials, and many have been officially licensed by the Law School Admission Council (LSAC). Some of these materials are offered for free, such as those offered by the Khan Academy. On the other hand, students can take classes from LSAT prep companies that charge a fee.
Here is a brief list of companies that offer LSAT prep study materials:
Those who are struggling financially can apply for a fee waiver for their LSAT-prep materials, as well as the test itself. This offer is available for US, Canadian, and Australian citizens, but also to permanent resident aliens. This is part of the LSAC's effort to facilitate entry into the legal profession for everyone.
How Long Should You Spend Studying for the LSAT?
Everyone should put in at least some time preparing for the LSAT. The Princeton Review, for instance, recommends up to 300 hours of preparation. However, the actual number of hours will depend on the individual. A number of factors will impact the need for study, including one's college major, natural logical aptitude, and even one's extra-curricular activities.
Students who study philosophy, which places special emphasis on logic, might need less time. They may also have a natural proclivity for logic, but the same could be said for mathematics or physics majors, among others. There are also people who spend hours playing strategy games, love logic puzzles, and who read lots of dense material.
At the end of the day, it's important to realize that the LSAT does not require factual knowledge. Rather, it is a test of abilities and skills. These can be gleaned from a wide range of sources, both inside and out of academia. Students should thus seek to change how they think and learn to think like an attorney, logician, or philosopher.
Ultimately, it would be to every student's advantage to take a practice LSAT to see how well they do. From that point, the necessary prep time should be clearer.
Study Tips and Advice
Since the LSAT is not a test of factual knowledge, but a test of skills and abilities, the study methods will look very different from other sorts of exams. Many students will need to retrain their approach to thinking, writing, and processing information. Thus, it may be more helpful to think of LSAT preparation as training rather than studying.
Here are a few tips for preparing for this unique test:
- Take a course in Formal Logic. This helps students parse arguments apart from the distractions of content or emotion.
- Become a fan of logic puzzles and games. There are books full of these puzzles in the grocery store and many video games revolve around solving difficult puzzles. Effective play time will pay off.
- Take practice tests. This will help gauge one's progress.
- Utilize licensed preparation materials. LSAC has licensed many companies to provide materials for aspiring attorneys. In particular, Khan Academy offers prep materials free of charge.
- Determine a reasonable target score. This might be a personal goal or a score sure to win admission to a favored law school. Seek to exceed this score on a consistent basis. If the average is at or above the target, it's time for the real LSAT.
Along the way, it will be vital to exploit every resource available.
Here is a brief list of LSAT preparation companies and materials:
Tips for Taking the LSAT
- Questions all have the same value. Therefore, make sure proffer a guess even when the correct response is far from clear.
- Do the easy questions first. Don't spend too much time determining which questions are easier, but if an item is causing difficulty, move on. It's always possible to return to that one later.
- Do the writing portion on a different day. There is no need to overtax one's resources on a single test day. Schedule the writing portion for a day with a clear schedule. While it is possible to re-submit a writing sample, try to nail it on the first try.
- Address any test anxiety in advance. It may be beneficial to learn breathing techniques or other stress-reduction methods. Biofeedback could be an option for those who have difficulty with exam anxiety; yoga and meditation could also helpful.
Retaking the LSAT
The LSAC allows a test taker to retake the LSAT three times in a testing year, June 1 – May 31 as long as they meet eligibility requirements, but only five times in five years, and a total of seven times in a lifetime. The only exception is if a person scores a perfect score, 180, they are not allowed to retake the test; one cannot improve on perfection.
Furthermore, each time a student takes the test, the fact of that session is recorded, along with their score, unless that score is canceled. In tht case, though a score is not recorded, most law schools will see that the applicant was exposed to LSAT test content for that session because they were a test taker. Candidates may be asked about this in an admission interview and the non-scored LSAT may factor in the ultimate admissions decision.
Frequently Asked Questions
Will I have to take the LSAT to get into any law school?
The most important thing to know about a potential law school you are considering is if it is accredited by the ABA (American Bar Association). And law schools that are accredited by the ABA require some form of standardized test for admission. However, you might be surprised to learn that not all of these require the LSAT. In fact, some of these law schools only require that students earn passing marks on the GRE test in order to gain law school admission. If you want to attend the best law schools in the US, you are likely to have to take the LSAT, but there are other options if you are looking for something different.
What is the average LSAT score?
Surprisingly, the average score for those who took the LSAT the first time and those who took it a second time are very similar. First-time takers earned an average of 151, while second timers earned an average of 151.7. And those who chose to try for a third time had a lower average score overall. So, depending on whether you have taken the LSAT once or twice, and what your score was, this might help you decide whether or not it is worth it to try again. However, everyone needs to make up their own minds about how often to try the LSAT and whether or not they feel they’ve put enough energy into studying to increase their score.
- Princeton Review
This is one of the most-recognized names in test-preparation in the nation. Their study guides have helped students improve their score on the SAT, GRE, and LSAT. They offer physical materials, online resources, and classroom preparation, too.
- Khan Academy
This online resource has been offering free tutorials online for years. They have partnered with LSAC and thus have access to thousands of questions from actual LSAT examinations. They may inspire a donation upon accepting a job with a top firm.
- LSAT Engine
This preparation program boasts success stories from students who have gone on to study law at Harvard, NYU, USC, Temple, and more. The program was founded by two people who mastered the LSAT and other standardized tests. LSAT Engine participates in LSAC's exemption program.