Law School In Your Future? Welcome to the Mind-bending World of the LSAT.
Updated: Apr 29, 2022
By Sarah Tibbitts
Thinking about taking the LSAT, but not sure where to start? Have you found yourself deep into studying, but still not getting the results you’d like? Either way, you’ve come to the right place! Keep reading for some background knowledge, potential resources, and tips and tricks from someone who’s taken the exam twice. Good luck!
The LSAT is an entrance exam taken as part of the process of applying to law school. While some schools are increasingly accepting the GRE as an additional option, most accredited law schools either require or will at least accept the LSAT.
Most law school applications open in early fall, and best practice is to get your applications in as soon as possible. Given this, you’ll want to take the LSAT on the early side to ensure you’re able to get your applications in on time. Waiting until September or October is typically the latest you can wait to take the test if you plan to apply in that cycle.
Unlike other exams, such as the MCAT, the LSAT is not based on prior content knowledge. You will not be asked any questions about laws, court cases, or the Constitution. The LSAT is comprised of sections that will test your ability to read, analyze, and decipher logic incredibly quickly.
A school’s median LSAT score is a huge factor in determining its ranking. Therefore, it is in a school’s best interest to attract and admit candidates who have higher LSAT scores than the school’s median—thus raising the median score and eventually, the school’s ranking. Given this, an applicant’s LSAT score is a large factor in determining both acceptance and potential scholarship aid.
Structure of the Exam
The LSAT was traditionally taken on paper, but as of fall 2019, all tests are now completed digitally. If you have particular concerns about accessibility or religious observances, make sure to contact LSAC as soon as you register.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the LSAT changed to the LSAT-Flex to allow students to take the test from home. At the time this article was written, the Flex is still being implemented, but it is unclear if the test will revert.
The traditional LSAT was comprised of 5 sections: 1 reading comprehension (RC), 1 logic games (LG, more formally referred to as analytical reasoning), 2 logical reasoning (LR), and 1 experimental section that is unscored—although test takers do not know which section is the experimental. Each section lasts 35 minutes, with a 10-minute break between the third and fourth sections.
The LSAT-Flex condenses the test down to three sections: just one of each RC, LG, and LR, with one-minute breaks in between each section. It is predicted that tests later than June 2021 will bring back an experimental section.
It is important to note that every question in each section is worth the same number of points. There is no advantage to spending lots of time working out a particularly tough problem, because getting it right will earn you no more points than correctly answering an easier question. In addition, unlike tests like the SAT, you do not lose points for answering a question incorrectly, so it is always advantageous to answer every question, even if you just have to randomly bubble the last few when you run out of time. Your score will come from the number of questions you got correct out of the total.
The LSAT is scored on a scale from 120-180 (confusing, right?). If you sit for the entire exam, you are guaranteed to get at least a 120.
When applying to law school, schools usually have a median LSAT and a “middle 50” LSAT range published. This range shows the 25th percentile score of test takers, and the 75th percentile. Having a score under this range does not at all mean it’s impossible to get into a school, but it is something to take into account. Schools typically publish this range for GPAs as well.
The average/median score of all test takers is a 151, so roughly 50% of people who take this test will get a 151 or below. However, best practices indicate that to get into a top 50 school, you want an LSAT score of 154+, and for a shot at a top 14 school (often referred to as T14 in the LSAT world), you’d want a 162+.
For context, although the test is scored out of 180, scoring a 170 puts you in the 97th percentile—the top 3% of LSAT test takers. If you are familiar with the ACT, trying to improve within this score range is around the equivalent of going from a 33-34. In addition, going from one score to the next can be a difference of just 1 or 2 questions, so it can typically be harder to improve in such a high bracket.
Study Plan Recommendations
How long you choose to study before any given test is up to you, but familiarity with the material is critical to this test. Both times I took it, I started studying about 4 months before the test. You know yourself best, so it is important to create a realistic study plan that you feel you can actually stick with.
Please note: although they usually only pay attention to your highest score, law schools can see every score of official LSATs you take. For this reason (and because each test costs $200!), it is ill-advised to take an official LSAT “blind.” There are study services that can give you practice tests in realistic settings that will not be reported to LSAC (the Law School Admissions Counsel).
Services such as Khan Academy can help you make a personalized study plan, and utilizing an organizational system, such as a paper calendar or phone/computer alerts also helps. For more organization tips, please see my other article series.
Each student will have a different ideal study method, but it’s generally a good idea to start out learning the basics of each section, specifically the types of questions and question stems you may be asked. After gaining familiarity with these topics, I would recommend a mixture of practice questions, sections, and full-length practice tests.
You can choose to do these things timed or untimed. If you have test anxiety and know that timing will be hard on test day, keep this in mind as something to prepare for in your practice.
It is recommended to do at least several full-length practice tests to simulate similar conditions to test day. After a practice test, make sure to review your answers for each question you got wrong to truly understand your mistakes. Additionally, keep track of how you scored in each individual section, so you know where to focus your energy while studying.
Suggested Resources/Study Options
Self-studying with test review books
Personalized private tutoring
Unlimited practice tests and questions
Personalized study plans and reminder emails
Option to purchase a premium account, which gives you access to an enormous collection of past actual LSAT exams
Allows you to familiarize yourself with the digital format of the test (which is relevant whether you take the Flex or the regular), including tools such as highlighting, flagging questions, and the timer function
Allows you to take the tests in “self-paced” mode or “exam mode,” and retake as many times as you’d like
Group courses such as Kaplan Test Prep & Princeton Review
Online materials such as 7Sage, PowerScore, and Blueprint
Sarah Tibbitts, a 2020 graduate of The Ohio State University, currently works as a Social Justice Fellow at Stanford University’s Hillel. She has studied for and taken the LSAT exam twice, once in September 2019 and once (LSAT-Flex) in June 2021.