What is the LSAT?
The Law School Admission Test (LSAT) consists of five 35-minute sections of multiple- choice questions. Four of the five sections are scored, while one is an experimental section used to “pretest” new questions. You will not know which section is unscored while you are taking the test. The test is created and administered by the Law School Admission Council (LSAC).
The four scored sections include one Reading Comprehension section, one Analytical Reasoning section, and two Logical Reasoning sections. A writing sample is administered at the end of the test. Although the writing sample is not scored, LSAC does send a copy of it to every school to which you apply.
According to LSAC, the test is “designed to measure skills that are considered essential for success in law school: the reading and comprehension of complex texts with accuracy and insight; the organization and management of information and the ability to draw reasonable inferences from it; the ability to think critically; and the analysis and evaluation of the reasoning and arguments of others.”
When Should I Take the LSAT?
In a perfect world, law school applicants would take the LSAT by the summer of their application year. This would allow students to focus on other elements of their applications in the fall and retake the test in September or November if their summer score was significantly lower than what they were consistently scoring on timed practice exams. But the world is not perfect, and applicants often adjust that ideal schedule to meet their unique needs.
Do not take the LSAT if you are not ready. In the grand scheme of your legal career and life, it’s better to apply to law school one year later with a score that reflects your full potential than it is to apply one year earlier with limited options.
When Should I Study for the LSAT?
There’s no “right” timeline, but most undergraduates preparing for the test fall into one of two categories. The first group treats the LSAT like a semester-long class, then takes the exam over a summer or winter break. These students find low- frequency, months-long courses that fit into busy semester schedules. The second group opts for the “summer intensive,” which usually means more hours per day over a shorter number of months. If this sounds appealing to you, remember that most people need at least a couple of months to reach their full scoring potential.
How Should I Study for the LSAT?
The LSAT is a skills-based test. This means it does not test your memorization skills, nor does it require pre-existing legal knowledge. It also means you CANNOT cram. Taking the LSAT is like running a marathon or learning to play the violin: it requires dedicated practice over an extended period of time.
When you study for the LSAT, make sure that you are fully engaged, even if it means studying for shorter periods of time. Most test takers cite time constraints as the most difficult aspect of the test, so honing your ability to focus is crucial. To put it more simply: disconnect yourself from all forms of electronic communication and social media while studying.
Should I Take an LSAT Course?
You should not study for the LSAT entirely on your own. If you decide that you cannot afford or do not need a commercial course, check out the free course LSAC created in conjunction with Khan Academy, as well as these free LSAC preparation materials.
Although expensive, commercial courses offer certain advantages. They provide proven strategies for solving every type of LSAT question, which saves students from needing to develop their own through weeks or months of trial and error. Commercial courses also provide structure; students typically receive a calendar telling them what to study and when. Finally, course instructors can answer questions when students are confused by the material itself. When it comes to choosing a course, first decide whether you want an instructor, or simply a set of books or videos that you review at your own pace. The primary advantages of a class with an instructor are that instructors provide structure and accountability, and answer specific questions. On the other hand, self-paced courses taken through books, online tutorials, or pre- recorded videos are typically less expensive or, even better, free, and the lack of structure allows for maximum flexibility.
If you decide to enroll in an instructor-led course, choose one based on the instructor herself if possible. This means prioritizing LSAT prep companies that post instructor bios, and asking your classmates about their individual classroom experiences. (The career center cannot endorse any particular instructor or company).
Ultimately, the decision of how you prepare for the LSAT is yours to make, based on your resources and individual needs. Remember that there are many ways to succeed in studying for the LSAT, as long as you put in the requisite time and energy.
Can I Take the GRE Instead of the LSAT?
Theoretically, yes. The long list of schools that now accept the GRE in lieu of the LSAT grows every month, and includes top-tier schools like Columbia, Cornell, Georgetown, Harvard, Northwestern, NYU, and the University of Pennsylvania. Some schools, like Georgetown, even accept the GMAT. If you only plan to apply to schools that accept the GRE, you could do so without taking the LSAT.
In practice, not so fast. As NYU Law’s Assistant Dean for Admissions, Cassandra Williams, noted, schools are using the GRE to “broaden [the] pool of prospective students” and “encourage applications from individuals with more-diverse academic backgrounds, including in science, technology, engineering, and math.” If that does not apply to you, it might simply appear as if you’re avoiding logic games, which isn’t a good look for a law school applicant!
Further, an applicant’s quantitative score is just as important as her verbal score. Although the GRE is a more accessible test, since most people know some of the vocabulary words and remember a little algebra, it’s not necessarily easier to score in the top few percent (the equivalent of a score in the upper 160s or 170s) in both verbal and math. Remember that in the verbal section you’re competing with English and classics majors, and in the math section you’re competing with, well, math majors. The LSAT’s strangeness is initially intimidating, but ultimately it may be easier to break into the upper echelons of test takers.
Ultimately, the GRE vs. LSAT question has yet to be answered. For now, the LSAT remains the safest options, but that may change in the future.