The LSAT

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?

Yes. The long list of law schools that now accept the GRE in addition to the LSAT continues to grow and includes top-tier institutions like Columbia, Cornell, Georgetown, Harvard, Northwestern, NYU, and Penn. According to NYU Law’s Assistant Dean for Admissions, Cassandra Williams, 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.” 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.

However, dutifully consider whether taking and submitting a GRE score instead of an LSAT score is right for you. There are two important considerations that may weigh against taking the GRE over the LSAT.  First, currently, law schools are only required to report the LSAT scores of admitted students to the ABA, not GRE scores. Therefore, there is no historical data on the GRE scores of successful law school applicants and it is difficult to gauge an applicant’s competitiveness for admission based on her GRE score. We simply have no idea what GRE scores make a person competitive for given law schools or whether performance on any of the three portions of the GRE is weighted more heavily than performance on others. 

Second, only LSAT scores, not GRE scores, are factored into a law school’s U.S. News & World Report ranking (the determinative ranking of law schools). And they are a heavily weighted factor at that. This means that an applicant with a high LSAT score may be favored over an applicant with a high GRE score because the former’s test score could positively contribute to a law school’s ranking while the latter’s will not.

Given these points, the GRE appears to make the most sense for law school applicants who are also applying to other graduate schools that do not accept the LSAT, whether they are considering other graduate schools as possible alternatives to law school or undertaking study for another degree in addition to a law degree. Taking the GRE means such applicants will only have to prepare for and take one test as opposed to two. 

Important note: If you have ever taken the LSAT, that score will be automatically reported to all law schools to which you apply. Moreover, that score will have to be reported by any law school to the ABA and will be factored into its ranking, thereby heavily affecting its standing. Thus, all law schools that accept the GRE also consider any LSAT score reported to them alongside any GRE score, even if an applicant expresses that she would like her application assessed based on the GRE score. If present, LSAT scores are ALWAYS important factors in admissions decisions. Schools vary in the weight that they give to a GRE score that appears alongside an LSAT score, with some giving almost no credence to the GRE score and some considering it more substantially. This means that if you have already taken the LSAT and achieved a score that you are not satisfied with, switching to the GRE and potentially attaining a high GRE score are unlikely to materially improve your law school admissions chances. Rather, your money and time would most likely be much more effectively spent seeking to improve your LSAT score. To ascertain a specific school’s approach, reach out to individual admissions offices.