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What is the LSAT? And where do I start?

What is the LSAT?

The LSAT is a standardized test required by most law schools (although not all) that is used, along with other factors, to determine admission, similar to how colleges use the SAT and ACT. It is currently administered four times a year in February, June, September/October and December, although the LSAC will likely introduce additional administrations in the future. LSAT scores remain on record for five years. Unlike other tests, the LSAT is not based on memorization, but rather a measure of “acquired reading and verbal reasoning skills” based on three different sections: Logical Reasoning, Reading Comprehension, and Analytical Reasoning (commonly referred to as the Logic Games).

Note: This article has been updated to reflect recent changes in LSAC policy. Whereas previously applicants were limited to take the LSAT up to three times in two years, the LSAC no longer limits the number of times applicants can take the LSAT. The LSAC is also set to increase the number of administrations offered per year.  

Step One: Take a Diagnostic

If this is your first interaction with the LSAT, it will be helpful to take a diagnostic test. The LSAC (Law School Admission Council) offers the June 2007 LSAT for free.

While a decade-old test may seem ancient, the fundamentals of the LSAT have not changed, making it a good starting point. To recreate real test conditions, you’ll want to print out the entire test including the bubble answer sheet, dust off some no. 2 pencils, remove all surrounding distractions, and find a quiet desk to take the roughly two-and-a-half-hour long test. It is also helpful to use a proctor, like the free downloadable proctor found at 7Sage to ensure that you’re following proper LSAT timing. If you can’t find a quiet place at home, I recommend going to a local library, bringing along all necessary materials and headphones and your laptop if you have one, or use a computer that they have available. Be sure to turn off any notifications, plug your headphones in, and use either the downloadable proctor or an online proctor to keep track of your timing and minimize outside noise.

Some questions may vaguely resemble those from the ACT and SAT, particularly in the Reading Comprehension section, while others will feel shockingly new, like the Logic Games. There’s no need to panic or quit the test on the spot, just get through the questions the best that you can.

The LSAT also includes a non-scored writing section. While not useful for your initial LSAT evaluation, it is worth mentioning as the schools that you will apply to can see what you’ve written. Test-prep companies and online resources offer a relatively simple formula for completing the writing section, which usually requires four paragraphs at most.

Although some schools do not even read the writing sample, if you have had a problem with reading and writing in English in the past, it may be worth familiarizing yourself with the writing section early as many preparation companies treat it as an afterthought.

Before grading your LSAT, it is worth spending some time considering what factors are important to you in choosing a law school and a short list of law schools you would like to go to. Some considerations include the location of both the school and its alumni, bar exam passage and job placement rates, school-specific programs, and often the most influential, the cost of attendance. You can then use these factors to determine a shortlist of 3-5 schools that you would like to attend. While they may change, keeping track of these factors and your list can help you stay focused throughout your LSAT studies.

After Your Diagnostic

After you’ve had some time to rest and recover from your first LSAT, use the answer key included with the June 2007 LSAT to score your test and the included Conversion Chart to determine your score. Do not panic when viewing your results. Take comfort in the fact that with diligent preparation, many students improve their diagnostic score by at least ten points; some even topping twenty or thirty points.

Now that you have your results compare them with the entering class profiles’ LSAT/GPA of the schools that you’ve identified on your short list. There is no reason to be concerned if your score is below their averages. So long as you prepare well, you have a real chance of being admitted to these schools. If your score is on target or only 3 points away (considered not statistically significant), test preparation is still going to help you. Additionally, while GPA is not the focus of this article, there is a great deal of information online about how the LSAT can help supplement a more modest GPA.

LSAT preparation—at times costly and draining—can only help you. While not the only consideration by admissions committees, the LSAT is also a crucial factor in your application. Furthermore, the LSAT is strongly correlated with financial aid packages. Excelling on the LSAT will help you get into the best school with the least debt, which allows you to receive a quality education, and become a lawyer with a strong network.

You have your score, some vision of where you want to go school, and now you’re wondering what your LSAT preparation will look like. If you absolutely must attend law school in fall of 2018, your preparation will be limited to less than a year with three different test options (June, September, and December), considering many schools would not accept the February 2018 LSAT for Fall 2018 admission. It is also worth noting that to get your application in early, which may be helpful for financial aid at many schools, the June test and September test are the most ideal.

Read More: Pre-Law FAQ: “How long do I need to study for the LSAT?”

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Tatum Wheeler is a fellow law aspirant based in the San Francisco Bay Area. When she’s not working as a Research Associate, she spends her free time exploring new trails with her dogs, reading narratives, and cheering on her favorite sports teams, the Cal Bears, Oakland Athletics, and Pittsburgh Steelers. Please feel free to contact her with any questions, comments, or further advice.

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