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Conquering the LSAT
How important is the LSAT?
It is almost impossible to overstate the importance of your LSAT score in the law school admissions process. While personal statements, letters of recommendation, extracurricular activities, and work experience all play a role, your undergraduate GPA and LSAT score are the two most significant factors that admissions committees look at. The fact that a four hour standardized test carries as much, if not more, weight than four years of classes should tell you how important the LSAT is.
If your goal is to get a top LSAT score, there is a lot of pressure. But have no fear! The LSAT is an extremely learnable test. If you’re willing to put in the work, you will almost certainly see your score increase.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Without a doubt, the most important strategy in preparing for the LSAT is practice. The LSAT is unlike most other standardized tests you have taken (SAT, PSAT, GRE, etc.) in that it does not test for “basic” skills such as math and vocabulary. For the most part, the LSAT tests your logical reasoning ability, an area most of us have never been tested on until the LSAT.
For most people, the first practice LSAT they take is an eye opener. The types of questions on the test are different than anything they’ve ever done and as such, they answer a lot of questions incorrectly and often don’t even have enough time to get to all of the questions. The more you practice, the more you will see that there is a pattern to the LSAT. Logic Games and Logical Reasoning questions fall in to certain categories. As you practice and get the hang of the questions, you will recognize what type of game or question you are working on and will know how to tackle it. The more you practice, the quicker you will recognize the game/question types and the quicker you will be able to answer the questions.
If you were to choose only one piece of advice to aid your LSAT preparation, practice is by far the most important strategy to use.
Now that we’ve emphasized the importance of practicing, let’s talk about ways you can make your studying as effective as possible.
As with other standardized tests, there are a number of LSAT preparation courses available. Most companies offer “full-length” courses that go over all of the material on the test as well as shorter courses that are fewer hours but cover less material. For the remainder of this article, we will focus on the full-length courses because they are the most popular.
Prep courses are not cheap. The full-length courses cost in the range of $1,300-$1,600. While this is certainly a lot of money, in the grand scheme of things spending the money may be a great investment. If the course helps raise your LSAT score significantly, you will likely gain admission to a more prestigious school and have more scholarship opportunities than you would have with a lower LSAT score. In the end, you may also have a higher salary that will more than cover the cost of the course.
The four most popular LSAT prep courses are run by the Princeton Review, Kaplan, Testmasters, and PowerScore. While these four are national companies, there are also some regional companies that offer LSAT prep courses. Having said that, the most important factor in any prep course are the instructors. Before signing up for a course, do your research. The companies’ websites will tell you about their teaching philosophy as well as what requirements they have of their teachers (i.e. What is the minimum score you must have to be a teacher). You can also ask if you can audit a class or two to get a feel for their instructors (most companies have no problem with this). Going to a class will also provide you the opportunity to talk with students in the class and get their impressions.
The benefit of prep courses is that they present the material in a systematic way. They divide the different types of Logic Games and Logical Reasoning questions into groups and teach you techniques for each different group. This is helpful for most LSAT students because the questions are so unfamiliar at first. By breaking the questions into different groups, it allows you to organize your studying and figure out what types of questions you have the most trouble on and need to spend time studying. While the techniques that you will learn in a prep course are helpful, remember that there is no one correct way to work through a question type. If you find something that is working for you but is not how your course tells you to do it, stick with your own method!
One important thing to keep in mind is that simply taking a prep course will not significantly help you. You can’t just go through the motions. In order to get the true benefit of the class, you have to do all of the assigned homework. While there is usually a lot of homework, as discussed above, the best way to improve your score is through practice. The prep courses usually use real LSAT questions so there is no better way to prepare.
One final point about prep courses. The courses are not designed for the top percentiles of scorers. They are usually designed for the masses that are looking to move from an average score to an above average/great score. For example, if you take a practice test and score 170 without any preparation, the prep course may not do too much for you. In that case, self-study may be a better strategy. Which provides a perfect segue for…
LSAT Preparation Books
There are numerous books out there to help you prepare for the LSAT. There are two types of books: those that contain practice LSATs (and usually have some strategies in them as well) and those that focus on helping you master a specific type of LSAT problem. As there are many more books than we could possibly list, we will list only the most popular books. The big names in LSAT books that contain practices tests are Princeton Review’s Cracking the LSAT, Kaplan’s LSAT 180, and the LSAC’s own series of four books (10 More, Actual, Official LSAT Sample Tests, 10 Actual, Official LSAT Sample Tests, The Next 10 Actual, Official LSAT PrepTests, 10 New Actual, Official LSAT PrepTests). These books are filled with practices tests and practice problems that will help you familiarize yourself with the LSAT.
If you realize that you have a weakness in a certain section of the LSAT, there are also books designed to help you on individual sections. By far the most renowned and highly recommended books to work on Logic Games and Logical Reasoning are the PowerScore bibles (The PowerScore LSAT Logic Games Bible and The PowerScore LSAT Logical Reasoning Bible). The two bibles provide strategies to help you deconstruct Logic Games and Logical Reasoning questions and attack them in the most efficient manner. These two books are consistently highly recommended by top LSAT scorers and are the gold standard in Logic Games and Logical Reasoning strategy books.
As mentioned in the discussion about prep courses, it is important to remember that any strategy outlined in these books is not the be all and end all. If you are doing certain questions differently than how the book recommends but are getting the questions right, stick with your method.
Doing practices tests is an essential part of your LSAT preparation. As with any standardized test, it is important to get familiar with the LSAT. Not only do you want to be prepared for the types of questions you will face but you also want to get a feel for how much time you will have to answer each question. The only way to really master time management is to do practice tests.
Finding practice LSATs is relatively easy and there is no shortage of old tests available to use as practice. The books mentioned above all contain multiple practice tests. For most prep courses, you will take up to four tests over the course of the class and will also be provided with some to do on your own. You can also buy actual LSATs (real tests that have been administered previously) from LSAC for $8 each or cheaper if you buy in the bundles of 10.
When doing practice tests, you want to make sure that you are doing actual LSATs, not ones that are made up by other companies. While made up LSATs will have similar questions, they will not be as good for your preparation because the companies that made them do not have the benefit that LSAC has of having students try out experimental sections. Experimental sections allow LSAC to weed out “bad” questions that may be included in the made up LSATs.
Another factor to keep in mind about practice tests is the date the test was administered. The LSAT, and the students taking it, has changed over the years. The scale has tightened up as more and more people take the LSAT. Because of this, the oldest practices LSATs out there seem “easier” because the scale is more forgiving. To get a true idea of how you would do on the LSAT today, it is best to start with the most recent practice tests.
How many practices tests you do before you take the LSAT is a matter of personal preference and strategy. Some prefer to do only practice tests and nothing else to prepare and do upwards of 30 practice tests. Others prefer to spend time on individual question types to improve certain skills and intersperse practice tests within that plan. There really is no correct number of practice tests to do. As a general rule, it is a good idea to do at least eight practice tests under timed conditions before the real LSAT so that you can settle on your strategy and practice your time management.
Doing practice tests is also a great way to prepare yourself for the day of the real LSAT. The stricter you are with your practice tests and the more you simulate your test day environment, the better off you will be. Make sure you don’t take any extra time on the sections and that your break between the sections is the same as it would be on test day. Since you can only use an analog watch at the real LSAT, time your practice tests with an analog watch (ideally the same one you will use on the real LSAT). For $15, you can even buy a DVD that has a virtual proctor that will do and say the same things as the proctors at the actual LSAT (lsatproctor.com). Finally, some people like to take practice tests in public places such as libraries or coffee shops to get used to the types of distractions that you fill face taking the LSAT in a room with dozens of other people. If you practice in poor conditions, you will be prepared for whatever is thrown at you on the day of the real LSAT.
As with how many practice tests you take, there is no right answer about how long you should take to prepare for the LSAT. For most people, it takes at least two or three months of studying to fully prepare for and feel confident about the LSAT. Whether you study for one month or six, the key is to make sure that you are studying consistently. Try and keep a regular routine where you work on your LSAT studying on the same days of the week and at the same time. If you have a regular schedule, you can make sure you are in LSAT-mode when it’s time to study and your study time will be more fruitful.
While it is a good idea to study as much as you can, you also want to make sure you are not burned out come test day. Many people find it useful to take a few days off from studying in the middle of their preparation or after a particularly frustrating couple of sessions. Taking a break will allow you to clear your mind and recharge your batteries so that when you do start studying again, you will be refreshed and newly focused. Many people also like to take it easy the last day or two before the LSAT. Taking two practice tests the day before the actual LSAT may tire you out. You want to wake up on test day feeling rested and ready to attack the LSAT like never before.
Being ready on Test Day
It is not uncommon to hear stories of people who were consistently scoring a few points higher on their practice tests than they scored on the actual test. This phenomenon is mostly due to pressure, stress, and nerves on test day. While there is not too much you can do about the pressure or nerves, you can do some work beforehand to eliminate as much test-day stress as possible. A few simple tips can go a long way in putting your mind at ease and helping you concentrate fully on the task at hand:
1. Pack your Ziploc bag, sharpen your pencils, pick out your clothes, and decide what your breakfast will be the night before the test. The more you do the night before, the less you have to worry about the morning of the test.
2. Go to your test center at some point before the test. The last thing you want is to get lost and show up to the test late. If possible, also try and check out the actual room the test will be in. Some rooms provide small chairs with even smaller desks. If you are mentally prepared for this before the test, you will be better off than if you show up, see small desks, and are frustrated and angry during the entire test.
3. Try and simulate test day by taking a few practice tests in the morning at the same time your actual LSAT will be. If you take all of your practice tests at night and are not a morning person, taking the LSAT early on a Saturday morning may be a shock to your system.
4. In addition to taking some practice tests in the morning, adjust your body to waking up as early as you’ll have to on test day. The last few days before the test, wake up when you’ll have to wake up on test day so that your body is adjusted and your brain is ready to work.
5. Consider renting a hotel room the night before if needed for a good night’s sleep. If you live in a crowded apartment, dorm, or Greek housing, where partying on Friday night is the norm, you may want to rent a hotel room (bring your alarm clock in addition to getting a wake up call) to ensure that you are tanned, rested and ready for the LSAT.
The following are some final tips gathered from students that have scored above 170 on the LSAT:
1. When you first start studying for the LSAT, do not worry about how long you take on a question. Focus on understanding the question and working through it carefully. Accuracy is much more important than speed. As you practice and recognize the different types of questions, speed will come.
2. The LSAT is a long test. Practice building up your stamina so that you are not tired when you get to the last section of the real LSAT. In addition to practice tests, try and schedule your studying for long periods instead of short bursts. Ideally, you will study for four hours at a time (which is approximately how long the LSAT is).
3. Whether on a practice test or just in a set of practice problems, go over every question that you answered incorrectly or had doubts about (even if you answered it correctly). This is one piece of advice that has been stressed repeatedly by numerous people who scored 177 or higher on the actual LSAT. By reviewing questions you had trouble with, you can identify your weaknesses and see if there is any pattern to the types of questions that you have trouble with. Using this knowledge, you can tailor your studying to address those areas.
4. If you’re still in school, try and take your school’s introductory logic course. This is a free way to get a solid foundation in logic before you ever have to worry about the LSAT.
5. There aren’t many books out there that provide strategies for the Reading Comprehension section of the LSAT. In addition to practice, take fifteen or twenty minutes every day and read high quality publications (The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, etc.). Practice your critical reading skills and read articles on a diverse group of subjects.
Despite knowing how important the LSAT is in the law school admissions process and how much work it will require to do well, try and relax. As standardized tests go, the LSAT is actually quite fun! Remember that you are not the only one feeling the pressure. Everyone else in the room with you is equally stressed and nervous. Keeping that in mind, if you study hard and use the tips discussed in this article, you will maximize your LSAT score and set your self up for a successful admissions cycle.
Taking the test earlier in your cycle, ideally in June or early October, will allow you a second opportunity if you do not score as well as you hoped on your first test. Now most schools take the highest of multiple LSAT scores versus averaging, so having a second opportunity is invaluable and takes away a lot of the stress.
If you have any questions or are having a tough time on a certain question, don’t forget that the TLS community is a free, quick, and extremely knowledgeable resource that is right at your fingertips. Best of luck!
TLS LSAT forum:
Ken's Introduction to the LSAT
Princeton Review LSAT Information
Conquering the LSAT
How I Scored a 180 - Article #1
How I Scored a 180 - Article #2
How I Scored a 180 - Article #3
Retaking the LSAT
Logic Fundamentals: A Lesson In Conditional Reasoning
Objection’s LSAT Tips – “Describe” Questions (LR)
Objection’s LSAT Tips – “Main Point” Questions (LR)
Objection's LSAT Tips - "Must Be True" Questions (LR)
Objection’s LSAT Tips – “Role” Questions (LR)
Objection’s LSAT Tips – “Level Ordering” Games
Objection’s LSAT Tips – “In/Out” Games
Objection’s LSAT Tips – “More/Less” Ordering Games
Objection’s LSAT Tips – Simple Ordering Games
Objection’s LSAT Tips – Multiple Group Games
LSAT Prep with Work and School