Getting accepted into law school is competitive. In addition to a stellar college GPA and job or internship experience, an applicant’s score on the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) can be a major determining factor for many programs.
Everyone’s life situation and learning style is unique, but for many students, studying for the LSAT requires some level of planning and regimented routine.
According to the Law School Admission Council, the acceptance rate at ABA-approved law programs dropped from 75.5% in 2016 to 70.2% in 2019.
As the number of applications continues to grow, a solid LSAT score becomes increasingly important to earn a J.D. from any of the accredited law schools.
High LSAT scores can potentially increase a student’s scholarship and other funding opportunities to pay for law school.
This guide will break down how to study for the LSATs from start to finish, as well as provide some helpful study tips, test-taking strategies, and key dates to remember.
What Does the LSAT Cover?
The LSAT is administered in two distinct sections. One section is a multiple choice exam that is divided into categories including logical reasoning, analytical reasoning, and reading comprehension.
There is also a writing section that is administered separately from the multiple choice portion of the LSAT. Test takers are allotted 35 minutes for each of the six sections required for the exam. These sections are:
• Logical reasoning (2)
• Analytical reasoning (1)
• Reading comprehension (1)
• Experimental section (1)
• Writing (1) – This section is administered separately from the multiple choice portion of the exam, but test takers will still be limited to 35 minutes.
Logical reasoning sections include 24-28 multiple choice questions. Meanwhile, analytical reasoning involves logic games with corresponding multiple choice questions and reading comprehension has multiple choice questions related to several passages.
The writing section gives test takers a prompt to articulate a stance on. The written section is available to test takers eight days prior to their testing date.
It can be taken at any time during this testing window and is proctored online using secure software. Although this section is not used to calculate the score, it is still sent to law schools and used to some degree for admissions.
The experimental portion of the exam is also unscored. This section is used internally for measuring the difficulty and effectiveness of LSAT questions. However, test takers will not be aware of which section is experimental.
Beginning in May 2020 as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) offered the LSAT-Flex as an alternative to the traditional LSAT.
The LSAT-Flex taken online and is proctored remotely so students can continue taking their exams through the pandemic. While this version of the LSAT is just three-sections, it includes the same types of questions as the traditional LSAT. Test takers are still required to complete the writing section of the exam as well.
Taking Official LSAT Prep™Tests
Preparing for the LSAT has become a full-fledged industry, with a slew of specialized tutors, study guides, and courses offering their services.
Before diving into the thick of it, one option to consider is taking an official LSAT Prep™Test—an actual LSAT that was administered previously—to get a baseline score.
The Law School Admission Council has made the June 2007 LSAT available online for free, while more than 70 old tests are available with an Official LSAT Prep PlusSM membership through LawHub.
Completing the official Prep™Test without prior studying may feel daunting, but it can give you a clearer picture of where you stand score-wise for each section.
Also, it provides direct exposure to the LSAT’s unique style of questioning, which test takers may find less intuitive than other standardized tests like the SAT and GRE.
LSAT scores range between 120-180. A score of 150 or higher could be enough to gain admission to some law schools. However, some top law schools all report a median LSAT score of 160 or higher. Those students aiming for the most competitive tier of law schools, may need to score 170 or higher.
Tailoring a Study Plan To Your Needs and Goals
Following your first pretest, you now have a starting point to build from to reach your target score. In some cases, you may excel in one section and struggle in another.
Does reading comprehension have you stumped? Brushing up on vocabulary and dedicating more time to related practice questions could be a better use of your time if you already have a knack for logic games.
If your GPA is on the lower end of the spectrum, you might want to set a goal for scoring higher than a law school’s median LSAT score to help improve your candidacy.
Making a LSAT Study Schedule That Works For You
The amount of time you plan to study for the LSAT may be influenced by how much you’d like to improve your score, based on the pretest.
A general bare minimum baseline is around 120 hours. Those that are interested in a significant score boost or other factors may require more time.
Kaplan Test Prep generally recommends that students spend between 150 and 300 hours, spread out in 20 to 25 hour weekly increments, preparing and studying for the LSAT.
Many LSAT takers are also juggling other responsibilities, like finishing an undergraduate degree, working, and taking care of family.
Consider all of your responsibilities and demands on your time as you build your study schedule. The goal is to set a schedule that will help you prepare effectively and prevent burnout.
Bridging a narrower gap between your initial score and target score may require less study time to achieve, but individuals with higher LSAT scores may be more likely to secure scholarships to help pay for school.
If you’re still in undergrad, think about taking an elective course that is geared towards the LSAT, such as logic, to simultaneously help stay on track for graduation and preparing for the LSAT.
Simulating Actual LSAT Testing Conditions
While day-to-day studying can be broken down into shorter segments to work on logic games, vocabulary, and mastering concepts, it may be helpful to take several LSAT PrepTests in full.
Creating realistic testing conditions is as simple as following the 35-minute time limit per section, sitting at a desk, and getting up on a Saturday morning to take it. Not only could this approach provide a more accurate LSAT score sampling, but also build endurance and time management skills in a test environment.
In between practice tests, allowing time for review and doing more practice problems can also help gauge growth and identify which section needs the most improvement.
LSAT Test-Taking Tips
As much as the LSAT is about mastering logic and thinking analytically, test takers can also benefit from an in-depth understanding of the LSAT itself. On top of studying and completing practice tests, these test-taking tips could be helpful.
Answering Every Question
Unlike the SAT, the LSAT does not deduct points for incorrect answers. Since leaving questions blank could potentially result in losing out on coveted points, it may be worth allotting the last 30 seconds of the section to fill in an answer bubble for remaining questions.
If you’re stumped by a difficult question, you might benefit from scribbling in your best guess and moving on to dedicate time and effort to questions you feel more confident answering.
Keep in mind that once a section ends, you are not permitted to go back and answer questions or correct responses.
Using Process of Elimination
Multiple-choice questions on the LSAT can contain similar answers that can trip up test takers, especially when rushing.
Given the test’s emphasis on logic and analytical thinking, employing a process of elimination strategy can help get rid of flawed answers one-by-one and avoid choosing a well-crafted, misleading answer.
Relax… It’s Okay to Retake the LSAT
Given the importance the LSAT plays in law school acceptance, it may come as no surprise that many people retake the test.
Of the 133,178 LSATs administered during the 2019-2020 testing year (June 2019 – May 2020), just 53.9% represented first-time test takers.
If you’re worried about your nerves getting the best of you, planning to take the LSAT well-ahead of admission deadlines could help alleviate some stress since you’ll have another chance or two to retest if needed.
There are limits to the number of times the LSAT can be taken within certain timeframes, including three times in a single testing year, five times in a five-year window, and seven tests in a lifetime.
Important LSAT Dates
When figuring out how to start studying for the LSAT, it might be helpful to map out a timeline of test dates and law school admission schedules. There are multiple options and locations for testing dates, as well as application deadlines to be aware of.
If you’re hoping to pursue your J.D. within a year or two, it may be easier to work backwards from when you actually need to apply to law school. For the most part, law schools have rolling admissions starting sometime between late August and early October.
The application period at some schools can run into late February, but law schools will often start admitting students and building waitlists prior to the end of the application period. Applying in the fall, before the holiday season, is generally recommended.
Some students may choose to apply for early decision at their top choice law school to improve their likelihood of acceptance.
Deadlines for early decision are generally in November or December, but depending on the school may be later. Applicants may be notified of the decision in the next month or so.
Some test takers may decide to take the exam in June to allow time for retesting on the September/October test date, if desired. Scores are generally sent a few weeks after the exam on a pre-specified release date.
Keep in mind that the number of times the LSAT is offered has changed in recent years. In 2018 and 2019, the LSAT was offered six and seven times, respectively.
Also, take note that there may be different schedules for testing regions outside the United States.
Paying for Law School
Education is an investment—both in time and money. Typically, law school spans three academic years, and the rigorous schedule can make it challenging to work outside of summer internships.
While the payoff can be considerable for legal professionals, the upfront cost can be a heavy lift. For the 2019-2020 academic year, the average in-state tuition for public universities was $28,264, while the average for private universities reached $49,548.
When scholarships and financial aid are not enough, students can take out federal or private student loans to help pay the difference for law school.
Although private student loans may not have loan forbearance or other borrower protections like federal loans, they may still have customized repayment plans and low interest rates, depending on the potential borrower’s qualifications.
Coming up with a plan to pay for law school early could help put you on track to tackling law school debt and focusing on your budding law career.
Students or graduates still paying for their law school (and potentially undergraduate) student loans could opt to refinance and combine payment under one loan.
If you’re putting your degree to work and earning a steady income, refinancing student loans with SoFi could be an option. Refinancing federal student loans eliminates them from federal borrower protections, so it won’t be the right choice for everyone.
Refinancing has the potential to simplify repayment, and lower interest rates for qualifying borrowers.
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