Your score on the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) is the most critical factor in your law school application and, along with your grade point average, plays a large role in determining which law schools will admit you and whether you will receive any free, merit-based financial aid.
The LSAT is a predictor of performance during the first year of law school and provides admissions committees with a standardized means of measuring the aptitude for legal study among a diverse group of applicants. A low LSAT score will limit the number of law schools that view you as an attractive candidate, and a high LSAT score will make you a competitive candidate at more selective law schools. Given its importance, you should not take the LSAT until you have spent a substantial amount of time thoroughly preparing for the test.
The LSAT is a standardized test administered by the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) >> . The LSAT is offered throughout the United States and in foreign locations four times each year in February, June, either late September or early October, and December. Detailed information on the LSAT, such as dates, test centers, registration forms, fees, fee waivers, and deadlines, can be found at the LSAC website >>.
The deadline for registering is about one month before the test date. Once you have chosen a test date, register for the LSAT as soon as possible to avoid getting shut out of the test center that is most convenient for you.
Structure and Content
The LSAT is not an achievement test, and does not measure knowledge of a specific discipline or subject matter, such as law. Instead, the LSAT is an aptitude test designed to measure basic skills and abilities that are considered essential by law schools, such as reading complex material accurately and critically, analyzing and evaluating arguments, distinguishing relevant facts from irrelevant opinions, and drawing logical inferences. In addition to these intellectual skills, the LSAT is also designed to test the ability to work under pressure by requiring over three hours of concentration and by using aggressive time limits within each section.
The current version of the LSAT was introduced in 1991 and consists of five sections with multiple choice questions and a sixth section consisting of a writing sample. Each of the sections is thirty-five minutes long. Thus, the LSAT takes three hours and thirty minutes. The total elapsed time, including breaks and the time needed to distribute and collect the test materials, is about five hours.
The five multiple choice sections consist of one reading comprehension section, one analytical reasoning section, two logical reasoning sections and one experimental section that contains either reading comprehension, analytical reasoning or logical reasoning questions. The experimental section it is not identified as an experimental section. The order of the sections is random and varies from test to test. Once the test has started and a section has been completed, you cannot go back and work on it further.
The five multiple choice sections contain a total of 120 to 130 questions. While the individual questions represent different levels of difficulty, the order of the questions does not necessarily represent an increasing level of difficulty. An easier question or set of questions may follow a more difficult question or set of questions.
The reading comprehension section usually consists of four reading passages of approximately 450 words. Each reading passage is followed by six to eight questions for a total of twenty-six to twenty-eight questions for the section. The reading passages usually address subjects in the humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences. Since the LSAT is not an achievement test, all the information needed to answer the questions is contained in the passage. The questions focus on the passage’s main point and the meaning or function of individual words and phrases, and require you to make inferences from the passage, or require you to apply information from the passage to a new context.
An exercise in comparative reading will be included as one of the four sets in the reading comprehension section of the LSAT. The comparative reading questions are similar to traditional reading comprehension questions with one significant difference. Instead of being based on one longer passage, comparative reading questions are based on two shorter passages. The two passages together will be roughly the same length as one reading comprehension package. A few questions that follow a comparative reading passage pair might only concern one of the two passages, but most questions are about both passages and how they relate to each other.
The analytical reasoning section usually consists of four problem sets involving spatial relationships or ordering or grouping items. These problem sets are commonly referred to as “logic games.” Each problem set is followed by five to seven questions for a total of twenty-two to twenty four questions for the section. The questions are based on the problem and its associated conditions, or involve a question based on adding a new condition to the problem.
The logical reasoning sections consist of twenty-four to twenty-six questions that are not necessarily grouped into sets. Each question begins with an argument contained in a few sentences, a brief paragraph, or a short piece of dialogue. The questions require you to identify:
- the point of the argument
- the assumptions or premises upon which the argument is based
- inferences that follow from the premises or evidence given
- the reasoning used in the argument
- errors or fallacies contained in the argument
- the application of a principle in the argument to a new context, or
- whether an additional piece of evidence strengthens or weakens the argument.
The writing sample is based on two different kinds of writing prompts that are assigned randomly. The decision prompt requires you to make a choice between two problems or courses of action and then construct an argument for that choice. Since both choices are defensible, the purpose of the essay is to demonstrate how well you can support your choice and criticize the other choice. The argument prompt requires you to evaluate an argument by critiquing its line of reasoning and use of evidence. Law schools understand that the writing sample is written under timed conditions immediately following a demanding test of several hours and place much less weight on it than the score for the other sections.
All the sections except for the experimental section and the writing sample are scored. The experimental section is used to develop future tests, and the writing sample is sent to each law school to which you apply. Thus, there are ninety-six to 104 scored questions, and approximately one-half of these questions are from the logical reasoning section. The remaining scored questions are from the reading comprehension section and the analytical reasoning section.
An LSAT score ranges from 120 to 180 with a median of 150. The raw score is based on the number of correct answers to the scored questions. However, a score of 180 does not indicate that each question was answered correctly, and a score of 120 does not indicate that each question was answered incorrectly. The raw score is converted into a final score based on a formula which adjusts scores for difficulty based on the number of correct answers for each edition of the test.
Consistently, 12.5% of test takers score 162 or above, 12.5% of test takers score 142 or below, and 75.0% of test takers score between 142 and 162. The consistency of these percentages is one of the factors that makes the LSAT so valuable to law schools. Using your LSAT score and your GPA, you can see which law schools would view you as a competitive candidate by consulting the Boston College Law School Locator >> and the ABA/LSAC Official Guide to U.S. Law Schools >> .
Do not take the LSAT until you have spent a substantial amount of time preparing for the test. Under normal circumstances, you should anticipate taking the LSAT only once. However, you can repeat the test, and most law schools will consider your highest score in making admissions decisions. You cannot take the LSAT more than three times in a two-year period, and this restriction applies even if you cancel your score. While scores for a repeated test often rise slightly, there is a chance that your score will be lower. The LSAC will provide law schools with all of your test scores during the five year period prior to the application and even average the scores. Effective preparation will help you get the best score you can the first time you take the test.
Since the LSAT is an aptitude test and does not test a specific body of knowledge, the best preparation is to become familiar with the format of the test, the types of questions that appear on the test, and the timing issues the test presents so that you can maximize the skills you already possess. Thus, the core of any test preparation is to take numerous practice tests under simulated test conditions. Most editions of the LSAT are disclosed by the LSAC after they are administered, and these disclosed tests are the most reliable source of practice tests. These tests are available from the LSAC and are also available in the Pre-Law Library. Please note that questions on disclosed editions of the LSAT are not used again.
Since one of the skills tested by the LSAT is the ability to work under pressure, the most important simulated test condition relates to timing. Take practice tests and sections of practice tests under timed conditions. Your goal should be to increase the number of correct answers within the thirty-five minutes allotted to each section.
Diagnose areas of weakness and focus your preparation time on them. First, identify the type of section or question that is a problem. Find the sections where your score was low and determine if you ran out of time or chose the wrong answer. If you ran out of time, determine if you need to rebudget your time for that section or type of question, learn to read more efficiently, or skip the questions and come back to them if you have time at the end of the section. If you chose the wrong answer, determine both why you chose the wrong answer and why you did not choose the right answer. Practice these types of questions under both timed and untimed conditions and learn strategies for answering these questions using LSAC practice test materials with explanations or commercial study guides, both of which are available in the Pre-Law Library. If you continue to have difficulty, learn to identify the type of question so that you skip over them or guess effectively (see test taking tips below).
Once your score on repeated practice tests under timed conditions has stopped rising, recognize that you have reached a score that likely represents the upper limits of your skills and abilities.
Preparation requires time, motivation, and self-discipline. Test takers who have more money than time, motivation and self-discipline can use commercial test preparation services. A commercial test preparation service will not hurt your score and will probably help it. While these services do not possess secret, inside information on the LSAT, they will provide you with test-taking strategies and force you to do the work that you can do on your own. Please note that the test-taking strategies are disclosed in the commercial test preparation study guides that can be purchased from these services or that are available in the Pre-Law Library. Ultimately, the decision to use a commercial test preparation service is a personal one based on your individual circumstances.
Test Taking Tips
Since your score is based only on the number of correct answers and is not affected by wrong answers, there is no penalty for guessing. Never leave a question unanswered.
When there is no obvious right answer, learn to guess effectively via a process of elimination. Eliminate obviously wrong answers, and, for the remaining answers, test them against the clues in the passage or problem and ask, “Is there any way this answer could be wrong?” If so, eliminate it. Right answers may not be perfect, but they will be clear and unarguable given the passage or problem and the specific question asked. By doing so, you can increase your probability of getting the right answer.
Given the time constraints, skip questions that appear too difficult. An easier question or set of questions may follow a more difficult question or set of questions. Each correct answer carries the same weight, no matter how difficult or easy the question. If you skip a question, be sure to mark it appropriately so that you can come back to it if you have time at the end of the section.
If time is about to expire, and you have not completed all of the questions, fill in the ovals of the remaining questions and the questions you skipped since there is no penalty for guessing.
The LSAT consists of a series of demanding intellectual games that can be divorced from real life or even academia, especially in the logical reasoning section. For each question, work with, not against, the passage or problem and its accompanying questions. Do not make inferences based on your own knowledge or experience and do not read anything into the passage or problem and its accompanying questions. Wrong answers are often distracters based on “real world” logic.
Understand and follow all directions.
Be prepared to concentrate for the entire length of the test and to actively attack each question.
Don’t skim or speed read. Read carefully for exact words and meanings.
Manage your time, especially by skipping hard questions and guessing effectively. Bring a reliable analog watch so you can budget your time during each section.
Create a system to manage the answer sheet. Avoid making stupid mistakes like filling in the oval in the wrong column (picking B but marking C) for a question or answering a question by filling in an oval for the wrong question (answering No. 13 in the space for No. 14). As insurance, mark your answers in the test booklet before transferring them to the answer sheet.
Since you do not know which section is the experimental section, approach each section under the assumption that it is scored.
Do the writing sample. Spend the time and use the scratch paper provided to organize your thoughts. Write legibly. Avoid misspellings and grammatical errors. Write a passage that is clear and to the point with a short introduction and conclusion.
Visit the test center ahead of time to check the location, travel time, and parking.
If possible, get a good night’s sleep before the test.
Dress comfortably in layers. Test centers can either be warm or cool.
Bring sharpened pencils, a pencil sharpener, an eraser, and a highlighter. Do not bring any electronic devices.
Bring a something to eat and drink for energy in the later stages of the test.
While you can cancel your test score within five days after taking the test, don’t do so immediately. No one feels good after taking the LSAT. Give yourself some time to determine if you are certain you will receive an unusually low score. The fact that a score was cancelled will be reported to the law schools when you apply.