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 to apply information from the passage to a new context.
An exercise in comparative reading is included as one of the four sets in the reading comprehension section. 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 a decision prompt which 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. 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.