Frequently Asked Questions about the Law School Admission Test (LSAT)
The Law School Admission Test (LSAT) is the exam most often required for admission to an ABA-accredited law school in the United States. Some law schools are also beginning to accept the Graduate Records Examination (GRE), albeit in small numbers. The GRE provides a good degree of flexibility for students considering law school alongside other graduate-level programs, but the LSAT remains the best choice for applicants intent only on law school. Alongside the undergraduate GPA, an LSAT score is considered to be a reliable predictor of an applicant's performance in the first year of law school, and for that reason it is one of the most important factors considered in the admissions process. The Law School Admission Council (LSAC), which administers the LSAT, allows applicants to search for law schools by the range of GPA and LSAT scores for recently admitted students.
How is the LSAT structured? What is on it? How is it scored?
The LSAT is a challenging standardized test that requires more than three hours to complete. It is divided into six 35-minute sections. Five sections are multiple choice, and four of these are scored. The fifth is an unmarked experimental section that LSAC uses to test material for future exams. The sixth section is an essay prompt, and while the writing sample is also unscored, it is sent along with an applicant's score to law schools. Test-takers are not allowed to advance from one section to the next until the time for the first section has elapsed. This means that they are unable to save time for more difficult sections by making it quickly through easier sections.
Unlike a number of other graduate-level entrance exams, such as the MCAT or even the GRE, the LSAT does not have any actual content for a test-taker to memorize in advance. Instead, it is a skills-based exam meant to test the sorts of skills that are required in law school. The multiple choice questions on the exam are divided into one or more of each of the following categories: Logical Reasoning, Analytical Reasoning (commonly referred to as the "logic games"), and Reading Comprehension.
LSATs are scored on a scale that ranges from 120 to 180, with all questions weighted the same. For 2017-2018, the national average was 153.6. The 75th percentile is between 158 and 159, and the 90th percentile between 164 and 165. Test-takers are typically notified of their scores within a month of having taken the test. If the exam is "disclosed," they will receive a complete report of their answers and a key, along with their scores. If for whatever reason they feel it appropriate, test-takers may choose to cancel their scores within six calendar days after the test. If they choose to do so, they will not receive a score, and the exam will appear as "Cancelled" on any score report sent to law schools.
Beginning with the July 2019 test, LSAC will be implementing a new digital LSAT, administered on tablets rather than paper. For the July 2019 test only, test-takers will have the option of cancelling their scores after having received them. If they choose to do so, they will be able to retake the test free-of-charge during the 2019-2020 testing cycle. After July, 2019, all LSATs will be administered electronically. Test-takers will still be provided scratch paper for diagramming questions.
When should I take the LSAT?
It is best to take the LSAT before the application season begins. Law schools begin accepting applications each year on September 1 for admission in the following year. Applications are processed on a rolling basis, which means that schools will begin reviewing them as soon as they are received. And while most schools advertise an application deadline of the following spring or summer (earlier for Early Decision Programs), by those dates most of the seats and considerably more of the available scholarship dollars for the incoming class will already have been given away.
Applicants ought to apply as early as possible in the application cycle, ideally by the end of October or November. This means that they should plan to take the LSAT (at least for the first time) during the spring or summer of the application year. For students still enrolled in classes during the spring semester, the summer test may be more convenient, as it allows for dedicated study time after classes have ended. Taking the test before the beginning of the application cycle leaves time for an applicant to retake the test, if necessary, and still apply on time.
The LSAT is currently offered nine times per year, typically on either Mondays or Saturdays. For the Saturday tests, alternative dates are provided for test-takers who observe the Sabbath. Please note that applicants typically must register for an exam more than a month before the actual test date. Please see this page for a schedule of upcoming LSATs, including registration deadlines.
Should I plan on retaking the LSAT? How does that look to law schools?
In short, no. You should prepare for the LSAT as though you will only take it once. This advice is not meant to make what is already a very stressful test even more so. But rather it is meant to put the emphasis on preparation. The test is expensive and, for the reasons discussed below, multiple scores can create a complicated picture for law schools. It is simpler and cheaper to prepare well enough in advance that you do not need to retake it.
Of course, you can retake the LSAT if you feel that you need to, and there is no limit to the number of times that you may do so. But you should only retake the test if you feel that there is something materially different that you can do with regard to preparation, or if other factors impacted your performance on the day of the test. Research has shown that individuals who maintain the same study regimen and retake the test hoping for a higher score are often disappointed. Most, indeed, find that their scores change only by a few points, and some find that their scores actually decrease.
Law schools to which you apply will receive all of your LSAT scores, and while they are only required by the ABA to report the highest, internally they may consider those scores as they wish. In the case of multiple scores, some schools may indeed take the highest, while others may feel that an average is more appropriate. If in retaking the exam you find that your score has changed dramatically, you should consider including an addendum in you application to address the difference.
How do I study for the LSAT?
The best preparation for the LSAT is a solid undergraduate program that emphasizes reading and reasoning skills, alongside dedicated study of the elements of the test itself. There are a variety of study materials and courses available to help students prepare for the LSAT. Law School Admission Council research indicates that diligent practice on previously administered LSATs is most effective in preparing for the test. Because the LSAT is an aptitude test, there is no finite body of knowledge that will be tested.
Think about how you have prepared for previous standardized tests, such as the SATs. What worked well, and what didn't work? Your own learning style, time management habits, and budget are very important in this decision. Some students find that they learn best in a group (class) setting, while others work better on their own using real practice LSAT tests. See below for more information about prep courses.
Whichever method you choose, make sure to allow enough time to prepare, and work at it regularly. Set aside time each week that you can devote to studying, and develop a plan that will help you to make the most efficient use of that time. Whether studying on your own or through a course, try to work in as many full, timed practice tests as you can before the test date. These will help you to develop the endurance that the exam requires, as well as give you ample opportunity to identify areas that you find challenging.
Should I take an LSAT prep course or hire a tutor?
For some students, self-study with books and practice tests is a fine way to prepare for the exam. For others, who feel that they learn better in the structured environment of a classroom or working in a group with others, a prep course or even a tutor may be useful resources. Research on the effectiveness of these sorts of programs is inconclusive, in large part because there is no one "correct" way to prepare. What may have dramatic results for one student may not work for another.
You are encouraged to approach test prep as a good consumer. Consider how you learn most effectively. Work through a practice test or two to begin identifying areas where you will need to improve. And once you have an idea of the sort of support that would be most helpful, seek out the resources that can provide it. Research the available methods, materials, and courses, and choose the one that best suits your needs.
Please note that prep courses and tutors are among the most expensive LSAT prep options. The Law School Admission Council has recently published a free prep course, available here. Other prep courses, both online and in-person, are available for a cost from a number of different companies.
What other resources are available for LSAT study?
To begin your self-assessment as to how to best prepare for the LSAT, it is a good idea to take a practice LSAT exam. Here are some ways to do this:
- The Law School Admission Council (LSAC) offers a free real LSAT exam on its website at www.lsac.org, to help applicants determine their test preparation needs.
- LSAC also sells relatively inexpensive collections of previously administered LSATs, called PrepTests, which can be ordered at a reasonable cost at www.lsac.org.
- You can also consult print or online materials published by commercial test prep companies, which typically include self-assessments. If you are considering online materials, take advantage of any free practice lessons or practice opportunities first to make sure that the method and program will be useful and practicable.