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The LSAT

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The Law School Admission Test (LSAT) is a standardized test that is required of every applicant to a U.S. law school.

The LSAT is administered four times a year: in February, June, September and December. You may take the test at any of these times, but the June test is probably the best, especially for those still completing their undergraduate degrees. The other three tests occur at times when you are likely to be occupied with your regular academic work. The time between the end of school in May and the LSAT is well-suited for test preparation. If you take the test in June, you will have your score and understand where you stand before the application process starts in the fall. You will also be able to re-take the test in October if you need to.   

The test consists of five 35-minute, multiple-choice sections, only four of which will count. (The fifth section is merely experimental, used to test new questions, but you will not know which is the experimental section.) There is also a 35-minute writing sample exercise. This section of the test is not scored. Your writing sample is sent to the law schools to which you apply, but it is not typically thought to play much role in admissions decisions.

The multiple-choice questions are of three types:

  • Reading comprehension, in which you are asked to analyze what has been said in complex passages of (argumentative) prose.  This section is the most likely to seem familiar from your experience with earlier standardized tests like the SAT.  There are groups of questions on each of four long passages.  One of the passages typically contains scientific or other technical themes; one typically has a multicultural emphasis, typically about literature or another form of art.
  • Logical reasoning, in which you are asked to analyze what does or does not follow from the argument of a particular passage.  The passages are considerably shorter than those on the reading comprehension section, and there is only one question about each passage.  Two of the four scored sections of the test are of this type.  This is the heart of the test, and if you are good at these sections, you are likely to be good at the reading comprehension section also, which puts you in very good shape.
  • Analytical reasoning, in which you are asked to draw logical conclusions about a specified set of relationships.  These questions are often referred to as "logic games," and they tend to feel like pure puzzles.  Many test-takers dread this section of the test, and it is true that it is the most abstract and generally unfamiliar.  But practice helps a great deal.  Since the answers to these logic games are always completely determined by the given constraints, you can always get the answer right by grinding through all of the constraints.  The question is whether you can do it quickly enough to get through all of the questions, and it is here that practice is so essential.

How should you prepare for the LSAT? It is a very bad idea to take the test cold, without any preparation. To begin with, you should familiarize yourself with the kinds of questions that are asked, and take at least one practice test, under timed conditions. That will give you an idea what your score might eventually be.   Then you should practice as much as you can to get better.  You can find sample questions and practice tests here:

The most difficult issue for many applicants is whether or not to take a commerical prep course. These courses have been shown to improve scores.  However, they are often very costly, around $1,300 or more. Is that cost worth it for you? We do offer a discounted intensive LSAT prep class on campus during May, before the June LSAT; the cost has been $600. You can also practice with sample questions and tests on your own. The decision often comes down to your feelings about standardized tests, and your willingness to practice on your own. If you have confidence in your test-taking ability and your commitment to practice, you can probably prepare for the test on your own. If you feel as if you need extra support, or lack the self-discipline to practice on your own, then enrolling in a prep course may provide the structure and support you need to do your best.  As an academic program at a public institution, however, Pre-Law cannot endorse or promote any particular commerical test preparation company.

If you do take the LSAT more than once, all of your scores will be reported to law schools. Many law schools have an official policy of reporting only their applicants' highest scores on admission reports. That helps their admission data look better, but it does not obligate them to look only at your highest scores. They will always see all your scores.

Understand that nearly every applicant would like to have done better on the LSAT. If you do re-take the test, you should do so because you have a good reason to think you will do better the next time. Did something happen during the first test? Are you better prepared now? If so, you can also explain these reasons in your application, to influence a school to focus on your higher score.