Do not try to take the test cold, or with only minimal preparation.
What will the test be like?
The LSAT consists of five multiple choice sections, each containing one of three different question types:
One additional section is of one of these three types, but is not scored because it is an experimental test question section (used by LSAC to try out new questions). While you will obviously know which type of section the experimental one was (because there will be one extra section of that type), you won’t know which one is the unscored one.
After you have completed the multiple choice questions, you will have 35 minutes to write an essay on a given topic. The essay question is not scored and serves solely as a writing sample. It is forwarded to the law schools you apply to.
You will have 35 minutes to complete each of the multiple choice sections and 35 minutes for the writing sample. With breaks and administration time, the whole process may take over five hours.
A free sample test, as well as much more information about it, is available from LSAC.
How should I prepare?
The stated purpose of the LSAT is to determine how well you have developed the skills necessary to excel at studying law. Law schools rely on your score as a prediction of how well you will do in your first year in law school and, ultimately, on the bar exam.
The LSAT does not test you on any specific body of knowledge but on your ability to read and understand complex material, to reason logically, to analyze information, and to perform well in a timed, stressful situation. These should be the skills you have been developing throughout your undergraduate career, but you will need to learn how to apply those skills to the particular question format of the LSAT.
To prepare for the LSAT, plan to spend at least 4-6 hours a week for at least three to four months prior to the test date. The most important things you can do to prepare for the LSAT are:
- Review the test format, instructions, and question types. The test should look very familiar to you when you take it.
- Work through sample questions and explanations to familiarize yourself with the different types of questions.
- Review at least one set of commercial preparation materials for important strategy on approaching the problems, especially the so-called “logic games”.
- Get copies of previously administered LSATs from LSAC—they offer a number of different collections of old tests, some just with answers, and others with answers and explanations. Using a timer to simulate test conditions, work through a complete test. Do as many timed practice tests as you can.
- Be physically as well as mentally prepared on the day of the test. Don’t try to cram the night before. Get plenty of sleep! And don’t forget to eat breakfast.
- Don’t psych yourself out of doing well on the test. It is very easy to convince yourself that you “don’t do well on standardized tests” or, for whatever reasons, can’t do well on the LSAT. Don’t do this to yourself. Aim for a high score and then prepare well to make it happen. There is every reason to believe that you can do well on this test.
If you spend sufficient time working through previous tests, you will familiarize yourself with the test format and get practice developing your analytic and reasoning skills further. This will improve your test score. Think of the LSAT as you might think of an athletic or musical challenge, where repeated (thoughtful, reflective) practice is required to perform optimally.
You can get practice materials from LSAC and from commercial publishers. We recommend that you only practice on actual prior LSATs. Avoid using materials which are called “model LSAT questions.”
Should I take a commercial preparation course?
This is the (roughly) $1,500 question. The decision to take a commercial prep course is a personal one. These courses are not a prerequisite to a good performance on the LSAT, nor do they guarantee a higher score than preparation on your own. The courses are very expensive and the quality of instruction can be uneven. If you are considering taking one of these courses, be sure to talk to others who have already taken the same course at the same location, and preferably from the same instructor. Remember, however, that not every student has the same study skills, so another person’s experience is only relevant if you are pretty sure you have the same work habits.
Also remember that commercial preparation companies are in the business of making money. Alternate, less costly, means of preparation are available. Be skeptical of any course that makes extravagant claims about its ability to raise your score. Although most courses “guarantee” a higher score at the end of the class, you should realize that this is a very easy claim to make—with even the most minimal instruction, your score is likely to go up from your diagnostic test score. Moreover, the guarantee does not usually offer you your money back, just the right to take the course over.
What the commercial courses do best is provide the structure and accountability to get you to do the work you may not do on your own. They also provide an instructor of whom you can ask personalized questions, and from who you can receive personalized feedback and recommendations based on your practice tests. They may also boost your confidence so that you can relax more when you take the exam. In the end, the decision on commercial prep courses depends on what you know about your own learning style and the conditions that will best help you prepare (as well as the resources you have available to pay for a course).
If you do take a course, remember that just showing up for the classes will not be sufficient. Expect to put in significant time outside of the classes if you want to improve your score.
Finally, you should know that some of the larger prep companies offer scholarships (discounts) to students who receive financial aid—but most don’t advertise this fact. So be sure to ask!