What is the LSAT?
The LSAT is the Law School Admission Test. It is a half-day standardized test required for admission to all ABA-approved law schools, most Canadian law schools, and many non-ABA-approved law schools.
The LSAT is administered by the Law School Admission Council (LSAC). You can register for the test at their website.
When should I take the LSAT?
The test is given near the beginning of each of the following four months: February, June, October, and December. Sometimes the test is a little early; for example, the "October" test sometimes occurs at the end of September.
You should take the test when you are at the peak of your LSAT abilities. Your goal should be to work as hard as you can to prepare for the test, get your skills as sharp as they can be, and take it exactly once.
Taking the test multiple times is less than ideal. The most obvious reason is that the test is expensive. In addition, preparing for the test is difficult and disruptive to your life. It's better to work hard on it for a short period of time than to prolong your studies over many months.
Perhaps most importantly though, law schools see all of your LSAT scores. In the past, schools averaged your multiple scores together, lessening the impact of any improvement you could attain by taking the test again. Although some schools now only consider your highest score, there is still some variability in how different schools treat multiple scores. The only way to find out how your desired schools treat multiple scores is to contact them directly.
The most popular time to take the test is October, followed by December. Many law schools require that the LSAT be taken by December for admission the following fall. However, taking the test earlier-in June or October-is often advised, in case you are unhappy with your performance and decide to take the test again.
The June test is always on a Monday afternoon instead of a Saturday morning.
How does the LSAT work?
The LSAT has five multiple-choice sections. Each lasts 35 minutes. Only four of the sections are counted toward your final score. The unscored "experimental" section is used to try out questions for future tests. These are the sections:
- 2 Logical Reasoning sections ("Arguments" or "LR")
- 1 Analytical Reasoning section ("Games" or "AR")
- 1 Reading Comprehension section ("RC")
- 1 Experimental section (this could be LR, AR, or RC)
These five sections can appear in any order. There is no way to tell which section is experimental, so you have to try hard on all of them.
A 35-minute writing sample is administered at the end of the test. The writing sample is not scored by LSAC, but copies are sent to all law schools to which you apply.
The test itself, along with the administrative procedures that accompany it, add up to a test day experience that will take anywhere from four to seven hours.
How is the LSAT scored?
There are 99-101 scored questions. The number answered correctly is called the raw score. The raw scores for all test-takers are fitted to a bell curve and translated to a scaled score. The scaled score ranges from 120-180. This gets reported to schools. Small variations in test difficulty are taken care of by the curve, so there is no advantage to taking the test at one time of year over another. The average score is 151.
What do the sections look like?
Each LR section has 24-26 questions. Each question has a short passage, followed by a question stem and five answer choices.
Some passages contain purely factual information, which you should accept as completely true (even if you don't agree with it). The question stem will tell you when this happens.
However, most passages contain an argument. An argument is not a disagreement or shouting match-it is someone trying to convince you to believe something, based on some evidence. Every argument has two parts:
- The premises. This is the evidence the author uses to try to prove the point. Always accept the premises as completely true, even if you don't agree with them.
- The conclusion. This is the point that the author is trying to prove. You should treat this as questionable. Perhaps it is true, but perhaps it isn't.
Almost every argument on the LSAT is flawed. That is, the premises don't completely prove the conclusion.
For some types of questions, understanding the flaw is critical. The question cannot be answered unless you understand exactly how the logic went off track. These are flaw-dependent questions, which make up about half the LR questions.
For other types of questions, you don't need to pay attention to the flaw. There may be a flaw in the argument, but your task doesn't depend on analyzing it. These are flaw-independent questions, which make up the other half of LR questions. Passages containing flawless logic or purely factual information are also flaw-independent.
Each AR section features four games. Each game describes a situation and some rules that must be followed. Then there are 5-8 questions that ask about various aspects of the game. There are a total of 22-24 questions in the section.
The situation introduces you to the context in which the game takes place. For example, a typical situation might tell you that six scientists must be seated in a straight line. The situation gives you the overall picture of how the game works, and it also gives you the elements of the game-the things you have to manipulate. In the previous example, the elements would be the six scientists.
Every situation is accompanied by a set of rules that you must follow as you manipulate the elements. You earn points by using these rules to make further deductions about how the game works.
For every game, you need a diagram. The diagram is not something you see when you open your test booklet. That's because you have to draw it yourself. The diagram is the place where the convoluted text of a particular situation and its accompanying rules becomes simple, intuitive visual symbols. It's also the place where you do most of the work for each question. You will not be given any scrap paper to use for your diagram, but there is usually enough blank space at the bottom of pages. When there isn't, you have to get creative and use your microscopic writing skills.
Each question gives you a task to complete. Some question stems are Universal: they ask you about the overall structure of the game as defined by the situation and the original set of rules. Other questions are Local: they confine themselves to particular situations as defined by an additional rule that applies only on that question. There are a small number of common tasks that question stems can ask you to perform, and each one can have several variations. Question stems may ask you to find a configuration of elements that follows the rules of the game, determine where a certain element must be placed, determine which element must occupy a certain spot, or perform one of several other related tasks.
Each RC section has 26-28 questions. Each question is associated with a passage or pair of passages totaling approximately 465 words, and the section contains a total of four question sets.
One of the four passages on every test is a Comparative Reading set. This feature presents you with two shorter works that add up to the same length as one full-length passage. The two smaller passages are written by different authors on the same or related topics and are followed by a set of questions that asks you to compare the two. This is a new feature on the test, and not every book on the market has been updated to address it. Make sure you choose a book that includes techniques for Comparative Reading.
Most tests feature one passage on each of these areas: law, social science, arts & humanities, and natural science. Although you probably have a favorite and least favorite category to read about, the topic of the passage has absolutely nothing to do with how the passage is structured or how you should approach it in your analysis. Avoid books that advocate topic-based strategies.
There are a small number of common tasks that the questions can ask you to perform, and each one can have several variations. A question may ask you to determine the major structural elements of the passage, retrieve specific information from the passage, evaluate and interpret evidence from the passage, or manipulate a chain of reasoning found in the passage. It's important to recognize that the different tasks are largely rearrangements of the same basic set of skills.
Your job on every Reading Comprehension question is to find the best answer. The best answer is not always perfect, so you shouldn't be too aggressive as you go through the answer choices. At the same time, the best answer is definitely better than all of the other choices, so if you think two answer choices are equally good, then you need to reread them carefully. The four wrong answers are always wrong for concrete reasons.
Why is the LSAT difficult?
Almost no one can work quickly enough to accurately answer all the questions in the time allotted. If you work accurately, you almost certainly won't finish.
The test is very long, and your brain will be tired by the end.
The test is written using difficult language and convoluted sentence structure. No one talks the way the LSAT is written. You have to get used to the style of writing.
Believe it or not, lots of people read questions and misunderstand what they're being asked to do. You can't get a question right if you have the wrong objective.
The particular brand of logic used on the LSAT is often very counterintuitive to people. You have to learn how they want you to think about things.
If you are interested in finding ways to overcome these difficulties, consider looking into test preparation.
What are some myths about the LSAT?
The LSAT is an IQ test
No. You can learn skills, predictable patterns of reasoning, and common language tricks that the LSAT uses over and over. This will improve your score.
You need to finish the test to get a good score
Not so. You can get 20 questions wrong and still score in the 80th percentile. The trick is learning how to use your time efficiently. Everything you do should be leading to your getting points faster and with a higher degree of success than anything else you could be doing.
The LSAT would be easy if you could take it untimed
No way. Although time pressure is one major reason why people get questions wrong, the LSAT is still plenty hard without it. People often make mistakes because they misunderstand what the questions are asking, or they don't understand the LSAT's particular brand of logic. The good news is that you can learn these things.
Will the LSAT ever become a computerized test?
LSAC has not announced any plans to turn the LSAT into a computer-based test (CBT) or a computer adaptive test (CAT).
However, they have been conducting research in the field of computerized testing since at least 1999. Any change they may decide to make would be announced well in advance.