LSAT Exam Overview
The LSAT is perhaps the most critical component of any law school application, yet people continuously underestimate it. Here, we give you everything you need to know.
By Douglas Eddings, Certified Learning & Development Professional
So What Is The LSAT?
The LSAT, or Law School Admission Test as it is formally known, is the standardized admissions exam taken by prospective law students across the US. It is administered by the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) and is the primary entrance exam accepted by ABA accredited law schools for admission, noting that some schools now accept the GRE in lieu of the LSAT (and others require no exam at all). The LSAT is designed to test skills and abilities that a prospective law student will need for success in law school, including critical reading and writing, issue spotting, ability to draw conclusions from incomplete information, and logical reasoning.
LSAT Test Structure
The LSAT is a nerve-racking 3 ½ hour exam comprised of six sections. Until recently, the test was administered with pencil and paper just like your grandpa used to take it, but since the summer of 2019, the test has been digitally administered on tablets. Five of the six sections are multiple-choice format, with one section being an essay. A detailed breakdown by section follows:
There are two Logical Reasoning sections of the LSAT, both being 35 minutes in length and containing 24 to 26 multiple-choice questions each. Each section consists of varying short passages, followed by one question about the passage. Each Logical Reasoning section is intended to test your ability to analyze and evaluate a given argument. These two sections together represent nearly 50% of your overall score on the LSAT, so they are critically important. Speed is also a major concern for the Logical Reasoning sections, as many students run out of time prior to finishing all questions in a given section.
The Logic Games section of the exam, or more formally known as the Analytical Reasoning section, boasts 22 to 24 questions that must be answered in 35 short minutes. The section generally contains 4 logic games with 4 to 7 accompanying multiple-choice questions each. This section of the test measures a test taker’s ability to draw conclusions based on a set of stated guidelines or rules and provided facts, identify relationships between concepts, and apply logic to complex constructs. The Logic Games section generally accounts for 23% of your overall LSAT score.
The Reading Comprehension section is made up of 4 passages, accompanied by approximately 27 questions. Like the other sections, the student is given 35 minutes to complete this portion of the exam. Of the 4 passages, 3 are authored from a single view point, and one is a “combined” passage, with two varying points of view on a matter. This combined passage can often cause test takers issues. Each passage is followed by 5 to 8 multiple-choice questions. The Reading Comprehension section is designed to test a student’s ability to critically read a dense, academic-type passage, interpret and analyze its structure, meaning and underlying assumptions, and make deductions from gaps in the passage — skills all useful in law school and beyond. The Reading Comprehension section is worth roughly 27% of your overall score.
The final multiple-choice section, the Experimental section, can be thought of as a joker card. It can be one of any of the preceding types of sections — Logic Games, Reading Comprehension or Logical Reasoning. It will exactly mirror one of those three types, so there is no sense in trying to figure out which section is the Experimental section. It is unscored and is used by the test makers for designing future LSAT questions.
Lastly, the Writing Sample section is an unscored, 35 minute portion in which the test taker is asked to write an essay. But don’t stop reading at the “unscored” mention above — the writing sample is provided to law schools along with a copy of your score, and many law schools will consider it if they are on the fence about admitting you, so make sure to give it requisite attention. The test taker is asked to compose an argument based on a set of given information, support their claims with reasoned premises, and showcase their mastery of the English language. Don’t overlook this section despite it being unscored.
How is the LSAT Scored?
Every test taker will be given a scaled score between 120 and 180, with 180 being a perfect score. To arrive at this scaled score, LSAC takes the student’s raw score (which is the number of questions the student answered correctly) and converts it to an LSAT score through a scaling formula. Only correct answers matter, and test takers are not punished for incorrect answers — so don’t ever leave a question unanswered if running out of time. The average LSAT score is around 150, but you’ll have to do better than that to get into a higher-end law school.
How to Study for the LSAT
While the LSAT may seem undaunting with only four scored sections and a somewhat short time duration of 3 ½ hours, do not be fooled. The LSAT is a mentally exhausting undertaking and requires ample preparation. Unprepared students are often caught off guard by the sheer speed of the sections, the varying question types within a section, and the general difficulty. Simply put, prep time is needed, and lots of it. We recommend studying for at least 160 to 240 hours to properly prepare for the LSAT. For some, those numbers may be more, and others less, but it will take at least a month or two to get yourself mentally ready for this grueling exam. Here are some specific LSAT study tips that every prospective law student should heed:
Buy a prep course. Don’t cheat yourself when it comes to LSAT prep — buy a prep course from one of the commercial prep companies. We cover this in more detail in the section below, but these companies exist for good reason — they get results. Buy a prep course, do every lesson and practice problem, and watch your scores jump.
Take a practice test at the outset. Most prep courses will have you do this anyway, but be sure to take a full length prep course right at the outset before you start studying. You will quickly realize how unprepared you are, how difficult this exam is, and where your initial weaknesses lie. Don’t be discouraged by your unprepared score though, it will absolutely get better with time.
Keep your mind and body right. As you study for the LSAT, do not neglect your physical and mental health. Some students fall into the pattern of studying, staying up late, forgetting their workout routine and eating terribly. Being mentally and physically strong will be invaluable on the day of your exam. As others become tired in the fifth section or start to doubt themselves, you’ll be able to power through and stay metnally focused. So remember to exercise, eat right, get plenty of sleep and stay hydrated. These things are almost as important as the studying itself.
Practice right before sleep. Studies have shown that students have increased memory retention when they study right before bed. We’re not saying to neglect studying in the morning — you absolutely should if you’re a morning person — but also make it a point to hit some flashcards, go over an outline, or do a few practice problems, right before bed. This helps what you’ve learned that day sink in as you rest.
Focus on your weaknesses. Many students have a tendency to shy away from their weaknesses because they don’t think they can improve in certain areas. This shouldn't be the case,.If you’re bad at logic games, don’t try to hide behind better reading comprehension and logical reasoning scores. Improving other aspects will only take you so far in bettering your overall score. Work on those weaknesses! Learn from your mistakes and improve your technique.
Best LSAT Prep Courses
As mentioned above, we definitely recommend that you purchase and follow a LSAT prep course. These courses will be crucial to your success. Yes, some students have supernatural powers and can get by reading a book or two, or even no studying at all. But for the other 99% of us, studying will be key, and prep courses should be the basis of your study plan. There are a wide range of commercially available LSAT prep courses, from white glove courses with 1 on 1 tutoring that cost close to $2,000, to self-study budget courses that cost just a couple hundred dollars. We recommend going with a higher-end course that fits your learning style. You’ll get a wealth of resources and higher quality content. Check out Kaplan and Magoosh, two of our favorites.
Best LSAT Prep Books
Sometimes you need to supplement your prep course studies — enter LSAT prep books. There is a dizzying amount of LSAT prep books available online, from cheapies that cost $15 with quick hit tips, to more expensive and in depth books that focus on technique, to books that just contain practice problems. There is definitely something for everyone. As mentioned previously, we do not think these prep books alone will be able to adequately prepare you for the LSAT, but when combined with a prep course, can fill in the gaps and rev up that score. Our recommended books include the series from Mometrix or APEX, or get the LSAC’s own Official LSAT Prep Plus, which contains digital access to 60 practice tests — a huge resource for less than $100.