What is the LSAT?
The Law School Admission Test. This standardized test is required for admission to any American Bar Association approved law school. According to Law Services, the producers of the test, the LSAT is designed "to measure skills that are considered essential for success in law school: the reading and comprehension of complete texts with accuracy and insight; the organization and management of information and the ability to draw reasonable inferences from it; the ability to reason critically; and the analysis and evaluation of the reasoning and argument of others." The LSAT consists of the following five sections:
- 2 Sections of Logical Reasoning (short arguments, 24-26 total questions)
- 1 Section of Reading Comprehension (3 long reading passages, plus one set of short Comparative Reading passages)
- 1 Section of Analytical Reasoning (4 logic games, 22-24 total questions)
- 1 Experimental Section of one of the above three section types
You are given 35 minutes to complete each section. The experimental section is unscored and is not returned to the test taker. A break of 10 to 15 minutes is given between the 3rd and 4th sections.
The five-section test is followed by a 35 minute writing sample. Students are assigned a Decision Prompt Writing Sample Topic, which follows the following scenario: a choice between two options is introduced, two criteria to be considered in making the decision are stated, and then the two possible courses of action are detailed. The writing sample is not scored, but a copy is sent to all the law schools to which a student applies.
How is the LSAT scored?
On a scale of 120 to 180, with 120 being the lowest score and 180 the highest score. The median score is approximately 151. Only about 2% of all test takers receive a score in the 170's, and almost 70% of all test takers fall into the 140 to 160 score range.
What does it cost to take the LSAT and what is the registration deadline?
To view current registration fees, please visit http://lsac.org/jd/lsat/lsat-cas-fees/ . Typically, mailed registration forms must be received about one month prior to a given LSAT test date. The same deadline is given for telephone and on-line registration. Late registration usually closes about three weeks prior to the LSAT.
What is CAS?
The Credential Assembly Service. CAS prepares and provides a standardized report that is given to each law school to which you apply. The report contains some of the information law schools will need to make a decision on your application, such as the school you attended for your undergraduate degree, your transcript, your LSAT scores, and copies of letters of recommendation processed by Law Services. To apply to an ABA-approved law school you must sign up for CAS. Each CAS subscription lasts for 12 months. There is a fee for each law school report you request with your initial subscription and a fee for each law school report requested at a later date. To view CAS fees, please visit http://lsac.org/jd/lsat/lsat-cas-fees/.
How do I sign up for the LSAT and CAS?
All registration must be done through Law Services. The most efficient way to register is online at www.lsac.org . By registering online, you will be able to print out your LSAT ticket instead of waiting for it to be mailed. You will also be able to get your LSAT score early via email and can keep track of your entire file in your online account. If you are not able to apply online, you may also register via the telephone at 215-968-1001, or by mail. Either way, we recommend that you order or download the "LSAT and CAS Registration and Information Book," which is provided free of charge. The handbook can be ordered by phone at (215) 968-1001 or on the web at www.lsac.org . The handbook contains general information on both the LSAT and CAS, lists all available test centers, and outlines relevant Law Services testing policies and fees. The handbook also contains a complete copy of a previous LSAT.
How can I prepare for the LSAT?
Everyone can practice and be trained to understand and beat the LSAT; however, various learning styles necessitate different methods of preparation. Some students learn most effectively with books, while others benefit from the kind of personal interaction that comes with a live course. In deciding what works best for you, begin by considering your particular learning style.
If you decide to prepare with books exclusively, make sure to go over the concepts consistently and thoroughly, and don't forget practice tests! A strong conceptual foundation should be complimented by practical experience to ensure a solid overall LSAT performance.
If you choose to take a prep course, be sure to take advantage of the instructor's knowledge and expertise—don't hesitate to ask questions! That is one of the best ways to ensure that you are becoming fluent with the concepts covered, and are getting the most out of each lesson.
One thing holds true for all methods of preparation, though—careful, consistent study over a prolonged period of time is the best option when it comes to preparing for the LSAT.
When should I take the LSAT?
The LSAT is offered four times a year: June, late September/early October, December, and February.
If you're still in school, you should take the LSAT the summer before your senior year at college, so that you can spend your senior year acing your classes and preparing your law school applications instead of studying for and worrying about the LSAT. However, if you decide to wait until the summer after your senior year, that's okay; it will not affect you positively or negatively in the eyes of admissions committees as long as you spend that year between college and law school in a productive capacity.
If you're no longer in school, then take the LSAT the June the year prior to your planned law school matriculation. Taking it in June will give you the opportunity to retake the test in September/October should you want to.
Although some LSAT test dates are certainly more advantageous than others, one rule holds true: You should take the LSAT on the earliest date when you feel you are completely prepared. Taking it in June gives you added advantage of being able to spend the rest of the summer preparing your law school applications, giving you more time to work on obtaining recommendations and writing your personal statement, allowing you to submit applications at the beginning of the admissions cycle.
Taking the LSATs early also gives you ample time, should you decide to cancel your scores or retake the test, to sit for the LSAT again in September/October. Of the four test dates, the February test date is the least advantageous: not only is the February LSAT an undisclosed exam, but the scores for the test are released when the vast bulk of the admissions decisions have already been made by law schools and your admissions chances are statistically slimmer. It is preferable that you take the LSAT in June or September/October, since this gives you the opportunity to retake the test (should you feel you need it) while also allowing you to submit your application at the beginning or middle of the admissions cycle.
What should I do if I'm not happy with my LSAT score?
First, understand that every single person that takes the LSAT feels unsure and unhappy with their performance immediately upon completing the test. This does not mean you did poorly; more than likely it is the exhaustive after-effects of having prepared for months for a four-hour test on which your law future rests. However, if you are certain you did not perform well, there are things you can do.
If you're worried about how multiple scores will look on your LSAT score report, take a moment to read the answer to the question "How do law schools see multiple LSAT scores?"
You have two options if you are unhappy with your performance on the LSAT: cancel the score (and then retake the test) or keep your score (and potentially retake the test).
If you decide to cancel your score, you must be familiar with the following:
You only have six calendar days after the test to submit a written score cancellation notice to LSAC;
You will never know what your score was.
You may ask yourself, "If I can't see the score, then how do I know I should cancel it?" That's a very good question. To make that determination, first start by objectively analyzing how you feel about your overall test performance. Perhaps you felt completely lost and you guessed on all the logic games, or you know that you did not understand well over half the logical reasoning questions. Come up with a best-possible and a worst-possible score scenario, and decide if you're willing to live with the results of a "worst-possible scenario" score.
What happens if you decide to cancel your score?
As per LSAC.org:
If you cancel your score, you will not receive a score or copy of your answer sheet. You will receive written notification of a score cancellation and, if you took a disclosed test, you will receive a copy of the test questions and the credited responses for the scored sections as well. Law school reports will reflect that your score was canceled at your request; this advises the law schools that you were exposed to test questions. There are no refunds for canceled scores. Valid score cancellation requests are irreversible and cannot be rescinded.
Schools will not look negatively at a single cancelled score—however, when multiple cancelled scores appear on a student's score report without a good explanation (and schools will require an explanation for multiple cancelled scores), then it can potentially count negatively against the student's application.
Retaking the test
Think carefully about retaking the LSAT. On the day of the test, were you fully prepared? Did the test go exactly as planned? Were there no extenuating circumstances either personally or at the testing center? If the answer to all three questions is "yes", then retaking the test might be a risky move. There is no guarantee that circumstances will improve to the point where you will achieve a significant score increase, and you run the risk of actually achieving a lower score. However, if test or preparation conditions were adverse and you feel that with more preparation and study you will certainly increase your score, then study, prepare, and retake the LSAT a second time.
When you decide to retake the test is entirely up to you and when you feel the most prepared to retake it. Keep in mind the different caveats as regards the test dates: February's is never disclosed and will not get to law schools in a timely manner; taking the test in December means that your application won't be complete until late January, in the middle of the admissions cycle.
From a scoring standpoint, test takers who repeat the LSAT increase their scores by an average of 2.8 points the second time they take the test, and increase by another 2.1 points the third time they take the test (as compared to the second time). While those are only averages, they suggest that sitting for the LSAT again is likely to bump up your score, and if you choose to re-take the test, you won't be alone.
How do law schools see multiple LSAT scores?
In 2006, the ABA Section of Legal Education & Admissions voted its data collection procedures to require the law schools reporting 25th, median, and 75th percentile scores of their matriculating students to report the highest LSAT score, for those students that took the test more than once.
What does this mean for you? That taking the LSAT more than once is now is much less of a "risk" than it used to be. Schools are now not required to take or report the average of all your LSAT scores (although that average still appears in your LSAT score report), and can now use your highest LSAT. However, the rule did not require schools to use the highest score during the admissions process, which means that schools can still use the average score when making admissions decisions—and some still do.
To get an answer specific to the schools you are applying to, call their admissions offices and ask. If you decide to take the LSAT more than once, tailor your decision to retake the test based on test-day circumstances and your knowledge of your schools' LSAT score policies.
How is the LSAT score used in the law school admissions process?
Much like the SAT is used in college admissions, the LSAT is used as a standardized measure in law school admissions. Why? Because the only across-the-board numerical indicator that law schools have when comparing applicants is the LSAT. Law schools have no way of knowing how one major in one college stacks up in difficulty to the same major in another college, or how a 4.0 GPA from one school compares to a 4.0 GPA from another. When it comes to the LSAT, they know that everyone was given the same level of difficulty and very similar questions. This makes the LSAT is the single most important number on your application, even more important than your undergraduate GPA. In fact, some schools weigh your LSAT 4 or 5 times more than your undergraduate GPA—which means that a three-and-a-half hour test can weigh much more than four years of college!
Use this information to your advantage. Think of it this way—even if your GPA is below the median for the school of your choice, you can significantly improve your chances by thoroughly preparing for the LSAT and scoring in a high percentile. And, if your GPA is well above the median for your dream school, you can make yourself a virtual shoe-in by getting a high LSAT score and making sure everything else in your application is well taken care of. No matter which category you fall into, you can play the LSAT score game to your advantage.
How do law schools use the LSAT writing sample?
If the school looks at your writing sample at all, it will be for one of two things: (1) to see how well you can develop an argument; and/or (2) to compare your writing style to that in your admissions essay(s). This is why it's important for you to take the LSAT writing sample seriously, and treat it like a very valid representation of your writing abilities.
For some law school applicants, particularly those that have been out of school for a while, the writing sample might be a rather difficult part of the LSAT. This happens for a variety of reasons:
- The LSAT writing sample is administered at the end of the test, when you've already been hammering away at logical reasoning, reading comprehension, and logic games for almost three hours—and your brain is exhausted.
- The LSAT writing sample gives you 35 minutes to write a cohesive, logical essay arguing in favor or against one of two equally good options (which, depending on how long you've been out of school, may seem like an impossible task—"A full handwritten essay in 35 minutes or less? That's madness!")
- The LSAT writing sample is the dark horse when it comes to understanding its role in LSAT scores and law school admissions—and you know this, which can affect how you approach it.
So how is the LSAT writing sample used? It varies from school to school. Admissions committees know that you're writing the essay at the end of a grueling test, so they're not looking for polished final products—as a matter of fact, if they use it at all (and some schools don't), they are much more interested in seeing how you logically develop an idea under time constraints (a situation very similar to the myriad tests you will take in law school) than in how flowery your prose can be.
A logical follow-up question would be, "Does the LSAT writing sample affect my LSAT score?" No, it does not. Your LSAT score is determined by your answers to the questions on the LSAT, and your essay does not affect it in the least.