Law School Admission Test (LSAT)
The Law School Admission Test (LSAT) is required for admission to all American Bar Association-approved law schools. The test is administered four times per year by Law Services, an operating subsidiary of the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) The LSAT is offered in September/October, December, February and June. Detailed test information - dates, sites, registration forms, fees, and deadlines - and registration is available online through the LSAC website at www.lsac.org.
It is advisable to take the LSAT during the summer or fall of the year you apply. Scores from the December administration may not reach law schools in time to complete application deadlines at all schools. Taking the test no later than October will still allow you to see your LSAT score before applying.
The LSAT is designed to provide law school admissions committees with a common measure of applicants' aptitude for legal study. The test consists of five multiple choice sections, each thirty-five minutes in length:
1) one reading comprehension section
2) one analytical reasoning section
3) two logical reasoning sections
4) one experimental test question section (not scored)
A thirty-five minute writing sample at the end of the test is also not scored; however, copies of the sample are distributed to schools where you apply. Your score is computed on a scale of 120 to 180, based on the number of questions you answer correctly; there is no deduction or penalty for incorrect answers, so it is advantageous to guess if you do not have time to answer a question.
In general, LSAT questions attempt to measure your ability to read complex material accurately and critically, and process information effectively to draw logical, reliable conclusions. The LSAT does not test you on a specific body of knowledge; instead, it evaluates your ability to use skills relevant to the study and practice of law, skills which you likely already possess. You should, however, practice to develop those skills further and to familiarize yourself with the types of questions asked. It is essential to spend adequate time in preparation since your score can improve significantly through taking practice tests. Using multiple strategies to prepare has proved to be most effective.
The best approach is to work through examples and explanations carefully, then take actual disclosed tests under simulated conditions, observing time limits. Information on how to obtain previously administered tests is available online at www.lsac.org. Commercial books are also available and can be used as supplements to LSAC materials; since commercial book publishers cannot legally use copyrighted test materials, their questions tend to be inferior, sometimes misleading, or outdated
Begin your preparation with LSAC materials and then assess your progress. If you feel you would benefit from a more structured program of study, you may want to consider taking a commercial test preparation course. Commercial courses are often expensive and the quality of instruction can be uneven, so it is important to learn who will be teaching the course and what materials will be used. Talk with others who have taken the LSAT to learn from their experience, especially concerning the effectiveness of courses you may be considering. Such courses can be helpful in motivating you to study and in building your confidence.
If you are registered for a test but feel you are not fully prepared or in a frame of mind to perform well it is probably better not to take the test; law schools will not view your absence on the test date negatively. Plan to be well-prepared and to take the test only once. Although it is possible to retake the LSAT if you feel your score is not representative of your abilities and you believe you can improve it, the performance of most applicants does not tend to improve significantly from one test administration to another. Many schools will use the average of multiple scores, rather than the highest score. When an applicant improves his/her score dramatically, though, some schools will overlook the lower score.
When you register for the LSAT online via your online account, all correspondence from LSAC - including reporting of your LSAT score - will be sent to you electronically. An additional fee will be charged for you to receive LSAC correspondence by mail. You will receive a score report from LSAC approximately three weeks after the test, which includes your score (on a scale of 120-180), your percentile ranking, and if the test is disclosed, a copy of the test questions, a list of responses, a copy of the answer sheet, and a score conversion table.
Fee waivers for the LSAT and other essential applicant services are available for applicants with a demonstrated inability to pay for them. Applications can be obtained online at www.lsac.org.
What is a good LSAT score?
This is one of the most frequently asked questions of pre-law advisors; maybe the most frequently asked. Ultimately, how good your score is depends on one thing: how good your prospective law school perceives it to be.
You can obtain recent statistics for the law schools regarding what their median LSAT score was for last year’s admitted students (a median means that the same number of test takers scored above and below that score). You can also obtain ranges: what percentage of test takers with my score were accepted to which law schools. The ABA/LSAC Official Guide to Law Schools, found on-line at www.lsac.org, has a search engine that allows you to sort law schools by different kinds of data. This information is also available in the book version of the Official Guide, in the form of the grids provided by the individual law schools.
The Scoring Scale
The current LSAT is scored on a scale of 120 to 180. What do those numbers mean? Generally, the scoring of an LSAT breaks down like this:
• 12.5% of test takers score a 162 or above;
• 12.5% of test takers score a 142 or below;
• 75.0% of test takers are in the middle between a 142 and 162.
These percentages remain fairly stable from LSAT to LSAT; it is one way the LSAC ensures that one administration of the test is not appreciably easier or harder than another. Thus, you cannot guess the best date to take the test to get the easiest version, or be unlucky and take an exceptionally hard test. Scores are adjusted slightly if a test, on the whole, proves a bit easier or harder. On rare occasions, a question might even be thrown out. But these percentages remain stable.
So then, what is a good score on the LSAT? The higher the better, obviously. If you are looking to be admitted to a top ten school, then in essence you are looking for a way to break into that group of 12.5% of test takers who get the top scores (87.5 percentile or higher). A high LSAT score is no guarantee of admission, but it comes close.
Each law school has its own goals for the LSAT. Some schools weigh it more heavily than others, but all schools take it seriously. You should, too. The better your score, the better your chance for admission and free financial aid. NEVER TAKE THE LSAT UNTIL YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY READY.
If you score in the mid-140s or lower, your chances of acceptance are not good. That is not to say that you will never succeed, but that the odds are against you. Other things can offset a poor LSAT score, including a second and improved LSAT score, desirable diversity characteristics in an applicant such as race or socioeconomic factors, etc.
If you score above a 160 or so, and particularly above a 165, you may be recruited by some schools. The most prestigious law schools look for numbers in the mid- to high-160s (or better), but even then you are not guaranteed admission. Ivy League schools have lots of great applicants for very few spaces in their classes, so sometimes even folks with high scores are unsuccessful at some schools. But setting those few aside, there are plenty of law schools that would love to have you, and you should have good choices. If you apply in a timely manner, you will likely also see some free financial aid accompanying your admission letters.
If you are like most applicants, you will fall within the 75% group that scores in the middle. In this group, the higher the score, the more options you will have. The way the LSAT is scored, there is very little difference, say, between a 153 and a 154; maybe two more correctly answered questions, tops. So on the one hand, you should not shy away from schools that have median LSAT scores just above yours. On the other hand, there is a difference, for instance, between a 151 and a 155, and you should take that into consideration when selecting schools. There are schools that would love to have someone who scores in the low 150s. There are also law schools that will offer money to someone who scores in the high 150s. It all depends on where you want to go, and how flexible you are willing to be in the process.
Can a good GPA offset a poor LSAT?
To a certain extent, yes, but not that much. A good LSAT is much more likely to offset a low GPA. If you look at the Official Guide in book form, you will see on the various schools’ grids that, if you hold your GPA constant and raise your LSAT score, your chances of admission go up significantly at almost every school. The same is not so true if you hold your LSAT score constant and raise your GPA.
Of course, a good LSAT score does not guarantee you admission everywhere. At least one law school dean noted that every year nearly 10% of high scoring students are rejected, mostly because they have nothing else to show for themselves or because they come off badly on their applications.
If you are one of those applicants in the middle (75% of test takers end up there, remember), the higher you score, the more you will distinguish yourself. Those in the middle are the tough calls for law school admissions committees: presumptive accepts and presumptive rejects are relatively easy to identify, but the group of applicants in the middle is large, and after awhile it becomes hard to tell who is more deserving, or who stands out more. When this happens, the best thing you can do for yourself is have a compelling, readable personal statement. If your personal statement is undistinguished, your application will likely be undistinguished, too. You need a way to separate yourself from the pack.
A good LSAT score depends upon what you want in a law school, and where you are willing to go. But as a general rule - and this bears repeating - the higher the score, the better your chances for admission and free financial aid. Never take the LSAT until you are ready to do your best. Do not take the LSAT the first time to “practice” with the intention of retaking it if you don’t like your score. Although the LSAT is not the only factor in determining law school admissions, it’s a significant factor for every school, and you should take it very seriously.
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