The LSAT is, in most cases, the most important element of your law school application. As a general rule, the higher the score, the better your chances for law school admission and scholarships. 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 do not 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.
What is the LSAT?
The Law School Admission Test (LSAT) is required for admission to all American Bar Association-approved law schools. It 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, every thirty-five minutes in length:
- one reading comprehension section
- one analytical reasoning section
- two logical reasoning sections
- 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.
When Should I Take it?
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.
When will I get my score?
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.
How much does the LSAT cost?
The LSAT exam costs $180. 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 score?
This is one of the most frequently asked questions of pre-law advisors. Ultimately, how good your score 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, such as what percentage of test takers with your score were accepted to certain 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.
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. 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 financial aid.
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 you should not shy away from schools that have median LSAT scores just above yours. There is a difference, between a 151 and a 155, however, 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 score?
To a certain extent, yes, but a good LSAT is much more likely to offset a low GPA. If you look at the Official Guide on LSAC’s web site, 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.
How Should I Prepare?
Given the importance of the LSAT in the law school admission process, it is very important that you take time to prepare. This is a very different exam from any you have previously taken. The optimum amount of time to prepare for the exam is six to nine months. It is not recommended taking any less than three months. While there are some effective strategies to learn that will assist you in taking the exam, the best preparation for the LSAT is taking timed practice tests up until the day of your exam.
There are several effective self-study guides available, including those prepared by LSAC, the organization that gives the LSAT. Many people successfully prepare for the LSAT using these guides.
For students who wish to take a more structured approach involving instructors, there are a number of preparation companies to choose from. These companies take a variety of approaches, some involve in-class instruction, some online and some a combination of the two.