So you want to go to law school? Excellent choice. You will be challenged, vexed, and overwhelmed, but you’ll come out of the experience with a better understanding of the world and the way it works. Of course, there’s a huge hurdle between you and your law school dreams: the LSAT.
The Law School Admission Test (LSAT) is not only a part of your application, it is, inarguably, THE MOST important part of your application. Those three little numbers (the LSAT is scored from a low of 120 to a high of 180), account for well over half of an admission committee’s consideration. You must do well on this test to have a chance at admission to good schools.
However, unlike many other standardized graduate school exams, the LSAT isn’t a test of memorization. You can’t simply sit with flashcards for a month and expect to do well. The LSAT doesn’t test how much you know, but rather how well you think. So, in order to do well, you must have a very clear understanding of how to study for the LSAT.
The very first thing you should do, before knowing anything about the test, is to take one. The LSAC (the organization that administers the LSAT) offers one free test. Set aside 3 hours of quiet, uninterrupted time to take the test to the best of your ability.
This accomplishes 2 goals: it familiarizes you with the test contents, and it gives you a baseline score against which you can measure your progress (trust me, you’ll want to know how far you’ve come once you near the end of this marathon of prep).
You’ll also be able to better manage your expectations. The average LSAT score is 150. If you test far below 150 on your first test, you can expect that you’ll raise your score relatively quickly with proper studies. On the other hand, if you test well above 150 without a shred of preparation, you will make gains much more slowly and with much more effort expended (don’t fret though–gains will come! They just may not be as exponential.).
At this early point in your studies, you’ll also want to set a tentative study schedule. You may have a full-time job, family responsibilities, or classes and finals, but the important thing is to remain as consistent as possible. When thinking about how to study for the LSAT, it is better to plan for an hour a day, every day, rather than 7 hours at a time on Sundays. Consistency, and slowly building upon your knowledge step-by-step, are the main keys to success.
I recommend incorporating the concept of logical thinking into your leisure time as well. A great book, Logic Made Easy, by Deborah J. Bennett, introduces many of the logical ideas you’ll find on the LSAT in a non-academic, easily digestible format. Keeping your brain engaged with these concepts outside of formal study time is one of the overlooked tickets to success when determining how to study for the LSAT.
You’ll also need to start thinking about whether you’ll self-study with books and free online resources, enroll in an LSAT course (either in-person or online), or hire a private tutor (either in-person or online) to help guide you to your desired score. Of course, you can combine these approaches as best fits your budget, time, and personal learning style.
Most students opt for self-study, which isn’t a poor choice. Self-study is by far the most cost-effective way to prepare. Your biggest expense will be in purchasing a few books, and you can take advantage of a surprising amount of free resources available online. Some of the most useful are:
Of course, there are detriments to self-studying. Many people benefit from being able to ask questions, in real-time, of someone who knows the test inside and out. Moreover, self-studiers can often run into problems with dedication when no one is there to assign homework and expect progress at each meeting.
Only you know if you have the fortitude and self-discipline to take this route. Be honest with yourself.
Now is the time to move from theory to application. After studying LSAT material for a month, you should turn to doing actual tests. Buy at least 2 of the “Ten Actual Official” books published by the LSAC. The last thing you want is to run out of practice tests, so buy 3 if possible.
Be sure to buy the most recent book, as the test has evolved slightly over the decades. Older books are fine as supplemental test caches, but those subtle differences between older and newer tests can be quite important.
Save your newest “Ten Actual Official” book for later in your studies so that as you approach your test date you’re practicing with tests most similar to what you can expect to encounter.
Strive for 2 tests per week, but don’t worry about timing yourself yet. Apply what you’ve learned without the pressure of the clock. Many students experience a dip in scores as they first begin applying all the new knowledge they’ve acquired. Don’t freak out! Speed comes later–master the analysis first.
One of the most important things to do at this stage is to fully review each and every test you take. Blasting through practice tests is not how to study for the LSAT. A full review includes looking up an analysis (simply Google the first 5 words of the game or question) for EVERY question on the test, including the ones you got right. You may have come to the right answer but for the wrong reasons, and besides, you don’t want to miss out on expert insight about how a particular question is similar to or different from other common question types.
Take notes on the game types, passage types, and question types you consistently have trouble with. As you progress in your prep, this information becomes invaluable.
At this stage, you should begin honing in on your trouble spots. If you’ve kept good notes, you’ll have a decent idea of what they are. Two months before test date is the time to drill down into specific areas of weakness.
Devote time to doing marathons of specific question types. The PowerScore Question Type Training book, which organizes questions by type, is a great resource.
Finally, you are ready to take full practice LSATs under timed conditions. At least twice a week, sit down and take a full, timed, uninterrupted practice test. Continue to review each test fully.
At this stage, you can expect that your real LSAT score will be within 4 points of your average practice test score.
The day before the test, don’t think about the LSAT. Eat well, get a good night’s sleep, and feel confident in the knowledge that you’ve done all you could to prepare.
The morning of the test, take a deep breath, crack your knuckles, and go kick some LSAT butt. You got this.