What Did Elle Woods Get on the LSAT?

The early 2000s were such a heyday for feel-good light-hearted comedies. One of the most enduring has been Legally Blonde. Reese Witherspoon starred as Elle Woods in this tale of… well, riches to more riches wherein an affable but ditzy sorority girl sets her sights on, and succeeds in, getting into Harvard Law School to try to win back the man of her dreams.

Spoiler alert: she didn’t win the man in the end, but she won something more valuable–a sense of accomplishment and independence that can only come from achieving the seemingly impossible via sheer determination and hard work. (Roll the credits and play the catchy pop tune.)

So, Elle Woods got a 179 on her LSAT after previously getting a 143 on a practice test. A 143 is below average (the average LSAT score being 150). Bringing that up to a 179, just one point shy of a perfect LSAT score of 180, is certainly impressive! However, a score of 179 alone is not enough to ensure admission to Harvard Law School. After all, Harvard Law had 7,578 applicants for the class of 2021 and only 12.8% were offered admission. Every year dozens of students with perfect 180 scores are denied admission to Harvard Law.

To supplement a high LSAT score, applicants to Harvard Law also need a great GPA and incredible “softs”: extracurricular activities, awards/recognitions, letters of recommendation, and personal statements.

Elle Woods had great softs, but each had an element of doubt about its relevance to high academia. For example, she had a 4.0 GPA! But, it was as a fashion merchandising major. She had held leadership roles at her university! But they were as president of a party sorority and as Homecoming Queen. She had been chosen in exclusive competitions! But they were for Ms. Hawaiian Tropic and for inclusion in a Ricky Martin video. Nevertheless, members of the Harvard admissions committee recognized that those “softs” made Elle a unique candidate and offered admission which she happily accepted.

So how did she do it?

How did the manicure-obsessed party girl with parents who encouraged her to just “be pretty” manage to gain a spot at one of the most exclusive institutions of higher education in the world? Although Legally Blonde is “just a movie”, there are some very real takeaways about how to achieve the highly improbable. Here’s what Elle did right:

1. Elle took practice tests in distracting environments

In the movie, we see Elle taking a practice LSAT while the rest of her sorority sisters exercise to an aerobics video in the same room. We know Elle has her own bedroom–a bedazzled pink sanctuary–where she could have tested in peace and quiet, yet she seemed to choose the most distracting testing environment possible. Silly decision? Au contraire!

Many LSAT takers can tell harrowing tales about students having coughing fits during the test or air conditioners clanking and banging for hours. Taking practice tests in a distracting environment is a great way to train yourself so that nothing can break your concentration on test day.

2. Elle was incredibly determined and focused

When she told her academic advisor that she intended to apply to Harvard Law, the advisor understandably suggested that she consider back-up schools. Elle responded with confidence that she didn’t need back-up schools: she was going to Harvard. (Pro Tip: Always have back-up schools). Though her confidence may have been foolhardy considering the low odds of gaining admission, her spirit has got to be admired.

As the movie progresses, we learn that she skipped an awesome keg party (presumably to finish doing Logical Reasoning drills). She blew off Greek Week (probably for Hybrid Linear/Grouping practice). That’s the sort of single-minded focus with which high scorers approach their preparation. While you should certainly take time for relaxation, LSAT preparation has to be treated like a job and not an afterthought. After all, those three little numbers can determine the trajectory of your entire life!

3. Elle bought prep books and practiced with real LSAT questions

In one scene, we see Elle sitting on her bedroom floor surrounded by about fifteen different LSAT prep books. Now, fifteen books may be overkill, but a solid prep book or two is critical to understanding the more complex concepts of the LSAT such as conditional reasoning and game diagramming. Many ambitious but misguided students get their hands on a ton of past LSATs and immediately start taking test after test without learning strategies and rationales. Don’t be that student! Learn the fundamentals from a good book, course, or tutor; drill specific question, game, and passage types to start to see the patterns; then, and only then, should you dive into practice tests.

We also see Elle being quizzed by a sorority sister at the living room table. The friend asks Elle a question about when “neither type of opera and neither type of jazz is on sale”. That’s a real LSAT question! (It’s from game 2 of LSAT PrepTest 31 administered in June of 2000, if you’re curious.) The point, though, is that when preparing for the LSAT you should use real past LSATs (there are about 90 of them available for purchase). Be sure to also use prep books that have paid the fee to license actual LSAT questions. The LSAT is a very consistent test, and a lot can be learned from continually observing the peculiar way they word arguments and answer choices.

With the proper preparation, determination, and materials, Elle Woods was able to get herself into Harvard Law School. By doing the same, so could you!

What, like it’s hard?