The Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) is a multiple choice standardized test that most law schools (all American Bar Association-approved schools, and many non-accredited ones as well) require in considering applications. Administered by the Law School Admission Council, the test is generally offered on various dates each year.
The key to mastering the LSAT is to realize what the test measures - not intelligence, or aptitude for the law, but a standardized measure of reading and analytical skills. Here are the steps you should take to prepare for this test:
- Think "preparation" - not "study." The LSAT is not a test you can "study" for in the usually accepted sense of the word. It does not test substantive knowledge, but rather examines your ability to process information you are given. There are no LSAT textbooks you can buy or check out from the library. There are, however, many choices available for sample questions, practice tests, strategies, and skills.
- Choose your date. At the LSAC website, you will see a list of test dates scheduled for the current year. Pick a date, and plan your preparations around that date. Helpful tip: Take the test as early as possible. This gives you time to retake the test and get scores back before applying to law schools, if you feel you can do better than your first score.
- Give yourself plenty of time. Do not expect to start preparing a few days ahead of time. The LSAT is a particularly formatted, time-limited test and unless you have an uncanny knack for this sort of exam, you will want to give yourself adequate time to take practice tests and form your strategy - at least two months is recommended unless you are able to devote three to four hours daily to preparation, in which case two to three weeks will be fine.
- Familiarize yourself with the format. You will face questions of three types: logical reasoning, analytical reasoning, and reading comprehension. These questions will appear in five formatted sections: one reading comprehension, two logic problems, one section of logic games, and one "experimental" section that doesn't count toward your score but is used by LSAC to test future exam problems. You will also have a short writing sample to complete in the allotted time; this section is not scored, but is used by law school admissions personnel to assess your writing skill. The order of each section will vary, but each section will be timed. Therefore, it is imperative that you practice taking sample tests in similar conditions to those you will experience during the actual LSAT.
- You can't do too many practice tests. Give yourself plenty of opportunity to practice taking the test under similar conditions. You can download a free sample LSAT from LSAC.org, and you can also purchase preparation materials at LSAC's bookstore as well as any major bookstore or website selling test preparation products. Look for a product that offers maximum practice tests, encourages simulated conditions, and offers suggestions for strategies to use when approaching the actual test.
- Get fast. Use a stopwatch to time yourself on the practice sections. Remember that the LSAT is a timed test. Therefore, you want to increase your speed as well as your accuracy in answering. Keep track of your time during all of your practice sessions and set goals for yourself - i.e., "I'll shave one minute off my time on this practice section."
- Should you take a preparation course? That depends on you. If you simply don't "get" standardized tests like the LSAT, or if you feel strongly that you need the extra boost that a course will give, by all means investigate them. However, be aware that they can be incredibly expensive, and because of the nature of the test there is no real substantive knowledge that they can offer to guarantee a high score. Rather, such prep courses will focus on strategies, on speed, and on familiarity with the test question types - but you can do that for much less expense on your own, as well.
The bottom line: You know yourself. If you need the "stick" of an expensive course to make yourself study, it's money well spent. If not, stick to taking practice tests.
Before the test: Here are some bonus tips to help you the day of the test.
- Think about getting a hotel room. The LSAT starts bright and early! If you have to travel more than a few miles to get to the test location, consider going up the day before and getting a hotel room. This will help you get plenty of rest the night before and be less stressed the day of the test.
- Don't go overboard preparing the day before the test. Relax. Remember this is not a substantive exam. There is nothing really that you have to remember. Rather, you have spent your time wisely getting familiar with the questions and conditions, and you are prepared for it.
- Eat a good breakfast, but exercise caution. This isn't the time to eat a really heavy breakfast or try new foods.
- Get plenty of rest. The LSAT, like its big brother the bar exam, is an endurance test. Give yourself plenty of time to rest up for it.
- Take a few minutes to center yourself. Get to the site a little early (not so early you'll just sit around making yourself and others nervous, though) and have a seat in a quiet place, if you can. Take a few moments to center yourself, practice some deep breathing, and get "in the zone."
- Channel your nervous energy. Don't burn out too quickly. It's perfectly fine to be a little nervous about this test - it is important to your future plans. But don't lose perspective. If you've chosen an early date, as recommended, you can always retake the test. Rather, use your energy to focus your efforts.