LSAT: Preparation and Perspective
1. Know Why You Are Taking the LSAT
I know many people who were not sure they wanted to go to law school, and the LSAT can be much more difficult if you are not sure about the end result. I also know people who were good at taking standardized tests, and they just wanted to see how well they could do. My LSAT tutor actually fit into this category. There are others who take the LSAT on a whim and do incredibly well and then find themselves pressured into a legal career that they never wanted. My advice is to carefully consider why you want to take the test. None of these rationales are wrong, but you may find it easier to study for the test if it is truly something that interests you.
2. Planning for the Test
This goes to two issues: allowing time to actually study for the test and allowing time to mentally prepare for taking the test. Although I had always planned to go to law school, I did not plan for the LSAT in quite the same way. I actually signed up for the LSAT less than a month before the test date. This is not a strategy that I would recommend for test takers today, unless you work extremely well under pressure. However, I was switching jobs, and I had a bit of free time on my hands. If you can commit to studying intensely for a shorter period of time, or if you have a summer break, this may work well for you too.
It is administered four times a year, in February, June, October, and December. Everyone’s schedule is different, but I would recommend that you take the test as close to your preparation period as possible. You are scored against the other students taking the same test, so in theory if the June test is more difficult than the October test, the scores would still reflect if one test taker did better or worse than the other test takers in that same testing. However, the June test seems to be the most popular for those who are planning to go to law school straight out of college. The October test is popular with those who want to bring up their test scores before they apply to law schools, as most law schools have Spring admissions deadlines, and that still allows the student to decide where to apply based on his or her scores.
Always keep in mind when you would ideally like to go to law school. The LSAT scores are valid for a period of 5 years, which is a fairly generous time period. I took the LSAT in December and although I was pleased with my score, I waited until the next year to apply to law schools so that I would be more competitive for scholarships. Many public law schools do rolling admissions, while others have a March or April deadline. Particularly for those with rolling admissions, scholarships may be decided as early as the fall before you would start law school. Keep this timeline in mind, especially if you are hoping for financial assistance or a scholarship.
3. Test Prep
The LSAT is similar to many other standardized tests in that it tests your test-taking ability, rather than actual knowledge.
I prepared for the LSAT with Kaplan Test Prep, specifically their Private Tutoring. I had used Kaplan when I prepared for the SAT, and I had a good experience and raised my score significantly between the two times that I took the test. I only took the LSAT once, and the LSAT has historically been a test that does not encourage multiple testing. Often an applicant’s scores would be averaged, rather than taking the highest testing score as colleges generally do with the SAT. This also should remind you to take the test seriously, as a low score on a first testing stays on your record for 5 years. That is not to scare you, just to remind you to take the test seriously and to do your best to prepare before test day. A great way to prepare is to seek help from the experts.
Since my study period was abbreviated, I did not have enough time to take a group course. I also prefer one-on-one attention for test prep, and this might be a good time to splurge. Although the cost up front is high, Kaplan guarantees a higher LSAT score or your money back. That is a pretty great guarantee, and it shows how confident Kaplan feels about their ability to raise your score. Please weigh this up front cost against the possibility of getting a scholarship and saving more than that up front cost over the course of 3 years of law school. I saved much more than what I invested initially in the course in the form of scholarships. Even further down the road, the increase in your score could help you with job placement because you were admitted to a higher ranked school. You will also feel less pressure to take a job that you do not want if 3 years of a scholarship lessened the weight of student loans. For these reasons, I would highly recommend enrolling in Kaplan's test prep course.
Kaplan has been in the test preparation business for years, and your class/tutoring fee comes with a giant stack of very helpful books. These books have advice on taking the test and how to deal with the various 5 topics on the LSAT. You will do repetitive drills on each subject until you improve both your speed and accuracy. You take an abbreviated practice test at the beginning of the course, and it will indicate a score range that you would receive if you took the LSAT. It will also tell you what score range you could expect at the end of the course if you study and practice diligently. [Note: I've checked Kaplan's website in preparing this review, and it seems like the resources have improved even more since I took the test in 2008. There are now many hours of instruction available online, so that one can get instruction without needing to go to classes in person.]
I met with my tutor twice a week, during which time we would go over the homework assignments and practice tests. She taught me how to analyze questions the “Kaplan way,” which was counterintuitive to me, but proved quite effective. I learned how to narrow down the answers and choose the best answer. I know this sounds obvious, but it really is helpful to talk to someone who has taken the test, and who is aware of how the LSAT is structured and what is being tested. I learned not to over read the questions, and to consider what the test makers were thinking when they wrote the question. I learned what my strengths and weaknesses were on the test. I learned all the examples of logic games, and what was the likelihood of each type appearing on the LSAT. The LSAT is not a truly difficult test, in that if you had enough time, you would probably score quite well. However, it tests your ability to think logically and critically, but with efficiency. These are valuable skills for an attorney. When I began studying, I was not a quick test taker. If you come from a liberal arts background where you're more used to writing papers at your leisure, you may also have this problem. But this is the opportunity to practice daily to get faster taking this test. I also appreciated that I had someone to review my essays and give me thorough constructive criticism. That was so valuable and something friends and family may not be able to do for you.
I treated my studying like a full time job for three weeks straight. I liked the opportunity to focus on something intensely, and this worked for me. However, I would have appreciated a bit more time to think about the test and prepare for it in a bit more relaxed setting. I would wake up in the morning and do a small practice test before lunch. Then I would take a break and do a second and third practice test before dinner. I took multiple practice tests, and the only one I was able to take uninterrupted by friends or family was the one that I took at the Kaplan center. My score on the LSAT was actually higher than the practice test that I took at Kaplan, so that was a pleasant surprise. I really appreciated having a tutor who was focused on how I learned best, and what way I could improve my score. I think everyone can raise his or her score through repetitive practice and becoming more familiar with the test, but with individual tutoring, one has the opportunity to focus on the test with tailored advice.
Although the LSAT is not a strong reflection of law school, the ability to analyze, reason, and carefully consider the process and the desired outcome is great practice for a future legal career. Best of luck!