I talk about the LSAT a lot on this blog. I do this because I like to help people and because I think the test is interesting. (I probably would not have become an LSAT tutor otherwise!) But I realized recently that I have never explained what the LSAT is and why it matters so much to people considering law school. So today I’m going over the basics.
Basic LSAT Information
The Law School Admission Test (LSAT) is a standardized exam used by law schools to help judge the worthiness of applicants. Put more simply, the LSAT is an aptitude test that schools will use to determine whether or not you are mentally capable of successfully studying law. It is widely viewed as a sort of law school entrance exam because of the strong correlation between high LSAT scores and acceptance into the top law schools. For this reason, it is important for test-takers to earn the best score possible; a good LSAT score is a vital part of any law school application.
The LSAT is broken up into six parts: two logical reasoning sections, one analytical reasoning section, one reading comprehension section, an unscored experimental section, and an unscored writing section. Unlike most standardized tests, the LSAT does not test knowledge; rather, it tests critical thinking and reading skills. In other words, all the information you need to correctly answer each question on the LSAT can be found in the test itself. Your task is not to remember pieces of information but to solve a series of complicated puzzles.
Test-takers are given 35 minutes to complete each portion of the exam. This may seem like a long time (especially considering that each section has on average 25-26 questions), but the reality is that few people are able to complete the entire exam in time. The LSAT is a hard test, and test-takers are frequently caught off-guard by how complicated the questions can be.
LSAT exam scores range from 120 to 180, with 180 being the best. The average score is 150, but most top schools tend to require a much higher score in order for an application to be considered for admissions. Thankfully, test-takers can improve their scores with practice.
Let’s take a look at each section of the LSAT individually.
This section is frequently referred to as the “logic games” portion of the test. The analytical reasoning section presents 4 separate puzzles to the test-taker. Most test-takers draw diagrams to solve these puzzles and answer the associated questions. In order to answer questions correctly in the analytical reason section, students will need to have a firm grasp of deductive reasoning and the ability to infer what could logically be true given a set of facts.
There are two scored logical reasoning sections on the LSAT, making this the most important part of the exam to master. These sections feature questions that measure a test-taker’s understanding of logical arguments. No formal logic training is necessary to do well here, but that training can be useful. Common question types include identifying the conclusion of an argument, identifying the flaw in an argument, identifying a missing premise in an argument, bringing to light an implicit premise in an argument, and selecting statements that strengthen/weaken an argument.
The reading comprehension section is composed of short passages (usually 400-500 words a piece) that the test-taker must answer questions about. The associated questions frequently require the test-taker to identify the main point of a passage, make inferences from a passage, or understand the authorial intent of a passage. No prior knowledge about the passage topics is needed, but it is useful for test-takers to be comfortable reading new material from a wide variety of academic disciplines.
The experimental section is an unscored portion of the test put in by LSAC (the organization that administers the LSAT) in order to test out new questions for future LSATs. This section could be analytical reasoning, logical reasoning, or reading comprehension. No one outside of LSAC will ever see how well you did on this section, including you. Therefore, it doesn’t really matter how well you do on it. However, there is no way to determine which section was the experimental section until after the test is over. Because of this, it is wise to assume every section is real while taking the LSAT.
For the writing sample, test-takers are given a scenario and a set of facts to accompany the scenario. The scenario requires that a decision be taken, and two possible decisions are presented to the test-taker. The test-taker must argue (in writing) in favor one of these two decisions. There is no correct side or incorrect side to argue in favor of; what matters is the strength of the argument and the writing ability of the test-taker.
The writing sample is unscored, but it is seen by the law schools you apply to. Many test-takers ignore this portion of the test during preparation, and some even leave this section blank. However, admissions officers tend to frown at this behavior. Many admissions officers have even stated that a bad writing sample (or no sample at all) can be enough to disqualify a law school applicant. It is, therefore, important to take this section of the test seriously even though there is not a firm grade attached to it.
The LSAT is often considered to be the most important part of a law school application; this test has the potential to transform how law schools view an applicant. The difference between a good score and a great score can be life-changing. Thankfully, there are ways to prepare for the exam.
If you plan to take the test, definitely buy some PrepTests (official LSATs given in the past). You should also consider getting a good prep book. Just be sure to take the process seriously and give yourself plenty of time to work through the material.