May 15, 2020
Whether you're planning to apply to law school this year or a few years down the road, it's always a good idea to learn as much as you can about the LSAT, which is a critical component of your law school application. To get the answers to some of the most commonly-asked questions about the exam, College Confidential spoke with LSAT expert Mike Spivey, partner at The Spivey Consulting Group.
College Confidential: How much time does a student need for test prep before the LSAT?
Mike Spivey: This really depends on the individual. In general, it's a good idea to start studying at least two to three months before the exam. Taking a diagnostic exam and comparing that to your goal score can help you narrow down the timeline. A diagnostic close to your goal score may mean a shorter time frame; conversely, a diagnostic far from your goal will likely mean you need more time to study. It can also depend on specific section performance. Many students find that Logic Games (Analytical Reasoning as the LSAT calls it) are an area where they can see quick improvement, while Reading Comprehension can take much longer to notice consistent gains. If English is your second language, it may also take a bit longer, as proper LSAT understanding depends on a very nuanced control of English.
CC: What's the best way to study for the LSAT?
MS: Study within your limits. Don't force yourself to be someone you aren't. If you're not naturally a "sit down and study three hours a day" type person, don't try to be that for the LSAT. Mix up the sources of prep material you use. It's often helpful to start out with one specific source for foundational methods, then mix in the other material once you have a firm grasp on the basics but may have one particularly troublesome area. Being exposed to multiple viewpoints and ways of doing things can be quite helpful. Also – review, review, review! Don't just see what you got right and wrong and move on. In order to learn, you need to understand; not sure why the right answer was right, but why the wrong answers were wrong.
CC: How many practice tests should a student take?
MS: Don't fall for the trap of thinking more material equals better prep. Time and again, we've seen students just take practice tests over a matter of several weeks. That isn't efficient, and it wastes useful – and limited – material. Doing specific sections, and eventually doing them under timed conditions, gives you largely the same timing benefit, and lets you actually review your material. Try practicing under untimed conditions at first. Yes, the test is timed, but if you force yourself to adhere to those limits when you start out you probably won't be applying the methods as consistently or well as you should. Get the technique down first, then add in the timing element. We'd also suggest easing into timing. Start with double the allowed time, then one and a half time, etc.
CC: What is a "good" score?
MS: This greatly depends on an individual's target schools. There is no objective standard of what is 'good.' The average score among all test takers the last several years is around a 151 to 152. What's "good" for each individual is the score that enables them to get into the schools they want to attend. Generally, aim to be at least at the school's median (although applicants are certainly admitted below median all the time). A higher score can also make you an attractive candidate for merit-based scholarships. School medians can generally be located on each school's website or on their annual ABA 509 disclosures.
CC: When would you recommend a student should retake the LSAT?
MS: If an applicant doesn't reach the score they want, or were practicing at, then it's completely reasonable to retake. In fact, during the 2018 to 2019 application cycle, almost half of all LSATs administered were to individuals who had previously taken the test at least once. Law schools will see all your scores, but your admissions decision will be overwhelmingly based on your highest LSAT score, even if you go down from your first score. The downside to retaking is minimal, and the upside is tremendous.
CC: How much of a factor is the LSAT in a student's law school application?
MS: For better or worse, the LSAT is a tremendously important part of your application package. It's also an opportunity. If you had poor undergraduate grades, haven't had a chance to shine in extracurriculars or work experience, or otherwise have some kind of weakness in your application, the LSAT is something that's completely in your control to make up the difference. It's also a chance to save some money. Many schools will offer incredibly generous scholarships to high LSAT scorers. Your prep and studying could save you literally hundreds of thousands of dollars!
CC: In what situation would you recommend a private tutor or an LSAT prep course as opposed to self-study?
MS: Again, this really depends on the individual. There are several situations we can think of. First, if financial resources are not an issue, then a quality tutor is almost always going to be helpful. Second, if you're someone who needs structure and accountability, a tutor can help you with that. Third, if you've been self-studying on your own for some time and aren't seeing the results you want, a tutor can be helpful. And finally, if you've had prior standardized test tutors or courses and found the format especially helpful, this could be an option worth considering. Any reputable tutor will be happy to chat with you for a free initial consult to go over what the tutoring process would look like.
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