If for whatever reason, you’ve decided to go to law school, you’ve probably heard of the LSAT. But you may not know exactly what it is. So, to help you out, I’m going to answer some of the most commonly asked questions about the LSAT, including, “What is the LSAT?”
The LSAT is the Law School Admissions Test: the standardized tests that law schools use to evaluate applicants. The LSAT test consists of 5 multiple-choice sections that, starting this summer, are administered on a digital tablet.
Up until recently, any student attempting to attend an American Bar Association-accredited law school had to take the LSAT. So, if you wanted to go to at least a half-decent law school, you had to take this test. However, some law schools have recently begun to accept GRE and even GMAT scores as standardized test options for applicants.
So, if you go to one of those schools, then you don’t technically HAVE to take the LSAT. But, if you’re going to law school, you’ll benefit more from taking the LSAT rather than the GRE or GMAT. I’ll briefly explain why.
Law schools and the legal field overall are very concerned with prestige. Law schools in particular care about how well their graduates are performing in the workforce. They also care about how well regarded their professors are as academics. And finally, above all, law schools focus on how they rank in the U.S. News & World Report (USNWR).
Now, you may not have even heard of this publication. But, if you’re going to law school, it will affect you. U.S. News & World Report is a consumer magazine (people still buy those) and website that releases an annual ranking of the top law schools in the country. Law schools treat these rankings like Michelin Stars or Olympic gold medals; one of every law school’s top priorities is maintaining or improving their U.S. News & World Report ranking.
One of the primary metrics the USNWR uses to rank law schools is the median LSAT score of their incoming classes. So, law schools exert great effort and resources (scholarship money) to persuade high LSAT scoring applicants to attend. At this point, the USNWR does not use median GRE or GMAT scores to influence their rankings.
So, while a good GRE or GMAT score might get you into a good law school, a good LSAT score is more likely to do so because law schools care more about their median LSAT. Therefore, anyone applying to law schools will benefit more from studying for and taking the LSAT.
People often wrongly assume that the LSAT tests students on their understanding of the law. Sometimes, people assume the LSAT even tests their knowledge of current events, public policy, or political science. It doesn’t.
The LSAT is not a knowledge-based test, it’s a logic-based test. You don’t technically have to know anything to succeed on the LSAT; you just have to know how to think logically.
The LSAT has 3 types of sections and 5 LSAT sections total. The 3 types are Logical Reasoning, Analytical Reasoning (also called Logic Games), and Reading Comprehension.
Specifically, each LSAT consists of at least 2 Logical Reasoning sections, 1 Analytical Reasoning section, and 1 Reading Comprehension section. You’ll also see exactly 1 experimental section that does not affect your score. This section is another of any of the 3 different types of sections.
Registering for the LSAT costs $190. You can register online at lsac.org.
Along with LSAT registration, you should also factor LSAT preparation into the cost of your LSAT journey. While you can make an LSAT study plan on the cheap if you’re feeling super confident, you’ll have the best chance at success when you study with an LSAT prep course. The price of a high-quality LSAT course can run you anywhere from $139-1,399, but equipping yourself with great materials right away helps you reach your desired score faster and, consequently, pay for fewer LSAT retakes.
The LSAC scores the LSAT on a scale of 120-180, with 120 being the worst possible score and a 180 being a perfect score. These scores follow a bell curve approximately, so the scores correlate with percentiles. You cannot pass or fail the LSAT: you can only compare your scores to others and to the law schools that you wish to apply to.
So, the question of “what is a good LSAT score” is entirely subjective and depends on a number of factors.
The average LSAT score for all test takers is a 151. So, objectively speaking, if you score below a 151, then you did “below average.” If you score above 151, then you performed “above average.” But this average compares your scores to every single student who took the exam, and you are not likely to be competing against them.
In my opinion, 2 qualities make up a good LSAT score: how it compares to your diagnostic score and how it compares to where you’re applying.
Your diagnostic score is the baseline measurement of natural aptitude for taking the LSAT. It’s the score you got before you ever started studying. For me, it was a 154, somewhere around the 70th percentile.
But, the LSAT is a test that can you can learn to take better. Everyone, given the time and proper guidance, can vastly improve on their diagnostic score. In my opinion, if you don’t improve at least 10 points on your diagnostic score, you didn’t try hard enough (or you were already scoring at a high level).
So, to me, a good score is, first of all, a score that is at least 10 points above your diagnostic score. If you, before you started studying, scored a 151 on your diagnostic, then a 161 is a good score for you.
More importantly, though, is how your score stacks up to the schools you’re applying to and in that comparison, scores will be “good” at some schools and “very bad” at others.
For example, at the University of Iowa Law School (UILS), a 165 would be a great score. That score would be above the law school’s 75th percentile on the LSAT. And, with a decent GPA, an applicant with a 165 should expect UILS to admit them and offer a significant amount of scholarship money.
But, with a 165, you can’t even get your foot in the door at Harvard. A 165 is below their 25th percentile LSAT score and would likely be the lowest score in the class. At Harvard, a 165 is considered a bad score.
So, as you can see, determining a good LSAT score is somewhat complicated. But I will make some final distinctions. If after months of serious and dedicated studying, your score is still in the 130s or 140s, then it is an objectively bad score, and law school may not be for you. It could be an issue with how you are studying, but it could also be that the legal field isn’t where you should be.
And if you get into a law school with a score in the 130s or even mid-140s, be sure to do thorough research into the employment statistics and bar passage rates for graduates of that school. When you graduate with hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt, you want to at least get a job.
Doing well on the LSAT is the single most important thing you can do to increase your likelihood of having a successful legal career. But why does the LSAT have so much power?
First of all, as we mentioned earlier, the LSAT is one of the primary concerns of law schools. Law schools do everything they can to get high scorers to come to their school so that they look good in the rankings. So, doing well on the LSAT opens a lot of doors. Higher ranked law schools with better BAR passage rates and employment statistics will be more likely to admit you if you do well on the LSAT.
Now, you may be saying, “But I don’t want to go to a top law school.” And, that may be true. But, no matter your situation, having the option to attend the best schools possible is the best course of action for you. How can you decide the best place to attend when you don’t have any options?
Going to a higher ranked law school will provide you with better job prospects after graduation, whether you’re looking for high-paying positions at big firms, government work, or whatever. If you have career goals, going to a higher ranked school will almost always help you reach them more easily.
Furthermore, law schools that do admit you will be more likely to give you scholarship money to attend their school if you do well on the LSAT. In a career field permeated with a surplus of workers, starting your career with minimal debt can be lifesaving.
Using an LSAT prep course is hugely beneficial, as long as it’s the right course.
In particular, students who learn best in classroom settings and who would struggle to learn the material on their own should definitely invest in an LSAT prep course. These students may want to consider one of the many live, in-person course options available. Though these courses can be quite costly, that investment will pay off in the long run.
Additionally, students who start with low diagnostic scores can greatly benefit from enrolling in either an in-person or online LSAT prep course. So, if your diagnostic score is in the 120s, 130s, or 140s, you can get the score boost you need from working with an instructor how knows the test, since your score probably reflects an initial misunderstanding of the test. Several online LSAT prep courses feature instructors with tons of testing experience who know how to share what they’ve learned with you.
And finally, students who need to quickly improve their score (which isn’t usually a very pressing need) will find that an LSAT prep course can help them raise their score really quickly.
If you’re asking whether you should retake the LSAT, the answer is almost always yes, with few exceptions.
So, if you hadn’t prepared as well as you could have for the test, you should keep studying. Then, you should retake the test. The reasoning is pretty simple: you weren’t as prepared as you could have been, so you need to change that. Obviously, you didn’t do your best on the test.
What’s more, if your practice test scores were much higher than your actual score, you should retake. You may have made a simple error that cost you a few points. Or, you may have succumbed to test day jitters just a little bit. Either way, studying more and then retaking the exam could quite likely result in a higher score for you.
Finally, if your practice test scores had been improving up until your test date, you probably want to continue studying until your progress at least plateaus, then retake. Why would you stop before you really know how well you can do?
Law schools, as I’ve said about 3 times now, care immensely about how well you do on the LSAT. Why wouldn’t you try to do the best that you can? Schools only look at your highest score, and they don’t average your other scores. For these reasons, there is literally no disadvantage in taking the LSAT multiple times.
So, should you retake the LSAT? Yes. When should you retake the LSAT? After you study more.
So, the LSAT is a pretty simple test that is incredibly important for anyone trying to go to law school. To prepare for the LSAT, get an LSAT prep course, study your butt off, and take advantage of our online resources. Then, watch the LSAT become your golden ticket to a better life.
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