LSAT


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What is the LSAT?

The Law School Admission Test (LSAT) is a 3-1/2 hour standardized test that applicants must take in order to apply to law school. Until May 2017, it was offered four times a year. On June 1, 2017 the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC), which administers the test, announced that starting in mid-2018 they will be administering the test six times a year. See the LSAC website for full details on 2018-2019 LSAT dates. The LSAT does not test your skills of memorization, and it does not require any pre-existing knowledge of the law. Further, it is not an IQ test. Instead, the LSAT is a skills-based test, with six sections testing your logical reasoning, analytical reasoning, reading comprehension, and writing skills. There are two scored logical reasoning sections, one scored analytical reasoning section, and one scored reading comprehension section. Additionally, there is a fifth unscored and experimental section. This fifth section can be any of the three section types and is randomly placed. On test day, you will not know which section is experimental. There is also a writing section that is unscored, but is sent to all schools to which you apply. The skills tested on the LSAT track the types of skills that can be most useful in law school and the practice of law. These are skills that can be learned with sufficient preparation.

What is a good score on the LSAT?

It is important first to understand the scoring system on the LSAT. There are approximately 100-101 scored questions on each LSAT, and the total number that you answer correctly is your Raw Score. Note that there is no penalty for wrong answers. Raw Scores are then scaled based on the difficulty of each particular test. The Scaled Score range is 120-180.

A “good score” on the LSAT is a score that will help you gain admission to your preferred law schools. The Law School Admission Council publishes the 25th/75th percentile and median LSAT scores for each law school, and many law schools also include this information on their websites. To determine a “good” score for a particular school, look at the school’s median LSAT score. While the median LSAT score is a “good” score for purposes of admission to that school, admission isn’t a sure thing just because you attain that score. Law schools will closely evaluate all other elements of your application before deciding whether to admit you.

To determine a “great” score for a particular school, look at a school’s 75th percentile score. The 75th percentile score is considered a “great” score for that particular school because the score is equal to or better than 75% of that school’s admitted applicants. Note, however, that a score at or above the 75th percentile still doesn’t ensure that you will be admitted; it just increases the likelihood of admission.

If your LSAT score is not quite at or above the median or 75th percentile scores for a law school you wish to attend, don’t panic. Many students are admitted with scores below the published median. To determine how far below, look at the school’s 25th percentile LSAT score. This number gives you a sense of the lower end of the range of scores that might be sufficient to help you get into that school. A full 25% of applicants were admitted with a score lower than the 25th percentile score, so if you don’t have a score equal to a law school’s median, don’t assume that you won’t get in. It may still be worth applying if you have an LSAT score relatively close to the 25th percentile score and if you have other strong factors in your application that might compensate for the lower LSAT score.

Additional useful information to offer perspective:

  • During 2010-2013, a score of 150 was at or around the 44th percentile on the LSAT. A score of 160 was at or around the 80th percentile. A score of 170 was at or around the 97th percentile.
  • UW-Madison graduates who take the LSAT had an average score of 157 in 2012-13.

When should I take the LSAT?

In an ideal world, you should try to take the LSAT for the first time at least 15 months before you plan to enter law school (approximately five months before you intend to apply). That schedule leaves sufficient time to retake the LSAT if necessary and to apply early in the application cycle. But that timeline doesn’t always fit an applicant’s individual circumstances and interests. The important thing is to understand the ideal schedule and then to adjust the timing based on what is best for you individually.

Students Planning to Go Straight to Law School 

If you are planning to go straight to law school after graduating, your options for when to take the LSAT are relatively limited. You should try to take the LSAT for the first time no later than the June in between your junior and senior year. Then, if you aren’t satisfied with your June score, you can retake the LSAT in October and still apply to law schools relatively early in the admissions cycle.

Unfortunately, the June test between junior and senior year isn’t ideal for everyone. Students studying abroad second semester junior year should not plan to take the June LSAT. Students with heavy courseloads or significant extracurricular involvement second semester junior year should not plan to take the June LSAT. Instead, those students should plan to take the October test, 11 months before they hope to start law school. It is important to note that by taking the LSAT for the first time in October, the most viable retake option is December, which would delay the review of your law school applications until January. Many law schools will also accept February LSAT scores, but applications involving February test scores are generally reviewed at the very end of the application cycle, which is not in an applicant’s best interest.

Alumni/Students Planning to Take Time Between College and Law School

If you are an alum or a student planning to take time between college and law school, you have more options for taking the LSAT than a student intending to go straight to law school. An LSAT score is good for 5 years, and the LSAT is offered four times each year. So you will want to think carefully about which test will allow you the most time to prepare in the months leading up to the test. Ideally, you would take the LSAT for the first time at least 15 months before you intend to start law school. Many applicants prefer to take the test early (often while still in college), while others have circumstances requiring a later LSAT date. It is very important to choose a test date that will allow you sufficient time to prepare, but try not to take the LSAT for the first time any later than October, 10 months before you hope to enter law school, unless absolutely necessary.

How early should I start preparing?

Ideally you should spend at least 3-6 months preparing for the LSAT although more time might be necessary in some cases to hit a target score. You should never, EVER, take an official LSAT cold.

What should I do to prepare?

The best preparation involves three steps: (1) Learning strategies; (2) Practicing using those strategies on actual, released LSATs; and (3) Reviewing explanations for every answer on every practice test you take. Do not underestimate the value of taking full, practice LSATs and reviewing the explanations. The skills tested on the LSAT are like any other skill — they require practice in order to master. Further, taking a 3.5 hour standardized test requires intellectual stamina, and practice can help you develop that stamina. It would not be excessive to take a minimum of 15-20 full practice tests. Aim to spend at least 100-200 hours over 3-6+ months following these steps. See LSAT Resources for customized study plans.

Should I take a commercial course?

The decision whether or not to take a commercial course is an individual one that you should make based on your budget and study style. Commercial courses have the following advantages: (1) convenience — they assist you in each step of the preparation process by providing strategies, practice LSATs, and explanations; (2) interactivity — there is an instructor with whom you can discuss any questions that arise; and (3) structure — for people who have trouble motivating to study, courses provide a study structure that can help keep you focused on your LSAT preparation. Commercial courses are expensive though, ranging in price from approximately $500 for online courses to $1500 for in person courses. To the extent that you can afford a commercial course, think of it as an investment. The higher you can get your LSAT score, the more potential you have to receive merit-based financial aid (which is based in part on your LSAT score). But it is not necessary to take a course in order to do well on the LSAT, as long as you put significant time and effort into self-study.

What commercial courses are available in Madison?

Commercial LSAT prep courses with in-person courses in Madison include:

What alternatives are there to commercial courses?

If you can’t afford a commercial course, don’t worry. There are several quality alternatives, including University courses and LSAT prep books. UW offers two types of LSAT prep courses. The College of Letters and Science offers an intensive 2-week course several times a year, and the Pre-Law Society offers its members an 8-week course every spring. These courses are helpful for learning strategies, and you can find released LSATs and explanations online.

For more information about the L&S prep course, visit http://cae.ls.wisc.edu/prelaw-lsat. The information is located on the left side of the page.

For more information about the Pre-Law Society course, contact PLS at prelawsocietylsat@gmail.com.

Where can I find actual LSATs to practice with?

If you take a commercial LSAT prep course, the company will likely provide copies of released LSATs in the cost of the course. If you do not take a commercial course or if the company does not provide released LSATs, you can purchase released LSATs at:

Where can I find released LSAT explanations?

If you take a commercial LSAT prep course, the company will likely provide copies of released LSATs and explanations in the cost of the course. If you do not take a commercial course or if the company does not provide explanations, you can purchase released LSAT explanations at:

Can I take the LSAT more than once? Should I?

Until September 2017, you could only take the LSAT up to three times in two years. In May 2017, the LSAC released the following statement: “Starting with the September 2017 LSAT, there will no longer be any limitations on the number of times a test taker can take the LSAT in a two-year period. LSAC has revised this policy as part of its planning for additional administrations of the LSAT.” There is generally no penalty for taking the LSAT twice.  You might want to consider retaking the LSAT if (1) something went wrong on test day that you believe negatively impacted your test score, or (2) you scored significantly lower on test day than you had on comparable practice tests. Although the LSAC now allows applicants to take the test more than three times in two years, it is not necessarily the best decision for all applicants to do so. Students and alumni considering taking the LSAT more than three times in two years are strongly encouraged to reach out to our office before doing so. 

What about the GRE?

As of October 2017, six law schools have made the decision to begin accepting the GRE in the near future: University of Arizona, Georgetown, Harvard, University of Hawaii, and Northwestern, and Washington University in St. Louis.  Reporting requirements and application processes vary among these six institutions. Students and alumni considering using the GRE in lieu of, or in addition to, the LSAT are strongly encouraged to reach out to our office before doing so.

How long is an LSAT score good?

An LSAT score is good for 5 years. Any LSAT score completed in the last five years will be sent to all law schools to which you apply. 

LSAT Resources: