Strategies for the LSAT
As a condition of accreditation, the American Bar Association requires all law schools to publish certain data about each class of entering students in a format known as the "Standard 509 Information Report." The Standard 509 for each law school is almost always easily available online, and it includes statistics such as acceptance rate, median and middle-50% GPA, and median and middle-50% LSAT scores. The most recent Standard 509 for Harvard Law School, for instance, shows that the middle-50% LSAT range for new students is 170-175, with a median of 173. Applicants with LSAT scores below 170 would therefore be in the lowest quartile and very unlikely to gain admission.
Another valuable research tool is the admission calculator available on the LSAC website, with which students can search law school acceptance rates by GPA and LSAT scores. From this calculator, one can learn that a hypothetical applicant to the University of North Dakota School of Law with a 3.0 GPA and a 160 LSAT, for example, would have a 90% chance of acceptance. These resources help LSAT test-takers set target scores that maximize their odds of admission to their preferred law schools, and they also provide an important data point for LSAT study.
Diagnostic testing at the outset of the LSAT preparation process is every bit as essential as setting target scores. Diagnostic tests are distinct from full-length practice tests in their purpose and length. Diagnostic exams are intended to provide initial skill assessments rather than duplicate actual testing conditions, and they are therefore typically much shorter than full practice examinations. LSAT diagnostic testing allows students to determine their current skill level and how far away it is from their target LSAT score. Diagnostic testing also points to strengths and weaknesses with respect to specific types of LSAT exercises, facilitating more effective use of instructional and study time.
Test-takers are urged to give themselves plenty of time to prepare for the LSAT. We suggest approximately 120 hours of study spread out over about 12 weeks (roughly 10 hours per week). Research on the psychology of learning has repeatedly demonstrated the benefits of relatively short and frequent study sessions. It is much better to study 1-2 hours per day than to try to cram 10 hours of LSAT prep into the weekend. The former will produce gradual, sustained progress over the long haul, while the latter will cause problems with focus and retention. Although it may seem obvious to some, we would be remiss if we didn't remind test-takers to devote more study time to areas of LSAT weakness than to areas of strength. It is surprisingly common for students to instead do the reverse, for understandable reasons (easier exercises produce more immediate rewards), but this impulse should be resisted. Preparing for the LSAT is no easy task, but a strategic approach to study makes this task much more manageable.
Full-length practice tests throughout the preparation period have a number of benefits. First, they provide concrete assessments of skill development. Second, they develop testing endurance and testing abilities. Finally, they demystify the LSAT, boosting test-taker self-confidence and comfort. The value of practice tests, however, is undermined if they are taken too often. We advise our students to plan on one practice test per week. In the earlier stages of LSAT preparation, testing conditions may be relaxed (e.g. more time), but during the latter half of LSAT prep, students should take practice tests that reproduce the actual circumstances of the test as much as possible. This means that students should observe official test timing and conditions with respect to environment, time of day, and even clothing (we advise you not to take your practice tests at night in your pajamas).
Abusing one's body and mind during LSAT study is not only unhealthy, it is also counterproductive. A large body of research has shown that sleep is absolutely essential to the acquisition of knowledge, as this is when the brain processes information for longer-term retention. Do not sacrifice sleep in favor of LSAT study; it won't be good for either your health or your LSAT scores. In fact, self-care is another reason why we suggest a prep program of ample length (12 weeks) that includes short, daily study sessions. Make sure that you also exercise regularly and eat right, because both have been demonstrated to have a positive impact on cognitive function.