This post written by Punsala Navaratna for 21st Night. 21st Night is a studying app I developed to help people master exams, including the LSAT.
How can I get a high score on the LSAT?
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If you’re an aspiring lawyer, learning about the Law School Admission Test (or LSAT for short) might have slowly filled you with both awe and dread. And for good reason – a veritable monster of a test, the LSAT contains a hundred or so mind-bendingly convoluted questions that might cause your head to spin at first.
Truthfully, the LSAT will not only be the most laborious and strenuous component of your law school application, it will also be the most rewarding. Nothing will beat the feeling you get when you’ve got a stellar LSAT score after months of hard work and dedication.
This can be you! The secret lies in the realization that the LSAT is a standardized skills test, and not an aptitude test – and that’s exactly the way you should approach it.
Is getting a high LSAT score easy? No! But is it possible? Absolutely. Much like learning to play a musical instrument or speak a foreign language, facing the LSAT will require hundreds of hours of skillful and concentrated practice. In fact, acing the test is ultimately not really about studying in the traditional sense, but rather about carefully executing a study system that helps you form new habits of thinking and reasoning.
What’s a good score for the LSAT?
Suffice to say, your LSAT score will be the most critical element of your law school application. A high score is possibly the easiest way to stand out amongst thousands of other applicants and get admitted to your dream school.
LSAT scores stand on a range from 120 to 180, with the average being roughly 150. About 70% of all test-takers will score somewhere between 140 and 160.
But what exactly is a good LSAT score?
According to U.S. News & World Report, the minimum you should probably aim for is above 150, since that would make you an above-average applicant. A competitive score would typically be above 160, and a top school will require a score of 170 or more.
To be more accurate, though, a good LSAT score will depend on which law school(s) you want to get into. It’s important to do your research by studying relevant admission stats by visiting program websites. Universities will typically publish data related to the 25th and 75th score percentiles, which should give you a good idea about how much you’d need to score to gain acceptance to their particular program.
Harvard Law School, for instance, has published data on their Class of 2021, with the 25th and 75th LSAT percentiles being 170 and 175, respectively. This means that 25% of the lowest-scoring students who got accepted had an LSAT score of or below 170 (and the top 25% had a score of 175 or higher!). If Harvard is your goal, then, you should aim for about 170 or higher.
In contrast, the University of Pennsylvania Law School website reveals their Class of 2021 scored 164 and 171 as their 25th and 75th LSAT percentiles, respectively. Again, this represents that 25% of their lowest-scoring enrolled students had an LSAT score of or below 164, and you should aim to reach that (or more) to increase your likelihood of getting accepted.
You can combine the stats for your target schools together to come up with your own personal LSAT score goal. This should be the minimum required score you’d need to comfortably get into the law schools on your list.
What exactly does the LSAT test for?
The LSAT is a highly specialized and unique exam. In order to ace it, you’ll require an equally specialized study and test taking strategy.
Here’s what the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) says about each of the sections of the LSAT.
For the Logical Reasoning section:
“The questions are designed to assess a wide range of skills involved in thinking critically, with an emphasis on skills that have proven to be central to legal reasoning.”
For the Analytical Reasoning section:
“AR questions reflect the kinds of detailed analyses of relationships and sets of constraints that a law student must perform in legal problem solving…[they] test a range of deductive reasoning skills.”
And for the reading comprehension section:
“[The] questions require you to read carefully and accurately, to determine the relationships among the various parts of the reading selection, and to draw reasonable inferences from the material in the selection.”
Do you see a pattern here? Words like thinking critically…deductive reasoning skills…determine relationships…draw inferences…should give you a clue. The LSAT does not evaluate any formal training, education, or knowledge related to law. It doesn’t test how well you can remember obscure vocabulary items or how well you deal with numbers. Rather, it’s devised to test your critical and logical thinking skills applied to general scenarios – basically, the way you think.
What’s the best way to study for the LSAT?
In any effective LSAT study strategy, the first thing you’ll need is commitment. If preparing for the test involves developing new critical thinking skills, this will take time.
You’ll need to leave enough time for preparation: at least 3-4 months of hard studying (10 or more hours per week). Create a schedule to ensure you hit these minimum prep times, and stick to it.
Then, focus on accuracy. Lay down your LSAT foundation by studying the basic concepts. While the exam won’t test you on specialized vocabulary or legal terms, you’ll still need to have a solid understanding of key concepts related to argumentation, rules, and deduction.
For example, you’ll need to know things like: what’s an assumption? What’s the difference between causal and conditional reasoning? What’s a statistical generalization? These concepts won’t be tested directly, but they’ll form the skeleton you’ll need to support your thinking when answering tricky LSAT questions.
You can use a textbook such as Kaplan’s The LSAT Unlocked 2018-2019 to get things started, which has a whole chapter dedicated to the nuts and bolts of LSAT reasoning. Alternatively, you can pick up a general book related to formal logic or critical reasoning to give yourself a more comprehensive understanding of fundamental LSAT-related concepts.
Once you’re comfortable with the basic concepts, it’s time to start laying down the bricks by doing practice questions. Be consistent with your practice sessions – and be prepared to be bend the way you think! Intense and concentrated repetition is the key to mastering the basic concepts and how you apply them.
It can be a good idea to invest in a self-study companion at this point as they can help make your practice sessions much more productive. A study app like 21st Night, for instance, will let you quickly capture and practice questions – from virtually any source. If a question is online, simply copy and paste into the app, and if it’s from a prep book, just take a photo using your phone. You can even import helpful YouTube videos you come across!
Here’s something you should remember during your practice sessions: instead of focusing on whether you got the answer choice right, think about whether the approach you used was the correct one. If you’ve used the wrong approach, you might get an answer right the first time round but mess up on subsequent questions.
An app like 21st Night will allow you to quickly capture explanations from a variety of sources along with the answer so you can save them for easy practice. Remember – the effort required to learn a correct approach will pay off in the long run.
Finally, you’ll need to work on your speed and test-taking confidence. The best way to tackle this is to do practice questions under test conditions.
Be extremely specific when you do this! For example: don’t use a pen, because only pencils are allowed for the LSAT and you’ll want to get used to that. Practice in noisy and slightly crowded areas like your test-taking place, rather than a quiet room. Use real, actual LSAT questions instead of ones designed to simulate them by a bunch of authors.
Also: focus on building your stamina and concentration, because you’ll need to be on your toes for more than four hours on your test day. So instead of practicing on piecemeal sections or only a couple of questions at a time, do full-length tests at a stretch.
There are around 80 released tests so far by the LSAC, and are available for purchase through their 10 Actual, Official LSAT PrepTests series.
How can I improve my logical reasoning skills?
The logical reasoning sections of the LSAT are quite probably the most important of them all, accounting to half of your overall score. These questions assess your ability to understand and break down a given argument – a critical skill in the legal profession.
Many test-takers wonder how exactly they can improve on their logical reasoning performance. One approach, as with our previously mentioned study strategy, is to focus on accuracy first, without worrying about speed. Make sure you can walk first before you run!
This means you’ve got to dedicate yourself to analyzing logical reasoning practice questions with laser-sharp focus, and drill down to the ‘why’s’ of each answer choice. So if a choice is wrong, ask yourself, why? And if it’s the right one, why? Doing an in-depth analysis on a single question will be more impactful than doing a sub-par analysis on twenty different ones.
It can also be helpful to divide your practice sessions by question type. Focus first on the more frequent types, such as flaw in the reasoning and strengthen/weaken questions, and take your time mastering each one before moving on to the less-frequent types. Later on, you can shift your focus to practicing the question types that trip you up the most (to do this, you must maintain an error log, which we’ll discuss in the later sections).
For any LSAT practice schedule to work, though, and have a tangible impact on your performance, you’ll need two things: time and repetition. Why? Because these are the ingredients you’ll need to train your brain and build muscle memory.
Studying for the LSAT actually changes your brain chemistry. A fascinating piece of research by U. C. Berkeley revealed that 100 hours of LSAT training boosted neural connectivity between the two hemispheres, specifically the frontal lobes, as well as the connectivity between the frontal and parietal lobes.
This means that hard-core LSAT training actually improves your performance by inducing specific structural changes in the brain – you’re building and strengthening neural connections not only to facilitate new ways of thinking, but also to speed up those cognitive functions.
This is why time and repetitive practice is key if you want improved scores on the logical reasoning section.
How do I know if my LSAT score is good enough?
Understanding LSAT scoring can be a little tricky, but you’ll need to decipher their scoring scale in order to figure out how good your score is, and where to go forward from there.
There are three things you need to know: your raw score, scaled score (along with the score band), and the LSAT percentile.
Each LSAT test consists of roughly 100 questions – the number of questions you get correctly represents your ‘raw score’. This raw score is converted to a scaled score to equalize variations in difficulty and resulting performance between each test.
Let’s say you got all 100 questions right on the LSAT – so 100 would be your raw score, while 180 would be your scaled score. The exact scaling requirements will vary from test to test, but your scaled score represents how good your performance was relative to anyone else who took the test, irrespective of how difficult the specific test that you took was.
Scaled scores allow universities to understand an applicant’s performance no matter what LSAT test they took (or when), so it’s obviously more important than a raw score.
Next comes percentile ranks. LSAT percentiles simply tell you how well you did compared to other test-takers over the last three testing years. The higher the percentile rank, the better you did.
If you got a 75% LSAT score percentile for example, that means you did better than 75% of the test-takers. In other words, you were in the top 25%.
Law schools typically factor in both your GPA and scaled LSAT score, although the LSAT will almost always be given more precedence in their decision-making. So if you have an outstanding GPA but a low LSAT score, your chances of admission can get significantly lowered.
Given this information, a lot of test-takers give in to the temptation of setting unrealistic goals, and end up getting disappointed. It’s important to set a personalized score goal for yourself than a random, cookie-cutter score of, say, 170.
How do you do this? If you’ve done your research by studying available data on your target law school websites, you should already have a good idea about what LSAT score range would improve your chances of admission for each school. Use this info to create your target score.
Then, when you reach the stage where you’re doing full practice tests under exam conditions, take a note of your scores when they reach a level of consistency. If you’re consistently reaching 160, for example, you’ll know this will likely reflect your actual score on the LSAT (give or take a few points).
How close was this to your target score? If there’s a huge discrepancy, it might be worth re-examining the schools you want to consider. If you’ve reached this particular score given continued, intensive practice and using appropriate LSAT preparation strategies, you might experience very little gain even if you put in a whole lot more study time.
I got a low LSAT score. What should I do?
While it’s best to do everything in your power to get the LSAT right the first time round, life happens. Getting a low score isn’t the end of your law school dreams, provided you make appropriate changes and put in the right amount of effort to increase your LSAT score.
Don’t be deceived by the LSAC’s unlimited retake policy. The last thing you’d want to do is retake the test multiple times and find out that your LSAT score is just not improving! This is not only frustrating and a real drain on your both your wallet and motivation, but law schools will also not look positively at a string of retakes with no adequate explanation.
Having said this, if you felt you didn’t put your best foot forward on your first test, and you know you could’ve performed better given stronger study methods and preparation strategies, retaking the LSAT could be a good idea.
The best thing you can do with a low LSAT score is learn from it. Clearly the way you prepared didn’t work for you, so it’s time to reconsider it. So if you’re retaking – be prepared to experiment! Change up your study schedule and study strategy, and invest more in repetition and proper practice.
Pay special attention to the practice questions you got wrong and analyze where and why you made an error. Refine your approach to these questions and open your mind to new ways of thinking. Again, remember the LSAT about modifying the way you think, more than anything else.
A useful study practice to capitalize on the practice questions you got wrong – and transform them into improved scores – is to maintain error logs. This is where you make an ongoing list (on a Spreadsheet, or using a self-study app such as 21st Night) of any mistakes you make.
A log like this will help you identify the error patterns you’re making, such as what kind of answer strategies you tend to mess up, and what kind of questions they typically correspond to. For example, if you’re frequently making errors on the assumption questions in logical reasoning, you know where you need to direct your energy towards in your practice sessions.
An app like 21st Night will help you execute this kind of study strategy effectively without having to manually maintain an error log. Simply capture any question you got wrong and the app will take care of the practice schedule for you. 21st Night uses a powerful spaced repetition algorithm that will cause you to automatically revisit the questions you got wrong more frequently, meaning you’ll be mastering the concepts and approaches that are more likely to make a difference to your LSAT score.
What are the best LSAT resources out there?
Truth be told, there’s no ‘one size fits all’ LSAT resource. It all depends on your budget, learning style, and how much time you have.
A lot of people out there can be prescriptive when it comes to LSAT prep. They’ll say you ‘must’ use this prep book, or you ‘must’ enroll in that course if you want to get a high score. But really, there’s no magic bullet or formula. It all comes down to pure hard work, dedication, and smart strategy. These will matter more than any textbook or prep course.
That said, don’t take a gamble on your LSAT resources. You’ll want to make your prep as pain-free as possible, and part of that is doing your research before committing to a resource. Find one that fits with your individual preferences and lifestyle commitments.
Hiring a tutor or attending an in-person class can be motivational and provide you with lots of personalized support, although they can be expensive. Whether this is worth it depends on your learning style and also whether you can muster up the self-discipline needed to study consistently by yourself.
Apart from these, though, self-study is king. After all, a high score on the LSAT boils down to repetition and concept mastery, and no resource will do that for you.
With the help of a good study app such as 21st Night, however, you can self-study by incorporating both the answer choice as well as the correct explanation or approach into your practice. Remember – good LSAT prep relies on cultivating the right approach and thinking skills, and choosing the right or wrong answer is simply the by-product of that.
As you steadily build up your question material, practice religiously, and gain from your mistakes, the more high-impact and powerful your study sessions become. Over time, your brain will begin to identify the common patterns within the LSAT and eventually your problem-solving will become more automatic – making your performance skyrocket on the actual test day.
If the LSAT has been an excruciating journey for you so far, don’t be discouraged. Lots of test-takers don’t get it right the first time round, but go on to become incredible success stories.
If you see it for what it is, which is a skills game that requires solid training hours (and not an exam you cram for), your LSAT goals will become much more manageable – and maybe even marginally fun!