An Introduction to the LSAT

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If you’re perusing this blog, there’s a good chance you’re considering law school. Or maybe your heart has been set on law school since you took your first step. Or maybe you’re just doing some research for a friend or relative who may go to law school.

If any of those apply to you, the LSAT is important, whether you like it or not. That’s because anyone who wants to go to an American Bar Association (ABA) accredited law school must take the LSAT. (Just as an aside, don’t go to a non-accredited law school. Trust us.) So, we thought we’d do you a solid and put all the basic and most important information about the LSAT in one place. Now, without further ado, let’s talk LSAT.

What is the LSAT?

LSAT stands for Law School Admission Test. In a nutshell, it’s a test of logic and argumentation (more on this below). This bare fact sets it apart – far apart – from other pre-graduate level standardized tests like the GRE or the GMAT, which mirror the SAT and ACT that you are likely familiar with and which test reading, writing, and arithmetic.

The LSAT is offered four times per year: February, June, September/October, and December. It’s still a pencil and paper exam, believe it or not.

The exam is composed of six 35-minute sections, only four of which factor into the score that law schools receive (more on this below, also):

2 Sections of Logical Reasoning: Logical Reasoning accounts for approximately half of the scored questions on the exam. Each Logical Reasoning section has 24-26 multiple-choice questions. Each question consists of a brief paragraph – usually an argument – a question about the contents of the paragraph, and five answer choices.

1 Section of Reading Comprehension: Reading comprehension accounts for a little more than a quarter of the scored questions on the exam. There are four passages, each with 5-8 associated multiple-choice questions, which, like Logical Reasoning, also have five answer choices. Since 2007, one of the passages is split into two shorter passages that relate to one another.

1 Section of Logic Games: Logic Games accounts for a little less than a quarter of the scored questions on the exam. There are four games with 5-7 associated multiple-choice questions. Each game outlines a situation and gives rules governing that situation, and you must make deductions about the situation using the rules. You might be asked to determine the order that runners finish a race or the kennels in which various dogs must be kept.

1 Unscored Experimental Section: During the exam, you will get one extra Logical Reasoning, Reading Comprehension, or Logic Games section that won’t be scored. The purpose is for the makers of the LSAT to test out questions they plan to use on future exams. You will not know what section is the experimental while you’re taking the exam.

1 Unscored Writing Sample: This is always the last section of the exam. You’ll be given a prompt that presents two possible courses of action that a person or group is considering, and you must write an essay advocating for one of the two courses of action. This will be sent to law schools along with the rest of your application materials.

How is the LSAT scored?

The test is scored on a scale of 120 to 180, 120 being the lowest possible score and 180 the highest. There is no failing score on the LSAT, but if you apply to law school with a score in the 120’s or 130’s, let’s just say you will not be going to law school.

The Law School Admission Council (LSAC) – the people who make the LSAT – has a magic recipe for “normalizing” LSAT scores. It’s sort of like a curve, with a lot more bells and whistles. If you want a detailed rundown of the process, look at this article on our website. For the purposes of this post, though, here’s a simple chart:

RAW SCORE → PERCENTILE → SCALED SCORE

There are approximately one hundred scored questions on the exam. (This can range from 98-102, but you get the gist.) The number you get right is your raw score. LSAC uses your raw score to determine your percentile. Percentile is simply the percentage of other test takers whose raw score you topped. Your percentile, in turn, puts you at a particular location on the 120-180 scale.

Let’s take an example. Say, for instance, you took the June 2015 LSAT. Let’s say that, out of the 100 questions that were on the exam that day, you answered 83 correctly. Your raw score is 83. Comparing that to all the other test takers, you’d find that you answered more questions correctly than 91% of other test takers. Nice work! Your percentile is 91%. Using that magic normalization recipe LSAC has, you’d find that translates to a 165 scaled score.

What do I need to know for the LSAT?

Nothing. No, really. The makers of the LSAT assume that you have zero knowledge of the law. There are no facts or rules or formulas to memorize, and, theoretically, you could live under a rock for your whole life, come out, take the LSAT that same day, and do great.

Theoretically.

The test is aimed at assessing your ability to think like a lawyer, which is a double-edged sword. Unfortunately, the sharp edge is the edge that’s facing you.

To put it briefly, lawyers make arguments and attack the arguments of other lawyers. The best argument is one that is founded on solid logic. So, the LSAT is testing your ability to make logical arguments and attack arguments that are illogical. The Reading Comprehension portion of the exam does this while also testing your ability to read dense texts rapidly. Add all that stuff together, and you’ve got something that tests your ability to do the work that you do in law school without making you learn all that stuff first.

The thing is, most people don’t know how to think like lawyers, and your undergraduate career almost certainly did nothing to remedy that situation. Studying for the LSAT amounts to a crash course in logic and argumentation, which requires nothing short of rewiring your brain. Do not take this lightly. Studying for the LSAT is hard work.

In case you’re wondering, performance on the LSAT does, to a certain extent, correlate with performance in law school. Here’s an article we wrote on that if you’d like to know a bit more about it. 

What score do I need to get on the LSAT?

That really depends on what school you want to go to, what your GPA is, and, to a far lesser extent, how impressive the rest of your application package is. We have this nifty little widget called the Law School Compass. Input your GPA and a particular law school, and it’ll tell you what LSAT score you need to aim for.

That’s just one of the many resources you can access by signing up for a free MyBlueprint account. You can also take the June 2007 exam, score it, and watch some video explanations, which could be very helpful, given that you read all the way to the bottom of this post and clearly are interested in knowing about the LSAT.

Hope this helped!

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