The Pros and Khans of LSAC’s Free LSAT Prep

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Back on June 1st, Khan Academy announced, with much fanfare and at least as many emojis, that its free LSAT prep course was live. This course was announced way back in 2017 in partnership with the Law School Admission Council. LSAC instituted many measures to make the LSAT more student-friendly and accessible throughout 2017 and 2018, but in many ways, this was its pièce de résistance — an entirely free online prep program. One that could, theoretically, narrow the gap between affluent pre-lawyers who are able to afford private tutors and commercial test prep and those who cannot.

So, as a blog that gives out quite a bit of free LSAT advice of its own, we were interested in this new player in the LSAT space. Making a comprehensive, free LSAT prep program that could put all prospective LSAT takers on a level playing field is a lofty goal. We wanted to know if Khan could make that happen.

So we decided to make a student account — in an entirely unnecessary act of surreptitiousness, I used a pseudonym when signing up (it’s a riff on the first logician I could think of, so hopefully Khan Academy will find the whole charade clever enough to excuse this act of quasi-espionage) — to check out the wares. We spent a couple weeks checking out the various parts of the program, and now can present to you pros and cons of Khan’s program.

Before we do though, a quick and obvious disclaimer: This blog is a wing of Blueprint LSAT, a commercial test prep company that specializes in the LSAT. If you don’t believe me, just check out the URL to this page. Blueprint LSAT is my employer, and I teach classes on the LSAT for them. I’m not posting this with the intent to take down what could be seen as a competitor to Blueprint LSAT or me. The following post features my as-honest-as-they-can-be impressions of Khan Academy’s program, as someone with a lot of experience taking and teaching the LSAT.

If the potential conflict is a enough render any of the following opinions moot for you, so be it. But if that’s the case, you should maybe check out an LSAT prep program of some kind, because you’ll need to understand the ad hominem fallacy to succeed on the LSAT, and any program worth its salt (including Khan Academy’s) will help you with that.

PROS

It’s Free, No Duh

In terms of a cost-to-comprehensiveness ratio, no program is topping Khan Academy, since, well, Khan Academy costs nothing and attempts to provide a complete overview of the LSAT. The idea that anyone with an email address and a dream can sign up and get a complete LSAT education is an incredibly appealing one.

The Interface Is Clean and Interactive

The interface of the program is entirely online, and the interface looks clean and is interactive and is pretty easy to navigate. You start your journey with a practice exam — as any LSAT journey should. Or, if you don’t have enough time for a practice exam, you can start with a few practice questions, games, and passages from each of the three LSAT sections (although doing this, as I did, takes about as much time as a real exam anyway).

Once you take your first diagnostic steps, the program prioritizes which aspects of the LSAT you should review, based on how well or poorly you did on your test. You can also input the amount of time you want to study each day and schedule the dates to take practice exams. And the system will be very persistent in reminding you when you’re off schedule, as my made-up, hypothetical student constantly was over the past few weeks.

You can also navigate to “Lessons” section of the program, where there are both articles and lesson videos that go over almost all the major Logical Reasoning question types, games types, and common Reading Comp passage subjects (some rare LR question types like Must Be False questions, rare games like “neither” games, and rare passage subjects are apparently omitted). There are also articles and videos on the attendant skills and concepts that will help you master these. Plus, there are links to these same articles and videos on the practice sections of the site. If, for instance, you’re doing a set of “Identify a flaw” questions, as Khan calls them, links to the articles that explain how to do “Identify a flaw” questions and the “Types of flaws” that appear on the test will appear, should you need a review.

The design is very minimal, but clean and intuitive nonetheless. Even with the spartan design, they did find room for some small flourishes. Like, when you answer a practice question correctly, a flurry of confetti bursts from the bottom of your screen — a small touch of whimsy that can warm the cockles of even the most jaded LSAT instructor’s heart.

The Advice Is Sound

The advice that Khan lays out for students is, across the board, sound and reliable. Students using Khan Academy as their exclusive LSAT test prep will not, thankfully, receive bad advice.

The lesson articles are approachable and accessible — the writers clearly took painstaking effort to avoid a kind of super abstract and pompous language that would alienate many test takers. The writers also appeared to try to avoid sounding too pedantic or overbearing; rather than phrasing the advice as “you should do” this or “you must avoid” that, the advice is frequently given as “strong LSAT takers try” this and “high scorers avoid” that. It’s a nice change of pace for some LSAT instructors who maybe (sometimes) fall into the trap of being a tad dogmatic.

And the advice itself is all solid, hitting many of the same themes that other test prep companies do. One particular motif Khan repeats is the recommendation that test takers simplify the often overblown language employed by the LSAT. The tip to use your own words when summarizing an argument or a Reading Comp passage can’t be overstated. The LSAT repeats the same logical concepts over and over again, on both easy and difficult questions. Questions are generally made more difficult because the recondite language and knotty syntax have been dialed up to 11, not because the underlying logic is any more complicated. This is an especially salient point for an organization that aims to help as broad a range of students as possible, and Khan should be commended for this nugget of wisdom.

CONS

The videos are kind of boring and Web 1.0

This is probably closely related to the whole “free” part of the service, but the lesson videos are kind of a tough hang. The instructor’s cadence is pretty languorous, the videos feature a static shot of an LSAT question, the graphics are seemingly done on the fly. Since they merely repeat the information in the Lesson Articles, you’re probably better off reading those articles. For once, showing is not better than telling.

The Learning Doesn’t Feel Linear

While the interface is easy to navigate and responsive to each students individual needs, I didn’t feel like it provided me a clear path to follow. After taking the initial diagnostic test, you’re taken the page that outlines which areas you should prioritize in your review. The page tells you this is “Stage 1” of your LSAT review, and then specifies how important certain concepts are. It’s reasonable to assume that a lot of students will start their review of the LSAT on that page, and maybe they’ll never venture to other parts of their account — such as the “Lessons” page, which actually tell you how to do these questions.

For instance, after my diagnostic, I was told I should place a “high” importance on “Identify a role” questions in my review of Logical Reasoning. Role questions comprise less than 2% of the entire scored LSAT. Even if I spent a ton of time working on Role questions, that really wouldn’t affect my score all that much. If I interpreted “high” importance as “this is the most important thing to study on the LSAT,” I would have missed reviewing a lot of the actually important concepts.

LSAT prep should start with the fundamental concepts the exam tests — making deductions, breaking down an argument, identifying problems with that argument — and then move into applying those skills to actual questions. Based on the layout to Khan Academy, it seems to get this process backwards.

The Advice Is Kind of Vague (And Sort of Presupposes You Already Know How to Do a Lot of LSAT Stuff)

Even if the advice is solid and reliable, the tips and strategies provided by Khan academy may not be enough for many people. Over my years as an instructor, I’ve realized teaching the LSAT involves finding a happy medium between two extremes. On one hand, you can provide students with the most barebones of strategies to follow, and sort of let them figure it out as they work through questions. On the other hand, you can inundate students with an overwhelming amount of information, telling them everything they should think about on a given question and make them follow that approach to a T. The best pedagogy, in my experience, balances itself somewhere in between those two poles. Khan’s approach definitely leans towards the former, and maybe even topples over past that.

So while each article gives sound advice to remember for each section, none really attempt to go in-depth with that advice. For example, the “deductions” article for Logic Games — yes, there’s only one, singular deductions page on this concept, even though it’s the most important thing to learn for games and entire tomes have been written on it — gives a brief description of each type of deduction you might make on a game, with one or two examples of each. For scenarios, there’s one rule described. This may compel students to only look for that rule to make scenarios, when there are many other rules that can be useful in making scenarios.

Plus, as far as I could tell, some of the advice presupposes that you have some facility with logical thinking. This presupposition is not borne out by reality, in my experience with students. For instance, to find a conclusion in an argument, Khan recommends rephrasing the argument in a “conclusion, because” sentence structure. But this recommendation takes for granted that a student can already distinguish an argument’s conclusion from its support. To identify flaws, Khan recommends asking, “What ifs” of the argument. But, if you’re to identify the “What ifs” that are relevant to that argument’s validity, you already know the flaw the argument commits. If I told a student to just ask “what if …” in response to a confusing question, I probably wouldn’t elicit anything more than a very blank and confused look.

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So, in all, there’s good and bad to the Khan Academy’s new LSAT prep service. LSAC deserves credit for funding this ambitious project, and Khan Academy deserves credit for offering a fairly comprehensive overview of the LSAT. If you’re thinking about studying for the LSAT, you should check it out — the cost of entry is pretty low, after all. But you should also check out other prep services available to you — in many ways, finding the best test prep service is just a matter of finding the best personal fit for you and your learning style.

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