By Katie Schellenger, J.D., Director of Legal Professions Advising
If you’re planning to apply to law school next year – or at any time in the future – one looming hurdle likely stands in between you and that all-star application: the LSAT. The LSAT is one of the most important pieces of your law school application, if not THE most important piece. Why is that, you might ask? When compared with the four years of work you put into your undergraduate GPA, it seems that law schools are placing a disproportionate emphasis on the results of one four-hour exam. There are three simple reasons law schools value the LSAT so highly: 1) LSAT scores are a better predictor of law school performance than undergraduate GPA (however, the combined consideration of your LSAT score and your GPA are the best predictor of performance); 2) the LSAT provides law schools with equal ground on which to compare applicants; and 3) LSAT scores are a significant part of the law school rankings equation.
The LSAT is offered four times each year, in February, June, October, and December. It's a four-hour exam broken into five separate sections: analytical reasoning (these are the logic games you hear so much about!), two logical reasoning sections (these test your ability to analyze the reasoning used in short passages), reading comprehension (these ask you to analyze longer passages), and writing. The maximum LSAT score is a 180. To provide you with some context, the mean LSAT score among first-year law students at the top 14 ranked law schools in 2013 was a 169.4, and among first-year law students at the top 100 ranked law schools it was a 161.
The importance law schools place upon LSAT scores puts a lot of pressure on applicants to perform well. The good news is that the LSAT is an exam on which you will do better with practice. The number one reason that applicants score lower than they hope to on the exam is that they do not spend enough quality time preparing for it. Do not let yourself fall into this group! Most LSAT experts agree that test-takers should spend at least three months preparing for the exam. Preparation can be undertaken in a variety of ways; it’s important to identify the method that will work best for you. There are many different LSAT preparation courses available. An LSAT course will provide you with an introduction to the types of questions you will encounter on the exam and a systematic approach to tackling those questions. Some test-takers prefer to study independently for the exam, which can be just as effective as a prep course.
One of the reasons that test-takers don’t adequately prepare is that they frequently – and mistakenly – assume that the LSAT does not require prolonged preparation because it doesn’t test substantive knowledge. This mistaken belief could cost you admission to the law school of your dreams. As Joshua Craven and Evan Jones of LawSchooli.com explain, the LSAT requires you to answer questions that aren’t easy for your brain. The key to success is learning techniques that will help you to accurately and quickly answer problems and “to practice those techniques until they become automatic.”
For those of you who are planning to apply to law school next fall, now is the time to start thinking about and preparing for the June LSAT. June is an ideal time for many test-takers for two reasons. First, following the conclusion of your spring semester, you should have several weeks to dedicate solely to intense LSAT preparation. Second, taking the LSAT in June will allow you to submit your law school applications early in the application cycle – and earlier is better. Alternatively, if you don’t achieve the score you are hoping for in June, you still have time to comfortably take the exam in October.
Franklin & Marshall offers several tools to help you with your LSAT preparation. First, Dr. James Yoho, J.D., Ph.D., a well-regarded LSAT instructor, will provide a two-day LSAT prep course on campus on February 22-23rd. Registration for the LSAT Prep Course must be completed by February 19th. Second, the Office of Student & Post Graduate Development, together with the John Marshall Pre-Law Honor Society, will be offering a series of full-length practice LSAT exams. The dates and locations of the practice exams will be advertised in this newsletter and via email. Finally, Katie Schellenger, J.D., Director of Legal Professions Advising, can help you to identify a study strategy that will be the best fit for you.
Achieving a strong LSAT score is an important step towards your law school admission, and it is something you CAN do. Just remember, as with much in life, practice makes perfect.