Preparation for the Study of Law
What is the LSAT and how important is it?
The Law School Admission Test evaluates applicants in the areas of reading comprehension, critical reasoning, logical analysis and writing. For more information, to register for this exam, to find out future dates and registration deadlines, or to take a full-length diagnostic test, see the official Law School Admission Council site. The 3 ½ hour exam is absolutely the single most important element in your application. At most law schools it is weighed more heavily than your GPA. This standardized test is much more important to law school admission than is the corresponding test for any other graduate program-and it's much more important than the SAT or ACT was for college. This score will also largely determine the level of any financial aid you receive.
Note that all past disclosed LSAT exams are available for you to borrow at no charge from the HPPLC office. No appointment necessary, just ask the receptionist (please bring your student ID).
When should I take the LSAT?
With rolling admissions at most law schools, applying by Thanksgiving is usually beneficial. The latest you can submit material without fear of being late is around New Year's. Note that by the time deadlines arrive the school may have relatively few openings left. Most law schools say that submitting your material at least 6-8 weeks prior to the published deadline is advantageous.
The exam is offered in February, June, October, and December. While the October (and less so the December) exams are fine as far as the timing of the submission of the application goes, it is extremely time-consuming to study for the exam, work/take classes, arrange for letters of recommendation, research and strategically target schools, obtain applications, set up and complete your LSDAS file, etc. Take the LSAT only when you are ready, but if possible make plans to take it in June after your junior year. Note that the February exam scores arrive too late for most, but not all, law schools.
How should I prepare for the LSAT?
Applicants should expect to prepare for the exam for 3-4 months in advance of the test date. Since the LSAT does not test knowledge of a particular subject, the goal of studying is to become familiar with the test format, and to develop methods to answer questions with efficiency and accuracy. One element of preparation should be to take actual past exams under strictly timed conditions. All disclosed past LSAT exams are available from HPPLC at no charge to students--just ask the receptionist.
LSAT prep courses are available to students who need the reassurance such courses can provide. They are not necessary for an applicant to do well, but they can help some students. HPPLC offers a low-cost ($200.00), 20-hour prep class. Other commercial prep classes are much more expensive. It is important to take enough prep tests beforehand to determine if a prep class is necessary. HPPLC does not recommend any one company or program; in fact, students tend to report that the instructor you happen to get is the most important factor in determining the success or failure of a class. A HPPLC Prelaw Advisor can help you devise an LSAT prep strategy that is right for you.For more information consult the following HPPLC publications:
- About the HPPLC LSAT Preparation Workshop
- What Law Schools Look for in an Applicant
- Law School Admissions—Questions & Answers for Juniors and Seniors
Can I compensate for a low LSAT score?
"How can I compensate for a low LSAT score?" Or, "I don't do well on standardized tests, but I have a high GPA, three majors, great letters, an internship with a law firm, lots of extra-curriculars, etc., etc.....I should be ok, right?"
With rare exceptions, NOTHING in your application will compensate for a low LSAT score. If you do not do well on standardized tests, start preparing NOW! If you have a record of outperforming what standardized tests have predicted for you (e.g., you had low SAT or ACT scores, yet have a high GPA in college), an explanatory letter of addendum may be in order. HPPLC Advisors can help you with this document.
A note about "Free LSAT Practice Exams" offered by commercial preparation companies
In general, the more practice exams you can take under proctored, test-like conditions, the better. But do keep in mind that such events are not offered as a public service. They are often marketing tools, and some can be offered as part of a strategy to induce you to pay for their commercial course. Diagnostic testing can be stressful, and you score will likely be low, especially if you have not prepared much beforehand. In other words, at the conclusion of the test you might be especially vulnerable to a persuasive sales pitch. We suggest you take your time and not decide on the spot. Do your research! While many students benefit from commercial courses, many do just as well on their own. You need to thoughtfully decide what is best for you.