All the most important about the LSAT exam: how and why to take it, structure, cost and preparation materials.
Law School Admission Test (LSAT)is a standardized test similar in design to the American SAT.
Its purpose is to evaluate candidates seeking admission to law schools. The exam primarily assesses the ability to read texts, analyze different perspectives, and articulate arguments both orally and in writing. The LSAT is administered by the Law School Admission Council (LSAC).
Since 2019, the LSAT has transitioned from being exclusively administered in a paper-based format to an online format.
Why pursue the LSAT?
While the American Bar Association (ABA) officially allows law schools to admit applicants without requiring the LSAT, it is still expected in practice.
As part of the same decision, the ABA threatens to revoke accreditation from educational institutions that admit students who have not taken the LSAT and have not demonstrated their ability to succeed in the legal profession. Therefore, individuals aspiring to enter an American law university will likely still need to take the LSAT, as most universities will require it.
LSAT preparation materials
Preparation for the LSAT can be done at no cost. The LSAC organization provides sample tasks from past years and offers free practice testing with unambiguous answers. Preparation tips can be found in the FAQ section on their website.
Additionally, LSAC has partnered with Khan Academy, a non-governmental educational organization. Khan Academy offers a comprehensive LSAT preparation program developed in collaboration with LSAC experts, also available for free. There are also various companies that offer paid LSAT preparation courses.
The LSAT exam consists of four sections, each lasting 35 minutes with breaks in between. The total duration of the exam, excluding breaks, is 2 hours and 20 minutes.
One of the four sections is an ungraded written assignment, intended to showcase the test taker's presentation style and level of language proficiency. Although it does not contribute to the final score, the admissions committee at universities may review it.
The exam includes the following components:
Logic games (analytical thinking)
More about the exam structure
Logical reasoning. This section is divided into two blocks, with approximately 25 questions each. Each question presents a set of statements that need to be analyzed. The test taker must identify logical errors or inconsistencies and provide supporting or refuting arguments. This section assesses the candidate's ability to evaluate, analyze, and supplement statements effectively.
Reading comprehension. This section focuses on understanding specialized legal texts. It comprises four passages, approximately 500 words each, followed by several analytical questions. Tasks in this section involve determining the main idea of the text, finding supporting or opposing evidence, and drawing conclusions. The texts resemble those used in law schools and are of considerable complexity.
Logic games.This section assesses the test taker's ability to construct logical circuits and draw conclusions. It includes up to 24 questions and four general tasks. The tasks provide information about a situation and the relationships between its elements. Test takers must answer the questions logically based on the given information. This section is often considered the most challenging as it does not have definitive answers.
Writing sample.In this section, test takers are presented with a problematic question and specific criteria to consider when making a decision. Their task is to write an essay that takes into account the criteria and provides a logical, well-reasoned response to the question. Additionally, they need to objectively justify why a particular criterion was chosen as the primary one.
Variable section. Each year, one of the sections is experimental. The questions in this section are not scored and do not contribute to the final assessment. Test takers are unaware which of the four sections is the experimental one. These sections are used to evaluate how test takers respond to new questions. If successful, the questions may be included in future assessed sections of the exam.
LSAT scores are reported on a scale ranging from 120 to 180, but the scoring process is somewhat opaque. Unlike the SAT, the complexity of tasks in the LSAT can vary significantly even within the same section. Moreover, many test questions do not have clear-cut answers. To ensure fair evaluation and avoid penalizing test takers for encountering more difficult tasks, the scoring committee employs probability adjustments and specific calculations. The exact formula varies each year and is contingent upon the number and composition of the questions.
There are three different scores associated with the LSAT: raw score, scaled score, and percentile rank.
Raw score simply represents the number of correct answers on a test, measured on a scale from 0 to 100. While this information can be helpful for exam preparation and self-assessment, it is not considered by universities.
Scaled score is the most relevant for universities. Points are assigned on a scale from 120 to 180. The calculation principle is based on the distribution of raw scores across test takers. In essence, most applicants receive an average number of raw scores, typically around 150. The further a test taker deviates from this level, either by providing more correct or incorrect answers relative to others, the more their scaled score will differ. Since statistics show that fewer individuals answer difficult questions correctly, this scoring system is considered objective and fair. The graph below illustrates the relationship between the number of correct answers and the final scaled score for mid-2021.
Percentile rank indicates a test taker's position in the overall ranking. For instance, a score of 99.99% implies that the individual performed better than 9999 out of 10000 test takers (assuming an average of 100000 people take the exam annually). On the other hand, a rank of 44% indicates that more than half of the participants achieved higher scores. This measure is useful because it provides a more accurate picture of one's performance compared to the scaled score. For example, while the nominal difference between scores of 150 and 160 is 10 points, a significantly larger number of test takers fall within the 150 to 160 range than the 170 to 180 range. This means that, in practice, the difference is more substantial. A student with a score of 160 outperformed 36% more participants than a student with a score of 150, but trailed behind a student with a score of 170 by only 18%.
LSAT exam results are managed through the Credential Assembly Service, which is accessible to all universities to which an applicant subsequently applies. LSAT scores and writing samples are stored for five years. Upon completion of the exam, the service automatically sends results to all universities specified by the applicant. Although this is a paid service, most universities require applicants to upload their data to the system and thus cannot opt out of it.
Start preparing well in advance, at least a year before the exam
Avoid using mock tests published before 1991, as the exam underwent reforms after that
Enroll in LSAC-licensed courses for preparation
Focus not only on analyzing test tasks, but also on improving your knowledge of jurisprudence
Train your attentiveness, as careful reading of instructions can help avoid mistakes
Tips for individual sections:
Logical reasoning. Learn to identify key elements in the text. LSAT texts are often bureaucratic and verbose, so reading every word can slow you down unnecessarily.
Reading comprehension. Vocabulary can be a challenge in these tasks. Enhance your general knowledge of jurisprudence and American history. Familiarize yourself with legal terminology that may not have direct equivalents in your native language. For example, the concept of "tort" represents a category of offenses not found in Russian law.
Writing. Understand that written tasks in standardized tests do not primarily focus on expressing creativity. Instead, emphasize logical structure and the ability to convey thoughts clearly with supporting arguments.
As with any exam, remember to prioritize sufficient sleep and manage stress, as negative emotions can hinder test performance.
Other information about the LSAT exam
Test takers are allowed a maximum of three attempts per year, five attempts in the past five years, and a lifetime limit of seven attempts.
While some American universities have started accepting the GRE instead of the LSAT, experts still recommend taking the exam specifically designed for your field of study.