5 Reasons to Take LSAT Exam Day Seriously (and What to Expect When the Day Comes)
The Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) could be your ticket to a whole new career – one that gives you a competitive advantage in a tough economy. The testing materials assess your reading comprehension, verbal reasoning and logic skills and while you may be thinking “I got this,” it is important to know some of the outlying reasons why exam day matters. Here’s a breakdown.
1. Tries are limited – sort of.
The LSAT is not a test that you can take whenever and wherever you want. It’s not a pitch-till-you-win type of thing; at least not without more sacrifice than you probably want to give. You get exactly three tries during a two-year period. As a result you’ll want to do your very best to get the job done in that window, or you could find yourself waiting a little longer for life to begin. Also, the test is given only four times per year as determined by the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) so you’ll have to work your schedule around it instead of the other way around.
2. Testing opportunities are pricey.
It may not seem like much money once you have your J.D. and are out there working for a company or practicing in the courtroom but with mounting college debt it’s another story. Currently the exam costs $160 in the U.S. and about that in Canada. Obviously you will want to get it right the first time to hold on to some of that money. Failure to do one’s best on test day could result in multiple tries. (See No. 1 on why you don’t want that to happen.) And unlike college tuition it’s one of those upfront costs you can’t take years to pay off.
3. The standards are high.
Regardless of skill strength in the areas that the testing covers, the standards for passing the LSAT are high enough that even if you see verbal reasoning, logic and reading as strong areas, you can still miss the mark. The tests are scored from a low of 120 to a high of 180. The median score is close to 150. Adding to the fact that there is little room for error, law schools tend to be very choosy in who they admit, and they use the LSAT scores in combination with your GPA to green-light or pass on your attempts.
4. Five years of activity are reported.
Yet another reason why you don’t want to go in with a cavalier attitude is that scores and testing attempts are reported for five years. That means if scores fall short during that first two-year period or if you cancel scores, law schools will know this in determining whether to allow admission. It can be a good idea to cancel scores if you’re certain you did poorly, but just keep in mind that that will show up in your history. It is by no means a deal-breaker to cancel scores but why put more pressure on yourself than necessary? All the more reason to show up ready to go on exam day.
5. Your “strengths” may not translate.
In college – yours truly was an English major – I knew so many of my fellow majors, who were not concerned with their B.A.’s viability in the job market. They had the attitude, “Well, if all else fails, I’ll just go to law school.” But a look at college major comparisons reveal that this group is not quite the shoe-in to law school it might think.
In fact a study by the University of North Texas took 1998, 2006 and 2008 data and proved that out of 28 majors, liberal arts ranked No. 17 on LSAT performance with a 152.4 average, barely above the median score. Math and physics majors scored the highest with an average of 160. The lesson: study, study, study. You get more than one opportunity, yes. But why use them when all you need is one?
What to Expect from the LSAT
The Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) has long been the standard for determining whether a graduate or undergraduate is law school material. The test in its current form has existed for more than 20 years, dating back to 1991. As mentioned, testing is allowed three times in a two-year period, but passing the first time is important. Not only is it one of the more expensive standardized tests – at $160 a pop – but it also reports the last five years of scores or attempts to law schools. All this information plays in to a school’s decision to take you in, so take them seriously. Once you know the overview, it’s time to look ahead to the test itself and what exactly to expect when testing begins.
1. Five-Section Breakdown
The LSAT is broken down into a reading comprehension section as well as batteries on logic, analytical reasoning and writing. There is also an un-scored variable section that the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) uses as a testing ground for future test questions. The challenge to the test-taker – they don’t know which of the five sections is the variable so each section of the exam is as important as the last. The five parts are broken down into 35-minute windows.
2. Multiple Choice
Four of the five sections are administered via multiple choice selection. While this format gives everyone a chance, the options are very detail-driven, so reading comprehension skills are pertinent throughout the entirety of the exam and not just to the reading comprehension portion. Logical reasoning presents the test-taker with a passage that he must read through for the basic assumption, ways to strengthen or weaken the argument, alternate conclusions, parallel reasoning, or errors and omissions to the argument. On the analytical portion, combinations of choices could very well present more than one “correct” answer as the test-taker tries to draw conclusions based on a set of interrelated variables.
3. Writing Portion
The writing portion of the exam places the test-taker into decision-making mode, asking that he choose one position out of two presented and support that claim while also arguing against the counterpoint. The LSAC usually steers clear of controversies here and as far as scoring, they don’t do it. However according to the LSAC’s own survey data, the writing portion is still quite important to law schools. Approximately 68% out of 157 schools indicated that they either “always,” “frequently,” or “occasionally” use the writing portion when considering an applicant.