February 09, 2011

Preparing For Law School: The LSAT

So you've decided that you definitely want to go to law school.  Now what?  This second installment in my three part series on preparing for law school focuses on what the LSAT is and how you can prepare (the first on what to do before you apply is here).

The LSAT
The LSAT has 5 multiple choice sections of 35 minutes each: two logical reasoning, one analytical reasoning, one reading comprehension, and one random experimental section that will not count towards your score.  It's important to try to do well on all of the sections because you will not know which section is the experimental one.  If you can't figure out the answer, always guess.  There is no penalty for wrong answers.  There is also an essay section that is not scored, but it is sent to the law schools where you apply and could mean the difference between being accepted or wait listed.
  • Logical Reasoning: These questions are based on short arguments, where you will often be asked to find logical flaws or parallel arguments.  Taking a prepositional logic course if you are still in college can help a lot in this section.  Make sure you read these carefully and take note of key words like "not."
  • Analytical Reasoning: This section is more commonly referred to as "logic games," but they are not as fun as the nickname makes them sound.  Many consider this section to be the most difficult.  There are four "games" in this section with several questions for each.  The games set up a situation with several rules, such as "Mary doesn't like bananas."  You must then figure out who likes what fruit and what time of day he or she likes to eat it.  There are various ways of tackling these questions, but most involve some sort of chart to help you out.  In a truly evil twist, many of the later questions will change the original rules, forcing you to change your chart or draw a new one.
  • Reading Comprehension: This section is a lot like the reading comprehension section you encountered on the SAT, but more difficult.  There are four passages, one of which will be a comparative reading question, where you will be asked to read two short arguments on different sides of the same topic.  Like in logical reasoning, read carefully and underline key words.
  • The Essay: The essay portion will give you a choice between two courses of action, ask you to pick one, and explain why it's the best choice.  Both choices will be good choices, so there is no right or wrong answer here.  You should write persuasively by pointing out the strengths in the course of action that you recommend and the weakness in the other choice.
Preparing for the LSAT
If you have the cash, you can sign up for any of several test prep courses.  These can run around $1,000 - although cheaper options are often offered.  If that's out of your price range or you just don't want to spend the time sitting in a classroom, LSAT prep books are a cheaper option that go for $20-40.  Your local library may also keep some for use inside.  Whatever you do, you should try to give yourself around two to three months to prepare.
You should also take as many practice tests as you can under testing conditions.  Your prelaw advisor may give them a few times a year, and Kaplan will give you a free one.  Kaplan will also bring you in for a free consultation and give you charts that show you what kinds of questions you excel at, and which ones need work.  I found this very helpful, although I ultimately decided to study on my own.  I also found it worthwhile to take my first practice exam without studying at all.  This way you know what you can do already and where you should focus your studying.  It's a good idea to set a goal score based on your initial score and the average scores that your top schools accept.  Then you can track your progress as you take more practice tests, and if needed, reassess whether your top choices are the law schools that you should be applying to.

The final installment: Choosing The Right Law School For You

- Lauren
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