If you are new to the LSAT, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all of the information out there about how to start preparing for the LSAT. My goal for this post is to give you an easy roadmap to help you get started with confidence.
You can also find a list of tips for students new to the LSAT here.
Take a Diagnostic
Your first action should be to take a timed full-length diagnostic. It might seem scary, since you don’t know what to expect, but the information you will gain can be invaluable.
But first, a word of encouragement:
You may be disappointed by your diagnostic score. That’s normal, and it’s ok. Remember that your diagnostic does NOT tell you where you are going to end up. It’s just a tool to tell you where to start.
After you take your diagnostic, you’ll have a better sense of what the LSAT is actually like. You’ll know where your initial strengths and weaknesses are. And you’ll know what to prioritize in the coming weeks and months.
You’ll also have something to look back on later to see the progress you’ve made. Studying for the LSAT can be time-consuming, frustrating, and discouraging at times, so in those moments, it’s helpful to look back at where you started so that you can see how much you’ve learned. So think of the diagnostic as a way to encourage your future self.
Here are a few resources you can use to take your diagnostic:
- Free online diagnostic from LSAC through Lawhub – This option uses the same digital interface you’ll use for your actual LSAT.
- Free paper-based diagnostic from LSAC – If you are testing outside of North America or hope to receive accommodations to test on paper, use this as your diagnostic.
- You can also use the diagnostics built into online programs like Khan Academy (see below).
Know your target score
Once you’ve taken your diagnostic, it’s time to set your goals. Think about the law schools you might be interested in applying to.
Don’t let your thinking be limited by your diagnostic score. Remember that score is just a starting point. There are plenty of LSAT tutors out there who started out in the 130s and fought their way all the way into the 170s. Nothing says you can’t do that too.
Once you have your list of target schools, look up their admissions data using the American Bar Association 509 reports.
Compare your undergraduate GPA to that of the admitted students. Note what percentile group your GPA puts you into.
Example of using the 509 reports
Let’s use Arizona State University as an example of how to interpret this information. According to their 509 report for 2019 (I’m staying away from the 2020 report for 2020-related reasons…), here are the GPA stats for the admitted first year law students:
- 75th percentile – 3.91 GPA
- 50th percentile – 3.81 GPA
- 25th percentile – 3.39 GPA
You’ll also find these LSAT score stats:
- 75th percentile – 165
- 50th percentile – 164
- 25th percentile – 156
Your goal should be to get yourself above the 50th percentile for both GPA and LSAT score. Of course, there may not be much you can do to change your GPA, especially if you’re about to graduate or have already finished undergrad.
What this means is that if you have a 3.92 GPA, your GPA is better than at least 75% of newly enrolled students. You have a little wiggle room with your LSAT score. Even if you don’t make it to the 165 that would be needed to put your LSAT score solidly into the 75th percentile, your application will still likely be competitive, especially if it’s above 156.
If your GPA is below 3.39, which means that your GPA is higher than less than 25% of newly enrolled students, you still have a chance. Pair that GPA with an LSAT score above the 75th percentile of newly enrolled students to maximize that chance.
Only consider your undergrad GPA
Note that even if you have gone to graduate school or have other post-undergraduate coursework, you want to only think about your undergraduate GPA here. The law school admissions process will weigh your undergraduate GPA strongly, whereas any graduate work or post-undergrad coursework will be considered a “soft” admissions factor, on par with letters of recommendation and work experience.
Also, to make things even more complicated, LSAC will recalculate your GPA to standardize it and make it comparable to students who attended different schools with different grading practices.
As much as possible, use the 509 reports as motivation and a source of encouragement. Even if your undergraduate GPA was less than stellar, you can still impact your application significantly through your LSAT score. Your LSAT score actually matters a lot more in the application process than GPA does, and it’s also the part of your application that is 100% still in your control.
Choose the right study materials
So now that you know what score you’re targeting, it’s time to choose the right materials. Don’t obsess over this too much. It’s common for students to study with more than one set of materials. Your job now is to choose the right starter pack.
Here’s what I usually recommend to students:
The LSAT Trainer
Mike Kim’s The LSAT Trainer is great for the fundamentals. It’s not too dense, not too long, and has a great focus in the early chapters on flawed reasoning, which is key to the Logical Reasoning section of the LSAT. It uses a combination of real LSAT questions and questions created by the author that are designed to serve as stepping stones to the real questions.
Khan Academy’s biggest selling point is the fact that it’s free. It’s also the only study material actually endorsed by and created with input from LSAC. It’s a little thin on some of the topics you’ll need, but covers the basics. Some students find it gets a little repetitive, and others aren’t a fan of the online interface, but it can be a good place to start.
Loophole in LSAT Logical Reasoning
The Loophole in LSAT Logical Reasoning only covers the LR section and does so in a way that’s pretty different from the other resources out there. The author, Ellen Cassidy, is big on developing your ability to read and understand the dense language on the LSAT. She also focuses on the language used in the answer choices much more than the other materials do. For some students, this book totally unlocks the LR section. For other students, it’s a miss.
The Powerscore trilogy (individual books for each test section) is considered by many to be the gold standard in LSAT prep. That’s likely because they are super thorough. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the minutae in these books, and you should definitely treat them more like encyclopedias rather than as books to read cover to cover.
7sage is an online program that comes complete with video lectures, practice tests, and great analytics. They are most well-known for their video explanations of logic games, and aren’t quite as strong in the other sections. You can also use some of their tools to analyze practice test results without a subscription.
No matter what books or online program you choose, you’ll definitely want to invest in a Lawhub subscription. This is essentially access to all of the released LSAT exams, reformatted onto LSAC’s digital platform. It’s necessary if you plan to use 7sage or many other online platforms, and the ability to take official practice tests will definitely be necessary later on in your prep. This subscription will take the place of buying books of practice tests, so save your money there and don’t buy them.
Build a strong foundation first
Your goal when you’re just starting to prepare for the LSAT should be to build a strong foundation. That means focusing on big picture skills that will help you throughout the LSAT rather than trying to pin down rare question types or difficult logic game types.
It also means focusing on accuracy at this point rather than speed. Your goal is to develop your reasoning skills – to get better at thinking – and you want to give your brain the time it needs to reason through these things. You will get faster as you get better at it, I promise.
Here are the skills I would consider to be fundamental to the LSAT:
- Finding the parts of arguments (conclusion, evidence, opposing viewpoint, etc.) and understanding how they fit together
- Recognizing the problem in flawed arguments
- Making valid inferences (and spotting inferences that are unsupported)
- Setting up logic games and diagramming the rules
- Understanding how deductions work in logic games
- Knowing how to diagram formal logic rules and how to form contrapositives
- Reading dense passages for structure and the author’s viewpoint
That’s a long list of fundamentals, so you don’t want to try working on all of them at once. That brings me to my next piece of advice.
Focus on one section at a time
Students generally improve faster when they stick with one section for a while and make some solid progress in it before moving on to another section. That doesn’t mean you have to shoot for perfection before moving on, but give yourself the time and space to see real progress.
Here’s how to know if you’re ready to switch sections:
- Your accuracy on that section has increased significantly and has stabilized at that new point
- You’ve had a number of “lightbulb moments” and feel some degree of closure on certain topics that used to baffle you
- You’re just tired and burnt out from that section. Switching things up will feel refreshing and will give you more energy to study.
- If you’re worried you’ll be tempted to obsessively stick with a section too long, try switching every month.
Do untimed practice
When you are just getting started preparing for the LSAT, building accuracy is far more important than building speed. After all, you don’t want to get faster at doing the wrong things. Instead, take things slowly and break things down. Make sure you understand exactly why each wrong answer is wrong and each right answer is right. Figure out what thought process would lead you to that right answer.
As you get more comfortable with the material and build those foundational skills, you’ll get faster at it. But just don’t worry about the speed in the beginning.
Get help when needed
If you get stuck on a certain concept and just can’t seem to get past it, reach out for help. Find an online study group, get a study partner, attend a workshop, or work with a tutor. Sometimes all it takes is another perspective or talking through the issue with someone else. And in those cases where reaching out can save you months of burning yourself out trying to do things on your own, it’s definitely worth it.
If this post resonates with you and you’d like my help, please reach out. You can schedule a free consultation, where we will talk about where you’re currently at in your studies, what’s holding you back, and what your best options are for moving forward.
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