So you’ve decided it’s time to start prepping for your LSAT. That’s wonderful! But now… where to begin? LSAT prep course, self-study, or tutoring?
There are tons of options out there, and it can be overwhelming trying to figure out what’s best for you. Should you enroll in a prep class? (And if so, what’s better? Online or in-person?) Do you have what it takes for self-study? Or would it be better to find a private tutor to hold you accountable?
Especially before you sink a good chunk of money into your prep, you want to take time to consider what kind of prep fits your needs. Whether self-study or prep course, there is no one-size-fits-all perfect prep method that works for everyone. So use the general principles, pros, and cons described below to set your game plan for your prep.
To those who have been studying for a while: This article is for you too. If you are frustrated by slow progress so far and wondering if taking a class, finding a tutor, or just buckling down in self-study would benefit you more than your current prep method, read on.
We’ll discuss your LSAT prep options in terms of these factors:
- Coverage & customization of LSAT content
- Accountability and potential overwhelm
- Teacher quality
- Online versus in person
- Score increases
Coverage & customization of LSAT content
Especially when you’re just starting out, you want to make sure you get a good foundation in the core content of the LSAT: how to break down arguments, question types in logical reasoning, how to do handle the games section, and what to do in reading comp. LSAT prep courses, self-study, and tutoring vary in how effectively they get you these essentials.
An LSAT class gives you all of the fundamentals of the test in an organized format. You’ll get an overview of all the different topics you need to master. You’ll have someone explaining processes and strategies to you, and you’ll get to practice alongside other students.
However, the foundational nature of prep courses means that they are typically designed for students who are scoring average or a bit below average in all the sections of the LSAT. Students with definite strengths in one or more areas may find that the class doesn’t really go beyond what they already know. On the other hand, students who need more time on foundational content may feel the course moves too fast.
There are plenty of LSAT prep books out there. Some of which give super detailed introductions for LSAT content and strategies, so it’s certainly possible to get thorough content coverage through self-study.
However, the sheer number of options means it can also be tough to know which materials you should use. Look for books that are recommended by others. Khan Academy is also a great free resource.
Self-study is the ultimate in customization. YOU are the one deciding what you study. That blessing can definitely be a curse, though, since it’s sometimes hard to know what you need. Having a mentor definitely helps.
Shameless plug: After noticing how overwhelmed students were with their options while self-studying, I created a cost-effective Guided Self-Study program to help address this problem. I believe whole-heartedly in self-study for the LSAT, but sometimes a little guidance goes a long way!
The distinguishing feature of tutoring is that it’s customized by an expert. A good tutor will structure your lessons to make sure you’re covering all the content of the LSAT. Unlike in a classroom course, they can also prioritize the content you need the most and can spend less time on the material you have a good handle on.
Some tutors have definite strengths and weaknesses, so you’ll want to make sure that your tutor is comfortable teaching ALL of the areas you may want help in.
You’ll also want to make sure your tutor’s goals align with yours. I had a student once who came to me saying “I was meeting with a tutor, but we just worked on logic games and nothing else. I wanted to work on a little of everything.” You may need to set clear expectations with a tutor so that they can give you what you want.
Accountability and potential for overwhelm
We all lead busy and stressful lives. And LSAT prep is hard. Even though we know studying is important, it’s all too easy to let life get in the way. Don’t ignore these psychological factors when you’re trying to decide on a prep course, self-study, or tutoring.
When you take a live LSAT prep course (whether in person or online), you’ll have specific class meeting times that can provide some accountability. Of course, your teacher probably won’t be checking off whether you completed the assigned homework, but at least you’ll have definite homework assignments with dates you should do them. You’ll probably also have assigned dates for full-length practice tests.
On the other hand, if you let yourself get behind in your homework, you may start to feel overwhelmed. The class keeps going, your unfinished homework keeps piling up, and the stress builds. Before committing to a prep course, therefore, make sure you have the bandwidth to stay on top of it.
And keep in mind that most prep courses don’t assign enough homework to address students’ individual areas of weakness. You’ll need to keep yourself accountable for that.
If you choose to go it alone, accountability can be tricky. You’re setting your own prep schedule, and it’s also up to you to stick to it. You’ll need to create a schedule and find a way not to get distracted by the other things in your life. And you’ll also need to find ways to cut down on your own overwhelm.
Having a study or accountability partner definitely helps. So does joining an online community of fellow students.
A bit more information about guided self-study: My guided self-study program has built-in accountability checks. I’m happy to help if you feel you would benefit from a little bit of guidance and accountability in your studying.
For self-study, one of the most important things you’ll have to hold yourself accountable to is a rigorous and effective review process for any of the practice tests or practice sections you do. If you need help with that, I’d invite you to check out the LSAT Practice Test Review Guide I’ve created.
Your tutor can’t make you do your homework—only YOU can—but a good tutor can provide accountability and can help you troubleshoot how to deal with whatever is keeping you from studying. If your tutor provides a customized study plan, they can customize it to the reality of your life so that you aren’t feeling overwhelmed by how much you need to do.
Again, though, it’s important to choose your tutor carefully. Not all tutors will tell you what to work on between sessions, or some may give you suggested homework but will expect you to supplement it with your own self-study—without telling you what that self-study should entail. Each student has different needs, so “know thyself.” Know to what extent you feel comfortable taking charge of your own prep schedule, and find a tutor who can accommodate your own style.
This is a big one. Even though the biggest factor in your own improvement is the work that you yourself put in, a good teacher can be an invaluable source of strategies, techniques, and explanations that propel you forward. A bad teacher, on the other hand, can leave you discouraged and frustrated.
Signs of a good teacher:
- Knows how to explain concepts and methods in multiple ways.
- Understands how people learn. (Hint: It’s NOT by just doing a bunch of problems and hoping that things get better.)
- Adjusts to you.
- Is reliable and professional.
- Makes it about your learning and not about showing off their own skills.
- Gets you involved in the learning process.
You’ll find both good and bad teachers in prep courses, and you’ll find both good and bad tutors. Fortunately, there are some rules of thumb about where you’re most likely to find them.
Classes by major prep companies can be hit or miss when it comes to teacher quality. In general, companies that specialize in the LSAT tend to have better teachers than companies that do all sorts of test prep. This is because general test prep companies sometimes just cross-train an SAT teacher or a GMAT teacher to do LSAT. Your teacher’s true expertise may be in another test.
(Disclaimer: This doesn’t always hold true. One of the best test prep teachers I know is a direct counterexample to this. She taught nearly every test under the sun but was such an amazing and engaging teacher that she always had stellar reviews. She’s no longer doing test prep, but when she was, I would have recommended her classes in a heartbeat.)
Online versus in-person is another factor. A lot of students value in-person courses over live online courses, but you’re actually more likely to have high-quality teachers in an online course. Why? It’s a matter of simple availability. It’s hard for a prep company to find lots of high-scoring LSAT test-takers with solid teaching skills who aren’t too busy practicing law, especially in some cities. I should know. That used to be part of my job when I worked for one prep company back in the day. It was like trying to find a unicorn sometimes!
But a prep company can use a teacher from anywhere in the world for their online classes. And in fact, since online classes tend to have many more students than in-person courses, companies tend to put their best teachers into the online courses. More happy students that way.
You are your own teacher here. So I guess that means teacher quality is also up to you. That might sound facetious, but it’s actually very true. You decide whether you let yourself get away with just drilling questions without really learning from them. Or whether you hold yourself to a rigorous review process to make sure you are learning from your mistakes.
There’s a lot of variability here, but again, a few factors you can use to increase the likelihood you’ll find a gem.
Prep company tutor or private tutor?
Tutors working for major prep companies can be hit or miss. Often, prep companies assign their biggest classes to their best teachers, their small classes to their ok teachers, and private tutoring students to their rookie teachers. It’s ironic, since private tutoring students pay big bucks for tutoring at a prep company. But this is the company’s way of giving the newbie teacher some experience before throwing them in front of a bunch of students.
Private tutors, on the other hand, may have started out working for a major prep company, but eventually got good enough that they were able to find their own clients, often by word of mouth.
On the other hand, some private tutors really shouldn’t be teaching the LSAT at all. It’s your responsibility to vet the tutor to make sure they really do have the expertise you are looking for.
JD or no JD?
Some LSAT tutors have gone through law school and gotten their JD. Some may even practice law and tutor LSAT on the side. Other LSAT tutors may never have attended law school, even if they have high LSAT scores.
Opinions differ on whether you should use this as a factor in your decision. Are you looking for someone who may also be able to tutor you during your L1 year or provide bar prep down the road? If so, you’ll need a tutor with a JD.
A tutor without a JD may also have something unique to offer, however. Lawyers specialize in the law rather than in the psychology of learning, for example. A tutor with a stellar LSAT score, plenty of teaching experience, and a background in education may well end up being a better actual teacher than someone who just relies on what worked for them in their own prep.
A JD is therefore not a reliable indicator of an effective teacher.
Specialist or generalist?
You’ll find that some tutors work with LSAT and only LSAT, while others teach every subject under the sun. In general, tutors who specialize in the LSAT end up logging more hours teaching the test, which usually means they’re more knowledgeable about it. It’s hard to build up LSAT experience teaching LSAT as well as math, science, a little bit of high school essay writing, GRE, MCAT, and sometimes the occasional elementary student, after all.
Of course, a little bit of diversity is generally fine. Consider folks who tutor both bar prep and LSAT, or SAT and LSAT, or those who tutor LSAT part-time after their 9-5 job. These tutors are still getting the consistent LSAT teaching experience to keep them sharp on LSAT materials.
About me: You might notice from my website that I tutor LSAT in addition to SAT, ACT, and GRE. I occasionally also tutor math (mostly when an SAT student asks me for it). But by far the bulk of my tutoring is for LSAT. Most of the resources, blog posts, and products I create are for LSAT. It’s my favorite test to teach, partly because I just love the test and partly because I know that a high LSAT score has a stronger ROI for students than a high SAT or GRE score does.
Let’s be realistic for a bit. Most of us do not have limitless sources of cash, so most of us need to factor price into our LSAT prep as well. LSAT prep courses, tutoring, and self-study can vary wildly in price, but not necessarily in the way you might think.
A word of caution about price comparisons: A cheap option is not cheap if it doesn’t get you to your goal and you end up needing to switch gears and invest more money into a different prep method.
With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s compare the average prices of an LSAT prep course, self-study, and tutoring.
Prices for classes tend to vary depending on whether they are in-person, live online, or online prerecorded video courses. Generally, in-person classes from the most recognized company names in LSAT prep are the most expensive. You’ll also find some cheap in-person classes, such as one that may be offered through the prelaw society at your university. Quality varies, so be forewarned.
Online classes tend to be a bit cheaper due to the lower overhead costs in running them.
Video courses can be even cheaper still, but honestly, we should consider them to be more like guided self-prep. Which brings us to…
Obviously, this can be the cheapest option. Buy some books and practice tests, and bam. You’re set. ….Until you add a subscription to an online course, then buy some more books, etc. Also, consider the price of taking the test again if you weren’t able to hold yourself accountable to your study plan. In other words, watch out for hidden costs here.
You’ll see the most variation in price here. All the way from super-cheap bargain basement prices like $30/hour to ridiculously expensive they-better-be-at-least-buying-you-dinner-and-wine-every-time-you-meet prices upwards of $300/hour.
Be careful about bargain basement tutors who may be offering low prices because they can’t fill their schedules otherwise, but also don’t get suckered into thinking that the most expensive tutor is the most effective.
You may think of tutoring as a luxury product for those with money to spend. And for tutors who may be trying to match a lawyer’s salary with their tutoring, you may very well be right.
But tutoring does not have to be the most expensive choice for your prep. When your tutor guides you in your self-prep, the price of their services can actually have the highest return on investment.
Another note about pricing: Tutoring offered through prep companies or through directories like Wyzant costs you a lot extra. Companies charge big bucks and pay tutors little of that, while agencies sometimes take large commissions off the top. Both have the net effect of inflating prices, so it’s generally more cost-effective to find tutors who work privately.
We’ve got one final category…
Whether you choose an LSAT prep course, tutoring, or self-study, ultimately this is what it’s all about, isn’t it?
In general, I’m suspicious of any claims of “average” score increases. Not only are the stats often doctored quite a bit, but more importantly, your score increase is the result of the work you put in. A class, a book, a video, and even a tutor is not a magic bullet. Sure, some courses, books, and tutors are better than others, but ultimately the power rests with you.
Because large (or tiny, nearly non-existent) score increases are possible with any prep method, claims of “average” score increases shouldn’t factor into your choice among course, self-prep, and tutoring. Choose your prep method first, and then consider score increase claims as you drill down further:
- Look at testimonials and reviews rather than claims that the company or tutor makes about score increases.
- Engage with some free content if possible to see if there’s a good match between the company/tutor and the way you prefer to learn. A tutor may claim AMAZING results, but if you just can’t stand his personality or her teaching style, your results are probably not going to be quite as amazing.
Still not sure if self-study, prep course, or tutoring is right for you? Sometimes talking it over with someone in the industry can help. Schedule a FREE consultation call with me here.
For those interested in self-study, but unsure whether you have the motivation and self-discipline for it, definitely check out my cost-effective guided self-study program for students. Study plans tailor-made to your own strengths, weaknesses, and schedule. Built-in accountability checks. An expert to bounce ideas off of when you’re feeling stuck. And confidence that your self-study will get you to where you need to be.
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