Beating the LSAT: Advice from a Vet who scored 180
For many vets applying to law school, the LSAT is the most daunting challenge in the application process. It is unlike any other test that you have taken before: its questions are more like puzzles than SAT or ACT multiple-choice questions, and it tests logical reasoning skills rather than the math or vocabulary found on those tests. But if you are panicking about the LSAT, do not fear, because you can absolutely learn and master this test! My experience and the experience of hundreds of others demonstrate that you can raise your score by <strong>studying</strong> for the LSAT. It will, however, take a disciplined effort to raise your score and you may not see results right away. In the end, though, a higher LSAT score will definitely be worth the effort.
My Experience with the LSAT
I began studying for the LSAT in November 2012 with a goal of scoring 175 or above. Since my GPA was below the 25<sup>th</sup> percentile at top law schools, such as Yale, Harvard, and Stanford, I knew that my LSAT would have to be 175 or above for me to have a reasonable chance of admission.
When I took my first diagnostic LSAT, I scored a 166; eight months later, after nearly 30 timed practice LSATs, 100+ individual logic games sections, and countless hours of study, I got a notification email from LSAC saying that my June 2013 score was a 180. That score has changed my life. In the cycle that followed, I got into every school to which I applied, including the school I will attend next fall, Yale Law School.
My general study plan followed three phases: mastering the basics of the LSAT, improving my speed, and finally building my stamina. Overall, there is no big secret to how I succeeded—it took lots of practice and a near total commitment to mastering the LSAT.
General Thoughts on the LSAT
The LSAT is enormously important and you should train for it as if your future depends on it. As one commenter on top-law-schools.com put it, “it is impossible to overstate the importance of the LSAT. Your LSAT score is probably the main determinant of what schools you can get into and how much merit-based financial aid you will receive. Therefore, there is no better way to strengthen your law school application than by raising your LSAT score.” No matter what your ultimate goals are for law school admissions, you will benefit from using a study plan that maximizes your score.
The study method that follows in this post, however, is not for everyone. Your first step in studying for the LSAT should be to take a practice test and set a realistic goal for your improvement. If you are starting with a practice score in the 140s, remember that you will want to take your improvement in stages. Aim for a 155 or 160 and then set your next goal. Similarly, if you are starting with a 155, do not aim directly for a 180, but set your major goal as a 170. Besides, if your GPA is strong enough, you may not need much higher than that to be competitive at top law schools.
The second important consideration in creating your plan is to honestly assess how much time you are willing to spend on studying. I adopted an intense study regime because, despite working in a normal full-time position in the Army, I was willing to consistently carve out 10-12 hours a week to devote to LSAT preparation. This method is not for everyone. Many of us are very busy; we are busy because of our work, our travel, and our families.
As you develop a plan for test preparation, be honest with yourself. How much time will you have each week to commit to LSAT prep? Can you find a quiet place to sit for four hours and take a practice test? Just like going to the gym, you will only see results when you have been brutally honest with yourself and are unwilling to compromise. This is may be where test preparation courses come in: they can force you to meet once or twice a week for months and to sit for full-length practice tests in proctored situations.
While test preparation courses may be costly and I chose not to use one, they offer proven results that can be worth your money. Companies like Kaplan, Princeton Review, and ManhattanLSAT offer courses of varying lengths and intensity that can really help people manage a challenging schedule of test preparation. Check to see which companies use real LSAT materials and what resources come with your enrollment in the class (books, practice exams, online materials, study sessions, etc.). Your classroom teachers can recommend a study plan that will be appropriate for your current LSAT level. I talked with a LSAT tutor at the beginning of my studying, and he pointed me in the right direction for self-study and gave me valuable insights into the test. The only people whom I think could forgo a full course are those who are aiming for a very high LSAT score, are already scoring well, and are confident that they can maintain a high pace of studying on their own. This guide is intended to give insights to supplement a formal LSAT course or to serve as a basis for anyone intent on independent LSAT study.
Mastering the Basics: Logic Games (LG)
I recommend that you make studying logic games the first priority of your LSAT study plan. Even though they count for only one quarter of your LSAT score, these questions are the most foreign to anything you have ever seen and are the section that on which you can improve the most. Before I started studying, I had heard from others that once you learn how to solve LG, you consistently could get 25/25 correct. While it took me four months to reach that point, I can attest that this is true. From November-January, I averaged 4-6 wrong per LG section, in February I averaged 2 wrong, and from March-June I took 4-5 sections per week and did not get one question wrong during that entire time.
The main resource I used for LG study was the PowerScore Logic Games Bible. I read the book from cover to cover and made flash cards of its most important material to increase my recall speed. In your study, I recommend you find a similar LG book for learning the LG basics and read it thoroughly.
Once you’ve worked through the LG basics, you should start taking LG sections untimed. As the Army saying goes, “slow is smooth, and smooth is fast,” and you should not rush ahead to try to do timed sections just yet. Speed will come once you’ve gotten the hang of the basic concepts.
After you have taken a section, then comes the most critical element of all LSAT prep—you must review all the questions that you got wrong in order to know what to improve. In this review, I found it most useful to use the site 7sage. J.Y. Ping, 7Sage’s founder and LG guru, provides free videos that walk you through any LG problem; these explanations were extremely valuable in teaching me whatever LG skills I was lacking.
As mentioned above, I took more than 100 logic game sections, and my greatest gains came when I took LG sections on a near daily basis. In order to do this, I had to get my hands on lots of real LSATs. The source I used for these was the book series of 10 Actual, Official PrepTests produced by LSAC. To use the book for multiple practice tests, I photocopied the sections rather than writing in the book. I recommend that you buy books with higher numbered LSATs first (LSATs go from LSAT #1, which was in June ’91, to LSAT #71, which was in December ’13), as the older tests are fairly different from current LSATs. You should feel free to redo previously solved LG sections, as I found they were very helpful for reinforcing deduction patterns on the second and third attempts.
As you are doing more LG sections, it is inevitable that you will feel frustrated by the slowness of your progress. When this happens, do not give up. This frustration happens to everyone, and you should embrace it as something to motivate you to seek the proper method to solve the problem. I remember feeling defeated that for three months I saw little improvement, but at the end of that time I successfully sought new ways to solve the questions. So long as you are analyzing your mistakes, you will eventually make progress.
Mastering the Basics: Logical Reasoning (LR)
Logical reasoning questions make up half the LSAT and are therefore extremely important to master. I used the PowerScore LSAT Logical Reasoning Bible as the main guide for these types of questions.
Like LG, there are other resources you can use to AAR your performance. The source I used for this section was the Manhattan LSAT message board. You can look on the message board for the relevant Preptest and find useful answers and explanations for all LR questions. Remember that those posting on the message boards are either other students or are LSAT instructors, and their answers are not always perfect. Also like LG, you should take these sections untimed until you have grasped the material.
Mastering the Basics: Reading Comprehension (RC)
RC is the most difficult section to improve on, but there are things you can do to boost your performance. The best way to improve is to adopt a daily habit of reading challenging material. Examples of appropriate reading material others have recommended for this purpose are magazines like the Economist, the New Republic, or Scientific American. The bottom line is that you must get your brain to switch to text processing mode by reading in your free time.
While you can successfully use new methods in learning LG and LR, RC is uniquely tied to your lifelong habits of reading and very difficult to improve by new techniques. When I tried following the advice of the PowerScore RC Bible, I found that my performance actually declined. Reading comprehension is something built over the course of years, and you need to be willing to “practice” by doing more reading, not necessarily by looking for a new strategy on how to read. For AARs of your mistakes, though, I recommend the Manhattan LSAT Reading Comprehension message board. While I felt there was no “method” I could use to get better at RC, simple repetition of doing these types of sections did eventually lead to higher scores.
Phase 2: Increasing Speed
Once you are comfortable with untimed sections, you should start doing individual sections under timed conditions. I took roughly the first 45 days of my 8 months of study to work through the two PowerScore Bibles and about a month after that to work on increasing my speed.
One other relevant point at this stage is that you should mimic LSAT conditions as much as possible, as the more that your preparation mirrors the real LSAT, the lower your stress will be on test day. This is one advantage of test-prep courses, which often include proctored tests in a quiet classroom. To mirror actual testing conditions at home (or at a quiet place like a library), you should have a silent timer (I used my phone), an analog watch, a #2 pencil instead of mechanical one, and a bubble sheet for your answers. The bubble sheet is the most important element to integrate, as I have heard horror stories of others who practiced without it who then ran out of time on test day to transfer their answers from the booklet to the bubble sheet. I also used a $20 DVD that simulates the LSAT proctor.
My general study method at this point was to do LG sections several times during the week and then a full LSAT once or twice per weekend. I would take the individual sections timed, but would leave enough time between sections so that I would not burn out. The advantage of doing a full LSAT every weekend is you will also finally start seeing a full LSAT score and can quantify your progress. One other relevant factor for me is that I found it difficult to concentrate enough during the week to handle LR or RC, so I only felt it was useful to do those sections on the weekend.
You will likely see your scores decrease, possibly dramatically, when you start using timed conditions. While this will be frustrating, you should keep pushing through it because once you have learned the skills for the question type, you can eventually learn to use them quickly.
Phase 3: Stamina
After you have mastered the timing of the individual sections, it is time to start taking the whole LSAT under test-day conditions. The LSAT is a grueling four-hour experience, and it takes practice to keep mentally alert for the whole test. At a bare minimum, you should take several full-length tests under true timed conditions (no more than 10 seconds rest between sections and with a 10-minute break after the first three sections) before you take the LSAT for real. My method during this time was to take a timed LSAT every Saturday while I continued to take several LG sections during the week. This period lasted from February until early June, and by the end of it I was seeing consistent LSAT scores between 175-178.
One of the most relevant factors to being successful in improving over the long run is having enough preparation time to practice for the actual LSAT. Ideally, you should have between 5-8 months to prepare for the LSAT in total, though gains can be made in less time (1-2 months is the minimum, in my opinion). While I recommend taking an LSAT every weekend and doing sections during the week, the truth is that this is a difficult pace for anyone to maintain without burning out. If you have a long time to study, you can give yourself short breaks during that time period to keep your mind fresh. There is such a thing as LSAT-overload, so you have to find the study pace that works best for you.
As a part of readying myself for the LSAT, I also chose to take the February LSAT as a run-through. I took the February LSAT in full and then cancelled the score with the intent of using it as important practice for June. This was a risky step. On the positive side, it showed me that my LG and LR skills were not ready yet for the test, and I wrote down a reflection of my experiences after the test so that I would remember my impressions. Taking the test in February also lowered my stress for the June test because I saw exactly how the LSAT was administered. One important downside to this approach is that a cancelled score used up one of my three possible attempts at the LSAT that I am allowed to take in any two-year period. Most schools today only care about your highest LSAT score, so candidates should be prepared to take the LSAT up to three times to get the highest score possible.
Test Day Preparations
After months of practice, you should feel confident in your abilities on test day. Your test day regimen is, however, also critically important to your LSAT success and should revolve around one goal—reducing stress to the absolute minimum. My routine included getting a good night’s sleep, eating a healthy breakfast, and relaxing for at least 48 hours before the test. I woke up around 0730, watched one of my favorite movies, and then went over to the test site about one hour early. I recommend that you at least find the test center beforehand, as it could hurt your score if you are stressed out by just finding the test center. I highly recommend that if you have any superstitions or comfort things that work for you, do those on test day; for example, I listened to Brian Regan’s comedy act on the way to the test center to calm my nerves.
While you want to be relaxed, you should wake your brain up before you start the test. About 30 minutes before I went to sign-in, I did one LG problem, five LR questions, and one RC passage to get ready for the test. I felt this was important, especially when I compared how I felt on the February test to the June test. For some people, this can increase stress, so do what works best for you.
One other important consideration for test day is the time of the test. If you are taking the test at 0830, you need to practice taking the test that early. I found that I averaged two to three points lower on LSATs in the morning as opposed to the afternoon. As the June LSAT is the only afternoon administration of the test, I felt it was the ideal day for me.
For those looking for more advice on the LSAT, I also recommend several guides found on top-law-schools.com that I used to study for the LSAT such as 1, These guides were critical, and I’ve repeated much of their advice here.
Essay on LSAT: I took the essay seriously on the day of the LSAT, but did no prep ahead of time for it.
Best of luck to you all with studying for and beating the LSAT!