How Hard Is The LSAT Exam Actually?
The LSAT is a requisite test of the US law school admission process, and it measures skills considered crucial for success through law school. In other countries, such as Canada, law schools are increasingly using the exam to admit students.
However, even as its popularity grows, the exam is known for being one of the toughest in the country. Despite this, it is a requirement for admission into any law school that is a member of the LSAC (Law School Admission Council), which develops and administers the LSAT.
Therefore, if you want to become a lawyer, it is almost impossible to avoid the test. We will look at the exam structure, its difficulty, and how to prepare for the LSAT.
Table of Contents
The exam has five 35-minute sections consisting of three scored multiple-choice parts, plus unscored variable (experimental) and writing sample sections.
The unscored variable section will feature in the test beginning from August 2021, so not much is known about it. However, it will include the same type of questions found in either one of the scored sections (arguments, games, or reading comprehension).
These changes came about after the cancelation of the traditional in-person LSAT due to COVID-19. The LSAC will administer the new test online, and they plan to use this system for 2 – 3 years minimum.
The four old sections are well known for presenting some unique challenges, so let’s look at each one in detail.
Logical reasoning questions make up about half of the LSAT. The section consists of two 35-minute parts, each having 24 – 26 multiple-choice questions. In most cases, you will read short passages, then answer the respective questions.
It is also known as the arguments section because the passages present arguments that you have to break down for analysis. When answering the questions, you demonstrate your ability to:
- Find flaws in arguments
- Make analogies
- Make supporting conclusions
The section is not difficult, but it is very tricky. You need to identify all the hidden clues in the passage, and the goal is to see how well you can take part in an argument, which is a crucial skill required by lawyers.
Like the logical reasoning part, this section contains passages and questions, but these are more of logic games. The three main types of logic games you will find are:
The goal is to test your ability to identify a system of relationships and produce a deductive conclusion. It’s sort of like a system that examines how good you are at seeing the bigger picture.
You have to identify the equations, correlations, causation, and logic connections, then lay out the question as a complex diagram to derive the relationship. Additionally, you need to apply logic to derive meaning from complex and ambiguous situations.
When studying a case in real life, you must investigate the people and events, determine how they are connected, then come up with a sensible conclusion. Therefore, this test examines vital skills that separate good future lawyers from the rest.
If you want to do well in this section, you must read the passage carefully and pay close attention to the details. Usually, there are four games to tackle, each with 5 – 8 questions, totaling 24.
Since the section takes 35 minutes to complete, this gives you just under 9 minutes to complete each game. Take your time to get the entire meaning of the passage, then answer the questions quickly and correctly.
The LSAT reading comprehension section consists of four passages, three of which are from a single author. One of them is lengthy, while the other two are short, and they have interconnected questions.
The fourth one is usually a combination of passages from two sources but about the same topic. All four contain texts from different subjects, which are not necessarily related to law. They can be from any field of study, ranging from humanities to sciences.
In total, the entire section has about 27 questions that test your ability to:
- Identify the main idea
- Find the plain and hidden information
- Understand the context, tone, and language use
- Identify passage structure
- Understand how to apply the derived information
- Understand how new information impacts other arguments
- Obtain principles
Lawyers go through tons of text when preparing for cases. The goal is to see if you can break down dense text, then retrieve the relevant information.
Apart from the variable (experimental) section, the writing sample is the other unscored part of an LSAT. However, it forms part of the admission packet sent to law schools. Therefore, it will be part of the decision taken by the institutions to determine if you are good enough.
Even if not scored, how you write the piece of text matters. It tests your ability to:
- Present an argument
- Articulate your thoughts
- Support your case using facts
The goal is to convince the law school admissions counselor/officer with these skills, so give it your best. Thirty-five minutes might be a short time, so the best way to tackle it is by regular practice before sitting for the test. Spend time writing essays on several subjects while timing the sessions.
LSAT Difficulty Comparison
Now that you understand the LSAT format and the requirements for its sections, we will compare it with top standardized exams in medicine and accounting.
LSAT vs. MCAT
The Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) is the LSAT equivalent for admission into med school. However, it is a content exam that tests premedical knowledge, while LSAT is an analytical exam that tests critical thinking.
MCAT checks how well you understand the sciences (subject-based), while the LSAT is like a scaled-down version of an IQ test (logic-based).
LSAT has five sections that take 3 hours 30 minutes, while MCAT has four that take 6 hours 15 minutes. However, MCAT has 230 questions, which are about 100 more than LSAT’s 99 – 102. LSAT still has more time pressure, though, due to its writing sample. MCAT does not include this.
The maximum score for LSAT is 180, but the average for first-timers is 150. You need at least 165 to get into one of the top law schools. For MCAT, the maximum score is 528, with the average being 500. However, you need 510 points minimum to get into medical school.
LSAT vs. CPA
Compared to LSAT, CPA tests for accounting knowledge in four sections, which take a whopping 16 hours to complete. However, each part has about 76 – 77 questions, totaling 307.
CPA has one main disadvantage, though. You can either pass or fail; there’s no relative scoring. The maximum score is 99, and you need at least 75 to hit the pass mark. However, it has a time advantage, and the questions are closely related to the accounting subject.
How Hard Is it to Get a Score of 165?
Every aspiring law student would like to get a perfect score of 180, but this is a difficult feat. The national average of 172 and above represents the 99th percentile, which means if you score 172, you will have beaten 99% of all LSAT takers.
However, as stated above, most top law schools require a score of at least 165 (around the 90th percentile). But how difficult is it to get these points?
To understand this, we need to look at how LSAT grading occurs. Your answers give you the raw score (the number of questions you get right in the test), then there is the scaled score (120 – 180).
Out of the average of about 100 questions, the total number of correct answers directly determines your scaled score. According to LSAC, all questions have the same weight, and there are no deductions for incorrect answers.
To score 165, you must get 86 correct answers. You can find this out by comparing your submission with an answer key, then check the score conversion table. Getting a perfect score of 180 requires 99 – 100 correct answers.
After completing the test, the results release date is usually within 2 – 4 weeks, and you should get the score sent to your email.
How Long Is the LSAT Score Valid?
You can use your LSAT scores to apply to law school up to five years after taking the test. As you get your score on your email, the results get posted to the law schools in your application. If not accepted, you can take a break to work or travel before applying to other law schools. But after five years, the score will be invalid.
However, if it is not your first time sitting for the exam, all your records for the 12 most recent LSAT results will be attached to the post sent to the law schools.
Therefore, it is in your best interests to prepare for the test thoroughly to avoid tainting your performance based on your results history. Also, the test is expensive as it costs $200. So you will save a lot if you get a high score on your first try.
How To Prepare for the Test
Most law schools weigh the LSAT more than your GPA. In some cases, the LSAT weighs 70% vs. 30% for GPA, meaning that a 3-hour, 30-minute test has more say in your application compared to 4 years of undergrad results. Therefore, you need to sit for the exam when you are ready for it.
There are several steps you can take to prepare for the test. Keep in mind that this does not mean reading specific questions and answers. Intensive or last-minute studying will also not help you.
The best way to succeed on your first try is by getting a solid undergraduate education and emphasizing reading, writing, logical thinking, and analytical reasoning.
Before the exam, you should also take a practice test. There is a free law school admission exam available from LSAC. You can start from there. Also see our list of the best LSAT prep books on the market today, for additional practice material and exam-specific strategies.
To simulate the real testing environment, make sure you time your session to take 35 minutes for each section. There’s usually a short break of 10 minutes after section three. Follow this procedure as many times as you want until you feel confident enough to sit for the actual exam.
What if I Fail the Test?
The term failing is relative in LSAT’s because there is no pass mark. Your goal should be to get a higher score than what the law school you are applying to requires. If you don’t attain that mark, you can resit the exam.
LSAT’s used to be available four times a year, but the number went up to seven in 2019. With the current online exam sitting, the frequency might be higher.
However, as a test taker, you can only sit for a maximum of three tests in a year (the next LSAT year begins in August 2021 and ends in June 2022). Additionally, there is a limit of five times within the current and past five years of testing and a maximum of seven years in your lifetime.
If you cannot get the score you want after seven tries, either apply to a law school with a lower score requirement or accept that you are not the best candidate to study law.
Generally, most people consider the LSAT to be one of the most difficult standardized tests for law schools in the US. It puts you under severe time pressure and requires you to use logic in a way that might not be intuitive to other people.
However, the difficulty is relative, and it might be easy for you if you prepare adequately. If you rely on other people’s definitions of the test, you will have the mentality that it is tough. Instead, take your time, practice, and give it your best.