10 steps to a stellar LSAT score

From setting a consistent study schedule to doing a dry run before the big day, here are tips to help you do your best.
 
By Allie Johnson
 
Law schools look at many factors when deciding whether to accept an applicant, and the LSAT score plays a starring role.
 
“The LSAT is one of the top elements in your application file,” said Hillary Mantis, director of the pre-law program at Fordham University. “Its importance cannot be overstated.”
 
A stellar LSAT score — 180 is a perfect score — can boost your chances of getting into a top law school, help you snag scholarship offers and help set you on the path to a lucrative job after law school.
 
So, how does the LSAT factor into the law school admissions process? Think of the process as a series of hurdles, with the LSAT being the first and highest one, said Dave Hall, founder of Velocity Test Prep, an LSAT preparation company. Once you clear that hurdle by getting a great score on the LSAT, “you’re in the mix,” he said.
 
Want to make sure you do your absolute best on the LSAT? Here are 10 ways to prepare for the big test:
 

1. Give yourself plenty of prep time

Ideally, you should give yourself six months to prepare for the LSAT, Mantis said.

If possible, plan ahead and take a heavier course load before LSAT prep time rolls around so you can significantly lighten your load while you prepare, said Thane Messinger, author of “Law School: Getting In, Getting Good, Getting the Gold.” 

Also, build enough time into your law school application cycle so you can take the LSAT again if you don’t do as well as you had hoped the first time, or you get sick on test day, or something else unexpected happens, Mantis said.

“Aim to take the LSAT once, but leave time to take it twice,” she said.

2. Choose your LSAT prep course carefully

Put as much thought into choosing a prep course as you would into shopping for a home or a car, Messinger said.

“Yes, it’s really that important,” he said.

Make sure any test prep company you’re considering uses questions licensed by the Law School Admission Council (LSAC), creator of the LSAT, said Jodi Teti, director of marketing for Blueprint LSAT Preparation.

Look for a course that offers dozens of classroom hours, at least a dozen test hours and resources such as online tutoring, Messinger said.

Also look for an instructor who aced the test, and ask to see his or her LSAT score report, Teti recommends.

“If you’re trying to get a 170 and your instructor scored only 165, that’s not great,” she said.

And finally, sit in on a sample class before you commit to a course.

“It’s really important instructors have both a good score and the ability to teach,” Teti said. 

3. Set a consistent LSAT practice schedule 

Schedule time each day to study for the LSAT, especially if you’re also juggling classes, exams, internships and other activities, Mantis said.

There’s no magic formula for how much time to spend preparing for the test, but two to three hours per day works well for many students, Hall said. Stay consistent with your practice each day, and try to take off only one day per week, he said.

“Repetition is important,” Hall said. “It’s like learning to play the piano. You don’t learn to play a song and then throw away the music. You play and play and play until it’s rote and you’ve developed muscle memory.”

4. Master the art of timing

When students don’t perform as well as they had hoped to on the LSAT, timing may be part of the problem, Mantis said. Students who don’t hone their ability to take timed tests may run out of time on test day. To master timing, follow the lead of one of Mantis’ students who did particularly well on the LSAT. Every day at the same time, she spent 35 minutes completing one timed test section, Mantis said. Some students may need months of this type of time-focused practice.

“A lot of people would be more comfortable with the LSAT if they got the timing down,” she said.

5. Take time to review your results

It’s crucial not only to take timed practice tests but also to go over your results methodically, Hall said, trotting out a basketball analogy. Think of taking a practice test as playing in a basketball game, and think of reviewing your results as practicing shots alone in the gym, he said.

“It’s hard to learn very much while taking a practice test with half of your brain jumping up and down and the other half screaming, ‘Go faster,’” Hall said. 

When you review your results, mark every answer you got wrong, then dig in to figure out why you picked the incorrect answer. Also mark every question that you got right not because you were 100 percent sure of the answer but because you made an educated guess. Figure out how you arrived at the correct answer so you can replicate that thinking on future questions, he said.

6. Go for easy gains

Many students waste precious prep time reviewing the questions they aced, said Anna Ivey, former dean of admissions at The University of Chicago Law School and founder of Anna Ivey Consulting.

“It feels good, but it’s a waste of time,” she said.

On the flip side, some students focus a lot of time and energy on the sections they find most difficult, she said. A better strategy is to go after “low-hanging fruit” first by analyzing the questions you got wrong within the sections you find easiest, she said.

“Some people spend too much time on the hardest sections, when they could be eliminating mistakes on the easiest sections,” she said.

7. Don’t just work on what you enjoy

Some students make the mistake of putting too much emphasis on sections they find fun, Teti said.

“It’s a funny little human foible,” she said. 

For example, many students dislike and fear logic games at first, but once they understand the basics, they begin to enjoy and devote too much time to that area. On the other hand, many students neglect practicing reading comprehension because they find it boring. 

“It tends to be these large tracts of dense text, so people kind of stay away and don’t tackle it with the same rigor they do the other sections,” she said.

8. Up your game in the last two weeks

In the final two weeks before your test, increase the time and energy you’re devoting to test prep. Hall jokingly recommends that his students practice “death by LSAT” in the weeks leading up to test day. 

“At that point you’ll have learned about 90 percent of what you’re going to learn,” he said. “The more work you can do to confirm it, the better.” 

If you’ll have to get up at, say, 6 a.m. for the test, rise at that time every day for one week before test day, Teti said. “You want your brain to be functioning on the day of the test,” she said. 

9. Do a test run for test day

A few days before the test, do a dry run. First, cue up your GPS and drive to the testing center, Teti said. Run through everything you’ll do on test day, from parking the car to walking to the testing center. This prevents a scenario where you’re “running around campus with a map in your hand freaking out on the day of the test,” she said.

10. Limber up before the LSAT

On the day of the test, eat a good breakfast and pack a snack, Teti said. Take along a few logic games, logical reading questions and reading comprehension passages, but make sure they’re ones that you’ve seen before, she said. Before you go into the testing room, look over the materials you brought in order to “wake up your brain and get into LSAT mode,” she said.

As you walk in to take the test, take a deep breath, summon your inner winner and visualize yourself conquering the test.

“Attitude is the key to acing the LSAT,” Messinger said.