by Zack Baldwin
As with many topics in test preparation, the answer depends on your goals and your starting point. Below, we’ll take a look at what time range is right for you given the circumstances with which you are approaching the test.
Before we begin looking at different scenarios, you’ll want to take a diagnostic LSAT. You can take a diagnostic either by purchasing one of LSAC’s many “10 Test” volumes (such as this one – these books are a great value for the number of tests you get, and you’ll want them for later in your studies anyway) or by taking the freely available June 2007 examination online. Take the diagnostic under realistic circumstances and be sure to time yourself. You’ll find a reasonably accurate score from this experience, and you can use it to chart how much improvement you want to make and to measure your goals against the admissions standards of various law schools.
It’s also important to remember that the LSAT is a skills test, not a content test. Unlike some tests you took in high school and college, you cannot simply sit down, memorize information and formulas, and do well. The LSAT requires the ability to process information very quickly and to do so for hours at a time, making the LSAT an endurance test as much as a skills test. This takes regular practice and discipline. To achieve a 170, you need to read quickly, think quickly, and respond quickly.
That said, there is some material on the LSAT that can be studied in advance. Types of flaws, types of games, types of assumption questions, reading comprehension strategy. You want to cover this memorizable content early in your study, and work on implementing that information as you go.
First Time Test Takers (or Retakers who didn’t prep before sitting for the exam)
“I did pretty well on my diagnostic. I’m above the average for the school I want to go to!”
This is great news! You should still study for the LSAT, though – not only does a higher score increase your likelihood of admission, it brings the possibility of financial aid as well. Set aside maybe 4-5 weeks and do a practice test once a week. Figure out your weaknesses, build your stamina, and do your best on test day
“I did okay on my diagnostic but I need to improve at least five points to be competitive.”
Buy some prep materials and develop a study plan. You’ll want to study for around 2 months if you only need to improve a few points. Consider getting a tutor to help you strengthen weak areas. Do many practice tests under realistic circumstances, get used to the test and what it requires of you. Like anything in life, simply by practicing you’ll do better, but be warned that practicing without help often enforces bad habits.
“I’m not sure where I want to go, but my LSAT score needs to be way higher.”
You’re looking at a 3-4 month study schedule. Everyone studying for the LSAT should take and review regular practice tests, but you’ll also want to comb through all the ways the LSAT asks questions and develop strategies. Just like when you’re developing an athletic or musical skill, start by doing techniques slowly, then increasing the speed. Find your weak areas and figure out strategies. You’ll definitely want to consult LSAT Prep materials, whether you use books, or a tutor, or a class.
Second or Third Time Test Takers
You know the material and the flaws. You know how to diagram linear games and tackle a reading comprehension passage. How can you improve your score from test day?
How did your real LSAT compare to your practice tests?
Most people do slightly worse on test day than they do on their best practice tests, usually around 2-3 points. This can be due to any number of reasons. However, if your test day score was far lower than your average practice test, you may not need to change anything other than prepping for the experience of the day itself. That is, taking practice tests with an hour of pre-test administration built in. Or testing in the library or an office or somewhere that vaguely approximates the feeling of a testing room with other people in it (but still is quite quiet).
Consult new resources
This is especially true in areas where you found your score didn’t improve at all. If the strategies you had been using for games wasn’t working for you, try using a different book or conferring with a different authority. Talk to friends who have taken the step, check reddit, and see what about your approach you can change to improve your score.
If you achieved a high score on a particular section, don’t stop practicing.
Continue to do regular practice tests to keep your skills sharp. Without regular practice, you might do worse the next time you take the test, so be sure to keep your skills sharp.
Some people out there like to get ahead of the curve. Like, really ahead of the curve. For most test-takers, studying for the LSAT is a 1-4 month process, and that length is broadly influenced by 1) how much of an improvement you want, and 2) how much time you have to devote to your studies. If you have a lot of free time and can study 8 hours a day, you may only need to study for 5 weeks, while a student with a full-time job may need a full four months to cover the same ground.
However, some students feel more comfortable gearing up for the test over a 6-12 month timeline. If you are considering this timeline, be advised of a few things:
There are finite official LSAT resources
The LSAT prep tests are of enormous value in studying for the exam and at the time of writing, there are 79 official LSAT prep tests. But they’re not all created equal – some of the first 40 official tests feature question types and formats that won’t appear on your actual test. They also are, broadly speaking, a little easier than the modern test. These are great resources for building stamina and simulating the test, but might not report accurate results. All this is to say, use the official material wisely. With a long study plan, use the most recent material at the end of your studies and the oldest material toward the beginning.
You may plateau
You may plateau. It is difficult to make steady increases over such a long period of time. Take breaks and handle the material incrementally. If you’re going to approach the test over such a long timeline, use the time. Start with small exercises and build in intensity as test day approaches. It can be extremely frustrating to score the same result on 4 tests in a row, and you’re more likely to experience that problem with a long time frame.
A final note to the LSAT studier:
Be careful not to burn out. It is difficult to raise your LSAT score and it usually takes many weeks to begin to really feel any amount of mastery over the exam. Like any human skill, beginners in the LSAT will make mistakes that they can later find ways to avoid, learn methods that will increase their speed, and grow comfortable with the material for test day. But this won’t happen overnight, and it won’t happen in a week. Be sure to give yourself breaks and days off periodically to allow the content to decompress. Stressing yourself about your score – because this is a skills test – is usually counterproductive to your success.
Just getting started
If you’re truly just getting started on the exam and are looking to familiarize yourself with the sections, question format, etc., consider our free LSAT course. This free resource is a great starting point for anyone looking to prepare for the LSAT exam. You can learn more about our course here.
Next Step is now offering free monthly webinars on LSAT content as well. You can learn more, view our upcoming sessions, and register here.