LSAT Test Overview: Get The Facts

LSAT Test Overview

The LSAT, or the Law School Admissions Test, is a standardized test administered by the Law School Admissions Council. It is a timed test that assesses your reading and verbal reasoning skills, two skillsets essential for becoming a lawyer. The LSAT is approved by the American Bar Association as a useful test to help law schools assess potential students.

Law schools often have a rolling admissions policy. Starting in the fall, they begin notifying applicants of acceptance or waiting list status. Because so many students apply to law school, especially some of the well-known law schools in the United States, the competition for a seat in law school can be fierce. The LSAT offers all candidates a level playing field so that no matter what else you bring to your law school entrance package, you have the same chance as anyone else at earning a good score on the LSAT.

How Important Is the LSAT?

The LSAT is very important to your chances of admission into law school. Law schools assess two main factors: undergraduate grade point average (UGPA) and LSAT score. If both your UGPA and LSAT scores are strong, you have a good chance at admission into law school on the first try. If, however, one or both are subpar, you may be placed on the waiting list, or you may need to apply again to your first choice school.

Why Do Schools Require the LSAT?

The quality of a student’s undergraduate education varies widely according to the school, field of study, and quality of instruction. Choose any 30 students applying to law school, each from a different school in a different state, and you may be looking at 30 very different educational experiences. Even if all 30 students have the exact same UGPA rating, some may be excellent law school candidates while others will struggle to pass even basic classes.

That’s where the LSAT comes into play. Just like the SAT and ACT tests help colleges assess high school students’ writing skills, and mathematical and verbal reasoning skills no matter what high school they attended, the LSAT helps law schools assess all students equally.

Because each law school applicant takes the exact same test, under the same testing conditions, law schools can be assured that the grades they receive from the LSAT are a fair and equitable assessment of a candidate’s true verbal reasoning and comprehension skills.

Lawyers must be able to research and read dozens of documents as they prepare for cases. They must hone their reasoning skills and deliver finely-tuned arguments to defend or prosecute cases. As such, it is of paramount importance that anyone applying to law school enter with a high level of verbal reasoning, logic and writing skills. Without strong skills in these areas, you cannot succeed in a career in the law.

LSAT Test Overview

Currently the LSAT is part of the law school entrance process for applicants in the United States and Canada. A growing number of other law schools in Europe and other areas of the world are also accepting the LSAT. The test remains one of the few graduate exams still administered via paper-based tests rather than computer adaptive testing systems. Students should be prepared to write their answers by hand.

The test itself consists of five 35-minute sections. Each section contains multiple choice questions. Only four sections are considered for grades. You can’t choose which sections are graded, and you won’t know which ones counted towards your final score until you actually finish the test and receive your scores. The fifth, unscored section usually contains new questions the Law School Admission Council wishes to test in the field.

The unscored section is placed randomly among the other sections. This helps ensure that any data collected from the unscored section is accurate. If you knew a section wasn’t scored, for instance, you might be tempted to rush through it. The testing companies know this, so they give students the sections in random order. Not even the test center knows in advance which section counts towards your score and which doesn’t count.

There is a writing component to the test. The writing section is also timed, and limited to 35 minutes. While the writing section does not receive a score, a copy of it accompanies your scores to each school you wish to send your score report to so that they can examine your writing skills.

You’ll encounter three types of multiple choice questions on the test:

  1. Reading comprehension: You’ll be given a passage to read and then asked several multiple choice questions. This assesses how well you understood the passage.
  2. Analytical reasoning: This section tests your ability to understand logical structure and to draw inferences from such structures in writing.
  3. Logical reasoning: The logical reasoning section assesses how well you apply logic and critical thinking to passages. It measures your ability to analyze and complete arguments in writing.

Each section has approximately 24-28 questions. There is only one essay question. You have 35 minutes to complete each section, but you cannot go back to a completed section if you run out of time on one section and have extra time in another section.

Preparing for the LSAT

As with any major event in life, preparation is the key to success. Most students prepare for weeks, if not months, to take the LSAT. Familiarity with the test questions is the key to success on the LSAT.

To prepare for the LSAT, you can:

  • Obtain free test prep materials from the Law School Admission Council.
  • View, print and take a free “released exam”, also available online. A released exam is one that has been “released from service” or retired, so you won’t see the exact same questions on the actual test. But because it was once an actual LSAT exam, it gives you an accurate idea of what each section is like and how the questions may be worded.
  • Watch test-taking videos online. Many companies, including the Law School Admission Council, provides test-taking strategy videos.
  • Purchase and work through books of practice tests.
  • Take test prep courses.

Of course, your best preparation is your overall verbal reasoning ability. Reading widely and broadly, and reading difficult material throughout your undergraduate career, is one of the best preparation steps to take for anyone interested in entering law school.

How Is the LSAT Scored?

The LSAT is scored on a raw score basis. This means that the test administrator first looks at how many questions you answered, then how many among those you answered you answered correctly. You aren’t penalized for an incorrect answer. Each section is weighted the same. The writing section does not count towards your score, nor does that fifth mystery section.

The raw score is then converted into a score range.  The lowest possible score on the LSAT is 120. The highest score is 180.

When you receive your LSAT score from the testing company, the results include other information as well. You’ll get a list of scores for all of the LSATs you took for the past year as well as your percentile rank. This reflects your position among all students who took the LSAT.

The LSAT is machine-scored. If you think there’s a mistake, you can contest your results through a standard procedure from the Law School Admission Council.

When Can You Expect Your Results?

Scores reports are mailed to participants approximately 30 to 60 days after the test. The exact date may vary.

Where and When Can You Take the LSAT?

The LSAT is given only given four times a year. The test is always administered on a Saturday with the exception of the June testing date. This is offered on a Monday so that students with religious objections to taking tests on Saturdays have an opportunity to take it.

The current testing schedule for 2016 in the United States and Canada is:

A December testing date will probably be added.

Registration deadlines for each test end several days or weeks in advance. Be sure to register well in advance of the test date so that you can receive your test center admissions ticket. You will need to bring your entrance ticket, a photo ID, and number 2 pencils to the testing center on the day of the exam.

The LSAT is administered at testing centers across the nation. Not all centers give the test during each administration, so it’s important to check the LSAT website to find a testing center near you for the date you wish to take the test. Most testing centers are located at colleges or universities. Seats are limited, so again, you are urged to register early for the test date you wish.

If you live more than 100 miles away from the nearest testing center, you have an option to register at an unpublished test center. These are sort of “back up” centers established by the LSAT organization so that everyone has an opportunity to take the test regardless of where they live. You must request a special unpublished test center via the testing website.

Can You Retake the LSAT?

Yes, you can retake the LSAT, but there are limitations to the number of times you can retake it and when you can retake it.

You can only take the LSAT three times over a two-year period. This rule applies to everyone regardless of your reason for wanting to retake the test. Even if you cancel out a previous score, you still can’t take the test more than three times in a two-year period.

Why this policy? Seats are indeed limited for taking the LSAT. The organization behind the test wants to ensure that everyone has a fair chance at taking the test. They don’t want to have potential students continuously retaking the test to increase their scores incrementally. Instead, by limiting the number of times students can retake the test, they give new test-takers a fair shot at achieving a score that will help them get into law school.

Final Thoughts on the LSAT

Among all the standardized tests taken by students to enter graduate school, the LSAT is considered one of the toughest tests. Take your time, prepare thoroughly for the test, and make sure that you are able to take the test on the day you are registered for. If you decide to skip a testing date, you won’t get a chance to take the LSAT for several months, so think twice before skipping the test.

Official Sources of Test Information

For more information on the LSAT, including practice resources, please see: