The BriefA Blog about the LSAT, Law School and Beyond
A law school applicant recently asked for our advice about booking a hotel in Seoul. He was traveling there from Tokyo because the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) couldn’t guarantee him a seat at an LSAT testing center in Japan.
If only he had been taking the graduate record exam! The GRE is administered almost every day, often twice a day, at multiple test centers in Tokyo. Its accessibility is one of the reasons that so many law schools are accepting it in lieu of the LSAT. As of this post’s publication date, you can apply for the JD programs of Harvard, Columbia, Penn, NYU, Northwestern, Cornell, and Georgetown among other schools without ever studying for the LSAT.
But should you? Is it a good idea to apply to law school with only the GRE? If you ask admissions officers at Harvard, Northwestern, or many other GRE-friendly schools (and we have), they’ll tell you that all standardized tests are given equal weight and that there is no penalty for applying without an LSAT score. Nevertheless, there are some reasons to hesitate before you go all in on the GRE.
On today's episode, J.Y. speaks with Riley, AllezAllez21. In eight short months, Riley improved his diagnostic LSAT score of 160 to a 177. They speak about Riley's background in debate and endurance sports and the advantages they brought to his LSAT prep. They also speak about the importance of mantras and doing untimed sections in the beginning stages of prepping to provide a solid theoretical foundation.
On today's episode, J.Y. speaks with 7Sager AccountsPlayable, David, who scored a 174 on his LSAT.
David is currently a 1L at Harvard Law School but gaining admissions was not straight forward. He had to apply twice. They speak about what the process was like, among other things related to LSAT prep and law school admissions.
In today’s episode, J.Y. speaks with 7Sager Josh, Can't Get Right, who improved his LSAT score from a 152 diagnostic to a 176.
Josh studied for the LSAT for over two years and took the LSAT four times with scores of 163, 162, 170, and finally 176.
Josh talks about just how much work it took to improve his score and the different strategies he employed, including filming yourself taking live sections and reviewing the footage to find inefficiencies in approach.
Usually, when you take an LSAT, you will get your score report back along with the entire test you took. That means you’ll get to see not only your LSAT score, but also the actual questions you attempted to answer on test day. You can look at your score report, analyze the questions you missed, and review it like you would a PrepTest. These are the disclosed LSATs.
With a disclosed LSAT, on score release day, you’ll get the following from LSAC:
- Your scaled score (120 – 180)
- Your raw score (0 – 100)
- Your percentile (0% – 99.9%)
- A copy of your answer sheet
- A copy of the test you took with every single question in it
However, some LSATs are not disclosed. When the test is nondisclosed, you won’t get the test back when you receive your score. That means you can't see where you made mistakes.
On score release day, you’ll only get the following from LSAC:
- Your score (120 – 180)
- Your percentile (0% – 99.9%)
Obviously, it’s a drawback of taking the nondisclosed LSAT that you can’t review the questions you missed. Indeed, you won’t even know which questions you missed.
How many LSATs are nondisclosed?
In the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean in 2018–2019, three LSATs are nondisclosed.
- June 2018
- July 2018 (nondisclosed)
- September 2018
- November 2018
- January 2019 (nondisclosed)
- March 2019 (nondisclosed)
In addition to the three above, LSATs taken outside the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean are always nondisclosed. These tests are often referred to as international tests.
Are international nondisclosed tests different?
For example, students reported that the June 2018 LSAT in Asia (nondisclosed) used the same test as the February 2015 LSAT (nondisclosed) in North America. The December 2017 LSAT in Asia and February 2018 LSAT in Europe was also the test used for the February 2013 LSAT (nondisclosed) in North America.
The LSAT is a standardized test for admission to law schools in North America (and a few schools in Australia), so it's not supposed to vary by region. International tests often use previously administered nondisclosed LSATs (such as February tests in North America).
Why are some LSATs nondisclosed?
LSAC says, "LSAC discloses some but not all tests because it is necessary to have some nondisclosed test forms available for emergencies and special uses."
It is a way for LSAC to keep some test forms for future uses. For example, there are sometimes make-up tests for people who couldn’t take the LSAT due to some natural disaster, and according to some students’ reports, previously administered nondisclosed tests are used in make-up administrations.
How should I prepare for nondisclosed tests?
In exactly the same way as you would for any LSAT. There’s nothing different you should do for nondisclosed tests.
What is the “experimental” section?
The LSAT is composed of five multiple choice sections, but only four are scored. Those four sections include two Logical Reasoning (LR) sections, one Logic Games (LG) section, and one Reading Comprehension (RC) section.
The remaining section is the experimental section, which can be an LR, LG, or RC section. Crucially, that section does not affect your score.
On 7Sage’s Forums and elsewhere, you’ll see people refer to that section as “fake” to distinguish it from the four “real,” that is, scored sections.
Given that there are always one RC, one LG, and two LR sections that determine your LSAT score, if you see an extra section - for example, you see two RC sections - you can rightly infer that one of them is experimental or “fake.”
How can you find out which section is experimental?
You can’t. So don’t bother.
When you are taking the test, you might think, “Wait, another LG section? And this flowers game... it’s so weird. I’ve never seen anything like this before. Must be experimental.”
You could be right or you could be wrong. My point is: don’t think about it. Your suspicions will only divert your valuable attention and other mental resources away from the far more important task at hand: taking the LSAT.
The experimental section could appear as your first, second, third, fourth, or fifth section. So treat every section like it’s real.
The LSAC says, “Identification of the unscored section is not available until you receive your score report.” However, after the test, you can come to our Forums and through a process of cross referencing against many students' reports, identify which section was real and which was experimental. For example, if you had two LG sections, you know one of them was fake. But you don’t know which one. Was it the one with the flowers or was it the one with the planets? On the Forums, you're bound to encounter someone else who had only one LG section. That means their LG section was the real section. They’ll say something like, “Thank God I only got one LG! It was about flowers.” Now you can infer that the planets section was experimental.
Why does the experimental section even exist?
According to the LSAC, the experimental section “typically is used to pretest new test questions or to preequate new test forms.”
It is a way for the LSAC to test new questions to ensure fairness and comparability across different LSAT administrations.
How come PrepTests only have four sections?
Each PrepTest (PT) consists of only the scored sections from the actual administered LSAT. Since the experimental sections are not released, they do not make it into the PrepTests.
How can I get a five-section PrepTest to train my stamina?
To get a five-section PT, you have to “sacrifice” another PT. You can randomly pick a PT, print it out, and split it up into its four sections. Then you insert one of those sections into whatever PT you're going to take to make a five-section PT.
As an LSAT tutor, one of the question types my students most struggle with is “resolve the paradox.” As a law school applicant, the paradox that most nettled me was a paradox centered on law school itself: given that law school is so arduous, why are application figures so robust? Does law school simply attract masochists (or whiners)? Is the well-trod pathway to wealth and political power what tempts people to accept such a hideous fate?
But these questions assume a basic premise, which is that law school is actually hard. Is this true?
Is Law School Hard?
Sorry to disappoint, but the answer to this question is an emphatic “yes”! Of course law school is hard! Have you never talked with a law student? Observe any 1L during finals, or any bedraggled OCI participant, and you will witness the rigors of law school wrought on the human body. Before law school I was youthful and energetic; by November of my 1L year I looked like the “Before” picture in an eye cream ad, and that was on my good days.
Making the decision to attend law school requires accepting that it will likely be difficult.
Why Is Law School (Usually) Hard?
Some people—veterans, parents, interns for Meryl Streep’s character in “The Devil Wears Prada”—don’t find law school particularly onerous because they have survived tougher gauntlets. But most law students are mostly untested in the ways that law schools challenge their students. Looking at the profile of the typical 1L, this is hardly mystifying: a fairly young, relatively recent humanities grad possessed of an abbreviated work history and a roster of academic successes in a context where they are somewhat easy to come by. Despite the maxim that past outcomes do not guarantee future results, most people enter law school either overconfident, underprepared, or both.
A Tale of Two Law School Experiences
One characterization of law school has it like this: you’ll be thrown into a group of dozens of strangers in a pseudo-professional, contentious setting. You will leave behind a lifetime of continuous and easily-won academic validation for a system in which you are evaluated anonymously, for the first and only time, by a professor whose primary interactions with you will be to point out the weaknesses in your reasoning and comprehension in front of the 50+ snickering strangers whose respect you most covet. Unlike the forgiving grading curves of undergrad, which stretched from lowly B+ to unremarkable A+, desirable grades in law school are in limited supply, and you are competing for them against the people with whom you spend most of your waking hours. Remember also that, like you, these people have probably selected into this profession because of a yen for confrontation and an ability to work hard.
But another characterization has it like this: you have to go to class for between 12 and 17 hours per week, with no other responsibilities. To prepare, you will have to read approximately 25-50 pages per class. In the one-in-twenty chance that you get cold-called and can’t remember every single detail of the case, you can just access one of the many overzealous outlines floating around your school and grow comfortable with CONTROL+F and bullshitting—skills that, incidentally, are useful for any attorney.
So Which Experience Will I Have?
The answer to this question is that it’s largely up to you. If you are a welter of insecurities who regards law school success as the paramount test of intelligence and worth, then you might have the former experience. To ensure that the former perspective doesn’t overtake the latter reality, try to keep the following in mind:
- Take law school seriously: it is a professional school, and how well you do will likely shape your career prospects. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t screw up...
- ... And don’t be afraid to screw up: the first time a student in your section gets cold-called and doesn’t know the answer, visceral group mortification sets in. Every time after that point is pretty uneventful, because half the class is on Facebook or shopping online.
- Treat yourself kindly: go to the gym, eat well, avoid forming bad habits, get lots of sleep, have fun, and relax. I learned this lesson the hard way: as a 1L, I took to pouring myself a fluorescent yellow glass of Mountain Dew each night and setting it beside my bed. Why? Because I knew I would be too exhausted to go make coffee in the morning, and I needed a kick to get myself out of bed. I thought, “I can rest when I am a 2L!” until a mentor encouraged me to sleep more regularly and more often, eat better, and exercise. I was doubtful at first, but another paradox that I was happy to resolve was that my comprehension and attitude improved with more leisure and relaxation time and better self-care.
- Maintain your values: decide why you are in law school and stick to it. This doesn’t mean you can’t grow or change your mind, but resist the urge to jump through hoops just because your peers are doing so. Law students slobber over honors like clerkships and law review, but these might not be right for you, might not matter for your career, and might just make you miserable. There are things in life worth suffering and striving for, but make sure they’re important to you before you commit to them.
- Your classmates are going to be your future colleagues, so get to know them through study groups, clubs, and other extracurricular activities.
If you’ve been through law school, what other tips or suggestions do you have? Let us know in the comment section. If you’ve got questions, let us know too.
Conor works as a civil rights attorney for the City of New York, and has been moonlighting as an LSAT tutor for two years. Immediately following law school, he worked as a Ford Fellow at the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project. He enjoys reading fiction and making bad puns. He is a graduate of the University of Virginia and of Harvard Law School.
The annual uproar about law school rankings might lead you to believe that the rank of the school you attend is the only factor in determining whether you will become a successful lawyer. As Above The Law points out, the T14 law school rankings, as determined by US News and World Report, rely heavily on inputs – especially peer assessment, grades, and LSAT scores — while ATL’s rankings rely more heavily on outputs like jobs and starting salaries. Given that the two lists overlap quite heavily at the top, I wouldn’t blame you for feeling like you might as well say goodbye to your law career before you’ve even read your first case note if you don’t get into a T14 school. But don’t lose heart! Many, many law school graduates attend non-T14 schools and go on to have successful law careers.
I speak from experience. By way of background, I graduated from Emory Law School squarely in the middle of my class. It was a great place to go to school, with whip-smart professors and clinics, but it was not T14 when I attended and still isn’t (though it’s been solidly T25 for many years). Emory is also located in Atlanta, which, for all of its charms, was not the city where I intended to practice upon graduation. Like so many others, I had my eyes set on New York City. I managed to write myself onto the law review which, given my highly mediocre class ranking, definitely helped boost my resumé. This, combined with my comfort with interviewing, helped me land a job in Big Law in the New York office of a Chicago-based firm, where I specialized in real estate law.
I jumped ship after 5 years and wound up in Cardozo’s admissions office, where I counseled prospective students about whether they should or shouldn’t go to law school, and why they might be a good fit for Cardozo in particular. I later returned to practicing real estate law with the New York City Economic Development Corporation. As a lawyer, first in private practice and later for the City of New York, I regularly interviewed candidates for summer associate and lateral positions. While I can’t speak for every law firm or government agency, I do think I have some insight about whether attending a T14 law school really matters—so here goes!
When does attending a T14 law school really matter?
If you’re asking this question, we’ve got good news: you’re thinking strategically and (hopefully) respecting your limits. Both of those are attributes that can help keep a long-haul LSAT study plan afloat.
Let’s talk about minimum and maximums. Know that the answer to this question varies based on whether you work full time, have little kids running around, or other time-intensive responsibilities.
It will take you about 300 hours to complete the 7Sage Core Curriculum. For some, it will take longer. Then, if you take all of the PrepTests we include with Ultimate+, and Blind Review them properly, count on spending about 600 hours doing that. So let’s plan for about 900 hours of studying total. That might sound extreme. It’s reflective of how difficult—and powerful—the LSAT is. Your mileage may vary—we’re assuming you want a ~10-15 point increase (or more), which is what most LSAT students are looking for.
If you study about 15 hours per week, it will take you a little over a year. Clocking in at a more standard 25 hours a week (say 5 hours on Saturdays and 4 hours each weekday), you’re looking at a 9 month estimated study period (again, this is pretty standard fare). Both folks who work full time and those who study full time are often best off with a ~20-25 hours per week schedule (be sure to take at least one full day off a week to help prevent burnout and stay happy!). 30 hours per week is probably the healthiest maximum number of hours for anyone (including those who study LSAT full time with no obligations). It’s impossible to rush or “brute force” the LSAT.
The most important factors to consider are how much time you can realistically devote to the LSAT, given your other obligations. Find that number and commit yourself to a weekly schedule while respecting the aforementioned sanity-protecting upper limits.
Law school is unusual among post-graduate educational pursuits in that a bad undergraduate GPA doesn’t necessarily ruin your chances to attend an excellent law school. In fact, with a high enough LSAT score, you might just get into a T14 law school with a considerable scholarship, even with a sub-3.0 GPA. Folks with a sub-median GPA and an above-median LSAT are known as “splitters” and those with GPA/LSAT outside of the 25th and 75th percentiles respectively are known as “super-splitters.”
Law school admissions is as much as 50% dependent upon the LSAT score; due to rampant grade inflation in most undergraduate universities as well as inconsistency in grading policies and relative difficulties (both of universities and disciplines), GPA is a somewhat inconsistent indicator of academic or intellectual fitness of candidates. Furthermore, GPA is set in stone after graduation; while an applicant may have had a rough patch in the past, a poor GPA may not reflect a candidate’s true aptitude or abilities. Finally, the US News & World Reports rankings weigh LSAT scores particularly heavily. For these and a variety of reasons, law schools really like a high LSAT score—so much so that they might make room in the class of a top school for someone with a GPA well below median.
But what LSAT Score will make up for a sub-3.0 GPA at a T14 school? It depends on the school.
Know that for certain schools, such as UC Berkeley or University of Chicago, the door is closed with a sub-3.0 GPA, due to policies requiring a minimum 3.0 GPA.
Other schools, such as Harvard, Yale, or Stanford, receive so many applications from students with nearly perfect numbers that it is extremely unlikely for a sub-3.0 to be admitted. Given that these schools already have medians well into the 170’s, one would likely need a very, very high (175-180) LSAT score to even get on the radar of a T3 school—and even then, it might be best to manage expectations (and save the application fees).
Still other schools are known as being “splitter-friendly,” such as Northwestern. These schools often place a higher emphasis on work experience or other factors in their search for a well-rounded class. Georgetown also has a reputation of being somewhat splitter-friendly. For most of the T14, a sub-3.0 GPA won’t necessarily result in a shut-out by the Admission Committee—if you’ve got a stellar LSAT score—likely 170 or above, though a 168 or 169 may in exceptional circumstances be enough to offset the below-median GPA.
Outside of the T14, follow the splitter’s rule of thumb: if your GPA is below a school’s 25th percentile, make sure your LSAT is above their 75th.