The BriefA Blog about the LSAT, Law School and Beyond
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.
As part of a new series here in the 7Sage blog, we've asked our community leaders (Mentors, who were selected from among their peers for their outstanding contributions and character, and Sages, who are community leaders who scored above 170 on the LSAT) to answer a series of questions and provide us with their LSAT wisdom.
This series is just a sampling of the kind of wisdom ready at hand to anyone in our Discussion Forums.
What's the biggest myth about the LSAT?
Mentor Sam “That 2-3 months is plenty of time for a 170+ score. It's not, unless you're a genius or have somehow mastered logic prior to ever being exposed to the LSAT.”
Sage Alex “In my opinion, the biggest myth about studying for the LSAT is that you should only expect to improve your score by 10 points. This claim is not only false, but very detrimental to future law students. Relaying to people that 10 points is all you should expect to gain from studying deters test-takers from devoting enough time to study for the LSAT until they reach their goal score.”
Mentor Brett “In my mind the 2 biggest myths about studying for the LSAT are that you only have to study for 3 months and that you won’t see improvement in any one section. This is a long test, and the skills that it tests aren’t things that you can truly learn and master in 3 months for most people. It’s one where it may take you 3-5 months just to get through the curriculum and then from there you take another 3-6 in taking tests. But the process is worth it in the end. “Also, the assumption that ‘You can’t improve on RC, LG, or LR’ is completely false. Everyone taking this test is different but all of the sections are exactly the same at their base; the questions all test a set of skills and are created by professionals who can exploit the psychology of test takers. All you have to do is learn the skills, avoid the pitfalls, and be able to be able to do this efficiently and confidently.”
Sage Allison “One myth about this test is that it's just an input, output equation with how many hours you put in leading to a particular score. That is part of the equation, but cranking through PTs without good reflection is bad practice. You absolutely must scrutinize your comprehension, question your thought processes, and accept that you have erroneous ways of reasoning that need to be corrected in order to excel on this test. Do your homework, but reflect on your methods and spend time to diagnose your weaknesses.”
Mentor Daniel “That high scores are rare and achievable only among those who are great at tests, geniuses, or savants destined for Harvard. I was once told by an instructor of a test-prep company that I could reasonably expect a score five points higher than my diagnostic. I'm now sitting at an average score increase more than four times that, and I firmly believe at least most should be aiming for a score fifteen-to-twenty points higher than their diagnostic. It takes time, but a score that much higher is doable.”
I'll answer with something cryptic, which the rest of this lesson will further explain: you're making a bad assumption. You're assuming that you will actually get everything you answer correct, which is, for 99.99% of the people, false.
The way you want to approach your LSAT is to embrace a principle borrowed from Economics: the low hanging coconut.
Imagine you're on a desert island and you're thirsty. The only source of potables is coconut water. But, coconuts grow on the top of some really tall trees. How do you get them?
Let's pretend there are exactly 25 equally sized coconuts. You need to get at least 20 of them within 35 minutes to not die of thirst (yeah, they're, um, really small coconuts), but it'd be great to get all 25. Sound a little familiar? Haven't we all been trapped alone on a deserted island dying from thirst with coconuts as our last salvation? At least emotionally? Figuratively? Just me?
Anyway, let's walk a little closer to the tree. Or, actually, just you. I'm only there with you as an apparition, narrating this because you're hallucinating from thirst.
The first thing you notice is that the tree is really tall. There are lots of coconuts at the top, but hey! Look! Around the trunk, there are 12 of them just lying there, like idiots. Oh stupid coconuts, what joy you bring! Scoop them up quick before you start to think that we're actually talking about coconuts instead of questions on an LSAT section.
That took no time at all! What will we do next? Let's have you shake the tree to see if any will fall down, eh? I mean why wouldn't you. So, you shake and shake and lo and behold, 7 more delectable coconuts drop down from the tree. Great, we're at 19 coconuts! And we still have 10 minutes left. Now what?
There are 6 coconuts left in the tree and you still have 10 minutes to get as many as you can. There is only one thing left to do: climb. This is time consuming and the results are uncertain because you probably suck at climbing trees. And coconut trees... are an absolute nightmare. Instead of branches for you hold onto, they have perfectly smooth bark. But, lucky for you, some of the coconuts hang lower than the others! So, you climb a couple of feet, and grab the lowest hanging ones first. Then, you climb a bit higher to get the harder to reach ones near the top. The 10 minutes evaporate like drops of coconut water on hot sand and you manage to score 4 more coconuts for a total of 23/25. Not bad.
These are macadamia nuts, which are delicious nuts. A coconut is also delicious, but is not a nut.
Now, to bring the analogy home, imagine each of those 25 coconuts had a number on them, 1-25, like the LSAT questions are numbered 1-25. The ground-lying-coconuts, those 12 easy to get coconuts, are numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 12, 13, 14, 21, 22 and 25. Those 7 medium difficulty, shake-me-loose-coconuts, are numbered 5, 7, 10, 11, 17, 19 and 24. Those 6 difficult-to-get-way-up-on-the-top-of-the-stupid-tree coconuts are numbered 9, 15, 16, 18, 20, 23. The way you approach your LSAT sections ought to mirror the way you approach your coconut collecting. Get the easiest ones first! Save the harder ones for later. This way, you ensure that each incremental minute of time you spend on answering a question is spent on the lowest hanging question, the easiest coconut. This must become a habit.
On V-Day, you'll certainly be hit in the face with a couple of ridiculously hard coco... I mean questions. The worst thing for you to do is to be stubborn. You just knocked out questions #7 and #8, easy. Now you see coconut #9 hanging on top of the tree and you spend 30 seconds reading it to realize that you have no clue how to get it down easily, except to climb. Don't climb. Move on. To spend the next 3 minutes climbing up to the top of that tree to collect coconut #9 while coconut #13 is just lying there on the sand is foolish. It's not worth it. It'll cost you too much, even if you get #9 right.
In addition to overpaying for that question in terms of time, you will also be overpaying in terms of psychological strength. You may freak out once you realize what a bad decision you just made. "Arg! That was 3.5 minutes on 1 question and I still have 16 questions left." I'm also assuming the best case scenario where you actually get #9 right - a big assumption, since you tend to miss hard questions. But even if you get it right, you still lose. You shouldn't have gone for it until after you finished up gathering the easy to get coconuts first. Every question is worth 1 point anyway! Why would you risk not having time to do an easy question in order to attempt a difficult question?
When you're taking your timed practice LSATs, learn to intentionally skip questions that you suspect may be "out of your league." Cut your losses and move on. Don't try to fix one mistake with an even larger mistake.
Nicole here. I wanted to offer some quick words of encouragement for those of you who might be bummer about your June LSAT scores.
The first time I ever took the LSAT, I underperformed my PT average by about 7 points. I know a lot of folks who have similar stories. We were PT'ing in a certain range—a range that we would have been very happy with—and the score we got back was one we hadn't seen in months.
If you did your due diligence studying, took the average of your last 3-5 PT scores, and were satisfied with scoring +/3 of that score—yet STILL underperformed, I know how that feels. Taking the LSAT in the actual testing environment can have unexpected effects on our physiologies and, in turn, on our minds. It's definitely disappointing, but 100% understandable.
My biggest piece of advice is to be kind to yourself. Feel free to take the rest of this week off from studying. Go ahead and sign up for the next LSAT administration. And then first thing Monday, get back on that grind. You GOT this.
And here's a self-care corgi to soothe you.
Ok. LSAT Logical Reasoning—you got this! You're logical. You're reasonable. You destroy (or repair) arguments all the time on Twitter or Tumblr. You've even done some debate in high school or college. How hard can it be?
And then you take your first PT after completing the Core Curriculum.
First few questions are a little wordier than you'd like, but you feel like you got this. You get to question 4 and ...
... Pff ... You know you got this! Just had to get up to speed, that's all. Things are going fine until ...
... You come to a Necessary Assumption question with a really unattractive answer choice that just nags at you. Why did they even bother putting that one in there? And then there's this other answer choice that sounds like EXACTLY what the argument needs ... But is it the right answer choice? And then ...
... A Most Strongly Supported question with an answer choice that seems to be just soft enough, just specific enough, just irrefutable enough to fit the bill for the right answer choice. It's got all the hallmarks of a right answer choice for MSS. So ... You ... Slowly ... Circle ... the AC ...
... And run smack dab into a Parallel Flaw question that takes up the entire left hand side of the page. So you find the flaw in the stimulus ... And then you try to remember if you're supposed to map out the logic in the Answer Choices ... Or is that for the other Parallel question type? You thought you HAD this ...
... And even though you're on FIRE with the next 3 questions, finding those main points, honing in on those flaws in the support structure, naming those assumptions, you're still thinking about that question 2 pages back.
You finish the PT and you question your whole existence for a good 10 minutes.
Then you remember ...
... You've got dreams to grab ahold of.
So you pick yourself up and get ready for some Blind Review.
And you think to yourself ...
And maybe it would.
You worked hard in undergrad and now you're getting ready to start applying. But do you know how hard is it to get into law school? Or more importantly, how do you get into a good law school?
The one thing you need to know about how to get into law school
The answer can be summed up in four letters. LSAT. You need to demolish the LSAT. That's the one thing you need to know.
In the topsy-turvy world of law school applications, LSAT is king.
Isn’t GPA / Personal Statement / Recommendations / Whatever More Important for Getting into Law School?
What about GPA? First, your GPA is pretty much set. Even if you still have another year of grades before you send in your applications, the A in GPA will ensure that the impact of your best efforts won't have much of an impact. Secondly, even though most people agree that GPA is the second most important admissions criteria, it is not nearly as important as the LSAT. A rule of thumb many students use is +1 LSAT point = +0.1 GPA. It's reasonably common for students to improve 10 points on the LSAT with 4 months of studying. Good luck bringing your GPA from 3.3 to 4.3 with 4 months of studying :D.
What about Personal Statements, Recommendations, Extracurriculars, Job Experience and Interviews? They make a difference, but not that much. If you have a lame-duck recommendation or a douchey personal statement, it can tank you. If you were the President of your home country it'll really help.
Most of the time these aren't going to make a big difference. At least not compared to the LSAT. Most of the time, you should put effort into making these shine only after you've taken the LSAT.
WTF? Why do law schools care so much about the LSAT?
There are some obvious reasons, and at least one non-obvious one.
Among the obvious reasons is that the LSAT isn't subject to grade inflation/deflation and competitiveness of different colleges. For example, are a 4.33 GPA from Greendale Community College and a 4.33 GPA from MIT equally impressive? Probably not, at least not academically :) The LSAT acts as an equalizer.
Another reason is that the LSAT tests abstract logic and reasoning, as well as time pressured reading comprehension skills. Both of these are extremely important in law school when you grind through endless readings and try to pull out the arguments and implications.
Here's one non-obvious reason: US News & World Report Rankings.
They rank 200 or so US law schools using a bunch of metrics. One of these metrics is the LSAT. The better the median LSAT score of a school's students, the better the school's rankings. The better the school's rankings, the higher the prestige. More prestige lets the school attract better law students (prestige is like crack for law students), and get a higher median LSAT. The circle of LSAT continues.
If you want to go to a good law school, now you know how to get in. You study your ass off for the LSAT. Sign up for a free trial to get started on LSAT prep. Or jump right in and prep for LSAT with a full 7Sage Course (there is a 14 day money-back guarantee in case you change your mind).