The BriefA Blog about the LSAT, Law School and Beyond
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).
1. False Hope
You check your LSAC account the day after your official LSAT administration because, well, there's a chance your LSAT score will be up, right? Go ahead and check.
No way; it's not going to take the full three weeks to get you scores. That can't really happen—right? They won't wait until the last day to release them, would they? No, they couldn't do that.
You realize that all everyone who took the LSAT has taken to social media—and they're all talking about when the scores will come out. You can't take it anymore, so you go on a 3-week social media fast.
Ok; it really IS going to take the full three weeks (usually this stage occurs a few days after the earliest predictions of score release). Seriously? In 2016, we can't throw a bunch of scantron sheets into the machine and get the scores into the computer any fast than this?
Maybe if you call LSAC, they'll give you your score over the phone, right? Maybe no one has thought of that one yet ... Right? Or maybe ... Maybe if you hit refresh again on the LSAC website, it'll be Gray Day ... Right?
Around 2pm, you realize ... You would have heard by now if scores were going out. And the let down sets in. Today is not Gray.
Ok. Today's not Gray Day. And it might not be tomorrow, either. But you know what? You'll have your scores soon. And everything's gonna be all right.
If you're taking practice LSAT PrepTests, then you need to simulate the test environment. It is crucial so that you are ready for the real thing.
It’s really important to experience testing with a simulated proctor so you’re not thrown off on the test day by a person announcing a five minute warning or by the lack of time between the first three sections. In a test that’s as psychological as the LSAT, practicing dealing with those things is critical. - Robyn B.
If you're using our video proctor with real LSAT instructions, that's a great start! But setting up an LSAC approved timer, and finding a place with just the right amount of ambient noise can be a bit of a pain...
So we made an LSAT Proctor App for iPhone/iPad/iPod just for you ;) We designed it to be easy to use, while including all the features we knew were important from teaching thousands of LSAT students. Simulate the LSAT test environment perfectly, anytime, anywhere.
This includes procedurally generated distraction noises, turbo mode, realistic virtual timer, five minute warnings, real instructions, and more. If you like it, give us a great rating! It'll encourage us to keep making great LSAT tools available for free :D