After 11 years of LSAT training experience, I can tell you that the commercial LSAT preparation companies don't exactly tell the entire truth about the LSAT. They tend to perpetuate certain myths simply because doing so is good for business. Not that I blame them - none of them lie and most of them are relatively competent, but they do tend to leave some stuff out. So here are a few things you should know about the LSAT before making any serious decisions.
LSAT myth: Everyone will benefit from taking a LSAT test-preparation course or hiring an LSAT tutor/trainer.
LSAT fact: Excluding those students who do not complete the assigned homework, approximately 20% of LSAT test-takers will derive no benefit from any form of LSAT preparation. Roughly 5% can already ace the LSAT with a minimum of study (168+). Roughly 15% score in a range similar to random guessing (137-).
My advice: if you have not done so already, try to familiarize yourself with the basics of the LSAT (including viewing my DVD preview of LSAT Games) and take the fully timed test found on lsac.org (the June 2007 LSAT).
If you score 168 or higher, then just study on your own. You might want to get a couple of tutoring sessions on the games, but nothing else - you'll just confuse whatever is working for you. Use the last 20 LSATs to study and take fully timed tests. You'll do fine - mid 170's.
If you score 137 or lower, then we have a problem. While not impossible to overcome, it is unlikely that the score can be raised above a 152 (the bare minimum necessary for a top-100 school). I strongly suggest self-study until you can raise that score on your own to a 144.
LSAT myth: I just need to take a commercial LSAT preparation course, study hard, and I can ace the LSAT.
LSAT fact: LSAT-prep courses all suffer from the same fatal flaw: no pre-requisite is required to take the class. Therefore, all LSAT courses have poor pacing for the majority of students. Many students find the LSAT courses too slow (because so many other students struggle with the LSAT) and many find LSAT courses too fast (because so many other students immediately understand the LSAT). In addition, most LSAT prep courses allow students to re-take the class (often for free). As a result, many LSAT students will have already taken the course, further messing up the pacing of the course.
LSAT myth: I need to find a LSAT tutor/trainer with a commercial LSAT preparation company who scored at least 178 on the LSAT.
LSAT fact: Very often, someone who aces the LSAT does not understand how to teach LSAT strategies (in their minds, the LSAT is an “easy” test). Instead, you need to find a tutor who has at least 1 year of teaching LSAT classes, regardless of their LSAT score. Only after a year can an LSAT tutor/trainer truly understand how various students think about the LSAT. For myself, after 11 years of LSAT training, I have learned to anticipate the vast majority of questions that students might have about the LSAT. In addition, competent LSAT tutors/trainers can be found on Craigslist under “Lessons”. In fact, Craigslist LSAT trainers will often have more experience and be less expensive than a commercial LSAT preparation course. If the LSAT tutor/trainer doesn’t already offer it, request that you only pay for the first session if you decide to hire him or her for future sessions (that way, you can meet him/her at no risk). Finally, recall that the LSAT releases most previous tests which can be purchased in various forms, so commercial LSAT prep courses do NOT provide any unique material.
LSAT myth: I just really need to focus on the Games (Analytical Reasoning) section of the LSAT – I can learn the other sections (Logical Reasoning and Reading Comprehension) of the LSAT on my own.
LSAT fact: Logical Reasoning is not only half of the scored LSAT, but it is also the most difficult section to improve one’s LSAT score. The Games are just bizarre, but quite learnable. Logical Reasoning requires a totally different approach, which can be tough to learn. In fact, many LSAT students see an initial decline in LR scores before they see significant improvement, if any. Of course, my methods for Logical Reasoning are unique: easier to learn and more effective than other LSAT prep courses (really - it only took me about 9 years to perfect my methods, that's all).
LSAT myth: I should focus on my weaknesses.
LSAT fact: You should focus as much on your strengths as you do your weaknesses. For example, say you feel good about "sequencing" games. Well, work to speed up on those sequencing games so that you have more time to deal with the more difficult games.
LSAT myth: I plan to get a high LSAT score (170s) to makeup for my low GPA.
LSAT fact: Not gonna happen. The reason behind any GPA will continue on during LSAT studies. You’re not very focused when it comes to studying? The LSAT won’t change that. You’re a slow reader? The LSAT won’t change that. You work full-time? The LSAT won’t change that. Put it this way: I would like to play middle linebacker for the Oakland Raiders (hey – when I was a kid, the Raiders were the baddest dudes on the planet), but at 5’8” 160lbs sopping wet, it’s not gonna happen.
The good news is that students with strong academic backgrounds will do quite well on the LSAT with a minimum of personal training.
The LSAT is not only one of the most difficult tests you will ever take, but it’s also based on a real curve, where a significant percentage of LSAT test-takers (up to 50%) essentially fail the test (50% of LSAT test-takers will fail to qualify for top-100 law schools).
Stay tuned for more of my thoughts about the LSAT (and the GMAT).