How I Studied for the LSAT (I got 94th Percentile)
This is a very long article (at least for medium) and different than what I have previously published here, but I tried my best to put in clear headings to make it easier to navigate.
I will first begin with my experience generally, and then move through each study method I used, explaining the pros and cons of each. Hopefully this will help you in some way when deciding how to go about studying for the LSAT because if I knew what I know now, I’m fairly confident I could have improved my score even more than I did.
My Experience with the LSAT
I began studying for the LSAT on Jan 1st of this year (one of the few resolutions I actually followed through on). I initially was scheduled to take the April test in person, but that was pushed back a month and replaced with the online LSAT-Flex (I’ll explain more a bit later because it is slightly different). I took the test first in May, and then again a month later in June because I was not satisfied with my first score. I considered taking it a third time, but decided against it out of an abundance of caution that my third score might be lower than my second, essentially making that highest one look like the outlier rather than a realistic measurement of my abilities.
Obviously, you want to aim theoretically to get a perfect score, but for my own more realistic study purposes I was aiming to get 170 (a score that would pretty comfortably allow you your choice of law schools). The highest score I was able to get on practice exams was around 171–172, in the days leading up to my second real attempt at the exam. On my first official attempt, I scored 163 (87th percentile) and on my second a month later I scored 167 (94th percentile). So in the end I fell slightly short of my goal, but considering it was all self-directed study, and that I was working for much of the study period (in an essential job during a pandemic), I would say that this is more than a respectable result (I should also note that in both cases, after finishing the test I was convinced I had completely failed — so I will follow what others have said and say don’t cancel your score if you feel like you underperformed because you never know).
Now, then, onto the test. First a few general questions — you might be familiar with the info here but I’m just trying to help demystify this stupid exam, so bear with me.
How much time do I need to study?
This will largely depend upon where your score is and where you want it to be. If you take a practice test and you’re satisfied, well then congrats. I read in a book that ideally you want to have six months to study, and I initially scoffed at this timeframe thinking it was way too long. I instead opted for a four-month study timeframe, but when those four months were up I was still not where I wanted to be and had to keep working at it. In the end, it took me six months to get a score I was satisfied with, and even then, it was 3 pts below what I was initially shooting for.
So again, it depends. Your mileage may vary. On my first practice exam baseline back in January, I got 154. I was able to improve to an official high score of 167. Take from that what you will.
LSAT flex is the online version of the test. It was developed as a result of the ongoing pandemic which made in person admission of the test impossible. As far as I know LSAC haven’t said whether or not this will become a regular thing moving forward, but if you are scheduled to take the LSAT flex, there are a few things to know that most of the existing books and articles aren’t updated to provide, because they were written before this version of the test existed.
The politics behind the LSAT flex is basically that if the LSAC were unable to provide in person testing because of the pandemic, and didn’t offer an online version of the test, it’s very likely that law schools across the board would have just either told people to take the GRE instead, or alternatively simply waive the testing requirement all together (many other graduate programs have done this as a result of the pandemic). This would have been bad news for the LSAC since pedagogy generally has already been moving away from exams as measurements of success, and LSAC wants to remain in business raking in all the fees associated with this dumb test. In other words, it was adapt or die for them.
The biggest change between the written and online version of the test is that the LSAT flex drops one of the two logical reasoning sections. This means that in total there are only three sections. One logical reasoning, one reading comprehension, and one logic games section.
While LSAC is fairly tight-lipped about how their weighted scoring works, what I do know is that they do not double count the remaining logical reasoning section to make up for the missing section.
The reason why this is important to know (at least for me it was) is that the way I approached studying and understanding the score I was going for was in terms of number of incorrect questions in my raw score (that’s out of 100, or 75 on LSAT flex) and how that would convert to the official score out of 180. This means that on the LSAT flex each individual question is worth a bit more, and there is less room for error on the sections you are offered. Instead of minus 10, I had to shoot for minus 7, basically.
So, if you were planning on running up the score on logical reasoning because that is your strongest section to give you a bit of breathing room for one or both of the other two sections, just be aware that the numbers have changed slightly.
In the end, I think I preferred the online version of the test. It was shorter, I was able to take it in my own house on my own computer without any other people around, and there was also no confusing unscored practice section like what is traditionally found on the LSAT.
Can I seriously improve my score by studying?
YES! This is one of the most frustrating misconceptions that is floating around out there. Obviously every tutor and bookmaker is going to tell you their book or course will massively improve your score regardless of how true that is — they’re trying to make a buck — sure, we all get that, and most of us are smart enough not to fall for it. But I have heard from multiple sources, both students and admissions people, that most people’s LSAT score is pretty much set and there’s not much they can do about it.
This was not my experience at all. I was able to improve my score by 13pts over the course of my 6 month study period (13pts remember in this context means I improved from around 68/100 to 86–88/100 raw score). It was not easy. I’m not even sure yet whether it will have been worth it, but the idea that you are just stuck where you are is nonsense. The LSAT is a test that is extremely predictable in many ways and designed to be so.
My study methods
Ok, so first of all, if you haven’t yet started studying, that’s not a problem. The first thing you want to do is take a practice test, under timed conditions. Give it an honest shot, imagine it’s the real thing. This will provide you with a baseline that will be helpful once you begin studying so you know whether or not you have improved. My baseline was 154 (raw score: 68/100).
Mike Kim’s The LSAT Trainer
This book is an absolute tome. 500 pages detailing every aspect of the test, each section, each question type, strategies for all of them. The book pairs well with the bulk LSAT preptest books and will guide you through which questions to study when as you read it.
This book is where my studying began back in January. It was a perfectly logical place for me to begin as someone who was extremely unfamiliar with the test and all of its eccentricities, but I cannot say that reading this book helped me nearly as much as all of the hours I spent much later on simply practicing questions and reading explanations for ones I got wrong. I won’t say that reading this book was unhelpful, but in this case, theory does not replace actual practice. Looking back, I probably spent a little too much time with the book, taking notes, underlining, etc. which could have been better spent actually practicing questions.
The only real criticism I have of The LSAT Trainer and the accompanying materials on the website are the following:
First, I disagree with the way Kim teaches the reading comprehension section. Maybe I misread, but what I came away from this book thinking is that the most important skill for the reading comprehension section is understanding the argument structure — essentially how each paragraph/ section relates to the overall argument. This is not unimportant, but it is far from the most important thing to be thinking about when taking this section for the simple reason that relatively few questions explicitly ask about argument structure.
The second criticism I have is that the study outlines which Kim provides on his website are not very good. They are very detailed at first, but at a certain point they basically just say “review” without providing much direction at all about how to do this.
LSAT SuperPrep II
Chances are if you google around for books about the LSAT you will come across this book. It’s the official study guide published by LSAC. It’s also not very good.
The first section of the book contains a few brief explanations of the sections with some helpful tips. The second section, which makes up the bulk of the pages, is taken up by three practice tests accompanied by extremely detailed explanations of every question and answer choice, why the right one is right and why all the wrong ones are wrong.
It’s not that any of this is bad, per se, but that there isn’t enough of anything in this book to actually take you from a bad place in terms of the test and put you in a good one. Especially given the fact that you can get dozens of free explanations online.
During my actual study, I read through the initial section, worked on the one test which is unique to this book and then put it down and never touched it again.
LSAT Preptest Books
You are also most likely already familiar with these. There are a whole bunch of them, they are published by the LSAC and bundle together 10 complete tests. They are pretty much required for anyone studying for the LSAT (although there is one alternative I will discuss a bit later). There’s not much to say about them really, they’re just the tests. They do also include the prompts for the LSAT writing sections which are good to have, although I wouldn’t spend much time studying for that section since you take it separately now and it is still unscored and from what I can gather not nearly important a piece of writing as your actual applications essays.
The only thing I will mention is that it might be helpful, in addition to buying volumes 5 and 6 of these preptest books (the purple and red ones), to also buy a few of the most recent tests which are only sold individually. This is just because although the test has not changed too much, it’s still smart to have the most recent release because it will be closest to the actual test you will take (especially in reference to the logic games section, which I will get to later).
After a couple months of studying via these books, first following the LSAT Trainer schedule, and then with a schedule I designed myself, I found that I was still only getting around 68/100. My score had not changed despite all the work I had put into studying. It was incredibly dismaying and I felt very frustrated at this point.
It wasn’t until I went online in the final few months of studying leading up to my actual test that I began to see some significant progress. Here are the websites I used.
This is a website that I just happened to find when trying to google the answer to some practice exam question which I simply couldn’t understand. It’s run by this guy named Graeme and it was extremely helpful. He has question by question explanations for dozens of the most common prep tests on his website, and they are all free. This is very similar to what the Super Prep book offers, but there are a lot more of them and it’s free so….
This wasn’t the tool which ultimately allowed me to crack the code, so to speak, but it is exceptionally helpful to be able to have a question you simply do not understand explained to you. There are a lot of random forums in which people post about LSAT prep test questions — if you don’t understand an answer, just google it I’m sure you aren’t alone in your confusion because the LSAT is often a baffling test — but this website is nice because its all organized and easily searchable.
The website also offers some paid courses. I contemplated paying for these, especially as I approached my second test date, but ultimately decided against it, so I can’t speak to their quality.
Khan Academy LSAT Prep
Khan academy was something which I had always heard about but never personally used. I’m not sure how helpful it is for anything else, but for the LSAT I found it to be a REVELATION. Seriously, I cannot overstate how important this was in getting me to my final high score. This was especially surprising considering the Khan academy prep was made in conjunction with LSAC, whose Superprep book I found to be lacking.
The Khan academy LSAT prep is free. It lets you set a goal score and helps you set up a practice schedule. It also organizes all of its practice questions into categories which is helpful in identifying patterns and allowing you to only study what you really need to, using your time most efficiently. It also offers full practice tests built into the website which help keep track of your progress and will automatically adjust your practice schedule based on how far or close you are to your goal.
Khan Academy also has a number of written and video tutorials which take you through every question type in a lot of detail.
The reason why Khan academy was such a revelation for me was because it was here that I finally made a breakthrough in the logic games section. The logic games which Khan academy offers all come with extensive explanations, which were more helpful that the explanations I found anywhere else. They also explicitly state every possible inference you could have made and it was this feature that helped not just drive home how important making inferences were but also helped me to develop my skills in doing so. They also have a written lesson that provides a fairly straightforward way to go about searching for inferences for people like me who often found themselves confused about how to do this in the first place.
There is one major downside, though, which is that the selection of questions is somewhat small on Khan academy. It doesn’t have the full library of LSAT preptests built-in, and after using the website for maybe a month or so fairly often, I had basically run through all of them and began to see a lot of repeated questions. A lot of the questions are also taken directly from the LSAT prep books which means that I also had seen some of them before in my previous studying. This is a major problem, since it means that you wouldn’t really be able to follow an extremely aggressive studying routine for an extended period of time (like, say, the 6 months I took) on Khan academy alone. There simply isn’t enough content to sustain it and the website doesn’t offer any sort of paid option to unlock more content.
LSAC LAW HUB
This is a website that you will become familiar with if you are taking the LSAT flex because it will be the website you actually use to take the official test. The site offers a few free practice tests to help you get familiar with the slightly awkward interface they use to administer the test. They also offer the option to unlock dozens of practice tests for one fee of $99. I resisted paying the fee for a while but ultimately decided to do it and I do not regret it. Being able to get used to the interface, its quirks, the typefaces they use, everything, was extremely helpful.
It seems trivial, but it makes sense. You want your studying to be as close to the actual thing as possible and so if you are going to be taking it on a computer not a test booklet then it makes sense to practice on the computer. This is also especially true for the logic games section, because since you have to work out the answers on paper, you have to train yourself to move back and forth between the computer and the paper without losing your place.
It was the Khan academy lessons and explanations combined with the law hub’s extensive library of tests which together allowed me to get to the final scores, which again were 171/172 practice and 167 on the real thing.
So that’s it. Every method I used in order. Hopefully this will give you some idea of where to begin studying for the test based on your own situation. If you’re interested in some more general advice keep reading.
More General Advice
This section can appear daunting at first because of the variety of questions and situations you have to read through, but I found that after a while (many months of studying), I had sort of found a rhythm where even if I wasn’t fully paying attention to what I was reading, I was able based on the way the question and answer choices were worded sometimes identify the correct one anyway.
Do enough of these questions and you will be able to anticipate many answers.
The biggest thing to learn is how certain words are used. “Some” means “at least one” — that sort of thing. There are many online guides that will help you in understanding all of this.
For me personally, for the longest time, I was sort of stuck in the 19–21/ 25 range, but was able to shave off a few extra points and get to a place where I was consistently getting 23–24/ 25.
This was the most difficult section for me throughout my studying. It was a completely new sort of brain teaser that I wasn’t familiar with from any other exam or previous education, and math has always been a weak subject for me. When I first began studying I got 10/23, but through my persistence was able to improve to a personal best (in practice) of 21/23. Interestingly my improvement sort of came all at once right toward the end. For me, the most important skill here is diagramming and making inferences upfront. It wasn’t until I really focused on making inferences that I began to see any consistent improvement.
Another thing to know about this section is that from what I have read and my own experiences, the LSAC appears to be purposefully making this section harder over time (most likely because they think people are getting too good at solving the easier games). In particular, when I say making it harder, I mean using more variables all at once. So you won’t know for sure how many groups exist, whether all the elements are used or not, nor which elements belong to one or another subgroup.
This was a challenge for me, because since this change in difficulty is so recent, there are relatively few examples of these more difficult questions/ sections to practice from. I studied some of the most recent tests and still felt thrown off by some of what I saw on my actual exam. So tread lightly and study well (if I had to guess, I would say that I probably could have gotten 169 instead of 167 if the logic game section on my second test had been more traditional).
This was my strongest section from the start and remained so throughout my studying. Like I mentioned earlier, I think the most important skill here isn’t simply understanding the argument structure, but more importantly being able to sift through the information you are provided with to find important details. The author’s perspective is also important (as well as any other voices present in the passage) to be sure to pay extra attention for that.
I started out around 21–23/27, and was able to improve so much that reading comp was the only section where I actually got a few perfect 27/27 on practice exams.
ONE FINAL TIP ABOUT STUDYING
Apart from these section specific study tips, the biggest change that I made as a continued to study was to take full sections under timed conditions, even if I wasn’t taking a whole test at once. This is important because it allowed me to feel out the flow of a section. If all you ever do is study one logic game at a time or one logical reasoning question at a time, you won’t get a rhythm. This is especially helpful for timing, because I had a serious issue with rushing and taking whole sections at once, while deliberately telling myself to slow things down and take my time helped solve some of those issues.
Ok, so that’s it. That’s all I got.
This was a lot of words, but I felt that since I spent so much time and effort on this silly test that I may as well try to impart whatever I could from my experience. Maybe it will help you in some small way.
Good luck studying. And if you have any questions, leave a comment and I will do my best to answer them or point you in the right direction.