Most students have heard of the LSAT, which stands for Law School Admission Test. The LSAT is a half-day standardized test that most law schools use as part of their admissions criteria.
What does the LSAT measure?
Unlike the SAT, ACT, or other standardized tests you may have taken, the LSAT does not test your knowledge in a particular academic area such as English or math. The LSAT, as described by the Law School Admission Council (LSAC), measures these skills:
- Reading and comprehension of complex texts with accuracy and insight
- Organization and management of information and the ability to draw reasonable inferences from it
- The ability to think critically
- Analysis and evaluation of the reasoning and arguments of others
When should I take the LSAT?
Deciding when to take the LSAT is a highly individual decision. The best answer to that question is: Whenever you can be as prepared as possible. Planning ahead for the LSAT is important so that you can have adequate time to prepare, as generally 4-6 months of consistent preparation is advised. It also allows you to avoid taking the test at an inopportune time. Remember that every LSAT score gets reported to each law school to which an applicant applies, so it is critical to be prepared each time the LSAT is taken.
The LSAT is now offered 6 times per year—January, March, June, July, September, and November. Test dates and deadlines are available for viewing. Note that the LSAT is also offered around the world, although those test dates can differ from the U.S. tests. Find the list of international LSAT options here.
Most students elect to take the LSAT in the summer (June or July) between their junior and senior years because they're not in class at that point. In addition, this allows them the opportunity to retake the exam if necessary in September and still apply to law school during the fall of their senior year. Make sure to register early for the June or July exam. Many test sites fill up quickly, forcing some test-takers to travel to other test sites.
Many Illinois students choose to study abroad or participate in Illinois in Washington during the spring semester of their junior year, which is normally when LSAT prep is happening. Students who plan to study abroad or participate in Illinois in Washington should talk with a Pre-Law Advisor about all of their LSAT options, depending on your individual circumstances.
For alumni, LSAT options can be more complicated, depending on your work schedule and/or personal commitments. In general, alumni tell us that it is very challenging to balance a full-time job and LSAT prep, so for that reason we suggest taking the LSAT prior to graduation if you plan to apply to law school within 3 years of graduating.
The November exam could be more challenging to students because it occurs so late in the fall semester, and the January exam is quite late in the application cycle. Taking the Janary exam during the year you plan to begin law school might cause you to miss application deadlines for some schools and is generally not advised unless absolutely necessary.
Talking with a Pre-Law Advisor can be a very effective way to consider all of the pros and cons of each LSAT option available to individual students and alumni.
How should I prepare for the LSAT?
A good way to begin is by purchasing a book of previously administered LSAT exams from the LSAC. These books are published by the LSAC and offered for sale at Amazon or other booksellers. (Used copies can also be found on Amazon or Ebay.) Take a few of these exams--timing yourself--and assess your progress. The LSAC also provides some advice on preparing for the LSAT.
If you feel you would benefit from a more structured program of study, you may also want to consider taking a commercial test preparation course. Commercial courses can be expensive and the quality of instruction can be uneven, so it's important to learn who will be teaching the course and what materials will be used. Talk with others who have taken the LSAT course you're considering in order to learn from their experience, especially regarding its effectiveness. Such courses can be helpful in motivating you to study and in building your confidence. Much also depends on your personal study style and how much structure you require. Pre-Law Advising Services hosts an LSAT Prep Fair to help you explore your options each February. We also posted LSAT Resources on our Compass page in the folder titled "LSAT Prep Resources."
If you're registered for a test but feel you are not fully prepared or in a frame of mind to perform well, it may be better not to take the test; law schools will not view your absence on the test date negatively. Plan to be well-prepared and to take the test only once, but if you do not believe your score is representative of your abilities—for example, you were scoring considerably higher on practice tests—you may want to consider retaking the test.
We have compiled our University of Illinois LSAT retaker data to examine the question of how our students and alumni perform on multiple LSATs and whether retaking is a worthwhile use of time and effort. Take a look at this data over on our Compass page.