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?

Planning ahead for the LSAT is important so that you can have adequate time to prepare. It also allows you to avoid taking the test at an inopportune time.

The LSAT is offered 4 times per year—February, June, September or October, and December. Test dates and deadlines are available for viewing.

Most students elect to take the LSAT in June 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 or October and still apply to law school during the fall of their senior year. Make sure to register early for the June exam. Many test sites fill up quickly, forcing some test-takers to travel to other test sites.

The December exam tends to be unpopular with students because it's so close to finals, and the February exam is quite late in the application cycle. Taking the February 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.

In some cases, students study abroad during the summer between their junior and senior years. If you're one of these individuals, you have a few options:

  • Take the LSAT while abroad. The LSAT is offered worldwide at many testing locations outside of the United States. Students considering taking the LSAT while abroad should carefully evaluate whether they'll have the time and energy to focus on preparing and taking the LSAT during their study abroad program.
  • Take the LSAT early. You can also arrange to take the LSAT during September or October or during February of your junior year. This will require advance planning and preparation, but it allows you to enjoy your trip abroad without focusing on LSAT preparation.
  • Take the LSAT in September or October of your senior year. Consider the timing of your summer study abroad trip and whether it will allow you the opportunity to prepare for the exam upon your return. Note that taking the test for the first time in September or October will reduce your opportunities to retake the exam (should you choose to) and still apply during that application cycle.

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. They offer these books on their website for approximately $20. Take a few of these exams 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.

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.

Note: Some of the information above is attributed to the Northeast Association of Pre-Law Advisors Pre-Law Guide and used with permission. For more information, consult the University of Illinois Pre-Law Handbook.