We all remember the cliché studying advice that was drilled into us during grade school: don’t cram, read every word carefully, skip questions that are too difficult. Often, advice given for the LSAT is a rehash of this sort of tired, obvious advice we’ve heard our entire lives. In fact, I pulled those three examples of cliché advice from a blog post of a major LSAT test prep company. I won’t name names.
The prevalence of bland LSAT prep advice has always frustrated me. As anyone who’s spent time studying for the LSAT knows, it’s a completely different animal from any other standardized test. Studying for the LSAT isn’t like the SAT where memorizing a list of topics will yield a top score; it’s more like learning to play chess. You’ll need to memorize some rules, yes, but the real challenge of the LSAT is knowing when and how to apply the rules you’ve memorized.
If your approach to studying ignores the dissimilarities and treats the LSAT like any other standardized test, you’ve doomed yourself to a mediocre score.
Over the years I’ve spent studying for the LSAT, I’ve benefited significantly from lesser-known pointers I’ve read on forums and heard on podcasts. In this post, I’ve put together some of the most impactful tidbits of LSAT prep advice that I’ve found in the hopes that it’ll help you on your own LSAT journey. Here are five pieces of LSAT prep advice that I wish I had heard before I started studying.
1. Take advantage of the free stuff
Studying for the LSAT is expensive. Online prep programs can cost thousands of dollars and in-person classes can cost even more. If you’re still in the beginning stage of your studying and you’re unsure if you’ll actually go to law school, there’s a significant amount of free material to help you gauge whether taking the LSAT is for you.
Khan Academy is the only company that offers a completely free LSAT prep program. LSAC, the creators of the LSAT, collaborated with Khan Academy in 2018 to provide the LSAT community with a high-quality, accessible test prep program. Like everything Khan Academy puts out, the quality is top notch, and the material is comprehensive. For many, the amount of material on Khan Academy is enough to help them reach their target score. They never spend a dollar on test prep.
LSAC’s own website has some free study material available as well. While less comprehensive than Khan Academy, two free practice tests are available that you can take using the same software used to administer real LSATs. In their “Official LSAT Plus Prep Program,” LSAC also offers access to all publicly available LSATs for $99 a year. While not free, it’s the least expensive way of purchasing LSAT prep tests. You’re also required to have this subscription before purchasing an online third-party test prep program.
Beyond test prep material, there’s a wealth of community created resources. Forums such as Reddit’s r/LSAT and Top Law Schools’s Law School Admissions are invaluable for staying on top of LSAT news and finding answers to your burning questions without paying admission consultants thousands of dollars. Like any forum, you’ll need to sort through the bad information but, in my experience, the amount of good information far outweighs the bad.
Podcasts are another often neglected community resource. While spending your free time listening to LSAT podcasts isn’t glamorous, it’s an effective way of learning new study tips and keeping up with the surprisingly fast moving LSAT world. Two of my personal favorites are 7Sage’s and Powerscore’s podcasts. Both put out a variety of content, ranging from personal statement advice to technical tips for specific question types.
2. Study from different angles
The LSAT places unique emphasis on understanding the underlying concepts behind questions as opposed to passive memorization of rules. This seemingly philosophical distinction has major implications on how you should study. You can’t limit your studying to memorizing the topics the test makers want you to focus on. You need a deep, conceptual understanding. Knowing how to take the contrapositive of a conditional is nice, but if you can’t tell when to use this skill, you’re in deep trouble.
The style of teaching that reveals to you the correct time to apply what you’ve learned varies from person to person. You need to find the test prep material that resonates with your style of learning. All test prep companies will teach you the content you need to succeed on the LSAT; not all will present the material in a way that makes you understand when to apply it.
I recommend trying several prep programs that take multiple teaching approaches. Most test prep sites will offer some sort of trial account for you to gauge your compatibility. I found a connection with 7Sage’s grass roots approach. Others have found a connection with Blueprint’s polished graphics or Princeton Review’s huge catalog of services. There’s no right answer. What’s important is that you shop around and find the material that allows you to conceptually understand the framework behind the LSAT and not rely on intuition to bail you out.
Beyond finding the right prep program, podcasts are another awesome tool for developing a deep, conceptual understanding. It comes down to immersion. When you’re listening to podcasts on top of taking a course and doing practice tests, your brain responds the same way as it would if you found yourself in foreign country where you don’t speak the language. You’ll quickly adapt to the LSAT overload, both due to the information you’re consciously memorizing as well as subconsciously internalizing.
I’ll plug Powerscore’s podcast again. I vividly remember the aha moment I had while delivering pizzas and listening to this episode on parallel method of reasoning questions, a famously tricky type of logical reasoning question. Some combination of the podcast, the smell of pizza, and the driving made everything click for me.
Immerse yourself in the LSAT. You’ll be surprised by what triggers your own aha moment.
3. Study logic and grammar
While not strictly necessary, background experience with logic and grammar is invaluable when taking the LSAT. Both skills allow you to stop relying on intuition for finding answers and give you a set of rules that will help you consistently answer questions correctly.
For those unfamiliar, logic is the study of valid arguments (arguments that work no matter the context you use them in). It can roughly be divided into two categories—formal and informal. Informal logic primarily deals with fallacies. Examples include circular reasoning, strawman, red herrings, and more. Formal logic represents statements symbolically and provides a set of rules to derive conclusions with. It’s best thought of as a type of math.
Like any math class, studying logic can be overwhelming at first but it’s well worth your time. The fallacies you’ll encounter while studying informal logic will appear 10 to 15 times in each LSAT logical reasoning section. The symbolic language you learn from formal logic is also valuable, as it will help you efficiently diagram logic game boards and rules.
Logic games and those 10 to 15 questions per logical reasoning section account for roughly 50 of the 100 questions on each LSAT. That means that studying logic will give you an advantage on half of the questions on the test.
Reviewing the actual rules of grammar instead of relying on your intuitive understanding of English is also essential. While your intuition is enough to carry you through everyday conversations, the LSAT requires a much more analytic understanding of English. The test makers intentionally write questions that seem like gibberish if you don’t know the formal rules for identifying a pronoun’s antecedent or the difference between independent and dependent clauses.
Think of logic, grammar, and actual written English as a continuum: logic, the lowest and most fundamental layer; English, the highest and most idiomatic; and grammar, bridging the gap between the two. The LSAT will repeatedly demand that you switch between these three layers. If you rely on intuition to transition between layers, you’ll often be tripped up by the traps set by the test makers. Knowing the rules of grammar and logic allows you to approach LSAT questions as if they were a math problem, a much more reliable process than blindly relying on intuition.
4. Read, read, and read some more
Telling people to read is admittedly an LSAT study cliché. Hear me out though. It’s only a cliché because many people repeat this advice without explaining why you need to read and how reading will help you ace the LSAT. Let me try to explain the why and how.
The LSAT is primarily a test of your reading comprehension. Three of your four scored sections will test your reading ability. This means that not reading handicaps you for 75% of the LSAT. Sure, you can memorize the question types you’ll encounter and a host of mechanical rules for answering those questions without doing any reading, but this will do you no good if you don’t apply these strategies to reading you do outside of the LSAT. Think back to math class. You’d never memorize formulas and only try to solve an actual problem for the first time on test day. The LSAT is no different.
There’s no single type of reading that’s the best for improving your reading comprehension. All reading will improve your reading comprehension as long as you approach the material analytically and take the time to pause and summarize to yourself what you’ve just read. I’ve found that magazines like the Economist and humanities journals like the Hedgehog Review are well suited to this type of reading.
Reading during your LSAT prep is also valuable because it can expose you to the four content categories test makers draw reading comprehension passages from: science, history, law, and art. These topics are so broad that you can’t expect to have background for every possible passage (nor do you need it; the LSAT famously requires only an understanding of English and a pencil to take).
Still, I’ve found that as I’ve read more, I’ve started to recognize two to three topics per reading comprehension section. This has allowed me to contextualize the passages I get on practice tests which has led to better retention of the content and, in turn, to more questions correct and consistently higher test scores.
5. Don’t just focus on the LSAT
There’s a lot more to law school than the LSAT (or at least that’s what I’ve been told). The LSAT is only the necessary evil that sits between you and your dream law school. You need to spend some time studying and doing the drudge work before you can move one, but that doesn’t mean living the life of a cloistered monk until you get a 180 on your LSAT. Making the LSAT your only interaction with law school will kill any passion you may have.
Read Above the Law posts about the cool stuff real lawyers are doing. Click around Biglaw Investor and see how a couple years of prudent financial decisions as a Biglaw attorney can let you retire before 40. Look at prospective school’s institutes, clubs, and journals to get excited for the things you’ll be able to do once you defeat the LSAT. Take a tour of a campus or walk past the building of a law firm you’d want to work at one day. For me, at least, these types of activities make my end goals feel more real and motivate me enough to spend another weekend taking contrapositives of group three conditionals.
That’s all I have. Hopefully these five pieces of advice are less obvious than the traditional, cliché ones. Let me know if you’ve picked up any other LSAT tips while studying in the comments.
Joseph Parise is a junior at the University of Buffalo. Joseph grew up in New York and is majoring in Philosophy and Economics. He is currently taking a gap year to study for the LSAT exam and to serve in the US Air Force Reserves.