With the administration of the February 2015 LSAT a few weeks ago, and scores from that exam likely released tomorrow (that's my prediction anyway!), we find ourselves entering a new cycle of LSATs geared towards a 2016 admission. For students with a 2016 start in mind, the next several months present a host of interesting, and often difficult, choices: which LSAT to take?, when to begin preparing?, and how to best prepare? all deserve serious consideration.
So consider them I shall.
The following discussion is in two parts, the first of which will offer some advice for those at the outset of their LSAT journey, while the second will lay out the pros (and occasional cons) of each test. I hope together they serve, in some small way, to point you in the right direction as you embark.
Advice first, as it should color all of your decisions moving forward: start early! Seriously, it's never too soon to begin preparing for what is likely the most important test you've ever taken.
Let me outline just a few of the reasons that getting an early jump on your prep is critical:
The LSAT is hard!
I'll leave the details to my colleague Dave Killoran, but suffice it to say the LSAT is one of the toughest—maybe THE toughest—tests you'll ever take. Here's a stat to put it in perspective: of the 100,000 or so people who take it every year, only about 30 get a perfect 180. That's only 0.03% of a fairly elite (college graduates, at least) testing group attaining a score that still allows you to miss 2 or 3 of the 100 questions! So a 97% accuracy translates to a 99.97% rank. Yikes.
Not convinced? Consider another scoring scale stat: a common benchmark for testers is the rightly-envied 170, a score placing you around the 97.4th percentile. In a line 100 people long, you're the second or third person from the front. In a typical college class, your 97.4 grade is a solid A, and very likely an A+. And what type of LSAT-crushing performance does it take to reach such rarefied heights? You need to answer, on average, about 87-88% of the questions correctly. That's right, you can miss more than 1 in 10—a collegiate B/B+—and by LSAT standards you're vying for valedictorian. This is a hard, hard test.
The LSAT is learnable!
Hard as it may be (and hard it is), the LSAT is still a "standardized" test. What that means is that the people who create it have to follow certain rules, strict guidelines, to ensure that every administration is consistent. And consistency, provided you know how to recognize it, means predictability, which, provided you know how to react to it, means vulnerability. In short, if you can see the patterns, and know what to do with the patterns, then you can BEAT the patterns! And believe me the LSAT is really just a test made of repeating patterns. The test makers are masterful in disguising those patterns so that the untrained, or poorly trained in the sad case of too many, eye fails to see them, but they are there. They must be, otherwise the LSAT as a measuring tool is meaningless!
What this means then is that, with the right tools, the right strategies learned from credible experts, you CAN crack this test! And that's a big part of my "start early" advice: the methodology to destroy the LSAT is entirely learnable, but the learning process can, and almost certainly will, take time. How much time depends on more factors than I can count--starting point, natural ability, learning style, desired score, study habits and schedule, and most importantly quality of prep resources--but we wouldn't have Study Plans allowing for up to 12 months of preparation if we expected overnight success. (Note: a full year is very much an outlier situation, and if you read the 12-month Plan you'll see that the workload, while significant, never remotely approaches breakneck)
So get going! Start learning! You can destroy the LSAT if you give yourself the time, and the tools, to do so.
Every point counts!
Maybe that sounds obvious--you are in a fierce competition for 1L seats, after all--but let me take a moment to actually quantify just how much improvement means for you, the competitor. Fortunately I've covered this idea at length previously, so here I'll be brief: when people are scored along a bell curve (as LSAT test takers are), then even small amounts of progress, especially through the middle, fat part of the curve, translate into massive leaps past your fellow applicants. Since I said I'd quantify it, let me do just that:
On a typical LSAT, if you answer about half the questions correctly (so roughly 50 out of 100) you'll receive a score of about a 146. It varies slightly test to test, but those numbers work for our purposes here (and for anyone who took December 2013, as one example). Now I'll presume you're not terribly content with your 146. So you study. And you improve. For the sake of this example I'll keep your improvements modest, perhaps just 2-3 additional questions correct per section. Congratulations! You're now getting 60 total correct, and have a score of 153. A 7 point increase. As I said, "modest."
But what does that really mean? What has that 7-point jump really done for you, the competitor? To answer that, we need to look not at your scores, but at their corresponding percentiles, and see just where each puts you in the applicant pool. Your starting score of 146 is the 29.5th percentile, meaning 7 out of 10 people outscored you. In that line 100 people long I referenced above, you're looking at the backs of 70 heads. But you eeked out another 7 points, remember? How many people can you "cut in line" with a 153? A 153 is the 55.6th percentile, meaning you just leapfrogged 25%, an entire fourth!, of your competition! An extra 2 or 3 questions correct per section may not seem significant, but because scores really only matter relative to how others perform, and because you're in the belly of the bell curve, you just put—and I want you to really let this resonate—25,000 (twenty five THOUSAND) of that year's test takers in your rearview. That's 25,000 people who are no longer out-competing you for a law school seat.
Now. That's a powerful thought, I hope you'll agree. Consider then that the average student in our Full-Length LSAT Courses sees an improvement of not 7 points, but 13 points, and you really get a sense of what a tremendous difference every single improvement can make. And if you don't get that sense, one last figure to drive it home: a 13-point increase (again, that's just the average we see from our students; many improve a great deal more) from that 146 to a 159 takes you from the 29th percentile to the...wait for it...77th percentile! That's a 48% jump, meaning about 48,000 people on the year who were ahead of you no longer are. Every point counts.
The LSAT Matters!
I know what you're probably thinking. This is the point where I get all sappy and philosophical about how important the LSAT is as an equating device that allows schools to make more reasoned/informed decisions re: admits v. denies, or about how the skills tested and hopefully learned are invaluable as you make your way through your impending legal life...nope. We could certainly debate those points (although please let's not), and I'd argue, strongly at times, that they have legitimate merit. But that's not what I mean when I say "The LSAT Matters."
What I mean is that your LSAT score matters financially: what you score may very well determine what you someday soon get paid.
Disclaimer #1: I realize that maybe to you that doesn't matter, and I'll certainly concede that some noble minority pursue a legal career with financial considerations as an afterthought. Kudos. Really, no kidding, the world's a better place with selfless (or at least not wholly money-driven) people in it.
However for a lot of people a law degree is a financial investment, where the cost of obtaining it should be outweighed by the benefits it conveys. And even if you don't view it in such black and white, transactional terms, it's still the rare degree that comes free. Fact is, you're probably about to go into some serious debt, but justify it with the contention that the price you'll pay is worth it. This is a look at how your LSAT score is liable to play into that equation.
Disclaimer #2: I also realize that words like "cost" and "benefit" and even "pay" potentially transcend objective, financial measures, and frequently are quantified subjectively. Subjectively, stress can be a cost, and knowledge can be a benefit. These considerations need to factor into your personal decisions about, well, everything I suppose, law school included, but they're beyond the scope of this strictly-financial discussion.
Alright. Let me get to the crux of it then. Your LSAT score is by far the single biggest component determining where you will go to law school, and where you go to law school typically has a very direct effect on future salary. Trust me on this, we've done the research and the numbers are conclusive.
The gist of the article sited is that LSAT scores are hugely influential when it comes to what lawyers entering the private sector are able to make (not to mention the likelihood of finding employment at all). To relay a telling statistic, let me pull a quote directly: "It should be immediately clear that even a five-point increase in your LSAT score can ultimately produce a huge difference in your starting salary upon graduation. Most notably, the five-point differential between an LSAT score of 155 and 160 results in an average salary increase of $33,924.50 (155: $53,556.50; 160: $87,481.00) for the first year of employment."
You read that right. The average, private sector starting salary difference for graduates from typical 155 schools versus those from 160 schools was over $30,000 a year (at the time of reporting). And let's not forget that that's a cumulative figure, meaning the same discrepancy holds true year two, and year three, and so on. Three years working post-grad sees the 160-schooler earn around $100,000 more than his 155 counterpart! 5 measly points. Big, big bucks. And one more reason why, as I've said repeatedly, every point counts.
So buy a book, enroll in a course, or reach out to us at (800) 545-1750 for more advice...but do it soon! The LSAT is extremely hard, extremely important, and ultimately extremely beatable. It's time to get started.
To be continued....
Photo "November Blues" courtesy of Georgie Pauwels.