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March 10, 2009

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For many students, few things are more dreaded than standardized testing, and the LSAT is among the most fearsome tests of all. The Law School Admissions Test is used to evaluate a candidate's verbal and math skills as well as her analytical thinking. The exam can be arduous and exhausting, but it is a necessary element of applying to law school. The LSAT is administered by the Law School Admissions Council four times a year and most schools require that you have taken the LSAT before you apply to law school. The test is roughly three and a half hours long and similar to the SAT -- only harder. The test breaks down into the following sections:

  • Logical reasoning (Two sections, 35 minutes each, 48 to 52 questions total).This section tests your ability to dissect an argument. The questions each consist of an argumentative passage of three or four sentences. There is usually a flaw with the argument, and your job is to find out what it is. Occasionally the argument is valid, and your job is to determine the conclusion. This section is pretty dense, so be prepared to do some thorough reading.
  • Analytical reasoning/games (One section, 35 minutes, approximately 24 questions).This is traditionally one of the hardest sections of the LSAT. The best description of these "games" is that they involve logical reasoning of a system of relationships. You'll usually have to draw a diagram to figure out the relationships based on the rules given to you. There are four games and there are five to eight questions for each game.
  • Reading comprehension (One section, 35 minutes, approximately 24 questions)As a litigator, you're going to read through hundreds of cases, statutes and memoranda. Reading comprehension is extremely important. This section includes four passages, each roughly 400 to 500 words long and followed by five to eight questions. Your must read each section and be able to answer each set of questions correctly.
  • Mystery section (One of the above sections, possibly a little different in format)
  • Writing sample (30 minutes)

The writing sample will be on a topic chosen by the test committee. The essay is forwarded to all the schools to which you are applying, but, according to an admissions official at an accredited law school, their office relies more on the applicant's personal statement than the LSAT essay to evaluate a candidate's writing abilities. The essay is not factored into the total LSAT score. Rather than count on your work being ignored, however, you should be prepared to formulate an argument and present it clearly under pressure.

The LSAT is graded on a matrix that converts the raw score (0-100) to a 120-180 scale. There is no passing score, but it becomes increasingly harder to move up in the matrix. You don't need to get all the questions right in order to get a perfect score, but your score can drop based on the answer to a single question.

There are many courses designed help you to "beat" the LSAT, including Kaplan, the Princeton Review and the LSAT Center Course. These courses teach specific strategies for tackling each section. The LSAT doesn't change that much from year to year, so if you study older tests and practice a lot, you'll improve your chances of doing well on the real thing.

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