With modest preparation, my score jumped almost 10% the second time
For those who sit forlornly staring at those admission grids, showing admitted students’ LSAT scores and GPAs, there is hope. I am living proof that you can improve your LSAT score.
Yes, the test bills itself as one that requires no preparation. It purports to be simply a review of your existing analytical and critical thinking skills. Anyone who believes that probably won’t do well in American corporate/legal culture. There are tricks to the trade, and insider knowledge to be gained. I’d bet my law school debt that no one on the LSAC committee sends their children to take the LSAT without extensive preparation.
However, I did not have insider information when I first took the test. I went to a state university on the West Coast -- University of Oregon, in laid-back Eugene, where many students imagined a fulfilling life without entry into a top school. I’d always tested well, so I read a couple of exam books and tested myself at my leisure. I was doing pretty good!
I took the LSAT Winter Term of college, while I was interning in Washington, D.C. I arrived to register early in the morning at the Georgetown campus, and stood in line behind students who apparently all had taken the Kaplan course. They were talking about the exam with the familiarity of obsessed fans, like people talk today about the details of the Kardashian family. It was unnerving to me how confident they all sounded and how much they knew.
Then we started the first section – the analytical section, normally my strong point. I did great on the first problem but then looked up at the clock and panicked. I’d used up much of the time already and I’d have to scramble to get through at least two more problems. I worked feverishly, watching the minutes tick down, when the woman seated in front of me calmly set her pencil down. She set her pencil down! Time wasn’t even called yet, and she was done? That unnerved me only more, as I frantically filled in a few more bubbles before time ran out. I wasted several minutes into the next section trying to shake off my disappointment over the first one.
On our break, I waited in line for a bathroom stall, while two women talked about how easy the analytical section was. My heart sank as I dragged myself back to my seat with self-flagellating thoughts. And then, I opened the test book to my next section – another analytical section, that was far easier than the first one. Aha! There were two sections, so the first must have been the test section!
When it was all over, I did manage to score in the high 80th percentile. But I usually scored in the 90th percentile on standardized tests, and I aspired to a Top 20 school. So I enrolled in a prep course at San Francisco State. It was four Saturday mornings from 9-1. Each day was devoted to strategies for approaching a different section, and on the last day we took a full, timed LSAT test from a prior year.
The second time I took the LSAT, I went in confidently – I had a plan, I knew what to expect, I knew exactly how to pace myself, I knew not to listen to other people in the bathroom, and I’d trained myself to shake off the prior section as soon as we started a new one. This time, I scored in the high 90th percentile. Nine percentage points higher than the first time, which was enough to win admission to a Top 20-ranked law school. I wanted to return to the Northwest, and at the time, the University of Washington Law School, in Seattle, had been climbing the rankings and had just sneaked into the Top 20.
Keep in mind that I’d had little to no prep, and certainly not very useful prep the first time I took the test, so there was room to improve. If you take a good prep course the first time and then want to re-take the test again, you can probably improve your score, but it may not be a dramatic improvement.
The lesson I offer is that you can prepare for the test. There are tricks to be taught, approaches to be learned, meta strategies to the test overall. I’ll be blogging over the next few months sharing tips and insights for the test. During law school, I taught a law school prep course myself. I worked with a friend who’d taught for years with Kaplan. He was one of those geniuses who earned near perfect scores across the range of LSAT, GRE, GMAT, you name it. I will share the Kaplan strategies I learned from him, along with my own techniques. I’m not a freakish test genius like him, but I do fairly well in the LSAT corner of the world.
It’s too bad that the LSAT score is so determinative, but in most law schools, I believe, it remains paramount. It certainly doesn’t measure emotional intelligence, or the range of other skills that go into making productive members of society. But it is what it is, so prepare yourself as best you can – and later I’ll write a blog about admission strategies if you don’t have the stats for a top school.