You can do this at your kitchen table, but you must take every test in sight and practice until you can tell why those tests are flawed.
You can score higher than you think if you prepare correctly. I’d have been a 180 if I’d not changed my answers and just turned the darn thing in. Changed three answers, two of them from right to wrong. I guess the first piece of advice, then, is stick with your first impression.
The LSAT score is basically half of your base score for law school (the other half is your GPA). It’s your one chance to declare that you are a promising candidate as a law school student. You can excel at this test, but only if you prepare properly.
There are many courses available to help you prepare, but this comment is geared to those, like me, who will prepare at their kitchen table. Even without the high priced courses you can prepare for this exam, but it takes a commitment to excel and lots of practice. Here’s how I did it.
There are lots of books available which have tons of practice questions and say they will get you ready to take the test. Buy them all (they are cheap, for what you get) and use them all. But understand that they are written by folks who don’t fully understand what they are writing. Get the ARCO and Princeton Review and the other guides and work with them until you can identify the questions that they gave the wrong answers to. That’s right, the wrong answers. The one thing that shocked me in preparing at my kitchen table was that the preparation guides often offered questions and answer that were, to say the least, arguable. It was as if they didn’t quite understand the logic they were testing for. I’d read the question, the answer, and the explanation and remain unconvinced. When you get to the point where you question the answers, even after you’ve read the explanations, you are ready for the real thing.
Fortunately, the LSAT folks will send you, for a small fee, past exams so you can evaluate your progress. Don’t even look at these until you can find the logical flaws in the commercial guides. What you will find is that the LSAT writers really know what they are doing. Every question will have one, and only one, right answer. Not only will you be able to prove the right answer right, but you will be able to prove all of the other answers wrong! The problem with the commercial guides is that in several cases the wrong answers are arguably right. This rarely happens with the real LSATs and, when it does, they give credit for any even arguable right answer. You will know you are on the right track when you argue with the commercial guides and believe you are right even after you read the explanation. You will be unlikely to have that experience with the real tests.
I should digress to tell you about the test itself. The point of the test is to evaluate your ability to reason like a lawyer. The LSAT includes sections which test your reading ability, your basic logic ability and your analytical ability. The analytical logic sections are considered the hardest and will stretch your mind. Every LSAT test includes a section that does not count. This section is used to experiment with possible future approaches to questions. The LSAT test I took had an experimental analytical section. Even worse, it was the first section of the test. I doubt I got half of the questions right and came out of that section scared to death. I’d done so well on the practices and suddenly I had no idea what I was doing. Fortunately, that was the experimental section and it did not count. Fortunately, too, I did not panic. I figured that it must be the experimental section, since it included so many approaches that had not been included at all in the past tests. I was right, though I didn’t know that for sure until months later.
The lesson for you is to not panic, whatever is thrown at you. Just assume that the section you could make no sense of is the experimental section and won’t count against you. More than likely, you will be right.
Back to your preparation. If you aren’t going to take a class (I recommend Princeton Review, if you do take a class, by the way) then buy every preparation guide in sight. They are relatively cheap and worth the price just for the practice. Try to make each practice session a full practice exam. Allow three hours and take a full exam, 4-5 45 minute sessions. Monitor your scores as you go along. Carefully review your wrong answers until you are comfortable that you won’t make the same mistakes again. Pay particular attention to the analytical logic sections of the tests as those are usually thought to be the hardest sections of the actual test. Look for patterns in the kind of questions that are asked. Make sure you do enough practice questions of each type so that you are comfortable no matter what they throw at you.
Taking the Exam
The most important part of taking the exam is to remain cool, no matter what happens. As I mentioned, my first part was experimental and made me question my own preparation. But I treated it as if it was the experimental section and went on to do the best I could with the rest of the test. I was right. It was the experimental section and my poor showing on that section did not count against me. If you come up against problem types you haven’t seen before, that probably means you’ve identified the experimental section of your exam. Just go on and do the best you can with the rest of the exam. If you have prepared properly you will find out that you were right, that section was experimental and did not count.
Note that this test is to measure your reasoning ability, not your knowledge. Yet it serves as a fair indicator of how you will later do on the Bar exam, which is attempting to measure your knowledge, rather than your ability. This odd fact results from the fact that both measure your innate intelligence and your preparation. If you prepare well for the LSAT you will likely prepare well for the Bar. Take the time and effort to do it right.
If all else fails you can take the LSAT over again, but most schools will average your scores, rather than taking the highest. Do your very best the first time and you won’t have to worry about redoing the test.
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of practice with the type of question you will encounter on the test. While the test purports to evaluate you innate ability, it really tests your ability to think in a certain way. You can train yourself to think that way by doing thousands of practice questions and critically evaluating your results. Keep at it until the way of thinking is ingrained and effortless. You will find that the effort you make now will be worthwhile later when you are choosing a law school or, more exactly, a law school is choosing you. Take full advantage of this opportunity to show what you can do. Take as many practice tests as you can, and know that you are as ready as you can be when the day of the test comes.