The Law School Admissions Marathon

The LSAT is like a marathon in a number of ways:

  • It's the hardest test you have ever taken, and it requires considerable practice to build up stamina;
  • It requires studying basic skills and mastering them so well that you can perform them on autopilot;
  • While it is not primarily a test of strategy, certain strategies will help you to succeed; and
  • You can acquire all the skills and still let emotional issues preclude your success.

The LSAT is the hardest of all standardized tests because it does not measure your aptitude in any subject that you might have studied in school. An English major will not necessarily perform better on the reading section than will a biology major; courses in formal logic will not necessarily get you a better score in the reasoning sections.

The main reason the LSAT has been declared "unstudiable" is that substantive skills will not guarantee you the right answer. A significant portion of the knowledge required to ace this test is strategic.

The LSAT, more than any other standardized tests, relies on test-taking skills as much as it does on the subject matter of the questions. Unless you know the logistics of a standardized test, you can get a poor score even though you thoroughly understand the subject matter, or "prompts." On this subject I thoroughly disagree with the "Official" stance.

In 2012 I wandered over to the SWAPLA website and saw a report called "Paper on Roles and Responsibilities of a Prelaw Advisor." Being a reasonably conscientious prelaw professional, and having a reasonably slow day, I downloaded, saved, and began to read.

I was doing fine, agreeing with everything the esteemed authors wrote, until I got to this sentence, right about the middle of the report:

the LSAT is not an achievement test; therefore there are limits as to what any form of preparation can do

Boy, do I disagree! Only my professionalism as a prelaw advisor keeps me from going West Philly on you! ANYTHING can be learned. I even learned to carry a tune, and when I was twelve everyone would have agreed that was an absolute impossibility.

But more importantly, there are aspects to any standardized test that can be learned. On my first practice LSAT back in 1979, I got half wrong — a score below a 50th percentile. After cursing like Tony Soprano for an hour, I sat down to see what I'd done wrong. A month later, I had a 99.9th percentile.

About ten years ago, I bought one of those "test your IQ" books. To my utter shock, there wasn't a verbal question in the book! Now, you may have noticed I'm the verbal type, so on that first test I muttered a lot and got a 120. I studied all my wrong answers. The next day I repeated the process, and got a 130. Four days later I had a 160, and quit while I was ahead.

Now we have two possible conclusions:

  1. My IQ, an allegedly immutable number, increased by TEN POINTS A DAY, or
  2. "Immutable" skills can be learned.

EVERY test has a component called "test-taking." It's the skill that enabled me to get a 99th percentile on my SAT math section while flunking math, to beat native Hispanics in a state-wide standardized test in Spanish, and to ace my LSAT repeatedly (which was permitted back then). And beyond that, every test has certain knowledge-based assumptions — that Renoir was a painter, for instance.

So, with all due respect to the rest of the report and its authors, on this one sentence, I humbly disagree.

Although the strategies necessary to perform well on standardized tests are not particularly difficult, they are rarely taught. Most of the major prep courses focus on content and strategies for time management, but not on analyzing the structure of individual answer choices. Without this skill, only the truly brilliant can get a top score. In fact, if you find that your scores on practice tests are erratic, the most likely cause is your inability to dissect the answer choices.

There's no way to teach you how to take the LSAT on a web page. Unlike running a marathon, the LSAT is a thing that you do, not read about. Any successful course will teach techniques, then allow you to practice them and get feedback on your methods. But we can point you to the the basic skills you'll need to overcome the commonest problems. We can also recommend a few books to help you gain the skills you need. And for those of you who can invest serious time and money into preparation, we invite to join the DeLoggio LSAT course in Seattle.

Time and money, however, are not magic. The ability to break old bad habits and replace them with new good ones takes a mental agility that must itself be learned. I encourage you to make a serious attempt to develop this flexibility, because you will certainly need it in law school.


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