Law School Admission Test

Law School Admission Test

The Law School Admission Test (LSAT) is an examination administered by the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) that attempts to measure logical and verbal reasoning skills. [ [ About the Law School Admission Council] ] Administered four times a year, it is a required exam for all ABA-approved law schools.

The test has existed in some form since 1948, when it was created in order to give law schools a way to judge applicants uniformly. Accessed August 17, 2008.] Since then, it has evolved significantly, with the current version starting in the early 1990s. The exam has four scored sections, an unscored experimental section, and an unscored writing section. Raw scores are converted to a scaled score from 120 to 180, with the median at about 151. When an applicant applies to law school, all the scores in the past five years are reported.


LSAC administers the LSAT four times per year, in June, September/October, December, and February. LSAC views the June examination as the start of a new "cycle" as most test-takers are applying for the following year's class. In the 2007-2008 cycle, 142,331 people took the LSAT, up 1.6% from the year before, although still lower than the 148,014 people that took the exam in the 2002-2003 cycle. The most popular test date is the October administration of the exam. []

Test composition

The test currently has five 35-minute multiple choice sections, one of which is the unscored experimental section, followed by a 35-minute long writing sample. Several different test forms are used for each exam, each presenting the multiple choice sections in a different order. This is done to stagger the sections, making it difficult to cheat or guess the experimental section before testing is complete.

Logical Reasoning

The test contains two logical reasoning sections, commonly known as "arguments" or "LR". Each question begins with a paragraph that presents either an argument or a short set of facts. The paragraph is followed by a prompt asking the test taker to find the argument's assumption, an alternate conclusion, logical omissions or errors in the argument, to choose another argument with parallel reasoning, or to identify a statement that would either weaken or strengthen the argument. Most paragraphs are followed by only one prompt, although a few are followed by two.

The logical reasoning questions generally go from easiest to hardest, but there is significant random variation as it does so.

Reading Comprehension

The test contains one reading comprehension ("RC") section. In recent exams, the section consists of four passages of 400-500 words, one passage each related to law, arts and humanities, physical sciences, and social sciences, with 5-8 questions per passage. The questions ask the examinee to determine the author's main idea, find information in the passage, draw inferences from the text, and describe the structure of the passage.

In June 2007, a change was made to the test that replaced one of the four passages with a "comparative reading" question. [ LSAC Redirect Page] ] Comparative reading presents the examinee with two short passages with differing perspectives on a topic. The passages combined are approximately the same length as the removed passage. Comparative reading has a parallel on the SAT, which contains a set of paired passages in its critical reading sections, and on the ACT, which does the same in its science section.

Analytical Reasoning

The test has one analytical reasoning section, informally known as the "logic games" section. Each test's section contains four different "games". The material generally involves grouping, matching, and ordering of elements. The examinee is presented with a setup (e.g. "there are five people who might attend this afternoon's meeting") and partial set of rules that govern the situation (e.g. "if Amy is present, then Bob is not present; if Cathy is present, then Dan is present..."), and is then asked to deduce conclusions from the statements (e.g. "What is the maximum number of people who could be present?"). Individual questions often add rules and occasionally modify existing rules, requiring the examinee to reorganize information quickly.

Unscored section

Each exam includes one "experimental section", used to test new questions for future exams. The performance of the examinee on this section is not reported as part of the final score. The examinee is not told which section of the exam is experimental, since to do so could skew the data. To reduce the impact of examinee fatigue on the experimental results, this section is always one of the first three sections of any given test. Because multiple versions of the exam are issued, alert examinees who have two different versions of the test can identify the experimental section by noting which sections they had in common.

There is a controversy about the fairness of this section. The student does not know which section is ungraded. Examinees can determine which "type" of section was unscored as soon as they run into an extra section of a given question type. For example, if the student has already done two arguments sections and runs into a third one, then one of those three was the experimental section. Some examinations will include three arguments sections; others will have two games or reading sections. Because the section order is unpredictable, sections of the same type can occur consecutively. Depending on ordering and where a given examinee's strengths and weaknesses lie, an examinee could underperform (or overperform) on one specific testing. No formal examination of the impact of the experimental section has ever been done, and examinee scores tend to steadily rise with practice regardless. Critics of the experimental section charge that it also amounts to unpaid research being done on LSAC's behalf by examinees who are already paying for the testing.

Writing sample

The writing sample is always the final section of the test. The writing sample is given in the form of a decision prompt, which provides the examinee with a problem and two criteria for making a decision. The examinee must then write an essay favoring one of two provided options over the other. The decision generally does not involve a controversial subject, but rather something mundane about which the examinee likely has no strong bias.

Previously, the examinee was given one of two types of prompt, the second type being the argument prompt. For this, the examinee was given an argument similar to a logical reasoning prompt and then asked to critique that argument. The decision prompt has been used continually since the addition of the writing sample, while the argument prompt was added in June 2005. On June 11, 2007, however, LSAC retired the argument prompt.

LSAC does not score the writing sample; instead, the essay is digitally imaged and sent to admission offices along with the LSAT score. The writing sample is essentially an extemporaneous essay, hand-written in pencil at the conclusion of a four-hour examination. Between the quality of the handwriting and that of the digital image, some admissions officers regard the readability and usefulness of the writing sample as marginal. Additionally, schools require that applicants submit a "personal statement" of some kind. These factors sometimes result in admission boards ignoring the writing sample. However, only 6.8% of 157 schools surveyed by LSAC in 2006 indicated that they "never" use the writing sample when evaluating an application. In contrast, 9.9% of the schools reported that they "always" use the sample; 25.3% reported that they "frequently" use the sample; 32.7% responded "occasionally"; and 25.3% reported "seldom" using the sample. [ [ LSAC Redirect Page ] ]


LSAC recommends that students prepare beforehand, due to the importance of the LSAT in law school admissions and because scores on the exam respond to preparation. [ [ Self-reported Methods of Test Preparation Used by LSAT Takers] ] The structure of the LSAT and the types of questions asked are generally known ahead of time, which allows students to practice on question types that show up frequently in examinations and avoid wasting time on question types that may appear only once or twice.

Many private companies have formed with the goal of assisting students in preparation. Generally, tutoring is the most expensive option and online courses tend to be less expensive. LSAT full-length classroom courses generally cost around $1200, and last around 8 weeks. They vary in size from groups of 10 up to around 100. These courses typically provide students with guides to the sections of the test, practice questions, an organized schedule and proctored full-length exams.

For preparation purposes, only tests after 1990 are considered "modern tests" because the LSAT underwent many significant changes before the early 1990s.


LSAT is a standardized test in that LSAC adjusts raw scores to fit an expected norm to overcome the likelihood that some administrations may be more difficult than others. Normalized scores are distributed on a scale from a low of 120 to a high of 180. (Prior to 1991, the scale was from 10 to 48 and had also been from 200-800. [ [ Why More Law School Applicants Have High LSAT Scores] )

The LSAT is not scored based on test-taker performance on the day of the test. The relationship between raw questions answered correctly and score is determined before the test is administered, through a process called equating. [ [ LSAT Test] This means that the conversion standard is set beforehand, and the distribution of percentiles can vary during the scoring of any particular LSAT.

Adjusted scores resemble a bell curve, tapering off at the extremes and congregating near the median. For example, an examinee who scores a 175 may have missed only 3-5 questions more than an examinee with a 180. However, the number of uncredited responses that separates a 155 from a 160 could be 9 or more. Although the exact percentile of a given score will vary slightly between examinations, there tends to be little variance. The 50th percentile is typically a score of about 151; the 90th percentile is around 164 and the 99th is about 172. A 178 or better usually places the examinee in the 99.9th percentile.

Examinees have the option of canceling their scores within six calendar days after the exam, before they get their scores. LSAC still reports to law schools that the student registered for and took the exam, but releases no score. There is a formal appeals process for examinee complaints [] , which has been used for proctor misconduct, peer test-taker misconduct, and occasionally for challenging a question. In a couple rare instances, a specific question has been omitted from final scoring.

Use of scores in law school admissions

The LSAT is generally considered a critical part of the law school admissions process, along with GPA. All law schools need to be selective in their choice, and the LSAT is one method of differentiating candidates.

Additionally, the LSAT, like the SAT and ACT at the undergraduate level, serves as a standardized, objective measure of law school applicants. Undergraduate grade points can vary significantly due to choices in course load as well as grade inflation which may be pervasive at one applicant's undergraduate institution, but almost absent at that of another.

There is a controversy over the statistical correlation between LSAT score and first year law school grades. LSAC claims that their own research supports the use of the LSAT as a major factor in admissions, saying the median validity for LSAT alone is .41 (2001) and .40 (2002) in regards to the first year of law school. [ [ TR-03-01.vp] Although the correlation varies from school to school, LSAC claims that test scores are far more strongly correlated to first year law school performance than undergraduate GPA. [ [ TR-03-01.vp] LSAC claims that no more strongly correlated single-factor measure is currently known, that GPA is difficult to use because it is influenced by the school and the courses taken by the student, and that the LSAT can serve as a yardstick of student ability because it is statistically normed. Several outside studies have validated that the LSAT is a valid predictor of both Law School Grades as well as bar passage. [] [] [ [ Predictive Validity of the LSAT: A National Summary of the 1990-1992 Correlation Studies. LSAC Research Report Series]

Most admission boards use an admission index, which is a formula that applies different weight to the LSAT and undergraduate GPA and adds the results. This composite statistic can have a stronger correlation to first year performance than either GPA or LSAT score alone, depending on the weighting used. The amount of weight assigned to LSAT score versus undergraduate GPA varies from school to school, as almost all law programs employ a different admission index formula.

Multiple Scores

In June 2006, the American Bar Association (ABA) revised an old rule that mandated law schools to report their matriculants' average score if more than one test was taken. The new ABA rule now requires law schools to report only the highest LSAT score for matriculants who took the test more than once. In response, many law schools began only considering the highest LSAT score, since this would be the decisive factor for rankings.

Some law schools may only take the highest score if the difference between the highest and lowest score is at or greater than a certain number. A small number of law schools are still averaging scores unless there exists a significant difference between the highest and lowest LSAT score. Accessed August 17, 2008.] Students may take the test only three times in a two-year period without obtaining an exemption from a law school. [ [ Frequently Asked Questions - LSAT] ]

Fingerprinting Controversy

A recent controversy surrounding the LSAT was the requirement that examinees submit to fingerprinting on the day of testing. Although LSAC does not store digital representations of fingerprints there is a concern that fingerprints might be accessible by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. [] At the behest of the Canadian Privacy Commissioner, the LSAC implemented a change as of September 2007 which exempts Canadian test takers from the requirement to provide a fingerprint and instead requires that Canadian test-takers provide a photograph. [ [ Canadian Lawyer Magazine Article About LSAT Changes to Protect the Privacy of Canadian Test-Takers] ]

See also

*Legal Education
*American Bar Association
*Law School Admission Council
*Standardized testing
*Common Law Admission Test


External links

* [ Law School Admission Council]
* [ Official Guide to Canadian Law Schools] by Law School Admission Council
* [ New Models to Assure Diversity, Fairness, and Appropriate Test Use in Law School Admissions]

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