Entering the world of LSAT prep is like stepping into a new culture.
There’s even new slang to learn-- What the heck are “logic games”? And what does “PT” stand for? (It stands for “practice test”, and you’re about to take a whole bunch of them.)
Other components of the law school application process are thankfully more familiar. Personal statements, diversity statements, and letters of recommendation aren’t too intimidating to anyone who’s been through the process of applying to colleges or grad schools.
But the LSAT?
The LSAT (which stands for “Law School Admission Test”) is quite the beast of a standardized test.
More abstract than the SAT or GRE, the LSAT covers analytical reasoning (known in the LSAT-sphere as “logic games”), reading comprehension, logical reasoning (or “arguments”), all followed by an unscored essay section that serves as a writing sample for the schools you apply to.
Basically, the LSAT is heavy on reading and logic, and the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) wants to test your ability to reason under a strict time limit of 35 minutes.
But don’t worry-- anyone can succeed at the LSAT, and it’s not so mysterious. Just like with any other lofty goal, there’s more than one path up the mountain. Prep courses are one great way to get the score your top schools want to see.
Who Would Benefit From A LSAT Prep Course?
As soon as you start researching the law school application process, you’ll probably come across countless LSAT study guides and prep course ads. It can be a little overwhelming, to say the least.
And prep courses are pricey, let’s just get that out of the way.
You can expect to spend anywhere from a few hundred bucks to $1500, depending on the course.
That price tag can certainly be worth it if you would describe yourself as one of the following:
The student who thrives on direction
Do standardized tests intimidate you?
Are you a student who works best with a strict schedule and external consequences?
Do you do your best studying in a group because of the added accountability?
When you work on independent projects, do you prefer to go with tried-and-true, clear cut methods over blazing your own trail?
The point here is to be honest with yourself, because that’s how you’re going to do your best on the LSAT.
For some students, the presence of a physical, in-person teacher is paramount to their success.
For others, a live online course (where you attend the course in-person, but the instructor appears through video) suffices.
Still others do just fine signing up for a self-paced online course.
The ability to ask an instructor for help can also provide necessary structure to study sessions and helpful support for anxious students.
Even the act of spending the money can motivate and encourage accountability-- no one likes the prospect of wasting a thousand dollars!
Know thyself, as the Ancient Greeks said. If any of this sounds like you, then a prep course could help get you the score you deserve on the LSAT.
The student who lacks precious, precious time
Maybe you’re a nontraditional student balancing family life and undergrad classes. Maybe you’re waist-deep in your 80 hour a week job, and applying to law school is already eating up all your extra time. Maybe you’re involved in an intense externship during your senior year. The world is full of busy people, and the LSAT can be a serious time suck.
Don’t get me wrong, the LSAT still demands a lot of your time. Folks in the know have recommended 10 to 15 hours of study a week for two to four months leading up the test. That’s no small feat.
However, there’s also the time that comes with figuring out your exam weaknesses, designing a study schedule, and researching materials-- those are the parts a good course can help you out with.
A LSAT prep course comes with a set study schedule and will probably ship you a big box of textbooks (or a suite of online materials) to go with it. That will definitely cut back on the outside research you’ll need to do. If you’re busier than the average incoming 1L, take a breather and let someone else schedule your studying.
Which LSAT Prep Course Should You Go For?
This is the next big question, isn’t it? Kaplan, Princeton Review, Blueprint LSAT, ManhattanPrep, PowerScore... there are a lot of courses out there. How can you really know which one is best for you?
Again, it’s about knowing your preferences-- how you like to work.
Here’s a quick overview of some of the most popular courses:
Everyone knows Kaplan! This is one of the biggest courses around, so if you want to take an in-person class, you can likely find a Kaplan class somewhere near you. They also offer self-paced and live online courses. They tout hundreds of hours of instruction, 80+ official practice tests, three proctored exams, and access to every LSAT question ever made. However, they don’t advertise the scores their instructors achieved on the exam.
Another bigwig in the world of exam prep. Princeton Review offers live online or self-paced online courses-- no in-person live classes. They offer 150+ hours of instruction, access to every LSAT question, and six proctored exams. They don’t advertise their instructors’ scores and they don’t seem to provide full-length, official LSAT practice tests outside of the six proctored exams. If you go with Princeton Review, you’ll want to supplement with more official practice tests.
ManhattanPrep takes a different view of exam preparation-- they want you to study faster through using new, scientifically-supported study techniques, such as spaced repetition. They have both in-person courses and both self-paced and live online courses. They advertise instructors who have scored in the 99th percentile and small class sizes (though they neglect to say how small those class sizes are). Because they explicitly state they want to cut down on study time by using smart methods, it’s not surprising that they have only 10 live online sessions. While they don’t mention if they have proctored practice exams, they do have access to every official LSAT ever released by LSAC, as well as flashcards and challenging practice questions.
Blueprint is unique in that they only cater to LSAT prep; they don’t sell materials for any other admissions test like the SAT, GRE, or MCAT. They offer in-person and prerecorded online courses. Like ManhattanPrep, they only hire instructors who have scored in the 99th percentile. The online course offers 88 hours of instruction, plus unlimited 24 hour email support. The in-person course advertises 112 instruction hours plus the entire online course content. However, they provide access to only 19 exams total-- six proctored tests and 13 practice tests, so again, you might have to supplement this one. A nice feature with Blueprint is that their online course is subscription based-- you pay per month. If you’re studying for a shorter period of time, that could be cost-effective.
PowerScore’s self-study materials have been well-regarded in the LSAT world for years, particularly their famous LSAT Logic Games Bible. They offer in-person courses, as well as both self-paced and live online courses-- each of these touts live instruction and 55 hours of additional on-demand instruction. They also offer a more advanced prep option for those who already have the basics down pat and an accelerated course for those short on time. All of their instructors have earned a 170 or higher. PowerScore provides access to a hotline and forum so that instructors can help you at any time.
As you might be able to see, a lot of the courses have very similar offerings. There’s no real best course out there. Students have achieved their LSAT goals with each of these courses.
So, what should you watch out for when making your decision?
1. Number of practice tests
The LSAC and experienced LSAT teachers and tutors agree that full-length practice tests are the most important part of LSAT study. Why? Because taking the exam under exam conditions (i.e., in a quiet focused environment (proctored or not), and strictly timed) and scoring yourself will help you figure out what to focus on and what kind of score you can expect on test day.
Taking a standardized test after practicing it for months is way less nerve-wracking than trying it out for the first time.
Most major courses provide at least some proctored exams and a few practice tests beyond that. But courses that give you a large number of official practice tests-- that’s a lot of bang for your buck.
On the other hand... do you really need access to every test the LSAC ever released?
It depends on your situation and study style.
The LSAC has officially released over 80 LSATs, which are also available for purchase from their website.
If you’ve scheduled your course early enough and have sufficient time, the full number of LSATs could be very useful to you. If you’re on a time crunch or know you won’t be practicing 80 exams, then a course with fewer tests might work just fine.
2. Instructor qualifications and teaching style
Does it matter if your instructor scored in the 99th percentile?
It could play a role in your success, but if you can’t stand the teacher, a 99th percentile score won’t mean much. Take scores into consideration, but also think about what you like to see in a teacher.
To help you decide, watch any free sample videos the company offers. When you’re reading reviews, see what other students say about the instructors’ teaching styles-- then decide whether or not that works with your own learning preferences.
3. Access to personalized help
One of the main benefits of taking a prep course over self-studying is the fact that you have someone to consult with. Prep courses aren’t private tutoring, but you should still expect to be able to ask questions during off hours and get help where you’re stuck.
When you’re perusing course websites, look into their online help. Decide whether 24 hour email support or a few hours of tutoring is something that’s important to you.
Do you like speaking with someone live, or are you more of a text person? This can be a deciding factor in settling on a prep course.
4. Scholarships and financial aid
Some of the above courses offer payment plans, coupon codes, and financial aid.
For instance, Kaplan provides assistance if you’re a student with a 3.0 or above and currently receive financial aid at your school. Blueprint LSAT offers half tuition to those who received an LSAT fee waiver. PowerScore offers a payment plan for those on a budget, and ManhattanPrep allows students to pay half tuition as a deposit and half later.
The course websites don’t always make it obvious that there are different financial options, so it’s worth researching and asking to see what you can find.
You’ve Decided on a Prep Course. How Can You Maximize this Commitment?
Since a LSAT prep course is such a big expenditure, you want to get the most out of it, right? Here are some dos and don’ts for milking every sweet, sweet dollar:
Schedule the course appropriately
If that doesn’t work out, ensure the course you’re eyeing allows access to the materials for a period of time after the course ends.
If there’s any gap at all between the end of your prep course and the date you’re taking the LSAT, don’t let that time lie fallow! You’ll need to keep up the studying in the meantime so you can keep old skills fresh, and maybe even improve on that PT score.
Take advantage of personalized help
Whether your prep course offers email help, forum access, or a few hours of private tutoring, ask questions until you’re blue in the face. Again, this is one of the huge advantages of a prep course over self-study, and having personal help speeds up the learning process.
Don’t be shy, and don’t think you’ll look stupid. After all, this is what you’re paying for!
Expect the course syllabus to be all you need
A big mistake a lot of students make is believing that doing the assigned homework and attending the assigned lectures is good enough to get a high score.
This is, sadly, not true. While a good course can provide a much-needed backbone to your studies, you’ll need to make sure you’re devoting enough practice time outside of class and to the assigned homework.
Remember, a good guideline is spending 10 to 15 hours a week on the LSAT. And if you know you’re having particular difficulties with a section, schedule more time for practice even if it’s outside the course schedule.
Limit yourself to company materials
When you sign up for a company’s exam prep course, they’re going to recommend their own study guides, syllabuses, and videos.
That’s all well and good, but if you find that something doesn’t work for you (perhaps that logical reasoning score isn’t quite where you want it to be, and it’s a month before test day!), then it’s time to diversify.
Different techniques work for different people, so feel free to seek out other techniques. To fill in the gaps, check out free resources like Khan Academy LSAT or affordable study guides that could provide you with a new way to look at old problems.
What Are You Waiting For? You Need To Practice Some Logic Games!
There you have it-- a guide on how to decide whether a LSAT prep course is right for you, what to consider when deciding on a course, and how to get the most out of your materials.
Anyone can do excellently on the LSAT with equal measures of discipline and smart planning.
Confidence in the LSAT will be a weight off your shoulders, so get studying!