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The Law School Admission Test (LSAT) is an examination in the United States, Canada, and Australia administered by the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) for prospective law school candidates. It is designed to assess logical and verbal reasoning skills. 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. 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 ranging from 120 to 180, with a median score at about 151. When an applicant applies to law school, all the scores in the past five years are reported. As of 2009, it costs $132 (US) to take the LSAT in the United States, and $137 (CA) in Canada.


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 plan to apply for the following year's admission. In the 2007–2008 cycle, 142,331 individuals 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 September/October administration of the exam.

Test composition

The current test contains 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 current 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 a single prompt, although a few are followed by two.

Reading comprehension

The current 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. 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 current test contains 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

The current test contains 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 doing 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.

Writing sample

The writing sample appears as 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 prompts, 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 recommends that students prepare beforehand, due to the importance of the LSAT in law school admissions and because scores on the exam typically respond to preparation. 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.

LSAC suggests, at the minimum, that students review official practice tests before test day in order to become familiar with the types of questions that are asked. LSAC offers one free test that can be downloaded from their website. For best results, LSAC suggests taking practice tests under actual time constraints and conditions so that you can better allocate your time per question and find areas that you need additional practice in.

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 $1,300 for eight weeks of preparation. They vary in size from groups of 10 to groups of up to 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 June 1991 are considered "modern tests" because the LSAT underwent many significant changes before the early 1990s. Each released exam is commonly referred to as a PrepTest. The June 1991 LSAT was numbered as PrepTest 1, and the September 2009 LSAT was numbered as PrepTest 58. Certain recent PrepTests are no longer generally available to the public, despite the fact that they were released at one time.


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.

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. 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 163 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 of rare instances, a specific question has been omitted from final scoring.

University of North Texasmarker economist Michael Nieswiadomy has conducted several studies (in 1998, 2006, and 2008) derived from LSAC data. In the most recent study Nieswiadomy took the LSAC's categorization of test-takers into 162 majors and grouped these into 29 categories, finding the averages of each major [47249]:

  1. Physics/mathematics 160.0
  2. Economics and Philosophy/theology (tie) 157.4
  3. International relations 156.5
  4. Engineering 156.2
  5. Government/service 156.1
  6. Chemistry 156.1
  7. History 155.9
  8. Interdisciplinary studies 155.5
  9. Foreign languages 155.3
  10. English 155.2
  11. Biology/natural sciences 154.8
  12. Arts 154.2
  13. Computer science 154.0
  14. Finance 153.4
  15. Political science 153.1
  16. Psychology 152.5
  17. Liberal arts 152.4
  18. Anthropology/geography 152.2
  19. Accounting 151.7
  20. Journalism 151.5
  21. Sociology/social work 151.2
  22. Marketing 150.8
  23. Business management 149.7
  24. Education 149.4
  25. Business administration 149.1
  26. Health professions 148.4
  27. Pre-law 148.3
  28. Criminal justice 146.0

Use of scores in law school admissions

The LSAT is generally considered a critical part of the law school admissions process, along with GPA. Most law schools are 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. 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. 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.

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. Students may take the test only three times in a two-year period without obtaining an exemption from a law school.

Fingerprinting controversy

Starting October 1973, those taking the LSAT were required to have fingerprints taken, after some examinees were found to have hired impostors to take the test on their behalf.

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.marker Department of Homeland Securitymarker.[47250] At the behest of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, 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.

See also


  1. About the Law School Admission Council
  2. Accessed August 17, 2008.
  5. LSAC Redirect Page
  6. LSAC Redirect Page
  7. Self-reported Methods of Test Preparation Used by LSAT Takers
  8. LSAC: Preparing for the LSAT
  9. LSAT Prep Materials
  10. Why More Law School Applicants Have High LSAT Scores
  11. LSAT Test
  13. TR-03-01.vp
  14. TR-03-01.vp
  17. Predictive Validity of the LSAT: A National Summary of the 1990–1992 Correlation Studies. LSAC Research Report Series
  18. Accessed August 17, 2008.
  19. Frequently Asked Questions - LSAT
  20. Canadian Lawyer Magazine Article About LSAT Changes to Protect the Privacy of Canadian Test-Takers

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