When Should You Take the LSAT?

August 24, 2016

If you’re considering applying to law school, chances are you already know that your LSAT score is one of the most important parts of your application. In fact, a good LSAT score is probably the single biggest factor in distinguishing applicants who will be considered for admission from those who will be rejected without further review. 

Of course there are exceptions to every rule, and it’s encouraging to know that there are lots of great law schools in the US that downplay the importance of the LSAT to at least some degree. That said, since this is one part of your application that is largely within your control, it’s wise to be fully prepared on test day.

What does it mean to be fully prepared?

Being fully prepared for an exam does not mean you’re going to score perfectly. It doesn’t even mean you’re going to get the score you want. Rather, it means that you: Furthermore, it means that you: In other words, being fully prepared means that you probably won’t be surprised by anything on the test, and you will perform to the best of your current abilities.

  • are familiar with the content of the exam,

  • understand its structure and scoring,

  • and have set reasonable goals for how you will perform on it.

  • have developed processes to approach the different types of content on the exam,

  • and you have mastered pacing and time management such that you can get as many points as possible in the time you’re given.

How long does it take to fully prepare for the LSAT?

It takes most people 3-6 months to fully prepare for the LSAT. If you’re a college student, if you’re employed full-time, or if you’re raising a family, chances are you can’t dedicate more than a couple hours at a time to LSAT preparation. That means you’ll need to spread your studying out over a longer period of time. Give yourself as close to 6 months as possible.

If you’re on summer vacation or if you’re able to take a break from your job, you can probably prepare for the exam in 2-3 months. However, that requires committing yourself to studying for a few hours almost every day.

So, when should you take the LSAT?

Let’s look at a few different cases of when it makes the most sense to take the LSAT:

Case #1: A current undergrad looking to go straight into law school after graduation:

If this is you, you are faced with the difficult task of taking the LSAT while you’re still in school. To go straight into law school after graduation, you will need to apply during the fall (or early winter) of your senior year. That means you’ll need to take the LSAT by October or December of your senior year, at the very latest.

Recommendation: Spend the summer between your junior and senior year preparing for the LSAT intensively. Continue your preparation at a slower pace during the first month or two of the school year. Take the LSAT in September/October, allowing yourself the chance to retake it in December if it doesn’t go as well as planned. That also gives you an extra month or two of study time.

Case #2: An undergrad who is studying abroad or working during the summer:

If you already know that the summer between your junior and senior years is packed with other plans, you’ll need to get an early start on the LSAT. In this case, focus on using the holidays as an intensive studying period, and then getting the exam done before summer gets rolling.

Recommendation: Spend winter vacation of your junior year completing some type of LSAT crash course in which you study nearly full-time. Continue those studies at an ambitious but more reasonable pace during January, and then take the February LSAT. This gives you the rest of the spring to refocus your efforts and improve your skills if you decide to retake the exam in June before your summer gets busy.

Case #3: A professional who has been working for a few years:

If this is you, you’ll have to balance LSAT prep with your full-time job. Plus, you might be a bit out of practice with standardized tests. GIve yourself time to prepare at a moderate pace and leave open the possibility of taking the exam more than once.

Recommendation: Start prepping just after the holidays and plan to take the June LSAT. If it doesn’t go as well as you hope, refocus your efforts during the summer and take the exam again in September/October. This gives you plenty of time to prepare in the evenings and on weekends, and it also allows you to get a headstart on your applications in the fall.

Case #4: Your employer is sponsoring your degree:

If you’re attending law school (commonly a part-time law program) so that you can become eligible for promotions within your current company, you’re probably under slightly less pressure to get into a top 10 law school where you can compete for those coveted clerkships or big firm jobs. However, you still want to get into the best school you can.

Recommendation: Give yourself a couple of months to familiarize yourself with the exam and brush up on skills you may not have practiced in years. Moving at a casual pace, this should take you 2-3 months. Don’t leave yourself too much more time than that, or you might not find the motivation to study. Sign up for any convenient LSAT date, keeping in mind that February is probably too late for the current application cycle and December doesn’t give you the chance for a retake.

In closing…

There is no one LSAT date or study schedule that is best for everyone. When determining your own plan of action, give yourself time to prepare fully for your first attempt, and try to leave open the possibility of taking the exam a second time if necessary. Law school is a big decision that deserves careful consideration. Rushing through the process is rarely the best answer. More importantly, taking the time to perform your best may mean the difference between a couple hundred thousand dollars in loans and a free ride to the school of your dreams.

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