LSAT

What is the law school entrance exam?

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What is the LSAT?

The Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) is the law school admissions exam administered four times per year by the Law School Admission Council (LSAC). All American Bar Association (ABA)-approved law schools, many non-ABA-approved law schools, and most Canadian law schools require an LSAT score from applicants. The test lasts four hours, which may seem long to prospective law students, but the LSAT pales in comparison to a two- or three-day bar exam, which law school graduates must pass in order to practice law.

Content

The LSAT consists entirely of multiple-choice questions with one un-scored writing exercise at the end. The multiple-choice questions are divided into five 35-minute sections: reading comprehension, analytical reasoning, two logical reasoning sections, and one un-scored “experimental” section that looks and feels exactly like one of the other four sections. The reading comprehension section asks examinees multiple-choice questions about passages that they have just read. Analytical reasoning questions have examinees reason deductively from statements or principles by engaging in logic games. In logical reasoning questions, examinees must analyze and complete arguments. At the end of test, examinees are required to provide a writing sample based on information provided in the final 35-minute period. LSAC sends the writing sample to every school that requests an LSAT score, but the writing sample does not count towards the score.

Grading

Examinees’ four scored multiple-choice sections are graded on a scale from 120 to 180. The median score is usually around 151 or 152 with about half of examinees scoring above these numbers and half scoring below. Scores are calculated on a curve, so the number of questions an examinee answers correctly (the raw score) is not the score that the examinee will achieve on the exam (the scaled score).

Scaled scores are calculated individually for each exam, but have held relatively steady over the years. Additionally, examinees receive a percentile, which tells them what percentage of examinees they out scored during the test. Percentiles vary by exam administration, but a score of 151 or 152 will usually place the examinee in the 48th to 52nd percentile.

Score Significance

While there is no passing score per se, together with the law school applicant’s undergraduate grade point average (GPA), the LSAT score is one of the two most important factors that law schools consider when assessing applications. The median LSAT score of incoming 1Ls at a given school generally reflects the U.S. News and World Report (USNWR) ranking for that law school. For instance, Yale, which is in first place in the rankings and Harvard, which is tied for second, are tied for first place in terms of median LSAT scores. Both schools’ 1Ls entering in the fall 2014 semester scored a median of 173 on the LSAT. This means that half of these students earned lower than 173, and half scored higher than 173. Columbia, tied for fourth, and Stanford, tied for second, both had median LSAT scores of 172. These two scores of 172 and 173 usually represent percentiles of about 98.6% and 99.0% respectively.

In other words, only about 1% or 1.4% of examinees will generally achieve a score high enough to attend these schools. Given these numbers, the relative importance of LSAT scores in determining an applicant’s chances at gaining admission to law school is not without its controversy.