There are tons of considerations that go into determining how long to study for the LSAT (Law School Admission Test), but as a professional LSAT tutor who has worked with thousands of students, I feel the best way to determine how long to study is to figure out your current score and compare it to your goal score.
First, you’ll need to take an actual LSAT. The LSAC (the organization that administers the LSAT) offers a free LSAT you can download from their website. Set aside 3 quiet, uninterrupted hours to take the test to the best of your ability. The score you achieve will be your “diagnostic score”.
Next, think about a few law schools you would love to attend. These may be schools in your area that you are familiar with, schools in the top tier according to rankings, or schools that have a particular focus which interests you.
Read More: How to Study for the LSAT
Look up, for each school, the 50% LSAT metric. This number, which you can find under the L50 column, indicates the average LSAT score of that school’s current student body.
Finally, compare your diagnostic score to your dream schools’ 50% LSAT metric to determine how long you should study:
- If your diagnostic score is within 10 points of the school’s 50% metric, you should plan to study for 3 months. You could probably get away with studying for 2 months, but 3 is really the minimum for appreciable gains.
- If your diagnostic score is between 10 and 15 points away from the school’s 50% metric, plan to study for at least 3 months, but preferably 4.
- If your diagnostic score is more than 15 points away from your dream school’s 50% metric, you should plan to study for at least 4, and up to 6, months.
- If you’re in the enviable position where your diagnostic score is already above your dream school’s 50% metric, you should still study for at least 2 months to gain confidence and solid strategies. However, you may want to set your sights on a more competitive school!
During these months of study, you should aim to dedicate 3-4 hours per day to focused LSAT preparation. As a helpful resource, here’s a list of the best LSAT prep courses.
Biggest Mistakes People Make When Determining How Long to Study for the LSAT:
Many people commit the same basic mistakes when determining how long to study for the LSAT. Let’s discuss a few of those mistakes in detail:
1. Not allocating enough time.
By far, this is the biggest mistake people tend to make. The LSAT is a unique test. You cannot simply cram for this test by memorizing lists of vocabulary or mathematical formulas. The LSAT doesn’t test what you know, but rather how well you think. It demands a new way of thinking and analyzing arguments and scenarios, and it takes several months to get the hang of thinking in this new way. Do not underestimate the LSAT!
2. Doing only practice tests with no conceptual training.
Many students get their hands on several previous LSATs and immediately begin going through those tests one after another as quickly as possible. They think that they are saving time by moving quickly, but in reality, they are treading water.
The first month of prep should be spent learning concepts and methods from LSAT prep books or courses. While you must certainly do full tests eventually (find them for purchase here), those full tests should be done in the final 2 months of study when you can put your conceptual training to practice. Otherwise, you’re prone to making the same mistakes over and over without understanding why.
3. Taking too long between practice sessions.
Some students, especially those with full-time jobs or full college course loads, attempt to study for the LSAT on weekends only, and account for the slow pace by extending the total number of months of study. This is ineffective. The skills needed to ace the LSAT are incremental and build upon each other in steps. When too much time passes between steps, your progress suffers tremendously.
4. Not reviewing properly.
At some point, you will start to do actual practice LSATs. Many students neglect to review these tests properly. That is, they simply tally how many questions they got right and hope it’s more than they got right last time.
Instead, a proper review of a practice test requires looking up an analysis of every question on the test–even the ones you got right. You can simply Google the first 6 words of any question or game and find an analysis on why the correct answer is correct and, more importantly, why the wrong ones are wrong. Do not ignore this step: a 3-hour practice test should take about 5-6 hours to properly review.
5. Not using real LSAT questions.
While preparing for the LSAT you must use only those prep books and courses that have paid the fee to license real, actual LSAT questions. Many correct answers hinge on single words or subtle turns of phrase. Your progress in studies comes from recognizing the unique way the LSAT uses and re-uses these tricks. Don’t be cheap with this aspect or you’ll be wasting time. Spring for prep sources that use official LSAT questions–those sources that do will proudly and prominently display that fact on the cover of the book or in the promotional advertisements for the course.
6. Using too many different materials.
Some students buy scores of different test prep books in hopes of having enough material to fill their months of study. This, however, is not optimal. Because different prep companies use different terminology, referencing many different books can be unnecessarily confusing. It is generally better to stick with the full set of books for one (or at most two) prep companies and fill the late stages of prep with actual tests.
Conversely, it is also dangerous to persist with the materials of any particular prep company when you aren’t seeing quantifiable improvements after a month. Everyone has different learning styles. Sticking with a method that doesn’t click for you, even if it comes highly recommended by your friends, is going to be a waste of time.
7. Studying too long.
Counterintuitively, it is possible to study for too long. First of all, you put yourself in danger of running out of actual past LSATs to use for practice. There are only about 90 of these “Prep Tests”, and at 3 practice tests per week, you’d deplete them in 7 or 8 months. Moreover, mental burnout is a real thing! Studying for the LSAT is tough, but it should be tough because you’re learning new concepts, not because you’re simply sick of the test.
Read More: What Type of Questions Are on the LSAT?
Finally, to be perfectly honest, at some point after 5 or 6 months you’ll begin to see diminishing and even vanishing returns from your studies. It is easy to become mentally defeated by slowed or halted improvement when you over-do your studies. One year is the absolute maximum I would ever recommend, and only in cases where full-time employment, family responsibilities, or learning disabilities unequivocally demand a slower pace.
Now that you know the pitfalls to avoid, you can set a specific study schedule for yourself. Use the following excellent sample study plans to craft one that works for your individual circumstances:
- Magoosh https://magoosh.com/lsat/2017/three-month-lsat-study-plan/
- PowerScore: http://students.powerscore.com/self-study/
- LSAT Blog: http://lsatblog.blogspot.com/2009/06/3-month-lsat-study-schedule.html
- Lawschooli: https://lawschooli.com/lsat-study-schedule/
These tools, coupled with dedication and persistence, should bring consistent, quantifiable improvement in your LSAT practice scores. Happy studies!