Taking LSAT Prep Courses vs. Self-Study

When preparing for the LSAT, some students wonder which method of preparation may be best. Students often can get confused by all the advertising gimmicks out there.  I will give you my thoughts of the advantages and disadvantages of each method.  (Spoiler alert:  (1) self-study is the cheapest way to do it, but it isn’t free and is unlikely to be the most effective route, (2) live (in-class) courses can be a terrific supplement to self-study if you choose the right course and instructor, (3) online video courses can be a flexible and cost-effective way to get some of the benefits of a live (in-class) course, and (4) so-called “live-online” courses are an ineffective use of your time and money):

(1) Self-Study (only)

The biggest benefit to self-study is economics. One can use various online resources, online video courses, books, and official LSATs for practice. Note, though, that studying on one’s own is not free. At a minimum, you probably will spend several hundred dollars buying books and practice LSATs (which, as a side note, are included for free in my live courses) by the time you are through with so-called “self-study.” Whether you purchase an online video course or rely only upon free resources, there still will be a cost involved with “self study.”

More importantly, if ever there were an example of being “penny-wise, pound-foolish,” it is the LSAT.  Differences of even 1-2 points on your LSAT routinely impact law school acceptance decisions. Very small differences in your LSAT score also can lead to massive merit-based scholarships that dwarf the cost of taking an LSAT Prep course. I would encourage you to do the math. If you feel an LSAT Prep course would benefit you, you probably should take one – just make sure you have confidence in your instructor and get a decent “bang for the buck.”

Self-study also has the advantage of convenience. You can engage in self-study anywhere you want, and at any time. If one is not highly disciplined, though, the lack of structure can be a drawback – we all find other things to do with our time, and can easily be distracted. Take a hard look at your typical studying habits when evaluating whether this “convenience” will be an advantage or disadvantage to you.

(2) Live Classroom Instruction + Self-Study

Students routinely benefit from a live (classroom) LSAT Prep course.  Be aware, though, that a live LSAT Prep course does not replace the need to work on your own. You still need to do a good amount of studying at home. Although it is a little more expensive than relying upon self-study only, the benefits of a live course taught by a well qualified instructor are numerous and significant. Here are a few of those benefits:

(a) Live Classroom Instruction Is A Proven Success

University courses have been, and continue to be, taught by professors in live classroom settings. The live course teaching method has been a proven success for centuries, and the invention of modern technology (including online courses) has not changed that one iota. Students typically find the live classroom experience far more effective than merely relying upon self-study or online learning.

LSAT Prep is no different. Taking a live course to supplement self-study is likely to be far more useful than merely relying upon self-study and/or online video courses. Indeed, an extensive study done by LSAC indicated that the LSAT scores of students taking a commercial LSAT Prep course (i.e., NOT a LSAT Prep course offered by a University) are significantly higher on average than those who don’t. An effective instructor’s ability to help you understand and apply the LSAT’s key “legal reasoning” concepts is likely to be worth its weight in gold.

(b) Live Classroom Courses Provide Structure

Even if you are a highly disciplined student, you are likely to find it difficult to remain focused, on-track, and diligent about studying on your own to the extent necessary to maximize your LSAT score. Having a set time dedicated for LSAT Prep lessons and mock exams, and an instructor guiding your additional self-study, can significantly help you succeed on the challenging and critically important LSAT.

(c) Live Classroom Instruction Allows You To Ask Questions And Get Immediate Feedback

This is a huge benefit of live LSAT Prep courses.  Many online courses provide very limited opportunities to ask questions.  Even when you are able to ask questions, the answers are often provided by a wide variety of people with questionable teaching credentials and LSAT Prep expertise.  And you typically will wait hours or days for a response. By then, you’ve often forgotten the issue. If you have a highly effective instructor, I can virtually guarantee you that you will appreciate the benefit of immediate, expert feedback.

(d) Live Courses Include Proctored Exams 

Live LSAT Prep courses (at least the ones that I offer) also provide the opportunity to take proctored full-length exams (and portions of exams) in a classroom setting. Forcing yourself to experience the mild distractions of other students shuffling papers, sneezing, breathing, etc., is likely to be quite helpful in preparing yourself to take the official LSAT.

(e) Live Courses Provide A Series Of Intangible Benefits

Live courses can provide a series of significant intangible benefits.  For example, if you instructor is well-connected within the legal community, he/she can give you helpful advice regarding internships, law school applications, personal statements, letters of recommendation, etc. Learning how to write an effective personal statement, obtain useful letters of recommendation, and navigating through the application process also can be immensely helpful.  (If your instructor is a law school graduate, you can see his/her employment and State Bar status by going to calbar.ca.gov and typing in his/her name (or bar number).)

In addition, if your instructor is a practicing attorney with meaningful legal experience, you can receive useful advice regarding law school and the practice of law, including meeting and watching attorneys in court.  Getting an early sense of the “end game” of being a lawyer can be a life-changing benefit.

(f) Live Courses Add An Important Networking/Social Element

In live LSAT Prep courses, you get to know your instructor and other students on a personal level, if you wish to do so. Beginning the “networking” part of your career at an early stage makes sense.  In addition, it makes the LSAT Prep experience a lot more fun. In my courses, I routinely include networking and social opportunities for students to meet each other as well as other pre-law students, current law students, and practicing lawyers.

(g) Live Classroom Instruction Simplifies The Studying Process

Your instructor can make your life much easier for you by (1) highlighting key issues that are critical to LSAT Prep, and (2) allowing you to avoid spending unnecessary time “spinning your wheels” studying things that are largely irrelevant to the overwhelming majority of LSAT questions.  Studying hard is important to succeed on the LSAT.  Learning how to study smart is equally important.

(3) Online Video Course + Self-Study

An online video course can be a useful supplement to “self-study.”  In particular, one of the things it allows you to do is to hear the instruction, as opposed to merely reading it.  Studies have shown that learning can be enhanced when one does all of the following:  (1) reading the instruction material, (2) hearing the instruction material, and (3) applying the instruction material.  An online course allows you to hear the instruction, and also makes it easier to apply the material.  In addition, one can study at any time with an online video course, and that flexibility is a nice benefit.

(4) “Live Online” LSAT Prep Course + Self-Study

“Live online” LSAT Prep courses are online courses that require you to tune in at specific times to hear an instructor teaching from a random location. I have to be honest here.  I think that many students who take “live online” courses wind up doing so because they didn’t do their research.  The companies that include this approach often charge about as much for their “live online” course as it would cost you to take a live (in-class) course.  The biggest problem with “live online” courses is that (1) you don’t get the key benefits of live (in-class) LSAT Prep courses (as discussed above), and (2) you also don’t get the key benefits of online video courses (including cost-effectiveness and flexibility).  You may have a personal preference for this type of studying, but I personally would not go this route.

Conclusion

Students are not identical. In the end, evaluate what the best choice for you is likely to be. Hopefully, the above summary will give you a little more clarity of the advantages and disadvantages of the various ways to prepare for the LSAT.  To see additional information about the benefits of my ScoreItUp courses in particular, please visit Top 15. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to email me at mark@scoeitup.com.  Good luck!

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