The #1 Biggest Mistake Pre-Law Students Make (and 5 Remedies)

The most important part of a student’s law school application is the LSAT.  So it should come as no surprise that the biggest mistake many prelaw students make revolves around their preparation for this challenging exam.  After coaching thousands of LSAT Prep students, I’ve found that the biggest mistake most students make in preparing for the LSAT is not appreciating the difference between the LSAT and the typical college exam.

Unlike college (and even law school) exams, which frequently involve lots of memorization and regurgitation, the LSAT is a logic-based exam that (according to the LSAC) tests “the legal reasoning skills used in law school and the practice of law.” Students can improve their LSAT scores dramatically with effective preparation. However, countless students fail to maximize their potential on this exam by not appreciating how one should prepare for the LSAT.  Here are five suggestions to help remedy that problem:

  1. DON’T PLAN ON CRAMMING: Think of the LSAT as a marathon, not a sprint.  In college, cramming makes a lot of sense.  Studying intensely during the last few days before a final helps ensure the topics will be fresh in your mind so you can regurgitate it on the exam.  The LSAT, in contrast, involves very little memorization. Instead, the LSAT involves training your mind how to think the way law students and lawyers are trained to do. A more methodical approach over a longer time period is useful when preparing for the LSAT.  Give yourself a minimum of two months to prepare for the exam. For most students, even more time is beneficial.
  2. TAKE LOTS OF TIMED PRACTICE EXAMS:  Unlike college exams, the LSAT provides you with a unique opportunity.  There are over 80 previously released exams that can be used by you for practice. These prior exams are worth their weight in gold. The LSAT has tested the same core subjects for decades, and has changed in only minor ways over the years.  Get a solid foundation in the fundamentals first, but eventually plan on (1) taking a very large number of timed, practice exams, and (2) analyzing and understanding the exam questions afterward. For what it’s worth, I practice what I preach: my courses focus exclusively on analyzing these LSAT questions, as well as assisting students in effectively using these LSATs as homework. I would estimate that at least 90% of LSAT Prep students fail to learn as much as they could from these practice LSAT exams. Often, that is due to insufficient preparation time or inadequate instruction.
  3. APPRECIATE THE IMPORTANCE OF SMALL GAINS: No one likes to spend a lot of time doing something they aren’t that good at.   However, it is important to recognize that the LSAT is a means to an end.  The “end” is getting accepted into your dream law school (or at least a law school you find acceptable), and/or getting a merit-based scholarship. Getting a B- (around 80%) on a college exam after studying really hard may not feel that exciting.  On the other hand, getting a 160 on the LSAT (around the 80th percentile) may be a huge accomplishment and can radically improve your law school options. Very small differences in one’s LSAT score can make a world of difference (1-2 point differences on the LSAT routinely can be the difference between acceptance and rejection).  Even if the process feels slow, frustrating and at-times demoralizing, stick with it. You can accomplish a tremendous amount by going from poor to average, average to good, or good to excellent on this exam.
  4. GET OVER YOUR EGO:  Your cousin Vinny may tell everyone how he earned an LSAT score in the 170s with minimal amounts of self-study, and now you may be convinced you can do it too.  Maybe Vinny is telling the truth, and maybe he is exaggerating just a tad.  Of course, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Kobe Bryant were all extraordinary basketball players (I’m guessing that they were even better at basketball than Vinny claims to have been at the LSAT)…and they all benefited immensely from effective coaching and LOTS of practice. Whether you are great, average, or terrible at standardized exams, you likely can benefit from some form of guidance and tons of practice on the LSAT.  You may want to rely on books, video courses, in-class courses, personal tutoring, or some combination of all of them, but getting insight from an expert is just common sense.  It also will allow you to self-study more efficiently and effectively.
  5. USE YOUR PAST AS GUIDANCE: In college, we rarely think about how to prepare for a final exam. You go to class, read the materials, and cram for the final.  With the LSAT, put some thought into how you want to prepare. Consider how you learned challenging and novel things in the past.  Do you learn best from reading textbooks, attending lectures/workshops with a live instructor, or some combination of both?  My courses focus on allowing students to hear the lessons, read study material, and apply what they learned through extensive practice with LSAT questions in timed settings. No matter what you do, LSAT Prep will involve a lot of “self-study,” just like you did homework in college.  Evaluate for yourself what you think is the most beneficial way to supplement your LSAT Prep self-study.

I could probably write 10 more items, but I believe you will find that paying attention to the five suggestions mentioned above may make a world of difference in your quest to maximize your potential on this challenging standardized exam. If you have questions, please feel free to contact me at mark@scoreitup.com.  Good luck!

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