University Career Center

You'll need books. Big ones.

There are many ways to adequately prepare for the defining four or so hours of your existence. What? No. Not that incident in the coat room at Julie’s 13th birthday party. I don’t care if it was the first time…ahh, who cares? The internet has ruined our generation’s sense of discovery anyway. I’m talking about a different bout of intense, sweaty, and vaguely shameful grappling. A more mental one. The LSAT.

While many of your peers will gravitate towards long, involved, and expensive commercial prep courses – which serve an excellent function and promote solid score gains among their students – it is possible and not entirely difficult to study for the LSAT all on your own. All you really need are the right materials, plenty of time, and a positive mindset.

OK. Remember like two sentences ago when I said it wouldn’t be entirely difficult? I was lying. It will be hard. Perhaps even brutal. You’ll lack the guidance a course provides, not to mention the access to a seasoned instructor who can help you make heads or tails of the complex material. It is, however, totally doable. Here’s my Lone Wolf Non-Annotated Boom Shakalaka! Roadmap To Total Crushing LSAT Mastery ™.

Step One. Well before test season – like 4-6 months before Game Day, D-Day, It, The Test, The Big One, T Minus 38,742 Minutes And Counting, Party In The USA, or whatever other idiotic cliché you’ll personally use to describe your chosen LSAT administration – take The Career Center’s LSAT Familiarization Course. For $50, you get nine class sessions of sheer unadulterated awesome covering the types of questions you’ll see on the test, an introduction to the application process, a full length practice test, and a wrap-up session covering your individual best paths to success. I’m no mathematician, but that’s like at least twelve awesome per dollar. Where else are you gonna get that exchange rate? Best of all, it’s taught by a current UM Law student who, besides acing the test, has experience guiding other students through the process. After you take the class, you’ll have an excellent understanding of both the test itself and the question types you personally need to work on.

Step Two. 2-3 months to go. You’re going to buy some books. At the bare minimum, you’ll need the previous ten actual LSAT tests to practice on. These can be purchased from LSAC itself or from Amazon.com. LSAC also has a free download of the June 2007 test. Additionally, you’ll want what we call the Bibles: Powerscore’s Logic Games Bible, Logic Reasoning Bible, and Reading Comprehension Bible. These books explain the types of questions and strategies to use. They’ll be your guide. The total cost of the Bibles and tests should be around $100-150.

Step Three. Take two or three PTs (practice tests) UNTIMED and really go over the material in the books in depth. Make sure you understand why you’re getting questions wrong, especially if you keep missing questions of a particular type. If there are other Lone Wolves you know, consider forming a study group to go over material together. You may, at this point, consider hiring a tutor for a few hours. Do not go cheap with a tutor, and vet any prospective tutor well. While market rates for LSAT tutoring seem stratospheric – $100 per hour should be near the low end for anyone who really knows their stuff – the difference between a seasoned instructor and a high-scoring dilettante will become readily apparent in the end.

Step Four. 4-6 weeks to go. Continue reading the Bibles in depth. Start taking TIMED PTs at the LSAT pace – 35 minutes per section. You should be taking two timed PTs per week, and going over every question you miss. Don’t freak out in the early rounds if the pace of the test seems daunting or even impossible – your speed will improve drastically with practice. Don’t waste time and energy practicing the writing sample. It’s ungraded on the real test, and one half-hour look at it at most should be all you ever need. Between Steps 2, 3, and 4, you should ideally put in 100-200 hours of total study time, including taking the tests. You want to be up to test day speed and score with 10 days – 2 weeks to go.

Step Five. Day before test day. Do not look at any material. Go out and get some exercise. If you’re not completely and exactly sure where the testing room is, do a dry run and find out where you’re supposed to be. You don’t need the added stress of running around an unfamiliar building in a cold sweat on the morning of the test.

Step Six. Test Day. Wake up two hours before test time. Work through a game quickly to get those logical motors up and running. Eat some breakfast. For the sake of your fellow test-takers, shower. Avoid a lot of coffee or energy drinks – you don’t want to have to answer the brutally unignorable call of nature right in the middle of your Games section. Arm yourself with your favorite No.2 pencils, an analog watch, and your ID. Attack!

Step Seven. Post-test. Relax, go out, and have fun with your friends.

Theo Arnold is a 2L at University of Michigan Law School. He got 180 on his own LSAT and taught LSAT courses for a leading test preparation organization before starting teaching the LSAT Familiarization Courses sponsored by UM The Career Center and LSA Student Government.

Photo credit: katesheets on Flickr.