Updated: Feb 24, 2022
"This is the biggest blow to my ego in my student life", says a student of mine who had just scored a 139 on her first LSAT diagnostic.
How hard is the LSAT?
The LSAT is scored on a 120-180 curve, and the median score is generally a 152 (50th percentile). The median LSAT score for students admitted to most Canadian law schools is around 160, which puts them in the 80th percentile of all LSAT test-takers.
The rule of thumb is that you should be aiming for a 160+ LSAT score to have a good shot at getting into a Canadian law school, provided that you did relatively well in your undergrad.
How hard is it to get a 160+? One way to look at it is to realize that you need to put yourself ahead of 80% of all test-takers. In other words, in a room of 10 LSAT students, you need to achieve the highest or second-highest score in the group. In a room of 100 LSAT students, you need to be in the top 20.
This brings me to the first reason why the LSAT is so hard for most students:
1. Highest Level of Competition
Simply put, you will be competing with some of the brightest and most hardworking students in the country. Students aspiring to get into law school are among the most intelligent and self-driven demographic, with the highest GPAs in their respective programs.
If you want to get admitted to most Canadian law schools, you need to put yourself ahead of this demographic (the top 20th percentile, to be precise).
What does this mean? For every 5 LSAT test-takers, most of whom are highly intelligent and academically successful, only 1 will achieve a score competitive for Canadian law school admissions.
2. The LSAT is NOT a Knowledge Test
Unlike other standardized tests such as the MCAT and the GMAT, the LSAT does not test your knowledge in particular domains such as math and the sciences. The LSAT is predominantly a reasoning exam, with a heavy emphasis on logic. Most students, especially those from social science and humanities backgrounds, aren't used to this type of exam.
The implication of this is that studying for the LSAT is not a matter of memorizing facts or regurgitating a set of content. Mastery of the LSAT requires taking your reading comprehension and analytical and logical reasoning skills to a very high level, and this is not something you can realistically attain in a few weeks.
3. Extreme Time Pressure
On the LSAT, you will be presented with a large volume of dense passages and complex scenarios and asked to answer high-level comprehension and reasoning questions in a short amount of time - 35 minutes to answer 23-27 questions.
Though all LSAT questions are multiple-choice, students often are "baited“ by highly attractive, wrong answer choices that are flawed in extremely nuanced and subtle ways. Due to the crushing time pressure, students often fail to properly comprehend and reason through these answer choices to consistently eliminate them.
It is not uncommon for students to run out of time on each section of the LSAT.
4. Demand on Detail-Orientation
Doing well on the LSAT requires extremely careful reading and highly intricate problem-solving steps. This is true especially for the Logic Games section, where one small careless error upfront can carry disastrous consequences.
For the Reading Comprehension and Logical Reasoning section, one word may be the distinguishing factor between a correct answer choice and an incorrect answer choice.
The LSAT's unforgiving demand for attention to detail adds an additional layer of difficulty for students.
The LSAT is indeed a very hard test. But it is definitely improvable if you study hard and prepare. As an LSAT tutor, I've helped countless students make double-digit improvements on their LSAT. On the most recent LSAT, half of my students scored a 165+. Getting an experienced LSAT tutor can pay great dividends in overcoming the seemingly insurmountable LSAT hurdle.
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