timer with LSAT prep and law school admission goals

Studying for the LSAT is a critical rite of passage for future lawyers. Most law school admissions committees give LSAT scores at least as much weight as undergraduate GPAs—effectively rendering this single test as important as all the college exams you’ve taken combined!

Accordingly, every aspect of your LSAT preparation needs to be planned strategically. Deciding how long to prepare for the test is essential for determining how to prepare for it. Here are some tips to keep in mind as you figure out how much time you should spend preparing for the LSAT:

Tip #1: Understand that the LSAT is different from other exams and requires more preparation

There are three key ways in which the LSAT is unlike any other exam you’ll ever take.

The LSAT tests skills, not content.

Unlike most examinations, the LSAT requires no outside knowledge beyond a good command of the English language. Rather than assessing your mastery of a particular subject matter—as most college exams and standardized tests do—the LSAT measures your ability to think logically and analytically. In fact, your formal education, life experience, and general knowledge can each serve as an impediment on the exam if you don’t know how to suspend them when needed.

It requires you to retrain your brain.

When you prep for the LSAT, you must train your brain to think in a specialized way that might seem unnatural for most non-lawyers. This can be a lengthy process. Keep in mind that equally competent individuals can vary in how long they need to hone the skills required for the LSAT. While, for example, taking a long time to learn academic subjects such as mathematics or foreign languages (when compared to how long it takes your classmates) might indicate a relative weakness in those areas, this is not necessarily the case for the LSAT. Some of the best legal minds took a relatively long time to master this change in thought process—so leave yourself at least three months (and ideally more) for LSAT prep.

It isn’t conducive to cramming.

Many academically successful students incorrectly believe that they can cram for the LSAT in just a few weeks—and end up getting a rude awakening! It’s therefore important to err on the side of caution and give yourself plenty of time to prepare.

Tip #2: Aim for 250 to 300 hours of LSAT preparation

For most students, a three-month period of preparation (of approximately 20 hours per week) is a great goal. This is, of course, an estimate; most students are not all students. To find out how much LSAT prep time you’re likely to need, we recommend taking a practice LSAT to get a baseline score. Students scoring close to their goal scores may need less than that three-month period. Those scoring more than ten points from their goals are likely to need additional prep time. Practical considerations, such as work and personal commitments, will come into play here, as will your own unique needs and learning style. Nonetheless, 250 to 300 hours of LSAT preparation over a period of a few months is a good benchmark. Most students who dedicate significantly less time won’t maximize their LSAT scores.

While you may ultimately need more than three months to prepare if you don’t get the score increases you need within that time frame, it’s best not to start too long before your planned test date. Light preparation over a lengthy period may not be intensive enough, while serious work over many months may lead to burnout. You’ll want to strike a balance between intensity and duration. Ideally, you will also want to keep your non-LSAT workload to a minimum during the integral stage of LSAT prep. Consider the valuable time you spend preparing for the LSAT (and whatever sacrifices that may entail) an investment in your future as an attorney.    

Tip #3: Allocate time for in-depth analysis

Students who realize their LSAT goals do so because they learn systematically from their own mistakes and devise strategies for avoiding such errors in the future.

Whatever your method of preparing for the LSAT, it’s important to understand that analyzing your performance will take up a good portion of your time. For every three-hour practice exam you take (and you should plan to take several), plan to spend around four or five hours reviewing your responses and identifying patterns in the errors you make.

The same holds true for any homework assignments your LSAT course instructor or tutor may assign you. Set aside study time accordingly; a twenty-minute drill might take you thirty or even forty minutes to assess and reduce to notes for future reference.

You’ll need to do this work even—especially—if you receive test reports indicating, for instance, that you struggle with Inference questions or certain types of games. Such reports, while helpful, won’t tell you why you’re having difficulty with those types of problems. They also won’t tell you how to improve, or how that relative weakness should alter your overall strategy. You’ll need to do the analysis. That work is itself part of an effective LSAT prep strategy. It’s also something that an effective teacher or tutor can unpack with you so that you can identify and then overcome LSAT challenges.

Tip #4: Do NOT take the test until you’re ready

If you’re not routinely scoring within three or four points of your goal on practice exams, don’t sit for the real thing! The LSAT is an extremely reliable test. This means that, unless you do something seriously different on the actual LSAT or are somehow adversely affected by external factors such as practice test conditions, you will most likely score within a few points (in either direction) of what you earned on your most recent practice exams.

Even though many law schools will accept your highest LSAT score, you should resist the temptation to take the exam for diagnostic purposes—in other words, just to see how well you’ll perform (with an eye to taking the test again). If you’re looking to ascertain your baseline LSAT score, sign up for a free practice test.

It’s not the end of the world to have to take the LSAT more than once, and you can overcome low scores on your transcript. Even still, you shouldn’t set yourself up for multiple retakes, which will collectively increase the psychological pressure you experience and potentially make you a less appealing candidate for law schools.

If you give yourself the time you need to fully prepare—however long that turns out to be—you’ll be well positioned to achieve LSAT success on your very first try.