Interview with Steve Schwartz, Founder of LSAT Blog and LSAT Unplugged [Show Summary]
In this episode, top LSAT tutor Steve Schwartz discusses the upcoming changes to the LSAT and their implications for law school applicants, the GRE vs LSAT question, his top tips for LSAT prep, and his growing treasure trove of LSAT prep resources — everything from free guides and videos to private tutoring.
How to Ace the LSAT [Show Notes]
Our guest today is Steve Schwartz of the LSAT blog and the LSAT Unplugged podcast and YouTube channel. Steve graduated from Columbia University in 2008. In high school and college he tutored various subjects and also helped prep test takers for standardized tests, including the LSAT. However, he really began to focus on the LSAT when he was applying to law school. He founded the LSAT Blog in 2008 and never looked back. Today, eleven years later, he has helped thousands master the LSAT, get into law school, and sometimes secure scholarships worth tens of thousands of dollars.
Steve, how did you get involved with LSAT test prep? What’s the back story? [2:04]
I was considering law school myself and had a very rude awakening with my first diagnostic test when I scored 152 which is right around the average score. Slowly and painstakingly over an entire year I brought my score up to 175 on test day. Once I did that friends started asking for help, and it grew and grew from there. I found I really enjoyed teaching the LSAT once I came to master it.
Before we turn to your coaching, I’d like to discuss the changes taking place in the LSAT world. First, what’s happening this summer? [3:01]
There are many changes coming, but the biggest one is that the LSAT is finally transitioning to a digital format – it is the last remaining grad level exam to go digital. Starting in July they will be distributing it via tablet, though initially with half still receiving paper and pencil and the other half digitally. LSAT will choose the format for the student and won’t tell them in advance in order to do a controlled study. The plan is to transition to 100% digital this fall. The content for the digital format will remain the same, the only thing changing is the style of delivery.
Any changes to LSAT prep in anticipation of the digital LSAT? [4:15]
There are a lot of changes. Students used to writing on a page with diagrams and so forth will no longer be able to do that. You will have scrap paper on the side but with the tablet you won’t be able to draw on the screen with the stylus. You also only see one question at a time instead of being able to view them as a group, so students will need to click back and forth within a set of questions.
When should an applicant take the GRE instead of the LSAT? [5:34]
For the vast majority of schools the LSAT should be the focus. I recently spoke with the UCLA admissions dean, and they only took 5% of applicants with GRE scores, which tells me that with extraordinary applicants they are willing to overlook not having taken the LSAT, but for the vast majority, and certainly the average applicant, they still want to see the LSAT.
I don’t think the GRE will take hold like it has say for MBA programs because pre-law students don’t like math. For rankings we don’t know how GRE scores will factor in. For now you know that if your LSAT score is above the median you are more likely to be accepted. LSAT scores also have a very strong correlation to first year law school grades, which then correlate to bar passage rates, which law schools care very much about. So bottom line, in pretty much all cases I would recommend taking the LSAT over the GRE.
There are lots of test prep companies out there. What does your coaching bring to the market place that it previously lacked? [8:59]
Well for one thing it is me personally teaching every class, working one on one with students. I also release almost everything I do for free – it’s all out there on the website, YouTube, podcast, you name it, so you can see exactly what it is like to work with me before signing up. I don’t know anybody else out there releasing free samples, so to speak.
What are a few top LSAT prep tips? [10:10]
Most people don’t spend enough time devoted to LSAT prep. Most people want to plan 2-3 months as that is how long they studied for the SAT. The LSAT is much more difficult and requires much more of you, and is weighted much more heavily in the admissions process than the SAT, so 5-6 months should be the average to reach full potential.
Another piece of advice is to not take exam after exam – the real growth comes from a detailed review process. Don’t take practice tests too early. First work on accuracy, by time and by type of question, then pace each section, and in the third phase practice endurance to simulate test day.
How about tips for the day before and the day of the exam? [11:28]
The day before I wouldn’t do anything at all. Rest, relax, take it easy – at this point you either know it or you don’t. The day of the exam wake up early (though you should have already practiced going to the test center on another day!), make sure you are packed and ready to go (ideally having done this the night before), bring warm-up practice questions, and avoid other people that could stress you out.
What do you see in your crystal ball for your LSAT coaching and Internet properties? [12:35]
I am starting to play around more with live in-person classes, and now that I am comfortable on camera I am interested in seeing what works, experimenting with different models. People don’t want to read so much anymore so I am trying to give them what they want in a format they want. With YouTube and podcasts, people can take advantage of passive time (on the drive home, while cooking, at the gym, etc) to learn things.
Any plans to expand into GRE? Other test prep? [13:38]
I can’t see myself shifting. I love the LSAT and I don’t think that will change, and I also don’t see the GRE being a major factor like it has become in other fields. I don’t have any plans to go anywhere else.
What would you have liked me to ask that I didn’t ask? [14:01]
The review process is something I could talk about. You want to take exam sections, but before checking the answer key and moving on, engage with the problem more if it gave you trouble – was it the timing or the content that gave you trouble? What was tempting about the wrong answer choice and what pushed you away from the right answer? You want to see the traps of encouragement to the wrong answer, and getting a sense of pattern is really useful.
There has been a drop in bar passage rates since 2008 and there has been tremendous shrinking in the law school market. Do you feel there is a correlation of any kind between the use of the GRE, average LSAT scores, and bar passage rates? [16:09]
I don’t think it’s related to the GRE since again it is such a small percentage of applicants. I think it has much more to do with the number of people applying to law school. Schools still need to fill seats and because they are getting fewer applicants they might be digging deeper in the barrel, accepting students who might not be able to pass the bar in the end. The reality is that some students maybe shouldn’t have gone to law school in the first case. If you can’t break 150 then law school might not be right for you – you don’t want to drop out or possibly not pass the bar. With the LSAT now being offered 9-10 times a year there is no excuse not to take it again. If you get a low score, just treat it like the test is a foreign language and take the time to improve it rather than write an addenda. The proof is in the pudding!
• Steve’s Interview with Accepted’s Christine Carr
• LSAT Blog
• LSAT Unplugged podcast
• LSAT Unplugged YouTube Channel
• The Law School Admissions Guide: 8 Tips for Success, a free download
• Accepted’s Law School Admission Consulting Services