LSAT experts discuss how to prepare for the LSAT, LSAT vs GRE, the LSAT-Flex, and more [Show summary]
TestMax Prep’s Branden Frankel and Jelena Woehr, hosts of the Legal Level podcast, explore what LSAT test-takers need to know about testing options, recent changes, and prep strategies.
TestMax Prep’s Branden Frankel and Jelena Woehr talk about all things LSAT [Show notes]
Law school acceptance isn’t just dependent on your LSAT, or your GPA, or your personal statement, or even where you apply. All those elements come into play. Part one of this joint, two-part episode with TestMax Prep’s Branden Frankel and Jelena Woehr, who also host the Legal Level podcast, will cover them all. Adding her law school admissions expertise to the show is Christine Carr, Accepted’s law school admissions guru and former Associate Director of Admissions at Boston University Law School.
Jelena and Branden, how did you both get involved with LSAT prep? [1:58]
Jelena: The LSAT was intended to be an off-ramp out of a tech career for me. I had thought about it for a number of years. In fact, recently I went back into an old email that I no longer have and realized I’d been talking about taking the LSAT in my emails years ago, way earlier than I ever thought that I was interested in it, with some random guy from OkCupid that I was emailing back and forth with. But in 2017, I was tired of working in startups and thought I should finally go ahead and take the LSAT.
To my surprise, I actually really, really enjoyed the LSAT. I got a 178 on the June 2017 test, and the process of studying for it actually taught me a lot that I had not picked up earlier in my life about study skills and my own learning style. I ended up liking the LSAT so much that I couldn’t really quite figure out what I would do as a lawyer, so I never went to law school, but I just started teaching the LSAT. I’m still really loving it. That’s my journey.
Branden: My journey started earlier, as my life started much earlier, because I’m much older. I studied for the LSAT first in the early 2000s. I ended up going to law school in 2007. I taught the LSAT a little bit before I went to law school. The LSAT was always up my alley because I was a philosophy major as an undergrad, and I was really into symbolic logic. I took a lot of symbolic logic classes, so when I studied for the LSAT, it was kind of close to what I had been doing as an undergrad, which is not the same for just about anybody who has any other degree, and then I went to law school. I practiced law for a few years. I had a kid and a wife at one point, and then my wife and I split up. I had my daughter half the time, and working in the law firm was just not a flexible way for me to manage my responsibilities as a newfound single parent.
Doing LSAT prep was something that I had done before and I had loved, and it also gave me flexibility, so I came back to it. That was eight years ago at this point, and I’ve been doing it pretty much straight ever since, and I love the LSAT. I know that makes me weird. To me, it’s fun. Not just the logic games are fun, but I mean, I think the exam is fun, and I also really love teaching, and I love getting to interact with students. It’s definitely fit into my life as my life has changed, so it’s been great for me and I really love it.
Christine, are you also somebody who considered law? [4:43]
Christine: It was the briefest blip. It was very short-lived, right after graduating from undergrad.
One of the questions that we frequently get is, “Should someone go to law school in a recession?” Branden, you started UCLA Law in 2007, when the future looked very rosy for future lawyers, and you graduated in 2010, when the law school job market was the pits. You’re not working as a lawyer today. How did you navigate that, and do you regret having gone to law school? [5:10]
Branden: I do not regret having gone to law school. I will be paying law school debt for a while, but that said, I really enjoyed my time there, and I still find what I did there very useful. As far as going to law school during a recession, I think that you shouldn’t necessarily change your calculations because of a recession. I started in 2007, and some of the students who came in 2008 and 2009 were seeking shelter from the storm, and I understand that, but I think the decision to practice law has to be one that is made on its own terms, and not necessarily because you feel like you’ve reached the end of other options.
I think that going to law school in a recession is perfectly fine, but I think you have to have a better reason to do it than just because a recession has rolled around and you haven’t thought of anything else that would be useful for you. I think you have to think about, “What do I want my career to look like? Can I see a way that I will be happy and successful as an attorney?” Then, whether there’s a recession or not, If the answer to that question is yes, go to law school. If the answer to the question is no, then find something else to do with your time.
TestMax provides both GRE and LSAT prep. When should applicants take the LSAT, and when should they take the GRE? Or who should take one, and who should take the other? [6:51]
Jelena: There are a lot of top law schools that now will consider the GRE, but the LSAT is still the gold standard. If what you want is to go to law school and to attend a top law school, you need to be taking the LSAT. The GRE, the increasing acceptance of the GRE, is largely intended to create more equitable access for students who maybe cannot afford either time-wise or expense-wise to prep for both, and who truly have not decided between grad school and law school. If somebody is graduating from their undergrad, they want to go directly on to some form of continuing education, and they really don’t know which, and they really cannot afford to take and study for both tests, then the GRE is the only one that’s applicable to both. You cannot use the LSAT for anything but law school, or maybe randomly impressing strangers if you get a good score. It doesn’t get you into grad school. Although, I have to say, I’ve never significantly impressed someone in a bar with my LSAT score, so don’t count on it getting you any dates.
If you’re considering law school, it’s a huge time commitment. It’s a huge investment, and it is a professional degree. It is intended for people who want to work in law. I still have a couple of years to potentially apply and I haven’t absolutely ruled it out, but there’s a big reason that I haven’t gone yet myself. If you’re going to go to law school, you should be making that decision because you are very sure that you want to work as a lawyer. If you’re not sure and you’re considering taking both, maybe just take the GRE because if you’re going to apply to law school, that should be a decision that you are making because you’re certain. On the other hand, if you’re certain about law school, take the LSAT because the GRE isn’t going to open as many doors for you.
Branden: There are a limited number of schools that accept the GRE for a limited number of seats, so if you want to apply broadly to law school, you have to take the LSAT.
Jelena: You’re welcome to pay us for tutoring and prep for both, but you really probably shouldn’t.
The digital LSAT was planned for over time and very well thought-out. The Flex LSAT, which is remotely proctored, was created in response to COVID in a matter of weeks. Has this changed test prep for the LSAT? [9:28]
Branden: The first one, the switch to the digital LSAT, as you mentioned, was planned out. I think the big change comes in the reading comprehension section because the big change, obviously, is that you cannot write on the exam anymore. You get to use scratch paper, and for all of the sections of the exam, they also offer you the opportunity within the section to use three highlighter colors to highlight what you’re reading, as well as an underline to underline what you’re reading. That, I think, is sufficient for logical reasoning and for logic games, especially since you have the scratch paper, but for reading comprehension, it presents a big problem. I know my methodology, and I think the methodology of most people before was to have a system for tagging the passage, for tracking arguments in the passage, and so it really has changed the way that students approach reading comprehension, and I just don’t see how it could not change that approach.
As far as the change from having a digital LSAT to the LSAT Flex, which was created, as you mentioned, under emergency conditions, the substance of the exam is pretty much the same. They changed from having two logical reasoning sections and one each of reading comp and logic games to having just one section of each that counts, so it’s a smaller exam. It means logical reasoning is not as important as it was before. It used to be the king of LSAT sections. Now, it’s just one among many. But as far as how you prep for the exam, I think it’s pretty much the same, so the interface is a little bit different.
The in-person LSAT, once it went digital, was taken on a tablet that was provided at a testing center that you used a stylus with. The LSAT Flex you take on a laptop or a desktop computer at home, but what you are doing is pretty much the same. I think one of the things that’s very important in the distinction between the LSAT in person and the LSAT Flex is the difference in testing conditions. Depending upon your testing conditions, I think you have to practice as much as possible before you get to test day.
The one other thing that is important is something I think LSAT has tried their best or at least worked on, which is that pretty much anybody who can sign up for the LSAT can get themselves to a testing center, but once the LSAT was a home-based exam, it became out of reach for a lot of people. There’s a lot of people who cannot find a room that they can have to themselves silently for three hours. There’s a lot of people who just don’t have their own laptop or desktop computer that will work with the LSAT Flex, and so LSAT has been working with people to get them hotel rooms to take the LSAT Flex in. They’ve been working with them to get them loaner computers, but I think more or less, especially if you’re in that situation, I think you have to really start out early and work with LSAC to make sure that you have a testing situation that is going to work. But otherwise, the subject matter is the same, so I think your studies are pretty much the same.
Jelena: The only thing that I would add is to the difference between this planned and premeditated transition and the emergency transition. Anytime there’s a change, there’s going to be a lot of stuff on the internet, especially on the LSAT subreddit and on Quora, about all of the issues. “My proctor didn’t understand the rules. My proctor’s technology didn’t work. My technology unexpectedly didn’t work. Something was buggy. LSAT gave me an incorrect response to a question.” But all of that stuff happened on the pencil and paper LSAT all the time, too. Regardless of whether there’s change happening, whether there’s planned change happening, emergency change happening, or just the status quo, I always recommend that LSAT students be ready on testing day for all kinds of unexpected issues. In fact, expect to have issues because they’re very, very common. You’re dealing with human beings proctoring your tests, and human beings make human errors, and now we’ve got technology involved, too, and technology makes technical errors. Be ready for your test to take longer than you expected. Be ready to have to wait for an issue to be resolved, and ideally, be taking your test early enough that if something goes badly enough wrong that you need to retake, that it’s not going to throw off your application plans.
You mentioned that prep for the reading comprehension portion, as well as taking the reading comprehension portion of the exam, had to change because the rules changed. What changes do you recommend for that? [14:25]
Jelena: You should always, regardless of what format you’re studying with, be studying in as close to the test conditions as possible. As Branden said, “Now you’ve got your highlighters. You’ve got your underlining, and you’ve got scratch paper.” So be taking your practice tests, be doing your study, ideally on the device that you will use for the test, ideally in the room where you will be taking the test, and with whatever scratch paper, pen, and pencil that you plan to use on the test. You’ve got to learn what your system is, and maybe Branden can quickly explain what his system is for annotating reading comp and the new format without getting us too far into the weeds of reading comprehension. He does have a great system, but really the important thing as far as prep is that you don’t use an outdated form of prep.
There are books out there. There are blog posts and YouTube videos out there that teach reading comprehension and annotation in a way that is designed still for the pencil and paper exam. The important thing is just to make sure that wherever you are learning your annotation system, wherever you’re learning to do your reading comprehension work, you’re learning it somewhere that is recently updated, and that is talking about three highlighters and underlining, not talking about writing notes in the margins of your paper.
Branden: Jelena was mentioning my system, and I do have a system, and let me try to very briefly explain it, and it’s not that complicated. The idea with reading comprehension, or what you’re being tested on, is your ability to read a judicial opinion, which will be the vast majority of your readings in law school. You have to understand that you’re doing the analog of that, and in a judicial opinion, the judge (or, more accurately speaking, the judge’s clerk) will write out the arguments of plaintiff and defendant on a particular issue. We’ll critique those arguments, and we’ll decide usually who is right and who is wrong. You’re doing the same thing, even if you’re doing a science passage or some other non-law related passage. You’re still engaged in that process, and so tracking the arguments is what’s most important.
An argument always has at least two pieces, which is the main conclusion, the thing that the author is trying to prove to you, and at least one bit of evidence supporting that conclusion. In order to keep up with the tasks that I was talking about, I use the underline in order to underline the conclusions because those are the most important to the argument. I use the yellow highlighter to highlight premises, to note where the support is. I use the pink highlighter to note criticisms and attitude because, like I said, the judge will critique the arguments, and that’s very important. There are also some commonly tested details that I mark with the orange highlighters. You can use the highlighters for whatever you want, but I do think your main goal has to be tracking the different arguments, and the highlighters have to serve that purpose.
What are your top tips for the current three sections of the LSAT (the reading comp, the analytical reasoning, and logical reasoning)? [17:33]
Branden: I’ll leave games to Jelena because she is the games maven, and she knows more about that stuff than me. Logical reasoning can be both easier and tougher in that each question is its own thing. They’re not related to one another, so you’re getting basically 25 standalone questions. All of the sections of the LSAT are difficult to manage your time with because they give you 35 minutes for questions that are very difficult to complete in 35 minutes. My top tip for all of the sections, and I’ll talk about how to apply it to logical reasoning, is about time management. The basic idea, I think, in time management on the LSAT is this: Unless you demand a 180 on the exam, you are going to miss some questions.
On the LSAT Flex, you can miss seven or eight questions and still score high 160s, low 170s. The plan that you should have for all the sections, and I’ll talk about how it relates to logical reasoning, is to get to all the questions that you’re going to get right, and to spend time on them and to not spend time on the questions that you are going to get wrong anyway. That calculus changes from student to student because each student has their own strengths and weaknesses, but I think there are a couple of tips for deciding whether or not a question is in your interest to do.
There are a couple of question types that just take a long time. Parallel questions and parallel flaw questions ask you to analyze six arguments rather than one, and those take a long time, so I usually tell my students to skip those and come back to them. Questions that require conditional diagramming (if your listeners have studied for the LSAT, they probably know what conditional diagramming is), that takes a lot of time, so I think those are questions that often should be skipped and come back to. Usually the way an LSAT section is structured is that the questions are more straightforward to begin with. They get harder as the section goes on, but the harder ones are not at the end. Instead, the hardest questions on a logical reasoning section come around 18 through 22, and I usually tell my students to just skip those ones and do those last. Also, if you have subject matter blocks, or if language difficulty is an issue for you, then you should skip the questions that are worded in a difficult way or have difficult subject matter. All of that is just putting the questions in the order that suits you rather than in the order that suits the makers of the LSAT.
What about the analytical reasoning or games? [20:06]
Jelena: First of all, just to make sure that our listeners and watchers know, analytical reasoning and logic games are the same thing. Most people call it logic games. Analytical reasoning is what LSAT calls it because they’re too pretentious to call anything on their test “games,” but it really is a game. It’s fun. I love logic games. I think it’s really great that in the middle of this really difficult and potentially life-changing test, you get to spend 35 minutes doing something fun, so one of my logic games tips is learn to love them. Of course you’re scared of them at the beginning because it’s not something anybody knows how to do. Unless you’re a philosophy major like Branden, you have never done anything like this before. If you are a philosophy major like Branden, you may have a leg up on the competition, but for the most part, this is a completely new skill to people, so don’t let the fact that you blow your first logic game section on your first practice test make you hate them.
I got three right on my first logic game section. Literally. I tried to draw an Excel spreadsheet on my paper. I was making tables. I was not diagramming properly. I didn’t know what diagramming a logic game was. I did horribly, and now I very, very rarely get a logic games question wrong, even on new logic games, even in a timed environment. It’s totally possible to go from terrible at them to great at them. They’re very learnable. They’re the most learnable, I think, section of the LSAT. I think most people would agree that you can improve the most on logic games from your initial diagnostic to your actual test day. They’re a great opportunity to improve your score. Have a great attitude toward them, enjoy them, and put the time in.
While you’re putting the time in, one of the most important things that you can do is repeat logic games. I actually have all of my own students do a set of the same 10 logic games at least five times. I have a set that I use for that that are different types, that use different types of deductions, different types of diagramming, different scenarios, different questions because when you repeat logic games, it teaches you that there really are no new logic games. All of the new logic games on the LSAT are just re-combinations of elements that have already been used. There’ve been so many tests that they’re not going to come up with something that’s brand new anymore. You get to the point after you have done the same thing over and over that you’ve realized that when you’re faced with a game you haven’t done before, you’re still doing the same thing over and over. You go, “Oh, well, this is about chefs putting ingredients into a vegetable soup, but this is actually kind of like that game that I just did five times about people choosing offices in an office building, and I’m just going to diagram it the exact same way I did that one, and now it doesn’t feel new and scary anymore.” Now it’s like, “Okay, well, what are the new deductions in this game that are different from the chefs or different from the home offices game?”
Now, there’s talk of maybe removing logic games from the test in four years. There was a lawsuit. It was a whole thing. And I’m now convinced that what I need to do with my life is somehow buy the copyright to the logic games format from the LSAT if they actually do eliminate logic games and just start publishing them like Sudoku as a thing that people can do for fun.
In the business school world, during the end of last cycle, schools started accepting any test with an acronym. It’s scaling back now, but there still are top MBA programs accepting multiple exams, not just the GMAT or the GRE. Do you see law schools beginning to accept the GRE more widely? [23:52]
Branden: I would be surprised if they did that, just because the LSAT is designed for law school. Keep in mind that the practice of law is a profession that is weird and much different from other professions. There’s no math on the LSAT. There are mathematical concepts on the LSAT, but most of what lawyers do, or at least most of the work that you do in law school and what gets you paid the big bucks if you’re a lawyer, is crafting arguments, being critical of arguments, and then crafting strategy, which often surrounds arguments. The LSAT, with the exception of logic games, is dominated by argumentation, so I would be surprised if law schools became more accepting of other exams just because they’re less on point. Obviously, I don’t think they’ve done a study correlating other exams, but they did do a study probably a decade ago now about the correlation between performance on LSAT and performance measured by first year 1L grades in law school, and performance on the LSAT correlated better with performance in law school than did GPA. It may be that law schools ultimately think it’s not really that important to be testing our argumentation so heavily, but I would be surprised if they opened up the doors to other exams, rather than the pilot program that we were talking about with the GRE.
Christine: I was at BU when we implemented the policy about the LSAT and the GRE and decided to accept the GRE, and we accepted it as a test, and it could be used when making assessments. But my opinion is that because the ABA has a hand in how law schools and the education system think, they are still very much with the LSAT and behind the LSAT and have yet to really accept the GRE as a functional test to replace it. The fact that there’s only about 10% of the ABA-approved schools that are accepting the GRE is, as was mentioned earlier, to afford those applicants who might have pursued a master’s and are now looking to law school to not preclude them or add an extra hurdle for them, or like as Jelena was saying, those that are looking at both options as they pursue their graduate and professional school careers.
The Law School Admissions Council also is the clearing house for all or most application processes. As Brendan mentioned, we use that correlation study and we use the LSAT as a tool because there is statistical significance. Committees are reliant upon that to make decisions. I think that while the GRE does open some doors and allow some applicants who might not otherwise have applied due to a hurdle, I don’t think it’s going to be as widely used.
There are lots of test prep companies out there. What does TestMax Prep bring to the marketplace that it previously lacked? [28:57]
Branden: LSATMax has been a distance learning company since the beginning, and now that we have a pandemic going on, I think people are beginning to understand just how difficult it is to study specifically for the LSAT by yourself, and so LSATMax has experience from way back. What I think makes us different is that we construct an online community of people studying for the LSAT, and we come at it in a couple of different ways, and I’d like to just share a few of those different ways that we come at it.
One is that, when you sign up for LSATMax, you get lifetime access. This, I think, separates us from a lot of the distance learning companies because they’ll get you on a monthly plan, and what that monthly plan ignores is that studying for the LSAT is not something that you can do in a couple of days or even a couple of weeks. Instead, if you’re starting at the beginning, you’re probably going to spend 180 hours if not more studying for the LSAT. The way that LSATMax works is that we get you into the LSATMax family, we get you into the LSATMax ecosphere, and then we give our students a study calendar that tends to start about four months out from the start of the exam. Our students are working their way through the course with people studying for that exam at the same time, and so you work your way through the lessons. All of the lessons have homework and flashcards and other practice and drills associated with them, and with all of the questions, there are message boards where students can interact with each other. They can ask questions about the questions, and instructors will answer them. You’ve got interaction in that way as you’re studying at home for the exam. We also have regular online office hours where students come in virtually and are able to learn with an instructor, who’s walking them through a particular question type or concept.
The last thing that I would say is that we have personalized support for all of our students, and since it’s lifetime access, it’s personalized support for as long as you are with LSATMax. If you get through the course and are looking to take the LSAT again, then you can come back to us and talk to us and ask us, “How do I go about this moving forward in a different way?” And we’re going to do our best to make sure that you get the kind of help that you need, whether that’s connecting you with an instructor, whether that’s walking you through another part of the course. It all depends, but that understanding that studying for the LSAT is long and is difficult, and that we need to provide you with an atmosphere that is comfortable and supportive however long that takes, I think, is what really separates us from the competition.
Jelena: I will add a couple of things. One of them is that we are, to my knowledge, the only major test prep company that actually provides a free premium course to anyone who qualifies for a waiver from LSAC of the testing fee for the LSAT, so that’s something for people who have already qualified based on their income, based on their financial need with LSAC. They just send it to us, and they can get free access to our premium online course, that self-paced course that Branden was talking about.
That’s a value that is important to TestMax. TestMax is a values-driven company, and unlike a lot of companies in the test prep space, it is also owned by the owner and founder, who’s a Harvard-educated lawyer. There’s no shady Silicon Valley VC money. There’s no hedge fund that owns the company. We make our money off of the money that people pay us for test preparation and tutoring. That’s the service that we provide, and the fact that students continue to be happy with those services and continue to refer their friends and new people continue to sign up is how the company continues to operate. As someone who worked in the startup world for a decade and has seen a lot of the negative consequences of being a startup that’s funded by venture capital, that’s really important to me. When you are bootstrapping and you’re actually operating your company off of the revenue it brings in, you’re able to be more values-driven. There’s nobody else that says, “But if you didn’t do that, you could have a higher profit.” If you, the owner, say, “Well, but it’s within my values to give these free courses to people who have test waivers, and I don’t care if that makes my profit lower,” then you get to do that.
We get to do that, and we get to do the Justice and Action Program, which is a support program that we just announced for future lawyers who want to bring a little bit more social justice to the world through the practice of law. You can find out more about that on the TestMax blog. We’re going to be supporting a whole bunch of amazing future lawyers through their entire journey with free LSAT prep, free tutoring, free 1L year support, free bar exam, prep, job search assistance, basically the whole way, and no other company is really doing anything like that either. You’re working with a better company. You’re working with values-driven people who want to make a difference in the world.
Where can Accepted listeners learn more about TestMax Prep’s LSAT and GRE prep and the Legal Level podcast? [34:36]
Jelena: The Legal Level podcast, which is our podcast, is available on all major listening platforms. We’re on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify, all of the above. Just type in “the Legal Level,” and you will find us. For TestMax in general, you can go to testmaxprep.com, and we are ready and eager to answer any of your questions, and if you have questions specifically for us, feel free to email email@example.com. If it’s a question for us to answer on our podcast, maybe we’ll do that, or if you just want to talk to one of us, we’re happy to either talk to you or pass you along to the right person at TestMax.
- TestMax’s website
- The Legal Level podcast
- Applying to Law School During the Coronavirus Pandemic
- Prepping for and Understanding Your LSAT
- Accepted’s Law School Admission Consulting Services