Ryan Harden's Official Guide to the LSAT: How to improve 14 points from a 153 to a 167!!
In my latest, Interested in Law School? Here's a Primer on How to Play the Law School Game, I discussed why a high score on the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) matters tremendously.
But I also said the test is beatable.
The truth is, if you want an elite outcome like Big Law or at the Department of Justice, then you should aim for an elite law school. And, usually, this requires securing a top LSAT score.
But what if I'm not a good "test-taker"?
In America, conventional thought tells us that improving on a standardized exam is hard, if not impossible. For example, have you ever heard someone say they are "not a test-taker"?
Well, guess what?
They probably just aren't working hard enough. Or aren't studying effectively. Or don't have access to the proper material. But the statement is preposterous because few people are natural test-takers, and saying something like this aloud does nothing to change the present situation. So, commiserating is a waste of time.
Does that sting?
Sure, it should. When someone says a phrase like that, it outsources personal responsibility. While it is true that not everyone can score in the upper echelons of a standardized exam, that doesn't mean a person cannot achieve a competitive score. If I were a betting man, I would speculate that a person who says this and wants to be an attorney may not have sufficiently studied for the LSAT score they want.
For example, I originally had a diagnostic score of 153. That's a 55%-tile score and would preclude me from getting into any decent law school. But, after 400 to 500 dedicated hours, I got a 167, or a 93%, on test day. But my story isn't unique. Thousands do better than me.
You can improve, too.
But improvement starts with accepting that the test is essential, and you'll need to work harder than anyone else to get a sufficient score for an elite law school. It's no secret admission teams want to report impressive scores to US News & World Report; that's public record. While they, the admission teams, focus on the "whole-person concept," remember that the math speaks for itself.
My point is, take 100% ownership of the process.
But the LSAT isn't fair!!
Doesn't matter. Life isn't either. (I know lame, right?) The reality is those born into advantaged families use whatever resources and connections they have at their disposal to confer even greater advantages to their children. That's unfair, too.
However, whether it is fair that those advantaged compete with those not for the same spots at a school is immaterial. The system is what it is and will unlikely change by the next cycle. If it does, I'll buy everyone pizza and coke.
Believe me, I wish life was an equitable meritocracy as much as the next guy or gal. But, remember, this is outside of our scope as law school applicants. Our responsibility is to present ourselves in the best way when applying and let the admissions team do the rest.
Plus, most excuses for poor LSAT performance fall flat.
Unless you're a Syrian refugee or are the unfortunate victim of a crime -- pretty much most of the excuses students throw out in addendums are unoriginal and insignificant. Everyone has faced obstacles, and specific challenges, like common mental health issues. Also, shouldn't you do everything in your power to do well on the test? Learning how to study seriously is a decent barometer, I would imagine, of how the legal profession operates.
Doing well on the LSAT will make you a competitive applicant.
The greatest testament to character is experiencing hardships and overcoming them. If you genuinely have a limitation in life, such as a disability, and can do well on the test, then power to you. Also, keep in mind that some professions demand perfection, no matter the excuse. My parents both worked in Big Law, and meeting harsh deadlines from demanding clients with the expectation of perfect work is the universal expectation.
Don't handicap your future self.
So, when applying for law school, why would you want to disadvantage your future self by having to write an addendum that uses a common excuse to veil your inability to study? Take 100% ownership of your work during this process. But also remember that getting into a particular school is neither guaranteed nor will bring you lifelong joy. Don't connect your self-worth to a decision because (1) that's weird, and (2) it ignores the randomness of life.
But control what you can. As I said before, the LSAT is conquerable. This post enumerates that simple truth: "anyone can improve their score greatly." And, I want to help you do the same. From April to October of 2021, I improved my diagnostic score of 153 to a test-day performance of 167. This 38% leap is the equivalent of going from a 55%-tile to a 93%-tile!!
And, I'm nothing special. You can improve, too.
What's on the LSAT, and how should I begin studying?
The decision to study for the LSAT can be daunting. But any big challenge can be split into incremental and manageable portions. Knowing how to tackle the LSAT is absolutely key to doing well on the exam, and it isn't rocket science.
First, when tackling any standardized exam, you need to establish your overall competency. Baselining, in short, requires taking a diagnostic test, and the 2007 June LSAT serves this purpose. So, read the instructions, and take the exam under test-like conditions.
Second, score your exam to see how you did. The test has three components: Logic Games, Logical Reasoning, and Reading Comprehension. Also, remember that these names are informal, and the acronyms LG, LR, and RC usurp formal nomenclature.
Generally, the easiest section to shore up is the Logic Games. So if you struggle with LG, I highly recommend you check out 7Sage. And, no, I'm not getting paid by them. 7Sage was helpful when I was a paying member. In that time, I improved my own LG from getting over ten questions wrong to only one or two. Going through their Core Curriculum and fool-proof methodology gets results.
Third, understand that success requires significant time, and dare I say, obsessiveness. Doing well on the LSAT will take six months or longer for most people. In my case, I had carved out well over a year to study for the LSAT, but only needed from April to October of 2021 to move my score from 153 to 167. But again, anyone can improve and score even better than I did on that aggravating test.
What books or study material was worthwhile?
When I started studying, I didn't know where to begin. Originally, I went to Reddit, and looked at the r/LSAT forum. While there, I found a few recommendations worth exploring, and they were:
Mike Kim's LSAT Trainer
Ellen Cassidy's Logic Loophole
Based on the above, I thought the best material was 7Sage's platform and the LSAT Demon. Although I know people who swear by Ellen Cassidy's Logic Loophole, the book didn't provide anything that useful -- and I would've not wasted my time on it. Mike Kim's book, the LSAT Trainer, was fairly dense and had an interesting approach to Logic Games.
My core takeaways are:
If you need Logic Game help, check out 7Sage first. Then, Mike Kim's LSAT Trainer and, finally, LSAT Demon.
If you need Logical Reasoning help, I recommend 7Sage's Core Curriculum. Then, LSAT Demon all the way.
If you need Reading Comprehension help, none of these platforms help. However, reading articles from the Economist, Foreign Affairs, and Scientific America are great starting points.
Another Reddit thread that I spent some time on was the r/LawSchoolAdmissions, but for the most part, it is a tremendous waste of time. The community breeds anxiety among applicants (at least I felt that way), and if you're trying to study, the speculation is pointless.
Finally, I wanted to contextualize how each platform helped me improve. Using 7Sage, I learned the ropes of the LSAT and went from 153 to 160-161. Then, LSAT Demon helped me improve from a 160-161 level to 166. Then, on test day, I somehow improved slightly to 167!
If you have any questions, I would be happy to answer them in the comments.
Recognizing my privilege and helping to pay it forward
Okay, I lied. Earlier I mentioned that my success was repeatable, but that isn't totally true. Rather a more accurate statement would be: anyone can achieve the same level of success if they have the time to study and the money to pay for prep courses.
Several weeks after my score release, I grabbed lunch with a friend. We talked about many things, of which the test was but one topic. Gatekeeping tools, like standardized tests, advantage the privileged because they have the resources to study for it, and know the importance of doing well. As a high schooler at Phillips Exeter Academy, I knew rich friends who had literal SAT tutors since the third grade. And, unsurprisingly, they entered schools like MIT, Stanford, or the Ivy League.
Further, those who can land on their feet after college in high-paying jobs, also have more money to splurge or tinker with study programs. 7Sage and, in particular, the LSAT Demon aren't inexpensive. They run over $700 a year or $200 a month, respectively. Of course, not everyone has this discretionary cash, but I do want to testify to the program's usefulness.
The next steps in my law school (and life) journey...
Right now I plan to attend a top law school. In part, one of my big goals in life is to be a homeowner and support and provide for my future family. So, if I can get into a top law school and incur a minimal debt-load, I think those two dreams will work out okay.
However, I also enjoy creative writing and dream of being a full-time writer. As you all know, I have one main story out on Kindle Vella and am constantly pitching publications or working on new content. Basically, I've realized how important having a creative outlet is for the soul.
But, from everything I've read, it's best to do it part-time until you can build up a reliable enough income stream. So, that's a much longer-term goal since creating good content takes a lot of time and effort.
That said, I hope this post helps you achieve your dream of securing a better LSAT score!