Should you take a LSAT prep course? We know that the LSAT is the most important factor when it comes to law school admissions. And we know that the way you do well on the LSAT is by studying and taking practice tests. So naturally, the first question prospective law students is whether they should take an LSAT course.
The answer depends a bunch of factors, including where you are currently scoring, what your personal tendencies are, and your strengths and weaknesses. There’s no way to figure out what the best LSAT prep course is until you get a sense of where you’re at. In this post, I will lay out 5 questions you should ask yourself first before making the decision to sign up for a LSAT prep course.
Return on Investment
The decision of whether or not to take a LSAT prep course should not be based on money/cost. Getting an additional 2-3 points on your LSAT could be the difference between paying full tuition or getting a full scholarship to law school. As I’ve written about before, admissions officers at certain schools have publicly explained how they evaluate candidates, and have said that a high LSAT can mitigate a lot of other weak factors in an application.
So even though LSAT prep courses can be expensive–costing anywhere from $500 to $2,000—they have extremely high ROI. Even if you end up spending over $10,000 on books, courses, and tutors, if that effort helps you get a few more points on the LSAT, you might end up a scholarship valued anywhere between $15,000 to $180,000+. And if you’re willing to sit on waitlists, you can get into a far better school than your grades may suggest.
Note: In the past, LSAT courses were done in a classroom format where an instructor would teach you at a bricks-and-mortar location. These days, there are a wide range of online LSAT prep courses you can use from the comfort of your own house. Online courses tend to be more affordable than live bricks-and-mortar courses.
What Do I Need to Self-Study?
Self studying basically means that you buy all the prep materials, including practice tests and instructional guides, learn the concepts, practice test questions, and reviewing everything afterwards. Here’s a rough example of what you’d have to buy:
- Practice Tests ($100-$200 total)
- Compilations (~$20 each)
- 10 Actual, Official LSAT Preptests Volume V (Dec. 2010 to Dec. 2013)
- 10 New Actual, Official LSAT Preptests (Oct. 2007 to Oct. 2010)
- The Next 10 Actual, Official LSAT Preptests (Oct. 1999 to Oct. 2002)
- 10 More Actual, Official PrepTests (June 1996 to Dec. 1998)
- 10 Actual, Official Preptests (Feb. 1993 to Sept. 1995)
- Individual Tests Not Included in Compilations (~$5 to ~$10 each)
- Example: LSAT Preptest 77 (Dec. 2015)
- Compilations (~$20 each)
- Supplementary Materials (~$100-$300 total)
As you can see, self-studying is less expensive but not exactly cheap.
The Five Questions You Must Ask Yourself First
#1. Do you have the self discipline to self-study?
The biggest hurdle to doing well on the LSAT is simply not putting the time in to study or practice. Are you self motivated? Can you get practice LSAT questions done at home by yourself? Will you give up if you hit a score plateau? If you’ve always had problems getting things done in a non-structured environment, you should probably take a prep course.
Back when I was studying for the LSAT, I took a prep course precisely because I didn’t trust myself to study in a non-structured environment. I had bad discipline when it came to studying, so I felt it was worthwhile to spend $1,000 on a prep course to guarantee that I’d put in the work.
#2. If you take the course, will you put in all the work?
LSAT prep courses do not magically raise your score. You have to put in the work. That means attending the classes, doing all the homework, and putting in an honest effort to understand your mistakes. You can’t just sit back and expect the material to go into your brain and automatically get a 99th percentile score. (For example, getting a 170 may require you to do more than just do practice tests.)
When I took the LSAT prep course, I attended every class, paid attention, did the homework, and studied my mistakes. I did all of the work required. Many of my classmates did not. As a result I saw big score jumps and lots of progress, while many of my classmates were stuck around the same score. I never understood why they didn’t do the work–they were paying a lot of money and were getting very little out of it.
#3. Will you benefit from having someone to explain concepts to you?
Some people can figure out their mistakes without outside help. But others can benefit from having an instructor explain abstract concepts. Doing well on the LSAT requires you to think conceptually about logic, sentences, etc. and it comes more naturally to some people than others.
For me, I did not benefit greatly from the classroom experience. Although the lessons were helpful, the best way for me to learn is to sit down on my own, diagram LSAT questions, and do practice questions. However, I did see other people benefiting from the instructor’s explanations.
#4. Do you do excel when competing against others?
For many competitive people, knowing that you’re being compared to other people makes you even more driven to study hard. Maybe once you start beating your classmates, it gives you even more confidence which turbocharges your practice. Does this describe you? If so, you may benefit from taking a course.
I’m a competitive person, and I did benefit from comparing myself to other people. Throughout the course, my classmates all scored in the 150s, while I was scoring in the 160s. Although I didn’t think of myself as a genius (because I’d read online forums where people regularly scored 170+ with minimal studying) it did give me the confidence that I could get a high score eventually.
#5. How much time do you have to study?
Usually I recommend prospective students to study as long as possible for the LSAT–even if it means holding off going to law school. The rewards of a high LSAT score are too great to not spend a year or two maxing out your score. However, if your life circumstances require you to go to law school ASAP and you only have a few months to study, you should probably take a prep course to speed up your learning curve.
Originally I expected to study for the LSAT for just 3 months. I didn’t spend all that much time studying for the SAT and ended up doing pretty well. So I wanted to get it done fast. In the end I studied and practiced for the LSAT for 15 months which was five times longer than I anticipated. I ended up getting into a top law school I never dreamed I could get into, so I highly recommend that everyone study for as long as it takes to get the highest LSAT score possible.
In the end, the decision over whether to sign up for a LSAT prep course is dependent on your own strengths and weaknesses. And honestly, the cost between a prep course and self studying is not as big as you might think. The LSAT is by far the most important factor (more important than say, what personal statement topics to write about) in law school admissions. Hopefully the questions I posed in this blogpost were helpful in helping you figure out what you should do.
LSAT Prep Course vs. Self Study
Here’s the TLDR version:
- More affordable
- More efficient use of time
- Custom designed to your needs
- Difficult for people lacking self discipline
- Can be hard to diagnose your own weaknesses
- Challenging for competitive people
- Forces you to study and do practice problems
- Learn from the best LSAT takers
- Peace of mind
- Wastes time because they spend time on topics you already know
- Class may move along quickly, and you can fall behind