The Law School Admission Test was created by an organization of law schools (the Law School Admission Council, orLSAC) to provide an objective standard of measure for law school applicants. Specifically, it is meant to measure acquired reading and verbal reasoning skills.
The LSAT's purpose is to help predict success in law school. Theoretically, the better one does on the exam, the better they will do in school. While there are other important factors that affect law school success (like discipline, work ethic, and determination), the skills and abilities measured on the LSAT appear to play a meaningful role. LSAT scores have been shown to be the single best predictor of law school performance, and show a measurable correlation with law school grades, especially when combined with undergraduate G.P.A.
In fact, LSAT scores are better predictors of law school success than the SAT's are of college success, and their predicative value actually rises after the first year of law school, while SAT/grade correlation declines after freshman year.
The LSAC describes the exam in the following manner:
The LSAT is designed to measure skills that are considered essential for success in law school: the reading and comprehension of complex texts with accuracy and insight; the organization and management of information and the ability to draw reasonable inferences from it; the ability to think critically; and the analysis and evaluation of the reasoning and arguments of others.
Pg. 1, LSAT & LSDAS Registration and Information Book.
The LSAT was developed to help differentiate between tens of thousands of yearly law school applicants. Many possess strong grades and academic backgrounds, so law schools needed another tool to help distinguish between them. Today, the exam is the single most important factor in law school admissions. Most schools give it more weight than your college G.P.A., and all weigh it at least as heavily.
While some see the LSAT as an arbitrary and unfair evaluation of their abilities, the truth is that the exam can be a considerable asset. For talented students who have not fully applied themselves in college, due to financial/time constraints or excessive socializing, the LSAT represents an opportunity to display their true intellectual abilities. Students who have shown the ability and discipline to achieve a solid G.P.A., on the other hand, should have no problem performing adequately on the exam. The same abilities and discipline that produced their grades should also produce a solid LSAT score, especially with proper preparation.
While most people initially struggle with the exam, the good news is that it responds very well to training. Percentile increases of 30 points or more are not unheard of. It is therefore important that anyone taking the test engage in at least some kind of prep. As stated by the LSAC, very few people achieve their full potential without some preparation. Pg. 59, LSAT & LSDAS Registration and Information Book.
Mechanics of the LSAT The LSAT is administered four times a year: June, October, December, and February. Registration deadlines generally fall about a month before the exam. To register on-line, order the information booklet, or simply review all official information about the test, check the LSAC website at: www.LSAC.org.
The LSAT measures three areas: Reading Comprehension, Logical Reasoning, and Analytical Reasoning. No outside factual information needs to be brought to the exam. No math or general knowledge skills are tested. What is required is that the student read carefully and be fully familiar with various question types.
The test includes five 35-minute sections of multiple-choice questions. These will include one valid reading comprehension section, one valid analytical reasoning section, and two valid logical reasoning sections. One remaining section (which could be any of the above) will be experimental, and will not be counted. However, it will not be identified, so you'll have to treat each section as if valid. There is a short break of about 10-15 minutes after the third section. There are approximately 25 questions in each section, with five potential answers for each question.
There will also be a 30-minute, unscored writing sample administered at the end of the exam. Copies of the sample will be sent to the law schools you apply to.
The LSAT Scoring Scale
The LSAT is scored on a scale of 120 to 180. An average score would be a 151, which tends to be around the 50th percentile. (This means that the student in question did better than 50 percent of all test takers.) A desirable score for many students is a 160, which would place a student around the 85th percentile (better than 85 percent of all test takers.) Many top-tier schools require around a 160 on the test.
To get into a top "national" school, you generally need to get a 165/166 or higher (95th percentile). A truly excellent score would be anything above the 99th percentile, which translates to a score of 171 or above. However, it's important to remember that you don't normally need to do thiswell. Even at the very best schools, the scores of many, if not most students, are below 170.
It's also important to remember thatthe LSAT is not scored like conventional exams. While there are normally 101 questions on each exam, you can miss more than you might expect and still do well. For example, if you miss a third of the questions on a standard college exam, you'll get around 66%, or a D grade. But if you miss a third of the questions of the LSAT, you'll still end up in the top third of test takers, with a fairly decent score. Similarly, if you miss 25% of the questions on a standard exam, you'll end up with a 75, or a fairly mediocre C grade. But if you miss 25% of the questions on the LSAT, you can still end up with a very good 160. And you can miss 10 or more questions on the LSAT and still end up with over a 170. This is why it's so important to approach the LSAT strategically, and avoid getting hung up on tough questions. (You can miss several questions and still score a 180.) It's more about the points you get than the questions you miss.
Below is a link to an article describing the LSAT scoring scale in more depth: