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2010 LSAT

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					How Top Students Prepare for the LSAT — Your Study Options

The LSAT is a formidable exam that calls for intense preparation. Not only is the LSAT quite
tricky, but along with your undergraduate GPA it is also the most important factor that law school
admissions offices use to evaluate your application. Obviously, the "payoff" for studying hard can
be significant. Students often put in 80-120+ hours preparing for the LSAT. It's best to avoid
cramming for the exam, so give yourself 3-6 months to prepare for the test. Remember, the exam
is given only four times per year--September, December, February, and June, so think about
when you'll have time to prepare. Also, if possible, schedule your exam so that you can take it a
second time in case you are dissatisfied with your first score (an increasing number of law
schools now take your best score instead of averaging all of them).

The three most common ways to prepare for the LSAT are an In-Person Course, an Online
Course, or Self-Study. Take a moment to consider which one is best for you:


Online Classes

Let's start by talking about online classes since most people are unfamiliar with what these really
look like. First of all, there is a difference between online recordings of classes and live online.
Live online classes (or "virtual classes") are actual classes in which you participate in real time
with an actual teacher. Each member of the class has a microphone and set of headphones. The
instructor can call on students, and students can ask questions by either requesting "the mic" or
by typing into a chat window. On your screen you'll generally see a whiteboard on which the
instructor will show questions, write out explanations, and display diagrams. Some online classes
offer streaming video, but this may slow down your computer so that you lag behind the class,
and it turns out that looking at a talking head on your screen is not that interesting!

Many people worry that online classes will be boring, but if the instructor knows how to use the
technology to his or her advantage, these classes can be quite engaging. Some companies have
two teachers in the "room" -- an obvious plus in terms of personal attention. The technology also
allows teachers to ask questions that everyone privately answers, helping the teachers pinpoint
who is struggling with a particular topic. The convenience of online classes can be significant --
imagine attending class in your pajamas -- but make sure that you really set aside class time for
class. Don't surf the web, answer the phone or check e-mail during class; otherwise you will find
you have wasted precious time.

When choosing online classes, look for an experienced teacher, make sure you will be able to sit
undisturbed at a computer with high-speed internet during class time, and consider whether you
have the discipline to focus on your class and not your TV, phone or e-mail. Classes with two
quality instructors are generally more effective since you can ask questions to one while the other
is teaching.


In-Person Classes

In-person classes follow a format you're no doubt used to: a teacher in a room with a number of
students. That said, be aware that some in-person "classes" are really lectures. Class size is a
good indication of whether a class will be a seminar or a lecture. Lecture-style classes can be
useful for gaining a general understanding of a test and some test-taking strategies, while well-
run seminar-style classes offer you the chance to ask and answer questions and dig deeper.

In-person classes are useful for those who are unable to attend online classes because of limited
computer access, who need to see a teacher's face to remain attentive, or who recognize that
they are not disciplined enough to focus on an online class (instead of e-mailing, searching the
internet, etc.). In-person classes generally cost more than online classes in order to pay for the
physical space in which the class will meet.

When choosing an in-person class, consider the quality of the teacher, your schedule, and the
size of the class. If you thrive on in-person attention, look for a class size limit under 20. As you'll
see when you compare companies, there's a lot of discussion of the number of hours of
instruction that each company offers. It has actually become somewhat of an LSAT prep arms
race! While you obviously want to make sure your class will cover all the topics you need to learn,
some companies may offer more than you really need. Also notice whether the number of hours a
company boasts includes hours spent taking practice tests. Practice tests are, well, practice tests,
so they should not be counted towards class time.


Self Study

Some people set out to study for the LSAT on their own and do quite well. To do this effectively,
you'll probably need the following:

• A set of books covering the 3 sections.

• Practice exams (a lot of them!)

• Self-discipline (a lot of it!)

Self-study works well for those who can easily learn from a book and who are sure they will set
aside time to both read the books and take practice exams. Some companies offer live
assistance or recordings of classes to help you while you study, and these can be useful for
exploring some trickier question types that may stump you.

If you do the self-study route, avoid simply taking test after test. While your score will probably
increase, you may be missing chances to learn important lessons from the work you will have
done. It's important to learn and practice specific strategies and it's just as important to learn from
your mistakes. Use a book to learn strategies you might not develop on your own, keep a list of
all the problems that you find difficult or get wrong, and review those questions deeply. Notice
which problem types stump you most often and develop concrete strategies for them. And, of
course, be sure to practice with a stopwatch -- it's easy to give yourself a bit more than 35
minutes per section -- but rest assured that will not be the case on test day!


Other options

If you can afford it, tutoring is a great way to improve your LSAT score. In terms of personal
attention, nothing can match an extended series of 1 on 1 tutoring sessions. While 1 hour of
tutoring should teach you more than 1 hour of class, don't expect to be ready for the LSAT after
just a few sessions. Also, while there are many great tutors out there, it's safer to use one who
also teaches classes and has an understanding of a complete LSAT curriculum. It's easy for
amateur tutors to get tangled in specific questions and not move you along a path towards
mastery. That said, make sure your tutor is tailoring your work to your needs -- nothing is worse
than having a tutor simply walk you through a set class, regardless of your individual needs. At a
minimum, a good tutor will assign you homework on specific topics.
Finally, if you are on a budget and the choice is between a regular course (online or in person) or
working with an amateur tutor, if the class is well taught, you'll generally get more for your money
in the class.