The LSAT consists of five 35-minute multiple choice sections (one of which is an unscored experimental section) followed by an unscored writing sample section. Several different test forms are used within a cycle, each presenting the multiple choice sections in different orders, which is intended to make it difficult to cheat or to guess which is the experimental section.
The LSAT contains two logical reasoning ("LR") sections, commonly known as "arguments", designed to test the taker's ability to dissect and analyze arguments. Each question begins with a short argument or
set of facts. This is followed by a prompt asking the test taker to find the argument's assumption, to select an alternate conclusion to the argument, to identify errors or logical omissions in the argument, to find another argument with parallel reasoning, or to choose a statement that would weaken/strengthen the argument. Most passages are followed by a single prompt, though a few are followed by two.
The LSAT contains one reading comprehension ("RC") section consisting of four passages of 400–500 words, and 5–8 questions relating to each passage. Though no real rules govern the content of this section, the passages generally relate to law, arts and humanities, physical sciences, or social sciences. The questions usually ask the examinee to determine the author's main idea, find specific information in the passage, draw inferences from the text, and/or describe the structure of the passage. In June 2007, one of the four passages was replaced with a "comparative reading" question. Comparative reading presents two shorter passages with differing perspectives on a topic. Parallels exist between the comparative reading question, the SAT's critical reading section, and the science section of the ACT.
The current LSAT contains one analytical reasoning section, which is referred to colloquially as the "logic games (LG)" section. One section contains four "games" falling into a number of categories including grouping, matching, and ordering of elements. Each game begins by outlining the premise ("there are five people who might attend this afternoon's meeting") and establishing a set of conditions governing the relationships among the subjects ("if Amy is present, then Bob is not present; if Cathy is present, then Dan is present..."). The examinee is then asked to draw conclusions from the statements ("What is the maximum number of people who could be present?"). What makes the games challenging is that the rules do not produce a single "correct" set of relationships among all elements of the game; rather, the examinee is tested on their ability to analyze the range of possibilities embedded in a set of rules. Individual questions often add rules or modify existing rules, requiring quick reorganization of known information.
Unscored Variable section
The current test contains one experimental section which Law Services refers to as the "Variable section". It is used to test new questions for future exams. The performance of the examinee on this section is not reported as part of the final score. The examinee is not told which section of the exam is experimental, since doing so could skew the data. To reduce the impact of examinee fatigue on the experimental results, this section has always been one of the first three sections of any given test. Although, LSAC makes no specific claim as to what section(s) it has appeared as in the past, and what section(s) it may appear as in the future.
The writing sample appears as the final section of the exam. The writing sample is presented in the form of a decision prompt, which provides the examinee with a problem and two criteria for making a decision. The examinee must then write an essay favoring one of the two options over the other. The decision prompt generally does not involve a controversial subject, but rather something mundane about which the examinee likely has no strong bias. While there is no "right" or "wrong" answer to the writing prompt, it is important that the examinee argues for his/her chosen position and also argues against the counter-position.
LSAC does not score the writing sample. Instead, the essay is digitally imaged and sent to admission offices along with the LSAT score. Between the quality of the handwriting and of the digital image, some admissions officers regard the readability and usefulness of the writing sample to be marginal. Additionally, most schools require that applicants submit a "personal statement" of some kind.
These factors sometimes result in admission boards disregarding the writing sample. However, only 6.8% of 157 schools surveyed by LSAC in 2006 indicated that they "never" use the writing sample when evaluating an application. In contrast, 9.9% of the schools reported that they "always" use the sample; 25.3% reported that they "frequently" use the sample; 32.7% responded "occasionally"; and 25.3% reported "seldom" using the sample.
LSAC recommends advance preparation for the LSAT, due to the importance of the LSAT in law school admissions and because scores on the exam typically correspond to preparation time. The structure of the LSAT and the types of questions asked are generally consistent from year to year, which allows students to practice on question types that show up frequently in examinations and avoid wasting time on question types that appear only once or twice.
LSAC suggests, at a minimum, that students review official practice tests before test day to familiarize themselves with the types of questions that appear on the exams. LSAC offers one free test that can be downloaded from their website. For best results, LSAC suggests taking practice tests under actual time constraints and conditions in order to identify problem areas to focus on for further review.
For preparation purposes, only tests after June 1991 are considered "modern tests" since the LSAT has undergone many significant changes since the early 1990s. Each released exam is commonly referred to as a PrepTest. The June 1991 LSAT was numbered as PrepTest 1, and the December 2009 LSAT was PrepTest 59. Certain PrepTests are no longer available to the general public, despite the fact that they were in print at one time.
The LSAT is a standardized test in that LSAC adjusts raw scores to fit an expected norm to overcome the likelihood that some administrations may be more difficult than others.Normalized scores are distributed on a scale with a low of 120 to a high of 180.
The LSAT system of scoring is predetermined and does not reflect test takers' percentile, unlike the SAT. The relationship between raw questions answered correctly (the "raw score") and scaled score is determined before the test is administered, through a process called equating. This means that the conversion standard is set beforehand, and the distribution of percentiles can vary during the scoring of any particular LSAT.
Adjusted scores resemble a bell curve, tapering off at the extremes and concentrating near the median. For example, there might be a 3-5 question difference between a score of 175 and a score of 180, but the difference between a 155 from a 160 could be 9 or more questions. Although the exact percentile of a given score will vary slightly between examinations, there tends to be little variance. The 50th percentile is typically a score of about 151; the 90th percentile is around 163 and the 99th is about 172. A 178 or better usually places the examinee in the 99.9th percentile.
Examinees have the option of canceling their scores within six calendar days after the exam, before they get their scores. LSAC still reports to law schools that the student registered for and took the exam, but releases no score. There is a formal appeals process for examinee complaints, which has been used for proctor misconduct, peer misconduct, and occasionally for challenging a question. In very rare instances, specific questions have been omitted from final scoring.
University of North Texas economist Michael Nieswiadomy has conducted several studies (in 1998, 2006, and 2008) derived from LSAC data. In the most recent study Nieswiadomy took the LSAC's categorization of test-takers into 162 majors and grouped these into 29 categories, finding the averages of each major:
- Economics and Philosophy/Theology (tie)
- International relations
- Interdisciplinary studies
- Foreign languages
- Biology/natural sciences
- Computer science
- Political science
- Liberal arts
- Sociology/social work
- Business management 149.7
- Education 149.4
- Business administration 149.1
- Health professions 148.4
- Pre-law 148.3
- Criminal justice 146.0