chevron-down Created with Sketch Beta.

Student Lawyer

Student Essentials

What Is the Purpose of the LSAT and Why Is It So Important?

Rachel Catherine Margiewicz

What Is the Purpose of the LSAT and Why Is It So Important?

Jump to:

The Law School Admission Test (LSAT) has long been seen as a gatekeeper to law school. The LSAT does not test any substantive law. Instead, it tests analytical reasoning, logical reasoning, and reading comprehension skills. It is graded on a scale of 120 to 180 (with an average score being around a 150). Most applicants submit LSAT scores as part of their application. However, doing well on the LSAT doesn’t automatically guarantee your admission to a great law school. And, doing poorly on it doesn’t preclude your ability to become a lawyer one day.

In that way, the LSAT practically serves to funnel applicants toward schools where they may be most competitive for admission and successful in their program thereafter.

What is the point of the LSAT?

The purpose of the LSAT is essentially to predict your first-year grades. More specifically, it’s a tool to predict your first-year GPA by testing skills relevant to the standard first-year law school curriculum. It follows that your 1L GPA is then predictive of your GPA in your second and third years of law school. The LSAT, therefore, serves to assist admissions offices in predicting a student’s cumulative grades in law school, with a focus on first-year academic success.

How well does it actually predict 1L success?

This is a point that is up for debate. According to the Law School Admission Council (LSAC), the LSAT is a better predictor of first-year success than undergraduate GPA. However, it is still not the end-all, be-all in predicting whether you will get top grades in your first year of law school.

What does it not predict?

It’s worth noting that the LSAT does NOT necessarily predict your chances of passing the bar exam or your chances of being a successful attorney! It also does not necessarily predict “success” in law school—it only predicts GPA.

“Success” in law school can be defined much more broadly than GPA alone. Things like being invited to join moot court or law review, securing executive board positions in student groups, participating in a clinic, and making friends with your classmates all help you have a fulfilling and successful law school experience! Finding opportunities outside of the classroom that excite you are often what end up being the most rewarding and educational part of a student’s law school experience. Additionally, personal connections with classmates and alumni often lead to future job offers.

So, while the ways to define success in law school are open to interpretation, grades matter, but they aren’t everything. However, it’s important to remember that the LSAT is narrowly focused on predicting one’s first-year law school grades. 

So, what does this mean for applicants? Is this good or bad? Well, it’s a little of both.

The good news is that for the most part, law school admissions offices understand the value and the restrictions of the LSAT. That’s why many schools are now accepting the GRE. More broadly, however, it’s why law schools review applications holistically and require you to submit so many other documents.

These other documents include your:

Through these documents, applicants can solidify their chances of admission to law school. Though these documents can’t be quantified in the way your LSAT score can, they are critical in helping an admissions dean understand the type of student you are, your lived experiences, the things that motivate you, and the factors that drive you to apply to law school and pursue a legal career. This understanding of who you are as an applicant is much more insightful into the type of law student and lawyer you will likely be and whether you’re a good fit for their program.

The LSAT cannot be ignored . . .

But the bad news for many is that the LSAT can’t be ignored. Though it has its limitations, it’s still a useful tool available to law schools to use and rely upon to help them ensure applicants have the academic aptitude to succeed in their program. Applicants and law schools are on the same team. You both want you to succeed! Schools need you to have the academic chops to make it through their rigorous program.

Beyond its predictive value, the LSAT is also heavily relied upon because it assists law schools in reviewing applicants relative to one another. Every school wants the cream of the crop! You can’t blame them for wanting the very best students to enhance their law school and add to their community and alumni.

How are LSAT scores are used in the law school admissions process?

The review process for law school is twofold. There is a vertical and horizontal review. First, admissions officers will review your application documents on their own and decide whether you would be a good fit for their program. Second, they review your application against all the others in the pool.

Because such a large part of your application is made up of essays and letters of recommendation, the only two factors that are quantifiable are the undergraduate GPA and the LSAT score. These both become valuable tools in comparing students to one another as they are the common denominator all applications share. Beyond that, the LSAT (according to the LSAC) is a better predictor of law school grades than undergraduate grades.

In conclusion, the LSAT plays an important role in law school admissions, but it’s critical to understand what exactly it’s intended to do and what it’s not. At its core, it is simply an entrance exam. It does not necessarily predict your likelihood of success as a lawyer. Once you are admitted to law school, scoring on the exam becomes irrelevant. Its predictive value is only as good as the hard work and effort you’re willing to put in to validate it.

For more application assistance tips and services, check out our website.