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June 19, 2009

Free LSAT Diagnostic Tests | The Shocking Truth

LSAT Blog Diagnostic Test Bubble SheetMany prep companies offer free proctored LSAT diagnostic tests. At first, this seems like a good idea. You take a free LSAT PrepTest under test-like conditions, and your test score lets you know where you stand before doing any prep.

In exchange, prep companies get all your contact info and the opportunity to market their prep courses to you at the end of the exam (and via email and phone, unless you give them a fake email address and phone number).

So what's my problem with free LSAT diagnostics? After all, sitting through a sales pitch in exchange for free stuff is a time-honored tradition.

However, free LSAT diagnostics aren't as useful as they might sound. Most people take them before doing any studying at all. As I wrote in the LSAT Blog Manifesto, diagnostic results are misleading. Everyone improves with some exposure to the exam, whether it's through self-studying, tutoring, or a prep course.

Because most people don't use LSAT-style thinking in everyday life, seeing the LSAT for the first time at the diagnostic is like taking a diagnostic in a language you've never spoken. The diagnostic doesn't even close to measuring your ability - it just demonstrates what you already know -- that you haven't learned the language yet.

Suppose you wanted to learn French, but you only knew a few random words of French. Would you take a diagnostic to see where you needed to focus? Of course not. With virtually no knowledge of the language, there wouldn't be any point - the results would be meaningless.

Same goes for the LSAT. Although the LSAT isn't actually a foreign language, it can seem like one the first time around. "Logic Made Easy" (interview) demonstrates several ways we're less logical in everyday life than you might think.

Logic is learnable, but it requires practice.

Taking a timed LSAT diagnostic before learning any strategies is like being sent off to war without any training, supplies, or body armor. Sure, it's a wake-up call, but is it really necessary?

After discussing these diagnostics with many of you, it sounds like you find it frustrating to sit through a full exam before learning any strategies - with no systematic approach to Logical Reasoning, no idea of how to attack Reading Comprehension passages, no diagramming techniques for Logic Games...

Not only can it be discouraging, but it actually wastes a recent exam you could've used to gauge your ability after learning the strategies. Being able to take that exam later in your prep would've actually yielded meaningful results.

So what should you do about the free LSAT diagnostics offered by the major companies? If you don't mind the sales pitch, take one at the end of your prep, and use the experience to simulate test-like conditions. You can even bring your own PrepTest if you don't want to use theirs.

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What do you think? Are LSAT diagnostics taken at the beginning of your prep worthwhile, or are they a waste?

Leave your thoughts in the comments section!

Photo by jfer / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0



16 comments:

  1. Kristina (University of New Haven)June 19, 2009 at 9:24 AM

    I go back and forth as to whether a diagnostic test is useful. My university offered one for free through Kaplan, so I took it. It certainly didn't hurt, but didn't help much either. What was nice about it was that I was able to see how I scored with no prep (and not a lot of sleep due to an event I had to run the night before). It was reassuring to see that with no prep I still scored average, which hopefully means that with practice, I know I can do a lot better.

    As for the test conditions, I have a feeling it didn't accurately portray the way a real LSAT is run. My proctor was very laid back and didn't really pay much attention to us during the exam. A lot of students were still on their cell phones and she even want off on a tangent in between sections about how we need to stay in school because our lives will be ruined if we don't...wierd.

    All in all, I'm indifferent about the diagnostic test and not convinced that it helped.

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  2. I've been thinking about this a lot recently as well. Personally, I think taking the test 'naked' as it were - without all the tools I now have for attacking questions - was very discouraging.

    I also had a completely average score, but found this disheartening as I am hoping to end up with a great score come test day and there seems to be an attitude out there that you can only improve a certain amount, say 7-10 scaled points tops. I now completely disagree with this notion! Maybe if one was judging from the start of their prep to the actual LSAT this would make sense. But the difference between a frantic test-taker who has never worked a logic game before (and scores nearly nothing like me!) and someone who has put in a huge amount of practice and is confident (hopefully also me), has the potential to be huge.

    Thus my advice for anyone discouraged by a diagnostic is totally in-line with this post: don't worry! Keep up your studying and you'll see how learnable the LSAT is, especially with such a fab blog as your guide ...

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  3. Nothing is more frustrating than a wasted exam, and a "diagnostic" is precisely that. Before taking my LSAT exam I was worried about the test seeming to last days, like it did during the diagnostic, when in fact it ended up feeling like 5 hours after practice. I would take the free diagnostic as a last step.

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  4. I would have to agree on this point. I never actually took a "diagnostic test" from a prep company like the ones you describe here; but a friend of mine, who is currently in law school, suggested that I take the first test "cold," with no preparation at all.

    The Logic Games section completely threw me off! I spent way too much time on it and had to guess on the last two games (and much of the second one). And that threw me off in the rest of the test as well, since it had destroyed my confidence (I was using the free June 2007 LSAT, so the Logic Games section was the first one). And then I almost panicked after calculating my score.

    In retrospect, I really wish I had done some preparation first and then used the June 2007 LSAT as one my last prep tests, since it is the only prep test currently available that includes the comparative reading section.

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  5. Sorry to hear about everyone's diagnostic experiences...

    For the record, the June 2007 LSAT is not the *only* one with comparative reading - it's just the first one with comparative reading. Every PrepTest from 52 on also has the Comparative Reading section. They're all listed here.

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  6. Taking a diagnostic "cold" is retarded. The only benefit is the state of panic it'll cause some people to be in, which in turn should get them off their butts and into study gear.

    Do what I did - study first, then bring your own 5-section preptest to the Kaplan/PR events and use each event as a mock-exam.

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  7. I'm glad I read this before I took the diagnostic as the first step in prepping for the LSAT. The reason I wanted to take it first is because
    1) I wanted to see if I had what it took to doing well on the LSATS, subsequently having the potential to be a lawyer or not..(although I know I'm gonna get heckled for this as LSAT is not a direct determinant in your ability to be a great lawyer or not)
    2) If I do bad on the diagnostic, at least I know that it's because I didn't prep yet, so with enough prepping, I would be able to achieve a higher score.

    If not the diagnostic, where do you suggest I start prepping from?

    Thx a bunch for a great website *thumbs up*

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  8. Hi Jane,

    I'd recommend starting with my LSAT study schedules.

    Glad you're enjoying the blog!

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  9. I took a kaplan diagnostic before I started studying and scored abysmally low (low 140's). I wholeheartedly agree with this article in that diagnostics for regular people like myself do not serve any practical purpose. The LSAT median is about 151 and there is a good reason for that - its a difficult test for those who are not adequately prepared! LSAC's test developers, on the other hand, do in fact recommend to start studying by doing different sections (read NOT the entire tests at once) and UNTIMED, while thoroughly reviewing and understanding the mistakes.
    Right now I am almost where I want to be scorewise after quite a bit of self-studying and honestly I could very well do without going through that first time experience. Nonetheless, I can see why the prep companies engage in this practice - to make one think that he or she absolutely needs their help.

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  10. I don't see what the problem is. I just took one from Kaplan and scored a 160 which has me feeling very optimistic. If you are all complaining about how low you scored, you just sound like a bunch of whiners. Speak for yourselves, but don't tell others what they should do.

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  11. The point of a cold diagnostic exam for some students may be to determine whether they care to prepare at all. For others, it serves as a diagnostic instrument; that is, to determine what a student knows already, and to identify existing misconceptions.

    Without an initial diagnostic to determine what the student knows, and doesn't know, how as a teacher do you know where to focus your efforts?

    By way of analogy, would a doctor treat a patient without a diagnosis?

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  12. Though I agree with the idea that a Diagnostic Test in itself is should not be held as a measuring stick for the next couple of months of study, it is important to note that the best way to improve your score is to consistently take as many practice tests as you can. There is simply no substitute for simulating five plus a writing section. Endurance is something that many people just can't get the hang of despite doing well on individual sections.

    A diagnostic test also does a good job at simply giving the idea of how much work needs to be done in the first place. Say you get a 145 on your first test (like me) you know that you have to really hunker down to get a good score, but if you get something like a 160 on your diagnostic, you know that you just might have a fighting chance to touch a 170+. That's not to say that the person starting at 145 can't, but there's something to be said for the attitude and confidence going into your studies. And no one should ever panic if he/she gives adequate time (2+ months) to study.

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  13. I read this advice a little too late.

    I took the diagnostic and got around 160-ish. Funnily, my best section was logic games (probably because I've been playing with sudoku and other thinking games and am currently in engineering and natural sciences) BUT my low score on the CR section did scare me off from taking the LSAT for some time before I finally decided I had to give Law School a shot.

    Anyway, just got your 4 month study schedule for the test in October (a few days late, but hopefully I can make it up)! Looking forward to properly studying for an examination for the first time in my life. :)

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  14. There is "no free lunch". Taking a "Free Diagnostic" is a CYA method for the companies to not refund your money. Dont do it. It's like taking a knife to a gun fight.

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  15. While I totally agree with this, I also have to say that in those rare cases where a person takes a diagnostic exam and gets a great result, the next few months of studying seem all the more fruitful. I self-proctored a diagnostic from 11 PM-3 AM after work a few nights ago and got 169 on that, and I figure if I can get a 169 with an empty stomach and sleep deprivation in the dead of night after an eight-hour work day, realizing that four months of dedicated practice will send me skyrocketing to the high 170s (if not a perfect score) is a very fulfilling feeling.

    Unfortunately, that diagnostic was the June 2007 one, so I suppose I'm out on one comparative reading practice exam...


    I guess what I'm saying is that it's not all too bad to take a diagnostic as long as you realize that practice will make better, and when you're one of the lucky types who is already in range of the Top Three with a blind test, it makes that practice so much more satisfying. Just don't treat a diagnostic as if it were indicative of your true potential...

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  16. Hi Steve,

    I'm starting your 3 month day to day plan this weekend, and plan to take the December 1, 2012 LSAT. I had already registered for a free practice test that is happening at William and Mary September 30th. After reading this post, I'm wondering if I should even sit for that practice test? Or, should I be at a point in the study schedule where it might give me a good baseline score?

    Thanks!

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