LSAT prep on the cheap

By Ursula Furi-Perry, Esq.

The first step to getting accepted into law school is taking the LSAT. But preparing for the test can be quite costly. Still, you have lower cost and even free alternatives for study and preparation at your disposal. The question is, how much are you going to spend?

“Students are being wise in the choices they make,” said Dave Killoran, CEO of PowerScore. “We’re getting a lot of calls from people who are doing more research.”

In addition, many students are buckling down and getting serious about LSAT preparation earlier, said Shadna Wise, executive director of graduate marketing at The Princeton Review. “Students are not getting it in at the last minute.”

Private LSAT tutor Steve Schwartz has also seen an increase in students who are interested in applying to law school and taking the LSAT. Schwartz, who writes the LSAT blog (lsatblog.blogspot.com) and tutors in New York City, said students are increasingly interested in money-saving options when preparing for the test.

“They're looking to prepare in the most efficient ways that they can, and they're researching their options more carefully,” Schwartz said.

And test-prep providers are taking note — from condensed courses to practice tests, free information and resources, companies are providing students with lower-cost options.

For example, students can find free practice tests, both online and at test centers. Registration for Kaplan’s free LSAT practice exams has spiked more than 20 percent from last year, reports Jeff Thomas, Kaplan’s director of pre-law programs. By taking a free practice test, students can pinpoint their strengths and weaknesses and get a full breakdown of their scores on individual test sections, Thomas said.

In addition, Thomas said Kaplan puts on a free Law School Seminars Series every year, covering such topics as law school admissions “do’s and don’ts,” personal statement workshops and even a free LSAT class. PowerScore and The Princeton Review are also offering free practice tests online.

Take a shorter, more affordable course.

PowerScore, for instance, offers a weekend course for just $350, which comes with its own materials for students to keep. The Princeton Review’s LSAT Express Online course is $125 and spans over two weeks.

The pros? Spending much less than you would on a full-length course, a shorter course can still give you the benefits of structured instruction, Killoran said.

The cons? You may be missing out on valuable information that you would find in more comprehensive courses. Plus, a shorter course may not give you all the structure you need if you are not organized enough to make up for the time you’re missing in a longer class.

Consider online course options.

For example, The Princeton Review is offering new online courses at just $120 each, Wise said. Each course is customized to focus on a specific portion of the exam. Students can choose to take a course on the logic games section in order to hone their skills in that area. Kaplan’s online LSAT Crash Course costs $159 and offers a condensed version of the company’s full course, designed for those who have two weeks or less to prepare.

The pros? Not only is this option cheaper, but it is also more convenient. You can study from the comfort of your home or library, and you don’t have to trek around looking for a center at which to take a course.

The cons? Online courses are not a great fit for everyone. Some students need the live lecture format and the structure that goes with it.

Opt for the self-study track with just a little bit of guidance.

The idea here is to predominantly use self-study materials to prepare for the test, with a few hours of private tutoring to keep you on track.

“Many students are coming to realize that focused and diligent self-study combined with private tutoring will both lead to a higher score and save them money,” Schwartz said. Rates for private tutoring vary greatly by provider, location, student needs and other factors. You can pay as little as $50 per hour or as much as a couple of hundred dollars per hour.

The pros? You can personalize your preparation, focusing on honing your strengths and minimizing your weaknesses. You get one-on-one instruction and time with your tutor, who can also serve as an advisor and support system.

The cons? You must have a killer sense of discipline and great study habits to pull off this option. “You’ll definitely want to set aside times each week to study,” Schwartz said.

Look for affordable study materials that offer you some structure to go alone.

Killoran recommends PowerScore’s LSAT Bible series (which cost $138.97 on the company’s website for the comprehensive trilogy of books) and said the books are structured to serve as their own smart study plan. Choose a book that covers all three areas tested, said Wise – such as The Princeton Review’s Cracking the LSAT, which sells for $21 on the company’s website or $36.95 if you buy it with the accompanying DVD. Then take released practice tests with actual questions.

The pros? “You have yourself a pretty low-cost, $100 option,” Wise said. Plus, you get to study on your own terms and have a flexible schedule and study plan.

The cons? Again, self-study is not the right option if you aren’t disciplined, structured and organized enough to study entirely on your own. “If you’re going to go it alone, give [preparation] some extra time and avail yourself of the resources that are out there,” Killoran said.

Also look for discounts and deals offered by prep companies.

Kaplan, for example, offers discounted rates for members of certain associations, Thomas said, including alumni associations, corporate discounts and trade organizations. Need-based scholarships are also available. Private tutors may also give you a discount if you purchase a package deal or sign up for a set number of hours of tutoring, Schwartz adds. The bottom line? Ask about deals and perks before you pay up.

The pros? Hello — discounts and free money 

The cons? You’ll have to do some legwork to see if you qualify, and then you’ll have to be diligent about applying for each option and following up as needed.

Take advantage of the free help you can find.

In addition to the free practice tests mentioned above, prep companies usually offer a free LSAT class for students who are interested in signing up for a course and want to test-drive it. Plus, prep companies offer free information and resources on their websites (see below.) Other internet sources, such as discussion groups and forums also offer LSAT sample questions and information about the test.

The pros? It’s free!

The cons? When it comes to free LSAT preparation online, not every website is created equal. As with anything else on the Internet, you’re apt to find some materials that are questionable — or even wrong — in their tips and advice. Search around for recommended resources, choose your online help carefully and supplement your free preparation with tried-and-true review materials.

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