WHO NEEDS A PREP COURSE? Students who have done poorly on standardized tests in the past, students who believe that they are not skilled test takers, students who find that they are not making much progress preparing for the LSAT on their own, and students who know they will not take the time to study without the motivation provided by paying for a prep course are likely (perhaps ideal) candidates for a prep course. Students who are very disciplined may find that preparing themselves using previous LSATs and related material is sufficient for them to do well on the LSAT.
If with great effort and without a prep course, you raise your average score on practice LSATs to around 170 but are unable to average higher, do not expect miracles from a LSAT prep course but if, with great effort and without a prep course,you are only able to average around 150 on practice LSATs, taking a well chosen prep course and making an effort both inside and outside of the prep course classroom could be a good career move.
There are many firms offering preparation for the LSAT. If you feel that you need such a service, choose the firm and the instructor carefully. Just as good colleges may have some bad teachers, good prep courses may have some bad teachers. Check the reputation of the company running the prep course and, even more important, check the reputation of the instructor who will be teaching your class. If possible, ask about attending a class or two.
Duke University Pre-Law Advising Center says "If a student chooses to take one of these [LSAT prep] courses, he or she should take it as near to the time of the actual test as possible."
Florida State University Pre-Law Handbook says the following:
"[P]reparation must include familiarizing yourself with test mechanics and question types, practicing on sample tests, and studying the information available on test-taking techniques and strategies. Familiarizing yourself with the exam and sharpening your reading and reasoning skills are the keys."
"Independent preparation usually involves reliance on materials from ... book publishers. In addition to reviewing the LSAT/LSDAS registration bulletin, you also should purchase copies of previously administered LSAT questions. Also, most bookstores have a number of study guides by book publishers such as Barron's, ARCO, The Princeton Review, Cliffs and the Law School Admission Council. These books can be very useful and are relatively inexpensive. They generally familiarize you with the test format, offer a variety of techniques and strategies, and provide exercises and practice tests."
"While commercial prep courses offer another alternative, taking such a course certainly is not essential to doing well on the LSAT. Many students enroll in these courses because they lack the discipline to maintain a regular study schedule in preparing for the test or because they rely on such courses to give them confidence going into the test. The courses generally offer a diagnostic test at the beginning and practice tests throughout."
Boston College discusses EIGHT COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT THE LSAT (click "8 Misconceptions)." The second misconception is "The LSAT is biased against test takers who cannot afford expensive coaching courses." In the rebuttal, it is stated that "the difference in mean LSAT scores between those who did and those who did not take a commercial course is about 1 point on the 120 - 180 LSAT score scale."
Arizona State University Prelaw gives conflicting views in their answer to the question: "Should a student take one of the commercial LSAT preparation courses?"
Approximately 40% of law school applicants have taken a commercial prep course. Students who have taken them report that such courses do familiarize you with the format of the test and reduce your test anxiety. These students also report significant improvement in test scores. If you choose to take one of these courses, take it as near to the time of the actual test as possible.
Commercial prep courses are not going to harm you. On the other hand, if you have real discipline, they do not do anything for you that you cannot do for yourself. The Law School Admission Council (LSAC) sells preparation packets (LSAT prep materials) that contain previously administered tests.
Perhaps most importantly, you are much more likely to sustain a preparation regimen if you have paid dearly for the opportunity. These courses can be very expensive.
No prep course is going to be able to develop your analytical or reading skills in three or four weeks. They can tell you about the reading, writing, and reasoning skills that will be tested by the LSAT, but no prep course can develop those skills for you. Therefore, you should seek out courses that will help you develop those skills over the entirety of your undergraduate education.
Harvard University Careers in Law offers the following advice about commercial prep courses: "The LSAT is a test that you can prepare for. Therefore, you should evaluate yourself as a test-taker and decide whether you have the discipline to prepare on your own without a course or whether you need the structure and deadlines that a course can offer you. Additionally, taking a diagnostic test before studying is often a helpful way to evaluate how much preparation will be required to get your score within the range you are aiming for. Whether or not you take a course, it is usually a good idea to block off a significant chunk of time to dedicate exclusively to preparing for the LSAT."
LSAT prep courses are available to students who need the reassurance such courses can provide. They are not necessary for an applicant to do well, but a good prep course taught by a good instructor can be of great value. These classes are expensive in terms of time and money, so it is important to take enough previous LSAT tests beforehand to determine if a prep class is necessary. If you decide to take a prep course, check out the instructor (oftentimes one is allowed to attend a class for free) before you invest your time and money; students tend to report that the instructor is the most important factor in determining the success or failure of a LSAT prep class important factor. No matter how good the instructor is, just as in the class room, learning the material is in your hands.
Some of this is similar to material from the University of Chicago Prelaw website.
If you are doing your best on your own and your scores on previous LSAT tests begin to stabilize and you are not happy about this, then the answer may be one or more of: working harder, working differently, or looking for a useful LSAT prep course. For example, with scores on your six previous LSAT tests being 158, 161, 162, 159, 161, and 160, we see that your scores are stabilizing around 160 so unless you will be happy with a real LSAT test score of around 155-158 something must change.