A “Cold” LSAT diagnostic exam is just a simulated LSAT test that you take to see where you are before starting your LSAT prep. To do this, you use a real, official LSAT test published by LSAC, the makers of the LSAT test. Check here for a list of every actual, official LSAT preptest.

In this post, we explain everything you need to know about taking an LSAT diagnostic exam.

Keep in mind that your LSAT diagnostic IS NOT INTENDED TO GAUGE HOW WELL YOU ARE LIKELY TO SCORE ON YOUR REAL LSAT TEST DAY. Very often, people come to me, worried and demoralized, because of a low score on their diagnostic. In this post, we discuss why this isn’t a concern.

How To Take A Cold Diagnostic LSAT Test

You should take your cold LSAT diagnostic under test-day conditions, only without the 5th LSAT “experimental section” that you will have to take on your real exam.

Simulating LSAT test-day conditions requires you to set a timer for 35 minutes per section and stop working on that section immediately when your timer goes off. That means no bubbling after the timer goes off, no finishing “just one more” question, and no stopping the timer to take a break during the section.

LSAC provides the following instructions in a section entitled Taking the June 2007 Test Under Simulated LSAT Conditions on page 1 of the Free PDF version of the June 2007 LSAT:

One important way to prepare for the LSAT is to simulate the day of the test by taking a practice test under actual time constraints.

During the test, you may work only on the [current]section… You cannot devote extra time to a difficult section and make up that time on a section you find easier

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Be sure that you answer every question on the test…. Do not be afraid to guess as there is no penalty for incorrect answers.

Abide by all the requirements specified in the directions and keep strictly within the specified time limits.

Work without a rest period. When you take an actual test you will have only a short break—usually 10–15 minutes—after SECTION III.

Official directions for the four multiple-choice sections… are included in this practice test so that you can approximate actual testing conditions as you practice. To take the test:
■ Set a timer for 35 minutes. Answer all the questions in SECTION I. Stop working on that section when the 35 minutes have elapsed.
■ Repeat, allowing yourself 35 minutes each for sections II, III, and IV.

What LSAT Practice Test Should I Use for my Diagnostic Exam?

You can use any real LSAT preptest can for your diagnostic test. I generally recommend either using this free LSAT or using one of the three tests included in the LSAT SuperPrep, since it contains explanations of the answers.

Having these explanations on hand is particularly useful when you are getting started with your LSAT prep. Explanations for newer LSAT preptests are available as well, but the LSAT Superprep is an excellent all-in-one option.

If you’re particularly eager to get started right away, you can download and print this free sample LSAT from the LSAC website: http://www.lsac.org/docs/default-source/jd-docs/sampleptjune.pdf

After the test, check your answers with the key and see how you did.

Prepare to be a *little* underwhelmed with your performance on the test. Here’s why you shouldn’t be concerned:

Why You Shouldn’t Worry About a Poor Performance on the LSAT Cold Diagnostic


Listen to Viggo Mortensen. I guarantee that no one in the whole history of the world ever got a 180 on their cold diagnostic (please prove me wrong if you know someone who claims to, but I won’t believe it unless they have a reputation for having never lied once in their life).

The LSAT tests mental skills that you don’t use often (or ever really) in everyday life. Without prep, these skills will be very weak.

So How Much Can I Improve my Diagnostic LSAT Score?

The answer is really up to you. How bad do you want it? Are you willing to dedicate a few long months to developing the skills necessary to excel at what is arguably the most important exam you will take in your life? If not, you’re probably on the wrong website. If so, we’re here to help.

It is not uncommon for students to earn actual LSAT scores that are 20+ points higher than their initial diagnostic score. Case in point: I got a 152 on my diagnostic LSAT test and, after about three months of studying, I ended up scoring a 177 on the actual exam.

The LSAT is a LEARNABLE exam. As long as you are committed to adequately preparing for the test, a low cold diagnostic LSAT score does not limit your potential in any way. People who do unusually well on a diagnostic tend to be those who have recently taken some other standardized test, such as the GMAT or MCATs. If you’re like most people, you probably haven’t taken a standardized test since high school, so don’t expect fireworks.

Why? Because the LSAT is designed to trip you up in just about every way it can. For more on this check out our discussion of the difficulty of the LSAT. The timing of the test alone is designed so that anyone walking in off the street to take the exam would need far more time to finish the test than allotted. Until you get used to the timing element of the exam, the LSAT is about five times worse than the most terrible mad-minute nightmares that you had in grade school.

Also, the LSAT employs logic and reasoning in a way that is utterly different from what you are used to doing in your everyday life. Have you figured out lately what order eight clowns could juggle in, factoring in that they have all sorts of issues about the order in which they will perform?

Probably not. But don’t worry, you can learn it.

Why Take A Cold Diagnostic LSAT?

So if the cold diagnostic is so useless as a barometer of future performance, why do we advocate that you take one?

Your cold diagnostic is just a yardstick. It’s something you do so that you can see how much you have improved later on.

Your diagnostic examputs the fear of God in you so to speak. It gives you an idea of how difficult the exam is under strictly timed conditions. As soon as you tally your score at the end of the exam, you realize how far you have to go to get into the law school of your dreams. Use this as a significant boost in motivation as you WILL see massive improvements in your score as you prep more.

As we said recently in our post on the biggest LSAT myths, the LSAT is a highly learnable exam.

Believe me, if you take the LSAT seriously, prepare appropriately with the best LSAT prep material, and follow a rigorous study schedule, then someday in the not-too-distant future you will look back at laugh at how poorly you performed on your first try.

So, now it’s your turn to get started. Go ahead and take your diagnostic exam.

CLICK HERE to email yourself a link to this page so that you don’t lose it, then come back and review the following resources, which will help you begin your LSAT prep journey…

Best of luck beginning your studies and always remember to ask us anything you need to in the comments. We are here to help!

I improved my score by 25 points and got a 177 on the LSAT.

Here's How I Did It

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