Are you, unbeknownst to yourself even, a test-taking prodigy? Are you a legal genius diamond that has been hiding in the rough, just waiting to be discovered so that you can help the next generation shape legal policy in such a way as to finally solve society’s ills? Are you essentially a real-life legal drama character who, despite your unbearably acerbic personality, is tolerated because you are just so damn good at seeing the solution to winning the case? (In episode 1 of this hypothetical new series, it would be mentioned that you got into Yale despite taking the LSAT on a whim, while severely hungover.) Can you crack the mighty LSAT with zero preparation whatsoever? There is only one way to find out!
I will, however, do everything possible to talk you out of making such a huge mistake. Taking the LSAT with no preparation is such a monumentally bad idea that anyone who does it (unless purely for the sake of science), should be automatically disqualified from going to law school on the basis of their poor judgment alone.
In this article, we will tell you what would likely happen if you take the test cold. I’ll also try to convince you that the resultant terrible score doesn’t even mean that you are not a legal genius. You still might be!
First, a brief survey of the history of people who signed up for the LSAT and took it with zero preparation. One person, and only one, that I’ve met claimed to have done extraordinarily well on the LSAT with no prep. I had just gotten my (173) score back, and was enjoying a celebratory drink on a Brooklyn rooftop over the July 4th weekend. A very brash, very drunk party-goer was jabbering on to me about how he’d just gotten a 174 on the LSAT with zero preparation.
New York was then, and I imagine still is, full of liars, boasters, and braggarts. On intuition, I would bet a thousand bucks right now that he didn’t get a near a 174. If I am wrong and he did get that score, then I’d bet even more that he had, in fact, studied quite diligently to get there.
In the handful or so of actual, verifiable instances of taking the test with no preparation, I’ve yet to find much evidence of many people earning over a 155 or so, which is only a little better than the median score. A vice reporter who took the LSAT cold came up with a 158. A scan of the internet comes up with one redditor who claims (without evidence) to have gotten a 170 cold. Again, probably a liar.
Suffice to say that if great scores do happen with no preparation, they are vanishingly rare. I think two big factors are at work here: first, even the people brilliant enough to do even moderately okay with no preparation are the same people smart enough to realize that they will probably do a whole lot better with prep. Because smart people have a habit of preparing for tests, we don’t get to see how they would do without that prep. But we have an idea…
Which brings me to the second, bigger factor: that the LSAT is just plain hard for anyone and everyone who is unfamiliar with the format. Everyone I have met that did eventually do well on the test describes being terrible at first. If they did take a “cold diagnostic” (a practice test done with no prior studying or prep), then that score is generally well below the score they are able to achieve on test day after a few months of studying.
Josh Craven, my co-founder, for example, got a 152 on his initial cold diagnostic, only to earn a 177 on the real thing 3 months later.
Why should this be? The LSAT is, after all, not a test of memorized material. Why shouldn’t there be some naturally gifted people who can just walk in and casually destroy the test?
The LSAT Is A Skill Game
The best analogy is probably to sports. Say we had a great athlete, comparable to Lebron James (who by most accounts is athletic genius if ever there was one). Only our hypothetical athlete in this scenario lives in a completely isolated island nation where they play a game similar to soccer. This athlete is the best at that game. Now bring that athlete, at the peak of their athletic prowess, over to a country where they play basketball & put them on a court with NBA players on their first day over here. They know the rules and what you are supposed to do, but nothing else. How are they going to fare?
I guarantee terribly. They know the objective perfectly well I’m sure (same as I’m sure you understand the words on the page and what you are trying to do on the LSAT, even if you’ve never taken one), but there is no flow, no sense of control, no feel for the pace of the game.
The LSAT is likewise a “skill” type of game. Just as basketball requires motions that you don’t do every day, the LSAT is flexing mental muscles—cognitive skills—that you don’t flex every day (or ever really, in daily life). So although our hypothetical island athlete is going to be playing exceptional basketball in a few weeks, even a true LSAT prodigy, similarly, needs a little time to get used to the new environment.
The timing factor particularly is going to throw any unprepared person for a loop. Until one is more sure of their footing, they will tend to second-guess and double-check everything that they are doing. That’s just human nature, but in the context of a timed test, it is an instinct that must be overcome with practice.
How you would do if you attempted the test with zero preparation actually tells you pretty little about where you will end up. I didn’t take a cold diagnostic, but if I had I’m guessing I would have landed in the high 140s to mid 150s range. Josh took a cold diagnostic lsat and landed in that range as well, wildly far away from the 177 he ended up on test day.
All this adds up to mean that taking the test with no preparation isn’t even a good way to tell if you are an “LSAT prodigy” or not. I would hazard that a big predictor of how one does under such conditions is simply whether the person has or hasn’t recently done any test with similar elements, such as the GRE, GMAT, or MCAT.
So Is There A Way To Test If You Are An LSAT Prodigy?
Although I don’t have data to back this up, my hunch is that how you do taking the LSAT untimed probably does tell you a good bit about your potential on this test. The LSAT is a test of your ability to follow directions and think logically. Everything that you need to solve the problems is there on the page. If you take away the pressure and think with all your might, you may find it goes better than you think.
This is speculation, but getting above a 160 in such conditions probably shows the potential to get at least that high and likely higher on test day. Of course, how you do will still depend on a lot of factors like patience and prior exposure to similar questions (such as on other standardized tests).
If your sole goal is to determine how you will likely score on the LSAT in the shortest amount of time, here is what I would do:
Pick up The Official LSAT SuperPrep and do all three tests in there carefully, paying close attention to the problems analysis. Then, grab the Powerscore Logic Games Bible and go through that in about a week. Next, grab 10 real preptest here: 10 Actual, Official LSAT Preptests.
With those, work through the first three preptests untimed. Then, work through the remaining seven timed. All of this would probably take around 2.5 weeks. I would guess that with 90% confidence, the average of your score on the last two tests is within 10 points of where you will score on test day, even after a long course of prep.
This hardly a perfect predictor, but if you want to assess your potential without spending the usual three months or longer that it typically takes to properly prepare the LSAT, this is one way to do it. I guarantee it will tell you a lot more about your facility with the LSAT than a cold attempt will.
It may seem strange after all I have said, but we do recommend that when you get started with your test prep that you do take a cold diagnostic. So DO take a cold diagnostic. Preptest A in The Official LSAT SuperPrep is a great one to start with. Even though it doesn’t tell you much if anything about where you will end up, it is a great way to build quick familiarity with the test format and will give you a yardstick to measure your later progress by.
After that, DO get started on a solid prep plan with great resources like our brand new FULL LSAT Course (we just proudly released it after years in the making!)
DO NOT waste time and money actually signing up for the test and taking it with no prep UNLESS it is purely for science. In fact, on that note, if you think you are a decent writer and would like to blog about your experience taking the real test totally cold, we would be happy to compensate you. Let us know in the comments and we will get in touch!