There are a number of ways to answer the question “Is the LSAT hard?”, depending on how you define hard. So, let’s tackle the different ways in which the LSAT may or may not be hard one at a time.
How Difficult is the LSAT Content?
You might be surprised (and relieved!) to hear that content familiarity is not a major factor in success on the LSAT. In other words, you don’t really need to know very much to score well on this exam. Instead, the LSAT focuses on assessing your mastery of a set of skills, such as your critical reading and reasoning abilities (you can see what the LSAC has to say about it here). However, knowledge of a few specific subjects will definitely make the exam easier.
First of all, familiarity with the basics of formal logic is a huge benefit. This includes knowing the technical meanings of words like some, most, and unless, as well as understanding common formal logic phrases like if/then statements and contrapositives.
Secondly, it’s helpful to understand transitional language on the LSAT, such as because, therefore, although, notwithstanding, despite, and so on. These words help us trace the structure of an argument, so that we can follow its basic meaning even when the topic is unfamiliar or the vocabulary is highly technical.
Lastly, familiarity with standard diagrams used to organize your approach to the Logic Games (Analytical Reasoning) section is critical. This is not knowledge that anyone would gain from a particular degree or job. Rather, it comes directly from LSAT prep materials, so this is the one section where almost everyone needs to learn something new. For more on Logic Games diagrams, check out the sample Logic Games video lessons offered in Magoosh’s free trial of the LSAT course.
How Hard is the LSAT Question Difficulty?
The LSAT is a standardized test, which means that it’s designed to differentiate between test-takers as much as possible, whether they are among the lowest or the highest scorers. Therefore, the exam must include a wide range of questions from every difficulty level.
I find the best way to think about it is from the perspective of the average LSAT test-taker, which is someone who will score around 150. For the average test-taker, about ⅓ of the questions on the exam should be relatively easy. Another ⅓ of the questions should be tricky, but manageable. The final ⅓ of the questions should be difficult or very difficult.
Depending on your individual strength as an LSAT test-taker, these fractions will change. Theoretically speaking, the weakest test-taker in the world should find every question difficult and the strongest one should find every question manageable. Realistically though, even those who struggle the most with the LSAT should still find a number of easy questions, while the top 1-2% of test-takers will still struggle with the most challenging questions (Want to see one of the LSAT’s most difficult questions? Check out our post on one of the toughest LSAT questions.)
For more on this, check out the post on What Makes an LSAT Question Difficult?
How Hard is the LSAT Timing?
Timing is probably the most feared element of the LSAT, but that’s not necessarily justified. Again, the LSAT is a standardized test, which means that both question difficulty and timing must be designed to differentiate between students all over the spectrum. Here’s a helpful way to think about LSAT timing.
If you’re in the top ⅓ of test-takers, you will probably find the timing relatively stress free. You might finish some or all of the sections a few minutes early, or you might use your time to double check answers and dig deeply into a couple of the most difficult questions in each section.
If you’re in the middle ⅓ of test-takers, you will probably find the timing challenging, but mostly manageable. You will have time to solve most of the questions in each section, but you’ll likely have to make some guesses on a few. An effective approach should allow you time to assess each question’s difficulty level, guess on the most difficult ones, and thus not miss out on any of the easier or medium difficulty questions.
If you’re currently in the bottom ⅓ of test-takers, timing is likely to be a significant challenge. You will probably not have time to evaluate all the questions in each section, and you might even struggle to reach the last few questions. And you know? That’s okay. This isn’t a school exam where you’re expected to finish. Instead, the goal is just to get as far as you can. A good strategy is to focus on shortening the section by guessing randomly on a chosen chunk of questions and spending your 35 minutes moving carefully through a smaller number of questions.
For more on LSAT pacing strategies, read that link right there. 😉
To sum it up…is the LSAT hard?
The LSAT is designed to be easy for everyone, but it’s also designed to be difficult for everyone. No matter what your ability level is, you’ll find plenty of manageable questions on the exam and plenty that are baffling no matter how much time you spend on them. The key is to focus on the former: find the questions you can answer in the time you’re given, guess on the rest, and don’t be hard on yourself. Standardized tests are like races without a finish line: you just go as far as you can until someone blows the whistle.