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The Growing LSAT vs. GRE Debate in Law School Admissions


Manhattan Prep LSAT Blog - Law School Admissions: The Rising LSAT vs. GRE Debate Q&A With Expert on Both, Mary RichterWe incorporate the latest discoveries in learning science into our LSAT course to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of your prep. Want to see? Try the first session of any of our upcoming courses for free.

Here’s the situation: The University of Arizona College of Law recently started accepting GRE scores in addition to LSAT scores from applicants for admission. Last week, The Wall Street Journal covered the move and the LSAC’s subsequent threat to ban the school from membership. Then, just yesterday, news broke that 148 deans of LSAC member law schools sent a letter to the LSAC’s president in support of Arizona Law. The issue has raised many pertinent questions about the merits of each test relative to the other as barometers for law school fitness. We wanted answers, so we turned to Mary Richter, LSAT (175) and GRE (166Q/168V) instructor and graduate of Yale Law School. Here’s what she had to say: Read more

4 More Sample Law School Personal Statements, Critiqued


Manhattan Prep LSAT Blog - Sample Law School Personal Statements Critiqued by Mary RichterWe  incorporate the latest discoveries in learning science into our LSAT course to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of your prep. Want to see? Try the first session of any of our upcoming courses for free.

In case you haven’t been following, over on jdMission‘s blog, I’ve been critiquing real law school personal statements week by week—naming what’s working, what’s not, and offering up a takeaway for each one in the Real Law School Personal Statement series.

Here’s a round-up of four recent takeaways!

1. No headings. No gimmicks.
Give your essay a heading if you want, sure. Give it a weird layout. Write it as a poem, an acrostic poem or haiku or turn it into a musical if you want.
And then revise into not these things.
It is good for you to do whatever you need to do so that you’re able to freely and genuinely write from the heart, but then, best take out whatever quirky structural element enabled you to write openly. You may be convinced it’s cute/clever, but that’s sort of like being convinced your baby is the cutest baby of all time.
(Those of you who still don’t trust me, please set up a [free] consultation and let me try to convince you!)
Sample essay here
2. Put your head in your story. 
In your creative writing classes in college, you were probably told to “show, not tell.” If you were writing a short story, you’d be advised to reveal the characters’ feelings by what they did and how they acted, rather than by announcing it: “Lydia was heartbroken.”
This holds true to a certain point in personal statements. You want to give enough detail that your story is sincere and poignant and resonates with the reader. But you actually don’t want to leave it open to interpretation in the same way that many contemporary short stories are, because you actually have an agenda here, which is to persuade someone of your suitability to a particular law school.
Sample essay here.

3. If you say you love American History (or any subject), you have to explain what you love about it. 
Remember in most romantic comedies ever made when two people are on a date, and one says, “I love that book!” never having read it, and comedic tension ensues as he tries to converse about a book he hasn’t read? If you say you are passionate about a subject or thing, and you don’t actually say why, or what about it you love so much, it comes across a little like this. It’s an easy mistake to make — but for the same reason, it’s an easy one to fix, too, if you catch yourself doing it.
Sample essay here.

4. When you discover abstract truths (“who you are” or “your life’s purpose”), elaborate…concretely.

This is along the same lines as the previous reminder, because both boil down to: Don’t leave the reader hanging. Here’s a brief excerpt from the critique of a personal statement that had this problem: “At the climax of her essay, the candidate writes, ‘I needed to help them see from my perspective and also see from theirs. In Korea, it was no longer just about how to speak, but also how to make the other person understand.’ Great! But what? I don’t know what her perspective was, or what needed to be understood.”
Again — an easy fix if you know what to look for.
Sample essay here

For literally dozens more critiques, visit jdMission’s blog. Happy writing! 📝

Don’t forget that you can attend the first session of any of our online or in-person LSAT courses absolutely free. We’re not kidding! Check out our upcoming courses here.

Manhattan Prep LSAT Instructor Mary Richter

Mary Richter is a Manhattan Prep instructor based in New York City. Mary has degrees from Yale Law School and Duke. She has over 10 years of experience teaching the LSAT after scoring in the 99th percentile on the test. She is always thrilled to see students reach beyond their target scores. At Yale, she co-directed the school’s Domestic Violence Clinic for two years. After graduating she became an associate at Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP in New York City, where she was also the firm’s pro bono coordinator. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, The Atlantic, Slate, and more. Check out Mary’s upcoming LSAT classes here.

4 Tips for Writing the Perfect Personal Statement


personal statement examplesIt’s that time of year—personal statement time. Whether you’re in the brainstorming, drafting or revising stage, there are some great rules of thumb when it comes to writing your law school personal statement, rules that can help you stay on track to submitting a dazzling one.

Over at jdMission, I’ve been reviewing actual personal statements each week, highlighting their strengths and weaknesses, and discussing what lessons can be learned from them. Here are the most recent tips for making your personal statement sparkle, with links to the essays and reviews if you want to read more!

1. Tie the pieces of your story together.

A good personal statement has a narrative. You best convey who you are through story, and you choose to include certain stories because they say something about who you are—something significant. They illustrate the quality or qualities that you want the admissions committee to know about you. If stories don’t do this, well, they don’t belong in your essay. Odds are, you tell more than one story in your essay. You tell a few. They may or may not be in chronological order, but it is essential that they fit together, that collectively, they support what you are trying to say. If a story seems like it isn’t adding much or doesn’t fit, consider cutting it, or ask yourself if you can tell the story differently so that it is a better thematic fit. Read an example essay and review here.

2. In the climax of your essay (the big transition), avoid vagueness. Use concrete language instead.

If you are going to walk the reader through a rough patch in your life in order to demonstrate how you came out on the other side of it stronger, GREAT! Transition stories can be very powerful. They also, in order to be well told, need to zoom in on the moment of transition; it isn’t a part you can breeze over or tell from a bird’s eye view. For example, if you are writing that financial stress caused by a foreclosure in which you didn’t have an attorney drove you to illness, don’t say that you “experienced hardship” or that it  “took a toll” on your health. What was the hardship? What was the toll? Specific, concrete details give transition moments their power. Read an example essay and review here.

3. Avoid bad beginnings and generalities.

I know this one is a generality (what’s a “bad beginning?”), but see why it’s so problematic? It’s hard to know what to do with it! One beginning that I would call categorically “bad” is the one that starts with you apologizing for who you are. Maybe it concerns you that the admissions committee wouldn’t want to admit someone who didn’t go to a liberal arts college and has worked her whole life to become a ballet dancer, and that’s a reasonable concern; you will need to demonstrate that you are up to the rigors of graduate-level academic work. Do not, however, begin your essay with, “I know you probably don’t think I can handle law school, being a dancer and all…” Start with the positive, with reasons why you should be admitted. Draw their attention to what about you makes you worth admitting, not to your weak spots. Read an example essay and review here.

4. Although your essay may be 90% there, the 10% may be most important. 

Sometimes, I will read an essay that is so compelling, so well-written and engaging and believable and uplifting, that I forget I’m reading a personal statement. This sounds ideal, right? It would seem you should aspire to give this experience to the admissions officer who reviews your application. Yes, that is true, but: It can still fail in an essential way, even if it’s that good. It must still connect the dots between the Most Amazing Story Of All Time and why you’re a good fit for law school. I may not be able to put down The Hunger Games, but if I read it as part of Katniss’s law school application, I’d finish it thinking, “That was great!” and then I’d pause. “Oh…wait, why is she applying to law school?” Don’t forget what you writing, and why you’re writing it. Read an example essay and review here.

The LSAT in 15 Tweets


1. #whereisthesun #Ibrokemypencilsharpener #dreamedaboutanaloguewatchescomingtolifeandbitingme

2. Do lawyers put colorful balls in buckets in 8 min increments? #justcurious

3. Told my BF all the assumptions in his argument. He said assuming makes an ass of u and me. I said that has assumptions too #whatsbecomeofme

4. Don’t use webMD while studying for the LSAT. #hives #cancerorjustanxiety?

5. The individuals who construct standardized tests are called psychometricians. The psycho part fits.

6. My life has come down to a test that makes me crazy. #notmymarriage

7. Is it too late to be a doctor?

8. Dear Friends: I miss you. #waitforme #onedaywillhavealifeagain

9. I now read and respond to emails in 1 minute, 20 seconds or am filled with shame. #LSATsymptoms

10. Maybe there are some good logic games tactics in this pint of mint chocolate chip?

11. “How’s studying going?” If I get asked it again I am going to break a non-mechanical pencil.

12. Which argument is parallel to the parallel zits on my upper lip due to stress? #cannot

13. Some people cry when they fall in love. I just did my first logic game without missing any and cried. #nerdlife

14. I wish I had a nickel for every time I have said “practice test” in the last 3 months.

15. Good morning everyone else up at 7am on Sat. to take the LSAT. Let’s do this y’all. #EXPERIMENTAL SECTION #PLEASEDONTBEREADINGCOMP

Last 10 Curves on the Last 10 LSATs: What a (Non-) Difference a Curve Makes


LSAT scoring curveIn case you haven’t heard, getting a 170 on the LSAT (or a 180 for that matter) doesn’t always mean missing the same number of questions. Due to a phenomenon commonly referred to as the LSAT curve, there can be a swing as large as five or so points from test to test when it comes to what constitutes a 170 (just choosing that particular score to illustrate). Take the last 10 released LSATs (excluding February, as it’s not released):

Test Date

Could Miss to Get 170

June 2014


Dec 2013


Oct 2013


June 2013


Dec 2012


Oct 2012


June 2012


Dec 2011


Oct 2011


June 2011


ISN’T IT OBVIOUS? TAKE DECEMBER, RIGHT? You can miss 14 and get a 170, while June and October tests are often so harsh that you can only miss 10 to get the same score!

Not so fast. Spoiler alert: It doesn’t actually matter; you can’t game your score by choosing in which season you will take the test to strategize around the curve in this way (maybe Nate Silver could, but if you’re Nate Silver, don’t go to law school).

The reason why, in short, is that this curve reflects a response by LSAC to measured difficulty of a particular exam—an easier curve, in other words, actually means more difficult.

So how is difficulty measured? It’s measured based on how many people are getting how many questions right across three years of data. This measurement gives LSAC a “percentile” for each numerical score on a given LSAT—if you score a 170, and that’s in the 97th percentile, it means you performed better than 97 percent of other people taking the test, but not on the same day as you. Technically, you’re “competing” against everyone who took the test in the three years prior.

All of this is to say, when you first learn about the LSAT curve variation, don’t get excited and decide to choose a test date based on it. Choose a test date based on factors like when you are going to apply and what gives you sufficient time to prepare.

Manhattan LSAT

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6 Ways to Study for the LSAT More Efficiently


 lsat test prep help1. Quality, not quantity. The good news about this maxim is that not only is it true when it comes to effective LSAT studying, but it can also save you loads of time. Instead of sitting down and saying, “I’m going to do three sections no matter how long it takes me,” sit down and say, “I’m going to turn off my cell phone, shut the door, close my computer, and do these three sections without any distractions. Benefits are manifold—your studying is better, and you’re done sooner.

2. You are what you consume. I don’t mean to sound like your mom or your doctor, and I’m sure we’re all well-versed in basic nutritional principles, but it is true that if you are living on excessive amounts of caffeine, you’re probably not studying as well as you can be due to the anxiety and overall jitters that it is known to cause. So again, don’t mean to be your babysitter here, but if you’re having trouble focusing and are one of these constantly-sipping-java-or-soda folks, consider cutting back a bit—replace it with decaf tea or seltzer every now and then.

3. Change the time of day you study. When I was preparing for the LSAT, I found that my morning sessions were really productive and satisfying while my night sessions often dragged on and left me tired, discouraged and feeling like I didn’t get enough accomplished. I’m a morning person, always have been. If I could do it all again, I’d just cut out the night sessions, or trim them substantially, and add to my morning sessions. You know what your own circadian rhythm is. Don’t try to bend it to your will; you’re better off bending to accommodate it, not vice versa.

4. Sprints, then breaks. Focused study is the best study. Short stints of untainted focus on the material is superior to longer sessions during when you doze off or check your texts or read Twitter or grab another handful of chips. If you have trouble focusing for a longer period of time (which is what we call “being a human”), set an achievable goal like: I’m going to focus only on the LSAT for the next 15 minutes. Then I get a two-minute break. If that sounds short to you, great! That means you can do it! Try. If it’s easy, add some. But training yourself to focus for shorter bits, then adding to those bits, beats punishing yourself for your inability to sustain focus by making yourself sit half-focused for longer stretches. Forcing yourself to sit unfocused for long stretches teaches you to sit unfocused for long stretches. Forcing yourself to focus for stretches of any length teaches you to focus.

5. Teach someone—yourself or someone else—the hard problems. To be able to teach means to truly understand. Albert Einstein said that. Just kidding, I said that, but keep reading, anyway. When you have to teach something to someone else, it forces you to think about it in a way that just learning it doesn’t. You can’t hide. You have to get it. Good standard for mastery, right? Understanding as a requirement? I find mothers to be an excellent source for make-believe LSAT students.

6. Create realistic, defined goals. Some of the most discouraged, burnt out, and plateaued students I’ve worked with are the ones who set unrealistic expectations for themselves that are so unachievable that they wind up in this vague and ambiguous space permeated with chronic disappointment. “I’m going to study for as long as I possibly can every day,” may sound like a really impressive, ambitious approach, but what it really does is set you up for failure. You study four hours and are exhausted, and instead of congratulating yourself on studying for four hours, you spend the rest of the day thinking, “Could I have studied longer? Should I be studying now?” The same is true for two or eight or nine hours, because you have no standards by which to measure your actual achievement. This is bad for another reason: affirmation and the feeling of satisfaction are very important to your progress. We don’t excel by feeling like failures all the time. We excel by feeling like failures when we’re not doing our best, and feeling great when we do. We get hooked on that feeling and want more of it, and that’s a good thing. Give yourself goals that you can achieve so you can reach this feeling and allow it to motivate you to keep moving forward. Studying for the LSAT is a long and hard process. Don’t make it more miserable for yourself than it needs to be.

2014 Law School Application Season: A Comprehensive Timeline


law school application season 2014It’s almost mid-August, and that means the application season for 2015 matriculation is gearing up. At this time of year, I always get asked a lot about timeline. When should you be working on your personal statement? When should you ask your recommenders for letters of recommendation, and what deadlines should you give them? Can you plan to take the LSAT in December, or should you cram for October (if you haven’t already begun studying)?

Here we go—a thorough guide to the timing of law school application season, by category!


At the front of most people’s minds is the LSAT, and rightly so; it’s the most important part of your application along with GPA. If you don’t have an LSAT score yet (or don’t have one you plan to rely on to get into law school, yet) but plan to apply for admission in 2015, that means you’re either looking at the September or December exam. Notice I didn’t say February. If you plan to apply to start in 2015, do not plan to take the February LSAT exam because (1) some schools don’t take it, and (2) even for the schools that do, you’ll be at a disadvantage due to the rolling nature of admissions.

Which brings me to the next question—to take September or December? Almost across the board I am going to recommend taking September. Again, rolling admissions means aiming for the December test not only puts you at a disadvantage, time-wise (no law school is going to review your application until the entire thing is in, LSAT score and all), but it also only gives you one shot to get the score right. Taking September, on the other hand, means that if something goes wrong, you aren’t completely out of the running for fall 2015 entry. You can still take the December test.

So who doesn’t this apply to? Right now, there are about six weeks left before the fall LSAT. If you can’tstart studying pretty hardcore ASAP—and I mean tomorrow—you have two options. Either you sit down and take a practice test and you are scoring within 1-2 points of where you hope to score, in which case, you don’t need to hardcore study between now and then. Or you sit down and take a practice test and you need to improve more than 5 points to be happy with your score. For you, the person who needs 5+ points but doesn’t have the time to study between now and the end of September—I suggest applying next year. As a second, less ideal option, you could also study this fall and take December and apply, but again, for the reasons I mentioned above, understand that you will be at a disadvantage.

Personal Statement

This is something that will take you a couple of weeks to get right, most likely, and that’s including drafts that you have others read and that you revise until it’s working. Not to mention, many schools offer the option of writing the secondary essay (often a “diversity” essay) and/or include in their applications other questions to be answered, as well. Starting now is a good idea if you don’t need to devote 100% of your free time to getting a good LSAT score. If LSAT study does need to remain your sole focus, however, keep it that way—save essay-writing for the 3 weeks after you’ve taken the test before you’ve gotten your score back.

This is also true for any addenda you may want to write (explaining away a bad semester, grade-wise, for example, or a criminal conviction or disciplinary action).

Letters of Recommendation

Ask for them yesterday. Recommenders like to have time for these, not because they actually plan to spend two months writing, but because their schedules invariably fill up like wildfire come fall when school resumes. You call follow up with them occasionally (every few weeks or so) to politely check in if they haven’t submitted the letters. And as for what deadline to give them, well, since admissions are rolling, I’m entirely comfortable asking them to have the letter in by whenever you plan to have your application in for optimal consideration. That could be as soon as you get your September LSAT score, or it could be the first day applications are accepted. As long as you give the recommender ample notice, this is unlikely to be a problem.

The Rest of Your Application

The rest of the application—resume, transcript, score reports—are either out of your hands or shouldn’t take a great deal of time to perfect. Most of you have drafted resumes with the help of your college’s career counseling office, for example—but if not, absolutely get some advice and review, even if it’s just online, of proper resume drafting for law school applications.

When to Submit

Again, because of the nature of rolling admissions, you are best off applying as early as possible. This means you should check when the schools to which you are applying begin accepting applications and submit yours as close to that date as possible. Of course, you are going to be restricted by the release date of your LSAT score if you haven’t already taken it. That’s fine. Just have everything ready to go so that as soon as your score is available, you can promptly submit your full application.

Hang in there, be systematic, and it’ll all be over before you know it!

Manhattan LSAT

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13 Questions You Wish You Could Ask the LSAT Makers


LSAT-humor1. How do you sleep at night?

2. Do you have any friends?

3. How much could your job possibly pay?

4. You’re in Mensa, aren’t you?

5. You tell people at parties that you’re in Mensa, don’t you?

6. Do you date online?

7. On your dating profile, do you put as your job, “Writes the LSAT?”

8. Do you get asked out people who only want you for your insider LSAT knowledge?

9. Do you yell at these people at some point, “YOU ONLY WANTED ME FOR MY LSAT SECRETS!”

10. Is your kid prohibited from taking an LSAT you write because that’s like really corrupt?

11. Do you dream in conditional logic?

12. Is the best answer B?

13. If Oliver gets a 160, and Miguel gets a 172, for how many people taking the test do you know their exact scores?

16 Thoughts You Will Probably Have While Taking the LSAT


lsat-humor1. It’s too cold. No, too hot. No, too cold.

2. It’s too muggy, that’s the problem.

3. If it’s too muggy, then I cannot concentrate. What’s the contrapositive of that?

4. Where the *!& is the clock? Oh, there it is.

5. Um, why is the clock in the room not working? Oh, it is.

6. What am going to do with all the free time I’ll have after this? I should go to the beach.

7. The amount of construction going on outside cannot be normal.

8. Did I bring enough pencils because what if all seven break?

9. Who smells like Thai food?

10. I don’t even know how to feel about what just happened in that section.

11. I’m going to have the biggest margarita after this.

12. Stop thinking about margaritas.

13. I can already taste it.

14. It is disorienting how naked I feel without my cell phone.

15. Essay time! Almost done! Okay, focus. No, not sleep, FOCUS!

16. Where is my car? Wait, did I drive here?

Studying for the LSAT? Manhattan Prep offers a free practice LSAT exam, and free Manhattan LSAT preview classes running all the time near you, or online. Be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, LinkedIn, and follow us on Twitter!

4 LSAT Study Myths, Busted


lsat-study-myths-busted1. MYTH: You should just keep taking practice tests until you’ve taken them all.

Please don’t do this. As we repeat again and again over here at Manhattan LSAT, preparation for this test is all about quality over quantity. If you just plow through tests without taking time to learn the proper strategies, to apply them, and then to evaluate your work with close and careful review using all of the study tools at your disposal (free explanations of questions by our 99th percentile teachers on the forum, in-class review sessions, and instructor office hours, among others), you will not be maximizing your study time, and your score will likely not improve as much as it could.

2. MYTH: You can’t improve at reading comp.

You can. It’s just slower than, say, improving at logic games, because you essentially have to learn how to read for the LSAT. Reading comp on the LSAT requires several skills that can feel and seem diametrically opposed: You have to be efficient but also thorough; you have to understand what you’re reading but not get bogged down by the details you don’t understand; you have to be sufficiently well-versed in the subject matter to be able to answer 5-7 questions on it but don’t need to try to become an expert on what you don’t need to become an expert on.

The solution here is going to be to take advantage of learning opportunities but also, to allow yourself enough time to improve on reading comp if you really need to. A month is generally speaking not enough.

3. MYTH: If you get a 180 on the LSAT, the school will just let you in regardless of what the rest of your application looks like.

You may have heard the legend of the guy who got a 180 and just drew a smiley face on the essay portion of his exam, then got into Harvard. If you haven’t, there’s a legend about a guy who got a 180 and just drew a smiley face on the essay portion of his exam, then got into Harvard.

I highly doubt this is true. But either way, I am going to say something frank and perhaps harsh, but listen up: If you actually want to use this as a guideline in approaching your own LSAT and application and major life decisions, please, by all means, do. Because the world doesn’t need any more dumb lawyers, and this will help weed them out.

Schools read your applications. They may or may not read your LSAT essay—but just in case, write one. And write it well (or, as best you can after sitting for four hours).

4. MYTH: You can rig your chances of scoring higher by which test you choose to take—February, June, October or December.

Nope. They’re all the same folks, at least for your purposes. Can’t plot this one, so don’t waste any more time thinking about it. Go do a logic game.

Studying for the LSAT? Manhattan Prep offers a free LSAT practice exam, and free Manhattan LSAT preview classes running all the time near you, or online. Be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, LinkedIn, and follow us on Twitter!