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The LSAT vs. The Bar Exam

The formal part of your legal education is book-ended by two exams. At the front, the LSAT and, at the end, the bar exam. While you’re probably familiar — or in the process of becoming familiar — with the LSAT, the bar exam is foreign to most applicants and law students.

The LSAT is a test you have to take before admission to law school. The bar exam is the test you have to take before you can get licensed to practice law. Both of these exams test different skills, but if you plan on becoming a lawyer, you will need to pass both exams.

This post is going to compare and contrast the LSAT with the bar exam to help demystify what’s ahead.

Comparison 1: The Time Commitment

I’m stretching a little bit here, but the time commitment for studying for both the LSAT and the bar exam is generally the same — around 8-12 weeks. Within those 8-12 weeks, you may end up studying substantially more for the bar exam than for the LSAT because there is inestimably more material to cover (more on that momentarily). However, to the extent you can, you should basically treat exam preparation as a full-time job for the two to three months you are studying.

Contrast 1: The Material

The great thing about the LSAT is that you don’t have to know anything substantive. Rather, you have to be familiar with the types of questions and the methods for answering those questions. The bar exam is the complete opposite. You have to know the finer points of law for a wide range of topics and be able to apply that knowledge to fact patterns. You will undoubtedly know more of the law when you study for the bar exam than at any other point in your career. Additionally, you have to actually write essays on the bar exam not just complete a silly writing sample (let’s be honest here), which, in and of itself, is an key difference in the material. I don’t want to belabor this point, but it could be a whole post by itself — the bar exam tests you on a staggering amount of material.

Comparison 2: Time Management

Time management is essential for both the LSAT and the bar exam. You have a lot of questions to answer (and essays to write, in the case of the bar exam) and not a lot of time to finish. As a result, the habits you develop for moving quickly through multiple choice questions will serve you well on the bar exam (e.g. reading the prompt first). You will certainly benefit from the attentiveness you develop for watching the clock as you prepare for the bar exam.

Contrast 2: Length of the Exam

The day of the LSAT feels like an eternity. You have to get to the test center, wait for the instructions, take the exam, wait to be dismissed, and then finally you can leave. The bar exam is like that just … worse … and twice as long. This might seem inconsequential in the grand scheme of the months you spend preparing, but it is something you need to take into consideration. You should try to simulate the back to back days of fatigue prior to the exam because it is unlike anything you’ve likely experienced before.

Having done both, I would much rather take the LSAT again than the bar exam, and I think that is universally true across the broad spectrum of lawyers. The LSAT provides a good intro to making sure you get used to building your life around a study schedule and building good test-taking habits, but it does not come close to preparing you for the grind of the bar exam. It isn’t the end of the world, and there are more difficult tests out there, but it does require an immense amount of memorization. Fortunately, you’ll have time to build up your mental library of information, and you’ll get through it.