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Podcast Episode ComparingTestPrepCompanies

Comparing LSAT Test Prep Companies

Which One is Right For You?

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Law school applicants have had to face the LSAT since 1948. Now, it’s your turn. To help you prepare, we have interviewed the various test preparation companies to hear what they have to offer. They will discuss the different types of courses they offer, from traditional classroom courses, private tutoring and online courses. Each company will have the opportunity to explain how they are unique and what makes them stand out. Listen and learn what option is best for you.

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Guests include:

  • Andrew Brody, National Content Director for LSAT Programs, The Princeton Review
  • Kristen Kennedy, Lead LSAT Instructor, Knewton
  • Dave Killoran, CEO and Director of Course Development, PowerScore Test Preparation
  • Noah Teitelbaum, Managing Director, Atlas LSAT Test Prep
  • Trent Teti, Co-Founder and LSAT Instructor, Blueprint LSAT Preparation®
  • Jeff Thomas, Director of Pre-Law Programs, Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions

Transcription:

Welcome to Law School Podcaster, your source for inside information and advice on the law school application process. I’m Althea Legaspi.

For years, admissions committees at law schools around the country have been using the LSAT® to evaluate and measure law school applicants seeking a law degree. If you’ve decided to go to law school, you know you’ll have to take the LSAT®. And, to be competitive at a top school, you’ll need to score well. Unless you’re a standardized test genius, you’re probably considering how to prepare for this important exam. On our show today, our guests from several test preparation companies discuss the different types of courses they offer, from private tutoring to classes in person and online. Listen and learn about the options available to you and what distinguishes each company.

In this segment, Comparing LSAT® Test Prep Companies: Which Test Prep Provider is Right For You?, you’ll hear from LSAT® Test Prep providers at Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions, the Princeton Review, PowerScore Test Preparation, Blueprint LSAT Preparation, Atlas LSAT Test Prep, and Knewton.

Kaplan prides itself on being the founder of test preparation, and as one of the largest test prep providers, Kaplan offers hundreds of classroom locations nationwide, experience in test preparation, and a program it says will help you prep better and increase your score. Jeff Thomas, the Director of Pre-Law Programs at Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions says, since offering LSAT® classes more than 40 years ago, Kaplan has guided millions of students through the law school process. Kaplan offers three LSAT® in-classroom courses: Classroom, Advanced, and Extreme Courses. He explains. “At our LSAT® Classroom course, that is our most condensed course offering and the most popular course offering, and that is really where we look at every skill in isolation. We practice a couple of problems in the class, and there is a considerable amount of out-of-class work that happens that the student does at home to develop the skills on his or her own time. We do have a subset of students who come into the class with a particularly solid understanding of the skills required for success. They’re scoring at a level of 158 or above, which is the 75th percentile of the test. For that group of students, we have a LSAT® Advanced Class that does have the score qualification requirement of 158 and we take a look at the exact same skills that we do in the classroom class but we apply them to the most difficult questions that the LSAT® has ever faced in each of those skills set, and we have a couple of advanced workshops that go with that class as well. Then we also know there is a subset of students that really thrives by being in the classroom. The more time they’re in the class, the better they want to have lots of access to their instructor, they want to do additional workshops, practice problem after problem after problem. For that student, we have our LSAT® Extreme Class. It’s 109 hours of in-class preparation, and on top of that, we give our students four hours of private tutoring as well for folks enrolled in that class.”

The Princeton Review’s National Content Director for LSAT® Programs, Andrew Brody, says the company has been teaching the LSAT® for 21 years. The Princeton Review offers two traditional classroom courses. “The Hyperlearning Course, and that’s our most comprehensive, most rigorous, most intensive course, is an 84-hour course that has 24 sessions. We also have an Accelerated Course which is more focusing on key concepts, it’s only 28 hours. So whereas in the Hyperlearning Course, we hit everything, we review it, we hit it again, we drill, we do time sections, we really show to hold their hand to every piece of it. The Accelerated Course, over the course we cover all the key concepts, but we move at a much, much quicker pace and we don’t get to hit things two and three times. Most of the homework and exam review is done outside of class in the Accelerated Course, whereas it’s done in the class in Hyperlearning Course.”

Established in 2005, Blueprint LSAT Preparation is an LSAT® only boutique that offers live classroom courses in New York and California. Trent Teti is one of Blueprint’s founders. He describes how its classes unfold. “Our in-class course is 100 hours long and there’s a half hour Q&A before each class. There are 16 lessons and then we have four proctor practice exams. So it turns out to be like 120-130 hours all in. In addition to that, we have in the last couple of years begun streaming a lot of our information over the web. The explanations to LSAT® questions, explanations to your homework are available in fairly high definition video that we stream over the web to people’s personal computers. So even when you’re in class, there is a huge amount of stuff that’s deliverable both PDF explanations that you can get, audio explanations and video explanations for a wide variety of your questions and that’s sort of in-class experience.”

To adapt to people’s increasingly busy schedules and with developments in technology, virtual test prep classrooms are gaining popularity and are another way to study for the LSAT®. All of the test prep companies we interviewed offer online programs, but not all are the same. Blueprint offers online streaming videos but not live online courses. The rest of the companies we spoke with offer live online classroom options.

Knewton launched its LSAT® test prep offering in March 2009 and offers just the virtual classroom experience. It provides a year-long membership with enrollment. Kristen Kennedy, Lead LSAT® Instructor at Knewton, says it offers a free seven-day class for those interested in checking out Knewton. Its classes are twelve sessions of three hours each paired with studying on one’s own, and she says it’s highly interactive. “Yes, I mean you really should think about Knewton as having a classroom. It’s not a bricks and mortar classroom like you may think of with literal walls, but there are virtual walls to our classrooms with some added benefits. One of the benefits of our classroom is that while you’re in class, you can submit the answer that you think is correct in a poll, and then on the other side of that, as the instructor and the TA can see this as well, we know how our students are voting in that poll. So I am able to say, oh, Jennifer chose answer choice B and that’s incorrect, and so I can start getting a sense of what it is that’s kind of tripping up Jennifer. But then when I address my comments to the entire class, I’m not going to call Jennifer out and say, hey Jennifer you miss the — you chose B, why did you do that? Instead, I’m going to say, so looks like some people have decided to choose B here. Let’s talk about why B is not right. So the whole class is going to get to learn from that one student, whereas if I were in a traditional classroom, I might have no idea what’s going through Jennifer’s head. As seen in the live online classroom, Jennifer can tell me everything that’s going on in her head and I can read those comments while I’m teaching. It’s sort of like getting perpetual instant feedback from the entire class instead of just from the one person who always raise their hands during class.”

Atlas LSAT Test Prep, which launched two years ago, is a sister company of the highly regarded test prep company Manhattan GMAT. Atlas focuses exclusively on those taking the LSAT® and provides what it says is a curriculum geared for test takers who aim to score high. While Atlas offers live classroom courses in select cities around the country as well as self-study options, a large part of Atlas’ growing enrollment comes from live online classes. It also offers a first session free trial for perspective students. Noah Teitelbaum is the Managing Director of Atlas LSAT® Test Prep. He explains Atlas’ virtual classroom style. “Well, our main course is a twelve-session class. Each session is three hours and we also have four study halls during the class which are two-hour small group tutoring sessions where you can get more help on a topic or review some homework that you want to review. That’s sort of our boilerplate class. We do that live online and live online there are two teachers. You get a headset, sort of look like someone who is in a call center, I guess, and it’s completely interactive. You talk and ask questions. There’s also a chat window so that the two teachers can be working simultaneously. We can also do breakout rooms where, if there is a group of people who need to go a little faster or a little slower, one teacher can pull a group out and do some work with them. We also do classes in person, in New York, in Boston, L.A., Chicago, and we’re opening up in Houston and Durham, so lots of places.”

For those who would like a more customized or individual studying, private tutoring is another route to consider. With the exception of Knewton, who provides live office hours for more specific questions, each of the test prep companies we interviewed for this segment offer private tutoring packages. Yet another option is self-study, which can be enhanced by books and there are a variety of them available from test prep companies. Atlas has various self-study packages that include books and access to course recordings and Blueprint has a video course called The Movie, which caters to self-study. CEO and Director of Course Development, Dave Killoran established PowerScore Test Preparation in 1997. He wrote a series of well-known PowerScore LSAT® Bibles including the LSAT® Logic Games Bible and the LSAT® Logical Reasoning Bible. He created these Bibles specifically to serve LSAT® test takers facing budgetary constraints. He recommends a few strategies. “The single biggest strategy or secret is to take your time, start preparing early, hopefully give yourself a couple of months, make sure that you get yourself the highest quality material, that you can use real tests. We use them in our books. We use them in all of our courses. When somebody says I’m not going to take a class with you or I’m just going to study on my own, my response is — no problem. Use the best material that you can — get real questions. So take your time, use good material, and that will certainly start you on the path to climbing the mountain.”

So with the variety of different ways to prepare, how do you decided which course studying strategy is for you? Well, PowerScore’s Killoran says, it depends entirely in what kind of student you are. “For example, there are some people who really are not comfortable in a live classroom. They don’t want to have to participate. They don’t want to feel as if they have to be in a room. They don’t want to go out of their way to go down to a classroom. For something like that, the online class is great because you’re in a classroom and it’s live but you’re still at home or at work. You’re on your computer and you have that kind of like separation. The courses, strengths and weaknesses of each, they’re really not all that different or definable. They’re minor. It really depends upon what the person’s preference is and a lot of it has to do with scheduling, availability, and travel these kinds of things. That more or less helps make the decision, but ultimately the course materials are very similar, the homework is basically the same, the kind of options that you have and support. Outside of class is very similar.”

Now let’s take a look at the philosophies behind these test prep companies. Teachers are obviously the foundation for all test prep companies and teaching methods may be a factor in choosing which companies’ techniques suit the way you learn best. Each of the test prep companies we spoke to have unique features. All of them require high LSAT® scores from their teachers, but they all agree, knowing how to teach well takes precedence over scores. Princeton Review’s Brody explains how it traces LSAT® patterns using real LSAT® questions in its teaching. “We take a very serious and comprehensive approach to the LSAT®, meaning we’re not just sitting there teaching test prep tricks and strategies, although we certainly do go through and talk about dealing with process of elimination and tips for reading, but we really go into this inner logic of the test. We break the test up into the repeated patterns that we see, so whether it’s the games section, the arguments, or reading comprehension, we try to focus students on the patterns of questions, the patterns of reasoning, the logical patterns that you can trace through the test, have them master strategies on those patterns.”

Atlas’s Teitelbaum says Atlas pays its teachers one of the highest rates in the industry, $100 an hour, because attracting the right talent to teach is a key factor for its LSAT® courses. He says Atlas funds small classes, which cap at eighteen students, and that Atlas has a Socratic teaching approach. He explains Atlas’ LSAT® process. “In Logic Games, we have focused on what we call the modern era of Logic Games, and we have designed our diagrams to be targeted for what’s happening now. We also are very big on teaching “flexibility,” so we tell people, here’s our system, now here’s the question, where our system, you need to adapt it. So we work a lot on teaching “flexibility.” In Logical Reasoning, we have a very streamlined approach compared to some other companies. I know some companies have an extremely classified system. What we notice is that top test takers are not doing a very formulaic approach to this test. They have very clean thinking about arguments, and that’s what we teach.”

Kaplan’s Thomas says every student is different so its approach is to break down the LSAT®. “The way our class works is that we break down that exam into skills. Logical reasoning, would be assumptions, inference questions, strengthener questions, et cetera. Logic games, would be sequencing games, distributions games, matching games. We show students the most efficient and effective means of tackling each of those skills and then we personalize the homework assignments each student has to take to make to make sure they’re excelling in them.”

PowerScore’s Killoran says logic is the foundation on the way it tackles the LSAT®. “The foundation level is really the logic that underlies it and then there’s the question level, how do you solve certain types of questions, how do you recognize certain types of concepts, what can you do in response to those? Then there’s the section level on top of that where we say, all right, now we’ve kind of built it up through the trees. Let’s look at the entire forest and think about what the entire test taking experience is about and that’s where we get into things of like timing strategies and talking about guessing strategies, even test mentality plays into that. So I think it depends on what level you’re looking at, but we try to bring everything together and create one entity that’s completely solid and cohesive.”

Blueprint was founded by LSAT® instructors. Teti says that presentation is a key to its methodology. Blueprint instructors are required to take improv classes to ensure they are engaging as its courses are 100 hours long. “We think it’s really important not just to sort of dictate the material or mention what the message are but rather to present them in a really, really live and engaging way. We think that’s the thing that’s generally have been lacking in terms of test preparation generally, in LSAT® preparation in particular, and so we focus a huge amount on presentation.”

Knewton’s Kennedy says that its philosophy is to make education convenient for everyone, and with accessibility, comes more efficiency. “And also because of adaptivity of what we do with Knewton through the Internet, people can learn what they’re doing well at, what they’re not doing well at instantly, so that we can tailor the program to their strengths and to their weaknesses. So they’re going to learn a lot faster that way. If they are doing prep test after prep test or practice question after practice question, they’re going to know, okay I need to study assumption questions. I’m no good at assumptions and I know that because Knewton’s giving me my feedback of that how I performed on those questions.”

There are also a few different products test prep companies offer in terms of evaluating a students’ progress. Kaplan’s Thomas says its integrated smart reports. “It’s our prescriptive technological engine that essentially analyzes a student’s performance on their practice exams and their homework assignments and it allows us to analyze their performance. In other words, determine, based upon the questions they have done, these are the percentage of questions they are getting right in the varying skills sets of the exam. We can compare to how frequently they’re getting questions right, how frequently they’re getting questions wrong to the overall number of times of which those skills are tested on the exam and say to a student, hey your high yield opportunity right now is assumption questions. You need to be practicing here. Go watch this lesson, go do these practice questions, et cetera. Where for another student, it may be science passages and Reading Comprehension, for a third student it might be Distribution and Logic Games. The advice that the system gives and the homework assignments we prescribe to the students will vary based upon their performance as the course unfolds.”

Knewton’s Kennedy explains its Create A Quiz product. “You can decide to make up a quiz that suits what it is that you’d like to practice that day. So let’s say that day you decide, oh I haven’t been doing so well with Selection Games. I’m going to create a quiz where I say I want to do three selection games, and then our system will automatically generate a quiz for you just of those three Selection Games and then you can see how you do and then immediately get feedback from that. All of those quizzes and any practice problem you do with us, all feeds into your overall performance on that particular type of question. So any time in our system that you decide to do an assumption question, that’s going to all be tracked in your overall performance on assumption questions. So that’s something that immediately, after you’ve completed a question through the Knewton system, your performance is being updated.”

Geography can be a factor in choosing a test prep company if you favor an in-classroom setting. However, with the many classes offered online, location has become less of an issue. But what about costs? Here are the general cost ranges from the companies we interviewed. In-class courses can range from $1,195 to $1,549, with weekend options beginning at $350. Live online courses can range from $690 to $1,100. Self-study products start at $295. Tutoring prices vary depending on a student’s needs. Test prep companies also have a wide array of guarantees offered to LSAT students. Some, such as Blueprint and PowerScore, offer reduced rates to repeat a course. Others offer free repeat courses and money back guarantees.

Kaplan’s Thomas outlines its guarantee. “Because it’s a skill, it takes some students longer than others to develop those skills. That is perfectly okay and we recognize that. So with our programs, we have what we call our “higher score guarantee,” which means three things: one, if for whatever reason a student’s score does not improve upon taking our class, we give them their tuition back or they can study again with us for free. Secondly, if they are preparing for a particular test date and for whatever reason they’re not ready to take it, they feel like the material is overwhelming, they want more time to practice, they need more clarity on the subject matter, whatever the rationale is, they can take the class again the second time in its entirety for free, no questions asked. Thirdly, if a student goes ahead and takes the examination and they get a score that they are not happy with for whatever reason, regardless of their score improvement, five, ten, fifteen, twenty points or more, if they still feel like they have more potential themselves then we they can take our course again, a second time again for free, no questions asked.”

Princeton Review’s Brody explains its guarantee. “Our Hyperlearning course is a “satisfaction guarantee.” It doesn’t even matter how much their score improves. If they’re not happy with it, they can work with us again for up to a year. Or there’s a “money back guarantee,” which if they take our program and the score doesn’t improve, we will refund tuition if they’ve come to all the classes, taken the test, and completed the homework, and taken the test within 30 days of finishing the course. Regardless of how much their score improves, there’s a “satisfaction guarantee” applied to that course. That is the same with most of the courses. The Accelerated Course doesn’t have the money back guarantee.”

Knewton’s Kennedy says its guarantee is this, “If someone takes our course and they’ve done the homework and they’ve completed at least five prep tests, and if their score doesn’t improve by at least five points, then they can get their money back.”

Atlas offers what it calls a “satisfaction guarantee.” “What we guarantee is satisfaction, so if a student has taken our course and done the work and says, you know what, I need more than that, we’ll let them take another course either with the same teacher or a different teacher, for free. If they tell us, you know what, I couldn’t attend the classes or I really didn’t do any of the work, we ask them for $300 and allow them to retake the class.”

From those who design and administer, the test to admission officers evaluating your scores and from those on the front lines of test preparation, one thing we hear across-the-board about the LSAT® is, it’s a test that you should prepare for and it’s not a test that you should approach by cramming. That means you need to also determine when you’ll be taking the LSAT® and enroll in a test prep program well before hand. No matter which test prep company you choose or if you decide to go the self-study route, our guests all recommend you prepare well in advance for the LSAT. Determine what approach fits best with your studying habits — and get cracking.

For more information, a transcript of this show, or to register to receive more law school podcasts, visit lawschoolpodcaster.com. Look for us on Facebook and Twitter to get the latest news and insight into the world of law school. This is Law School Podcaster, I’m Althea Legaspi. Thanks for listening and stay tuned next time when we explore another topic of interest to help you succeed in the law school application process and beyond.

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