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Preparing for the next chapter: Balancing coursework with standardized test prep

Catelyn Collins studies for the LSAT in her dorm room.
Catelyn Collins studies for the LSAT in her dorm room.

Even as a second-year student, Catelyn Collins already spends 10 to 15 hours a week preparing for life after undergrad. Collins is one of several Miami University students planning on taking the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) in early June. 

For students with goals of attending graduate or professional school, like Collins, it can be difficult to balance coursework with test preparation, as free time is consumed by studying for standardized tests, such as the LSAT, Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) and Graduate Record Examinations (GRE).

Preparation for these tests typically begins months before they’re taken, and students are often encouraged to designate anywhere from 10 to 20 hours a week studying the material.

“It’s been difficult just because my classes have been super intense recently,” Collins said. “I haven’t really been doing too great of a job. Right now, grades are more important to me.”

Tailyn Walborn, pre-health professions advisor and director of the Mallory-Wilson Center for Healthcare Education, wrote in an email to The Miami Student that it is recommended students study for a minimum of three to four months before taking the MCAT. Most students take the test in January of their third year of undergraduate education.

This means studying typically begins in the fall semester and extends into winter break. Although some class material may overlap with subjects covered in the MCAT, heavy course loads can make it difficult for students to find time to study.

“I’ve had students postpone their test because they weren’t able to study the way they thought they would because of their classes,” Walborn wrote. “I typically recommend viewing studying for the MCAT as a three-credit course, so a lot of students will only take 12 credits during the semester they’re studying.”

Elizabeth Zimmerman, director of the Sue J. Henry Center for Pre-Law Education, said pre-law students face a similar challenge when preparing to take the LSAT.

“Junior year is a hard year,” Zimmerman said. “Our advice, typically, is if there’s any way that you can make that spring semester easier for yourself, you need to do it for exactly this reason. It’s important to have a little extra space so you can study for the LSAT.”

Zimmerman said most students spend about 20 hours a week studying for the LSAT and typically begin studying at least six months before the standardized test.

Although it can be difficult to balance, Miami University offers several resources to students planning on taking these standardized tests.

For those preparing for the MCAT, Walborn wrote Miami has various partnerships with test prep companies that offer discounts to students, host workshops and provide practice tests. Additionally, pre-health professions advisors, like Walborn, are available to help students develop a plan and build a strong application.

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Similar resources are also available for pre-law students, such as an LSAT prep class every spring, one-on-one advising appointments and scholarship opportunities. The Henry Center also hosts small seminars and events throughout the year, such as Law Day Fair, which allows students to meet law school representatives from around the country.

Zimmerman said there is a noticeable difference in law school acceptance rates among students who take advantage of these resources offered by Miami and the pre-law center.

According to the Henry Center’s website, 94% of senior Miami applicants that graduated in 2020-21 were accepted into law school, but those who engaged with the center saw even higher admittance rates. Students who took PLW 401, a course designated to work on law school applications, had a 100% acceptance rate, and 97% of Miami seniors who participated in advising through the pre-law center were admitted into law school.

Despite having some difficulty balancing her coursework with her LSAT studying schedule, Collins is looking forward to finding her future school.

“Coming in from COVID [in] high school, you didn’t really have anywhere you could go tour,” Collins said. “I feel like now I’ll finally go and get that … I can go look at the college and see what’s going on there. So, I’ve been looking for a year now at all the different schools that I think I want to go to.”

LSAT exams begin in mid-April and are offered periodically through November of this year. The MCAT is also offered several times a year, spanning from January through September.