Pros: Proctored exams, required homework. Online component mostly debugged. Course constantly revised. Comfortable classrooms.
Cons: PrepTests can?t go off-site, laminated library unrealistic. Online navigation difficult. Center hours limited. Overpriced!
Id like to put an expert opinion in the public domain. Over hundreds of students and several years of teaching, I averaged a ~4.7 student rating, and became a trainer of new teachers before I left the company.
THE KAPLAN METHOD works, more for certain types of students than others. It is a one-size-fits-all approach. The real-world exams (I took it twice) are _not_ entirely predictable, and yes, many of the questions used in Kaplan class and on practice exams are stale, and do mislead students into thinking they're sharper than they actually are in fact, some practice exams are easier than others. Want proof? Take PrepTest 17 and impress yourself. But the product Kaplan's selling is confidence, not mastery over every nuance of the exam, and as long as you're OK with that expectation, get a light courseload for the semester, pony up $1100 and take the course, and if you work hard you can expect 5 points on Test Day, over the Diagnostic test you took. The best investment you can make is in yourself. The figure Kaplan falls back on when confronted (the handbook told employees not to advertise or promote it) is a fraction less than an 8 pt. increase on average, a figure from a Price Waterhouse study from over a decade ago. I suspect that figure would be less were the study made today; today's students have been trained to take standardized tests since grade school, and you'd have to be an imbecile to take the test without prepping first.
The Kaplan Method is no secret; its simply a tactical approach to managing your test. You open to a section, see the section type, manage the passages/games/questions accordingly, and identify the action necessary to answer each question, before ever delving into the questions material. It means taking time to earn assured points, no voodoo. Honestly, theres nothing (strategy-wise) in the course that isnt in the paperback at Barnes & Noble. What youll miss out on by buying the book is the expert (hopefully) advice of your teacher, and the regimentation of the course; proctored quizzes, exams, and homework.
"The course trains you to do your personal best on the LSAT." This may turn out to be really really great, and it may turn out to be the case that you are not very good at taking the LSAT, and will never be. Which doesnt mean that you cant make a great lawyer! Kaplan is no magic bullet or institution of enlightenment, its a business that employs bright people who dont fit in elsewhere at the moment, and need the money. Staff pitch the product and strive for sales goals. Its taught to the broadest demographic; the student coming in with a 152 (natl avg.) and good study habits. My recommendation is attend all classes, do the online work (its good), and thats usually enough to see the 2-3 point increases that will keep a student from asking for a refund.
DID YOU KNOW:
*Kaplan introduced the High Score Guarantee on 8/11/2003, which either refunds you the price of the course (if your score doesnt improve between your Diagnostic and your Final exam in class) or lets you re-take it free (if you dont feel ready to take the test and want to change dates). This is great, b/c for most suffraged students, $1100 is a lot of money to bet on the aptitude of some waiter-turned-Kaplan-teacher. Also, if you raise enough hell, and strike the Center manager as someone who would bad-mouth Kaplan on campus for the next 1 ? years, youll get your money back. Kaplan wont go broke, its a cash flow business, and word-of-mouth is everything. Hypo: 12 class sessions, 3 hours each, only 8 are lessons (other 4 are exams proctored by staff who work for cheap), teacher gets paid ~3.5 hrs. ea. class @ ~$20/hr = $560 gross. 12 students @ $1100 =$13,200. Kaplan's doing alright!
*If you get tutoring, you get to attend the class for FREE - this is by FAR the best thing for you to do if there exists a competent teacher (ask about how many sections and tutoring clients he/shes taught, what his/her student rating is on a scale of 1-5, and whether his/her 90th percentile qualifying score was on an actual exam, or a Kaplan practice exam). The difference that tutoring can make is stupendous. Fine-tuning your test-taking ability REQUIRES quality tutoring. A good teacher will have seen your good and bad habits several times over. And teachers really enjoy tutoring. Tutoring costs $100/hr., so for a small difference in cost ($400), you get 15 hours of tutoring, AND the classroom course. I always pushed tutoring. It pays the teacher a few bucks more, I made $25/hr.. Some students dont need it, they pay attention in class, study at the Center every other day, and bang it out. Most students could benefit enormously from it. This all hinges on a good teacher being available; Kaplan is a part-time job, and your best talent is invariably on its way elsewhere. Kaplan trains many teachers that never make it to the classroom before grad school/a real job.
Its notable that as of my departure, the ONLY cash incentive available to teachers was for employee referrals; bringing in more human capital. Student/teacher ratings used to pay out bonuses, but they were eliminated when the economy went sour, and since the average Kaplan teacher isnt around for more than a year, and if theyre good theyre going to be good anyway, Kaplan probably figured why bother bonusing, theyre already out the door! So the only incentive for a teacher to go above & beyond for a student is the personal gratification of a job well done. See recommendation above: GET TUTORING. You most likely need it, and your teacher enjoys helping you succeed.
*Vet the teacher: what youre buying, for the price of a really swell moped, is a UPSed box of books, an online login, and the ability and goodwill of a teacher not much older than you (or in some cases, younger). Before blowing your money, ask to sit in on a section; your path to law school should be measured, methodical, so dont get fleeced. See if the teachers just reading out of the book. Listen to student conversations (or lack thereof, which is indicative as well) during the class break, when the teacher leaves the room. If you enroll and the teacher sucks, youre going to work hard anyway (because youre on a timeline, right?), your score will improve a bit, and Kaplan keeps your money (see High Score Guarantee, above)! Ive heard some horror stories from other Centers, and friends who took the course elsewhere, on my recommendation; Kaplan teachers arent certified by the state or any peer review; it's a mercenary endeavor. If your teacher sucks, DON'T take a partial refund; you were cheated.
CONCLUSION: Kaplan is presently the 800-lb. gorilla of test prep, but each Center is its own outpost, and should really have its own rating; a test prep outfit is no more than the sum of its parts, so check out the Center staff, manager, and especially your teacher BEFORE you buy, because what were selling isnt fries and a Coke, its easy to screw up and you probably wouldn't know the difference. If you dont have two nickels: go to the library two months out from your exam date, get the book, practice 2 hrs. every other day, go to law school. Thanks for reading and GOOD LUCK my friend.
UPDATE JAN05: I was accepted to three schools out of five applied to in my state, and took a full scholarship at the lesser-ranked of the three; the difference in ranking wasn't much. A client won't begrudge any intrepid attorney his/her humble beginnings, so do what works, and don't bury yourself in debt while you're young.