Let me start this off by saying that I have taught for Kaplan (including the LSAT and several other tests). I do not have a rose colored view of the place, but perhaps I can offer some insight into the problems people have with Kaplan. I will admit that I have no experience with other test prep companies, so in no way am I saying Kaplan is better or worse than they are. I am merely here to provide facts, and perhaps give those who are taking Kaplan courses or considering taking Kaplan courses some ideas as to how to get the most out of what they're being offered.
jeffort, you asked earlier if people were paying for 99th percentile instructors. Yes, that is part of it. More important, from my experience teaching a room of people scoring everything from low 120s to high 160s at the beginning of the course, is that you are paying to be in a class of people who have qualified to be there. When I teach the course, the most difficult part is explaining a concept so that a 130 student can keep up and a 160 student doesn't mentally check out. I merely bring this up as an advantage of the LSAT Advanced course over other Kaplan courses - not over other test prep companies or even private tutoring (which would by the same reasoning be better in this regard). For a comparison, though, I am not aware of other prep companies that require a qualifying score, though that is through my admitted ignorance of many of their practices.
If you got a good instructor and are getting some quality prep out of it, that is good.
I would agree that getting a good instructor is important, and a possible problem with Kaplan courses. Some teachers are, in fact, better than others. I worked at a center that ranked at the top of student satisfaction surveys with regard to teaching, and our LSAT teachers were fantastic for the most part. All of our teacher trainers that I am aware of taught the LSAT, so the LSAT generally got our best product. This may not be the case at all centers. Kaplan's structure reminded me more of terrorist cells than a true corporation. Each center seemed out on its own with limited guidance from Corporate. So getting a reference for the center and/or the teacher would be a big part in choosing Kaplan. I would imagine that would be a big part in choosing any company or tutor, but perhaps I am wrong on that.
Case in point: A girl that was a Harvard UG grad. She took Kaplan, her final real LSAT score after that was 1 point LOWER than her initial diagnostic test, and was a 153. I tutored her for something in the area of 20 hours. She scored a 167 the next time she took it right after we were done. She is in a T1 LS right now. I have many other similar stories.
Curious, but did she get her money back from Kaplan? They do have a "guarantee", but technically it would be only one point, as you can get your money back (assuming you did the required homework) if your score does not improve from your diagnostic.
I hope that Kaplan, for your sake, has improved their curriculum and educational standards. Last I heard and know, unless they did some major revamp of their materials recently, they still do not even differentiate between sufficient assumption/justify the conclusion questions and necessary assumption questions, but instead they lump them both together and tell students to negate for all of them. Correct me if I am wrong/if they changed that.
That is a huge logical flaw to lump those two LR questions types together as 'assumption' questions given that they are asking for two very different things that entail the MAJOR conceptual foundation of the LSAT, the distinction between sufficient conditions and necessary conditions and the logic of conditional reasoning. That is the #1 logical concept tested by the LSAT.
To expand on this a bit for educational purposes, there are typically 5 to 7 necessary assumption questions per test, and typically (in recent tests) 2 to 5 sufficient assumption/justify the conclusion questions. They are frequently some of the hardest/most daunting questions in the LR sections. If you cannot differentiate between them and know how to properly handle each of the two types, aside from sheer luck, there is no way you will get to or break that 170 mark, and will even have trouble getting up past the 165 mark, especially given how strict the current score conversion charts have been running with the tests administered for the last few years. There is nothing advanced about not providing curriculum about the difference between those two question types that are largely designed to separate the wheat from the chafe so to speak.
My experience with the material does not precede 2007, but the 2007 and 2008 material does indeed cover the differences in sufficient and necessary assumption questions. You are right, however, that they lump them together under the "assumption" question type. Yet they repeatedly discuss the difference between each type of question starting from session 3. Negating (called the Denial Test in Kaplanspeak) is presented as a check for one's work on necessary assumption questions. It is only used as a way to get to the answer if the student cannot answer the question in any of the normal fashions. The reason this is not used from the outset on necessary assumption questions is that it is too time consuming. But I do have session 3 of the class over in the corner of the room here, where it states explicitly that the Denial Test is only valid on necessary assumption questions and should primarily be used merely as a check on one's work if they are not 100% certain. It is just another tool in the belt. If this was not the case in the past, then that is incredibly sad, and I would agree with you assessment.
I wont even go much into the common Kaplan marketing practices other than to say that I know for a fact that when their crews that go out on campus to plaster flyers and such all over, those crews also frequently rip down and/or cover up ads/flyers from other prep providers to make it look like they don't exist and that Kaplan is the only one. (I have seen it in action on campuses and so have other instructors that I know!) Doing that is not fair competition and does speak partially to how well their actual product/service compares to what the competitors offer that they don't want you to know exist.
I went on several marketing events, I mean practice tests, on college campuses. Never did I witness this behavior, and I know that many flyers for other companies were left up (including the ones in my rooms). I think this goes back to the "cell" nature of Kaplan centers - I could easily see where folks at some centers would do this, as there are no checks and balances on this kind of behavior. I would imagine this is also more common in larger/more competitive markets.
Anyway, I hope you have a good experience, some Kaplan instructors are pretty good, I know a few of those rare ones.
Sadly, this speaks to the heart of the issue with Kaplan. I will say that they offer a ton of what I would consider quality material for the LSAT, but it is not nearly as useful without a quality instructor. I would get a reference for the teacher first, as I mentioned above. I would also be wary of possible issues with the non-Advanced courses, as if you're already scoring well, you would still be grouped in classes with denser students. And the Summer Intensive course...wow. I didn't even know we offered that when I was there. I would have to agree with jeffort here - that is WAY too much money to spend. Unless they provide hookers.