Part of what makes the LSAT the LSAT is how intricate this seemingly straightforward standardized test is. And I'm not even talking about the inherent complexity behind a logic game, or the sheer weight of the words and concepts in a reading comp passage. No, law school applicants, I'm talking about something that should be particularly easy to determine (but, for many applicants, isn't): When the best time to take the LSAT is.
I recently spoke to a student on the phone who was planning on applying to law school this fall for entry in next year. He wanted to go over a detailed plan of attack for everything: When to start working on his applications, when to start drafting his essays, when to ask for letters of recommendation--everything. The conversation drew to a screeching halt, however, when I posed what I considered to be a fairly simple question: "So, when are you planning on taking the LSAT?"
Silence on the other end of the line. Then, "Well. I. I was thinking that--I guess I just thought I would just take it when I was ready."
Which is certainly a valid response (and one that I praised, since students often take the LSAT without being fully ready to take it, which is definitely detrimental). However, the decision of when to take the LSAT should be based on a little more than your overall preparedness (although that is certainly a very important factor). It should also be logistically timed so that it is as beneficial as possible to your application cycle.
So, what did I tell this student?
Let's start with this: As we all know, the LSAT is important. However, there's no hard and fast rule as to which LSAT administration is the absolute best. Contrary to some urban myths, there aren't "easier" administrations of the LSAT if you're just going by time of the year (although, some would argue, the fact that the June administration takes place in the afternoon rather than the crack of dawn places it above the rest). As far as the test itself goes, though, all of them are calibrated to be as close to the same level of difficulty as possible, so one isn't "better" than the other. As far as which administration is the worst, I would say that it's probably the February one, for the simple reason that it is nondisclosed, and so you all you get is your score and percentile, but not a copy of the test you took or the answers you gave. If you're taking the LSAT, you may as well take one that gives you as much feedback as possible.
So, Anne, I hear you asking, if there isn't one administration that's better than the other, what difference does it make which one I take? Trust me, it makes a difference.
We know that the LSAT is administered four times per year: June, September/October, December, and February. For admissions purposes, each has its pros and cons. Assuming you are entering law school in the fall of next year, you should consider the following factors when choosing a test administration date:.
The June LSAT is a great option if you want to submit your applications at the start of the admissions cycle.
- PRO: Taking the June LSAT frees up your summer so that you can work on the other aspects of your law school application (résumé, personal statement, letters of recommendation, etc.) instead of studying for the October administration (assuming you don't retake in September/October but, even then, your prep is likely to be less strenuous).
- PRO: If you don't do as well as you'd like on the June LSAT, this also allows you to retake it in September/October or December, should you want to improve your score.
- PRO: Taking this LSAT gives you the ability to submit your application at the very start of the admission cycle, in mid-September or early October (depending on when applications become available).
- CON: If you're still in school, you'll have to spend your spring semester studying for the LSAT, which may be the last thing you want to do (or have time to do).
The September/October LSAT is the most popular test of the year because it falls at the start of the application cycle, and many students take it as they "officially" start working on their law school applications.
- PRO: Taking the September/October LSAT allows you to spend the summer preparing for it, which means that you don't have to juggle studying and school at the same time (although you may have to juggle work and studying).
- PRO: If you take this LSAT and don't do as well as you'd hoped, you still have the December LSAT to try your hand at it again. But, CON: The December LSAT will be your last chance if you don't want to be submitting your apps either right at application deadlines, or just before them.
- CON: As mentioned above, this is the most popular test of the year, which means that testing centers fill up fast and ahead of the registration deadline. If you decide to take this LSAT, make sure to sign up early!
- CON: If you're dead-set on submitting your applications as early in cycle as possible, you may not be able to if you take this LSAT, since scores aren't available until mid- to late October.
- PRO: All schools accept the results of the December LSAT. But, CON: This makes it a popular choice for many applicants, which means that if you don't register early, you may not get the testing center you want.
- CON: December LSAT scores become available in January of the following year, which means your application won’t be complete until late in the admissions cycle. It also means you'll spend the holidays freaking out, on top of waiting to complete your apps.
- CON: For most top law schools, the December LSAT is the last test they will accept for admission the following year. So it's basically your last chance to get the score you're looking for and, if this is your only score, it's your only chance.
- CON: If you live in a place that gets gnarly winter weather, you may end up getting snowed out on the day of the test, which can wreak havoc with your mental LSAT preparation.
I consider this to be least favorable test administration. It's basically a “last resort” for many students applying for admission in the fall of the same year.
- CON: Although many schools accept the results of the February LSAT, they often recommend you take an earlier administration in order to maximize your admissions chances. Very few top law schools take the results of the February LSAT.
- CON: Scores typically aren't available until early March, which means you're submitting your applications very late in the cycle (which harms not only your admissions chances, but also--and most importantly--your financial aid chances).
- CON: This test is nondisclosed.
- CON: Just like with the December LSAT, beware of foul winter weather. Testing centers regularly get snowed out (see the Snowpocalypse Incident of 2010).
- PRO: If you're not planning applying for admission that same year, then it's a good chance to get the LSAT done and over. However, this is rarely the reason students take it.
In the case of the particular student mentioned above, since he was contacting me in January and still had plenty (read: at least 3 months) of time to study for and take the June administration, that is what I suggested he do. This allowed him to not only budget in the time to study until then, but it also allowed him to structure his application preparation timeline around it, which gave him some serious peace of mind. Believe me, when you're dealing with as many moving parts as a law school application can have, a little structure, forethought, and planning goes a long way.
When are you planning on taking the LSAT? Do you know yet? If you do, why are you taking it when you are?
Have a question about applying to law school you’d like me to answer? Send me an email.
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