Everyone and their mother takes the test in September. The fall test administrations are so popular that many students are afraid the curve is much tougher as a result. However, you shouldn’t worry about a “tougher curve,” because it doesn’t matter how popular the test is. Let me explain.
Contrary to popular belief, the LSAT is not graded on a curve! At least, not in the traditional sense of the word. In a typical college or law school class, the purpose of bell curving is to yield a pre-determined distribution of grades among the students in that class. If your Con Law final has a B+ curve, then half the class will receive a grade of B+ or higher, and the other half – B+ or lower.
The LSAT scale works a bit differently. Most students assume that the test curve is a result of how everyone else does that day. The conclusion there is that a 173 means doing better than 99% of the test-takers that take the same LSAT. But what if the average test-taker who chooses to take the LSAT in September is academically stronger than, say, the one who takes it in February? If the test were curved based on how everyone else did that day, then your score would depend–at least in part–on the composition of students who chose to take that particular administration.
The folks at LSAC are smart enough to figure this out. Their answer? Test-equating.
“The equating process assures that a particular LSAT scaled score reflects the same level of ability regardless of the ability level of others who tested on the same day or any slight differences in difficulty between different forms of the test. That is, the equating process assures that LSAT scores are comparable, regardless of the administration at which they are earned.”
To put it bluntly: you can’t “game the system” by avoiding certain administrations. LSAC sets the conversion scale for each administration ahead of time. They use test data from the last three years, not from any individual LSAT. Test-makers pre-test each question in order to determine its difficulty, logical validity, possible inconsistencies, the presence of misleading information, etc. Then, they administer each test section on one or more separate occasions (as an “experimental section”) for the purpose of pre-equating.
As a result, test-makers know precisely how difficult the exam they are about to administer is, and set the conversion chart accordingly. Using the three-year pool of information provides LSAC with a stable and accurate percentile for each score. Since they don’t calculate percentiles on a per-test basis, each test taker does not compete against the other students taking the same LSAT. Instead, he or she competes against the students from the three previous years.
So, even if all PowerScore instructors decided to have an LSAT face-off (because that’s just how we roll), we won’t skew the curve.
But your mother might.