With the recent release of September LSAT scores, a number of students now find themselves in the somewhat uncomfortable position of a possible retake later this year. With that in mind, I want to take a moment to consider one of the most frequently asked questions regarding law school admissions: "Should I take the LSAT again, and if I do, how will law schools interpret my scores?"
In order to help you better understand your options, we have researched LSAC policy, as well as that of top law schools, and spoken with many admissions counselors regarding these issues, and compiled our findings below.
Let’s address some of the facts about the LSAT and admissions first, and then weigh the considerations that factor into a potential retake.
How many times are you allowed to take the LSAT?
Update as of May 2017: LSAC has lifted their long-standing repeat rule of "three attempts every two years" and will now allow test takers to sit for the LSAT an unlimited number of times. Couple that with the increased number of test administrations planned for the coming years—five in 2018, seven in 2019, and ten in 2020 and beyond—and suddenly test takers have a tremendous amount of both flexibility and opportunity for retakes.
A word of caution, however. Just because you can take the test, say, seven or eight times within a single-year period doesn't mean that's in your best interests! For one, most schools at the moment seem to prefer applicants with a score count of 4-5 or less; that is, at five or more attempts schools may begin to question why it's taking so long for you to hit your target, meaning it would be wise to then include an addendum explaining your situation. Secondly, repeat testing pushes you later into each application cycle where rolling admissions may begin to work against you, and app cutoff dates can even prevent you from applying for the upcoming fall. So be sure to take into account your planned test dates and intended-school deadlines to ensure you make the cut.
On the whole though a reliable rule of thumb is still this: if you feel you can improve your score with a subsequent try, it's almost certainly worth it!
How are multiple LSAT scores reported?
There’s some extremely good news for test takers here! Prior to 2006, LSAC policy was as follows: “LSAC will automatically report the results of all LSATs in your file, including cancellations and absences, since June 1, 2002 [five years’ worth of data]. The scores are averaged and also appear separately.” (Note: LSAC rounds up when calculating the average score).
However in 2006 the ABA (American Bar Association) changed its policies, and began requiring schools to report only the highest LSAT scores of students, regardless of how many times they had taken the test: “…beginning with the October 2006 Annual Questionnaire, which collects LSAT data on the Fall 2006 entering class, the Questionnaire will seek 75th percentile, median, and 25th percentile LSAT data based on the high score rather than the average score for matriculants who took the test more than once.”
What this means is that since schools now report only their students’ highest LSAT scores to the ABA, all law schools now consider only an applicant’s highest LSAT score, and no longer take the averaged score into consideration. Yes, schools will see all of your scores from the past five years, and they do pay attention to scoring trends (if your four attempts show four consecutive declines, for instance, you'll want to explain that pattern), but in the end it's the highest number that's reported so it's the highest number that matters.
Why is this good news? It means that if you retake the LSAT and improve your score, schools will disregard your lower score(s) in favor of your best performance. The “penalty,” so to speak, of multiple attempts has been largely erased.
Now that we’ve addressed test-taking and score-reporting policy, let’s consider some of the questions you should ask before committing to another LSAT.
How Can You Tell if a Retake is Worth It?
First, you need to examine where you stand right now. Ask yourself the following:
- How accurately does your score reflect your ability?
- How did you feel the day of the test?
- How does your score measure up?
- How will the next time be different?
Let’s face it: you’re considering a retake because, so far, you haven’t gotten to where you want to be. For that to change on your next attempt, you need to change the way that you approach the exam. Whether that means you invest in a course or private tutor, or simply dedicate more time to your studies and diligently work to analyze and correct your shortcomings, without a different understanding of the LSAT, there’s no reason to expect a different score. So be honest with yourself about how you intend to prepare for the next attempt, and only commit to it if you know there’s a significant chance that you’ll be a different, better test taker on the coming exam.
- Are significant score improvements possible, given the right preparation?
So should you retake the LSAT?
Retaking the LSAT isn’t a decision to make lightly, as it will require time for continued preparation and further testing, and will undoubtedly cause some extra stress as you work to get the rest of your application in order. But if you know that your current best score isn’t sufficient to get you into the school(s) of your choice, and certainly if you think you can do significantly better, it’s generally worth the time and effort to give the LSAT another shot.
Considering a retake but wondering if it's the right decision? Let us know in the comments section below and we'll happily assist you further!