Should You Retake The LSAT?

    LSAT Prep

    11216872256_0c33783dc6_z_1.jpgWith 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?
    You probably have a good sense of how well you expected to do on the LSAT based on your practice test scores and your experience as you prepared. If your score is far below your results on practice tests, or if you performed significantly worse in a particular area than is typical, you have a good reason for thinking you could improve your LSAT score on a retest.
     
    On the other hand, if your real score was within a few points of your last several practice tests, and is still reflective of your performance close to the date of the next administration, the chances of it miraculously improving on test day are minimal at best. Simply put: how you perform as you practice is likely to reflect how you’ll perform on the real thing, so if your practice results are unsatisfactory, a retake is almost certainly going to be as well.
    • How did you feel the day of the test?
    This is similar to the question above, in that you need to ascertain whether the score you received was representative, or certain factors could have negatively affected your performance that might not be present with a retake.
     
    Were you sick or upset about something? Was there an issue at the test center that caused problems or affected you? How much did test anxiety play a role in your performance? If a distraction made you feel that you were performing worse than you usually do on a test, it would probably be worth taking the LSAT again when you’re feeling well enough to do your best, and when disruptions are less likely to hurt your final score.
    • How does your score measure up?
    Consider the LSAT averages or ranges of students admitted to the schools you’re interested in applying to, and see how your score compares. If you’re already above (or towards the 75th percentile of) the qualifications your schools look for, there’s probably no need to bother with a retest. Similarly, if you’re near or just below the average acceptance score, spending your time and effort improving other parts of your application—personal statement, supplementary essays, letters of recommendation—may prove more valuable than another point or two on the test.
    Obviously if you’re well below your target schools’ averages, the need to retake the LSAT becomes extremely clear.
      
    If you do decide that a retake would potentially be beneficial, there are still two questions I think need to be asked:
    • 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?
    I routinely (daily, in fact) hear this sort of question regarding potential score increases. And my response is generally this: the LSAT is not an I.Q. test! That is, it tests only how well you understand the LSAT, not how innately intelligent you are, or your vocabulary, or your knowledge of particular subjects like Science or the Law. Conquering the LSAT is solely dependent on you recognizing the common elements used by the test makers—from reasoning types, to Logic Games setups and scenarios, to answer choice traps—and then having powerful strategies with which to respond to those elements. That’s it.
     
    What that means then is that dramatic score increases are possible, often in a fairly short period of time, provided you receive proper training and you practice with the right approach. We routinely see students achieve 15-20+ point score increases after studying the proven techniques taught in our courses, where the use of real LSAT questions, examined and deconstructed by world-class instructors with top percentile scores, allows people of all abilities to break down the LSAT and unlock their true potential.
     

    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!