Recently, LSAC released a statement indicating that the registration deadline for the February 2017 LSAT would occur before the scores from the December 2016 LSAT were released. This places December test takers in a tough spot if they think they might want to retake the LSAT since they will need to decide on registering prior to knowing how they scored on the December test. And unfortunately, this isn't the last time this is going to occur. Let's talk about why this is occurring, and what it means for test takers going forward.
A look at the registration deadline for the February 2017 LSAT shows that it is significantly earlier than in prior years:
February 4th, 2017 LSAT Registration Deadline: December 21st, 2016
February 6th, 2016 LSAT Registration Deadline: January 7th, 2016*
February 7th, 2015 LSAT Registration Deadline: January 9th, 2015
February 8th, 2014 LSAT Registration Deadline: January 7th, 2014
As you can see, there has been a sudden shift forward—by about 15 days—compared to recent years. If this trend just applied to February, that would be one thing, but it is actually happening across the board:
June 6th, 2016 LSAT Registration Deadline: April 20th, 2016
June 8th, 2015 LSAT Registration Deadline: May 1st, 2015
September 24th, 2016 LSAT Registration Deadline: August 10th, 2016
October 3rd, 2015 LSAT Registration Deadline: August 28th, 2015
December 3rd, 2016 LSAT Registration Deadline: October 18th, 2016
December 5th, 2015 LSAT Registration Deadline: October 30th, 2015**
So, why the sudden change? According to an LSAC statement, legal reasons have required them to build more time into the registration process:
"LSAC understands that making changes to the LSAT impacts many of our constituent groups, which often have competing needs and constraints. We worked with our volunteers to make our best effort to balance and meet as many of these needs as possible.
Reconsideration of the LSAT schedule began after LSAC was required to move the test registration dates up due to deadlines imposed in the Consent Decree that resolved the Department of Justice/ Department of Fair Employment and Housing litigation. We had no choice but to do so.
We understand that prelaw advisors want time after score releases to provide counseling to individuals considering retaking the next LSAT without the pressure of the late-registration deadline and the associated fee. Law schools, on the other hand, need timely LSAT scores to meet their application review timelines and deposit deadlines. Staff and the Services and Programs Committee reviewed and discussed all of the competing factors and numerous scenarios for addressing them. Ultimately, the committee agreed that there is no solution that could possibly satisfy all of these competing needs. Even starting the fall testing schedule earlier was considered but rejected, since it would impact students returning for the start of their fall semester.
While recognizing that there wasn’t an ideal solution to this challenge, the committee felt that with ample notice of this change, LSAC, law schools, and prelaw advisors could work together to ensure that candidates are aware of and prepared for this change. As a result, the schedule will be maintained for the foreseeable future, and we will continue to monitor this matter."
This statement was released to prelaw advisors, who were understandably concerned over the fact that scores would not appear until after the registration had closed for the February LSAT. But LSAC is clear here: they feel they can't satisfy everyone, and thus for the near term, this change and the resulting problem are here to stay.
What does it mean for you as a test taker? In short, it means you have less time to decide if you want to retake the LSAT after the critical September and December LSATs (the time between LSATs after the February and June tests is longer, and thus the problem is less severe).
After the September and December LSATs, the timeline is quite congested:
September 24th, 2016 LSAT Timeline
September 24th = LSAT
October 18th = December 2016 LSAT Registration Deadline
October 20th = Official September LSAT Score Release Date
So, if we take the announced timeline, LSAC officials are indicating that scores will come out after the initial registration deadline for the following LSAT. Fortunately, LSAC typically releases scores a few days early and thus you may have a day or two to consider whether you should retake the LSAT. And the fact that LSAC did not say that the registration deadline would occur prior to score release tells you that they plan on getting scores out in time to register for the December test (or, alternately, provide a fee waiver as they did last year).
December 3rd, 2016 LSAT Timeline
December 3rd = LSAT
December 21st = February 2017 LSAT Registration Deadline
January 4th, 2017 = Official December LSAT Score Release Date
Here, the December score release and the February registration deadline are so far apart that LSAC knows they will not be able to release scores prior the February LSAT registration deadline. That means that if you take the December LSAT and have even a passing thought of taking the February LSAT, you have to register for it before knowing how you performed on the December LSAT. This is a major inconvenience, but it is one that LSAC is saying is being imposed on them and thus out of their control (I'll leave that point to be discussed at another time).
The takeaway is that new, earlier registration deadlines are here to stay, and in the fall of each year test takers will be forced to make quick decisions on retakes, and in some instances have to gamble on whether they need a retake or not. This is hugely inconvenient, and let's hope LSAC can work with the timelines to give fall test takers better options.
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*This deadline was originally January 7th, but was then moved up by LSAC to December 31st.
**This deadline was originally October 30th, but was then moved up by LSAC to October 23rd. Both these changes occurred as a result of the Consent Decree.
Image: "Time" courtesy of Alan Cleaver.