Early Fall LSAT Disappointment?

So that August LSAT didn’t go as well as you’d hoped. It’s really going to be okay, I promise. This is not the end of your life or even your law school plans. Let me tell you why, and what you might want to do next.

Your first step is to make a rational decision about a possible retake —if you’re already scheduled for October, you have you have until this Sunday, September 12th, at 11:59 pm to cancel your registration for a full refund (you can cancel later but you’ll only get $50 back). If you are not registered for October, you have until Wednesday, September 29th to register for November. (Note that if you’re signed up for October, but are thinking of making that a November test instead, you face the same deadline and will be charged a full additional test fee of $200 for the change.) So let’s step through that decision.

The retake decision is all about you, your test experience, and your career aspirations.

Before anything else, it’s important to honestly and realistically assess what happened with this test administration:

  • Did you prepare as well as could have been expected, given all the other constraints on your time — learning the exam inside out, repeatedly practicing individual sections, and taking and reviewing several full-length practice tests? Or did things get in the way of your prep, what with, well, everything? Can you realistically expect to prepare substantially differently in the four weeks remaining before the October LSAT or the eight weeks remaining before the November test?

  • Did anything happen around the time of the test that would adversely affect your performance — a breakup, illness, family crisis, extraordinary lack of sleep, new and unexpected COVID-related stuff, internet problems during the test?

  • Did you face serious unexpected test anxiety, unlike anything you had experienced in prior standardized tests? Shaking hands, inability to focus, paralyzing nervousness?

In the absence of obviously inadequate preparation, an unforeseeable disaster, or unexpected serious test anxiety, you are unlikely to increase your score by more than the 2-3 points that is the LSAC average for retakers. More sobering is that, historically, as many as 25-30% of retakers who scored 140-159 on their first test received either the same or a lower score the second time around. (More detail on the retake statistics available here.)  Also note that your remaining prep time before October or November will take place during midterms and/or preparing the rest of your application—do you have the time to focus on prep?

Beyond the questions above, you need to consider how law schools regard multiple LSAT scores. A handful of schools still average the scores (as LSAC used to recommend, until a few years ago), while most give you the benefit of the higher score. So a 4-point jump at some schools becomes only a 2-point jump. All schools see all scores.

Next, you should weigh the potential benefit of a higher score against the potential cost of getting your applications in later in the admissions season. This is not a big concern if you take either the October or November LSAT, which are still early enough in the admissions cycle not to make a real difference. If you postpone your retake until January (or beyond), you should take into consideration that most law schools make decisions on a rolling basis, and earlier applications are generally more successful than later applications. A January score release is likely to be early February—pretty late in the admission cycle, notwithstanding the fact that many schools have much later deadlines, because of the impact of rolling admissions. With your current score, you can apply now, or in the coming weeks.

You should also take a minute to step back from the consideration of this one facet of your application process to think again about why you are applying to law school in the first place, and what you hope to get out of the experience (and investment). Your LSAT score has an impact on where you to go law school, certainly, and how much you might pay for it (the LSAT plays a large role in the awarding of merit-based scholarships at most schools). So it is without doubt a high-stakes test.

That said, your score itself is unlikely to determine whether you’ll be admitted at all. In recent years, upwards of 75% of all applicants have been admitted to one or more law schools. For applicants with scores above the median, the overall admission rate is even higher. However, your chances of getting admitted to any law school diminish greatly with a score below 150, and largely disappear at 145 or below (although there are exceptions even in this range).

It’s important to understand that admission is only part of the calculus—you must also consider potential scholarship offers, which go up with your LSAT score. Under 150, you’re likely to receive little or no scholarship money and should therefore consider carefully whether it’s worth it to you to attend law school at the full tuition price. (Need-based scholarships are hard to come by; almost all schools have put the overwhelming majority of their scholarship money into attracting high LSAT scorers.) This is a difficult question, and one you should take very seriously.

Above the national median score of around 154, you’re more likely talking about which school and at what price, rather than whether you’ll attend law school at all. That’s the backdrop against which you’re making the retake decision: in effect, will the realistically predicted change in your score have a significant impact on your admission or scholarship offers at the schools you’re considering? 

Finally, please remember that the LSAT says nothing about what kind of lawyer you will be (indeed, LSAC doesn’t even make that claim for the test). It correlates with performance in certain traditional first year courses and possibly on the bar exam, but with nothing else. In short, your lower than expected LSAT score might send you to a different law school from the ones you’d been contemplating, but it has no necessary relationship whatsoever to how successful you’ll be as a law student or lawyer.

If you want to talk through your particular situation (and you’re a UMass Amherst student or alum), please feel free to contact me.