LSAT: Retake or no?

You’ve just received your June LSAT score, and it’s not what you’d hoped.   What’s next for you — a retake  in October or December, applying with the June score, or putting off law school for another year?

To seriously answer the question of whether you should retake the exam, it’s important to first honestly 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 several full-length practice tests?  Or did you kind of blow off your prep, what with end-of-semester demands and whatnot?  Can you realistically expect to prepare substantially differently in the months remaining before the October 1st 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, a monumental hangover?
  • 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 last month of preparation coincides with the first month of the semester (if you’re still in school)—can you realistically maintain your focus on LSAT prep at that time?


Beyond the questions above, you need to consider how law schools regard multiple LSAT scores.  Some schools average the score (as LSAC used to recommend, until about 5 years ago), while others 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 the October LSAT, which is still early enough in the admission cycle not to make much of a difference (although you should double-check the LSAT deadline for schools’ early admission programs). If you postpone your retake until December, you should take into consideration that most law schools make decisions on a rolling basis, and earlier applications are, in general, more successful than later applications.  If you take the December test, your score will be available after the holidays, so your application will not be reviewed until January (assuming you complete the rest of your application by then).  With your current (June 2011) score, you can apply right at the beginning of the admissions season.


Finally, 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.  But it rarely has the power to determine whether you go to law school at all, and it says nothing about what kind of lawyer you will be.  Yes, some schools are more selective than others, at least as far as that can be measured with median GPAs and LSATs.  But the 200+ ABA-approved law schools are far more similar than they are different, and all will prepare you well for legal practice.  A less selective school is not a lower quality school, not by any meaningful measure: a school’s median LSAT has nothing to do with the quality of instruction, the rigor of its clinical programs, or even its reputation among hiring attorneys.


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, please feel free to contact me personally.