Summer LSAT disappointment

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lsat (23),retake (4)

Did the June or July LSAT not go as well as you’d hoped? Here are some considerations regarding a possible retake.

First things first: it’s going to be okay, I promise. This is not the end of your life or even your law school plans.

Second thing: it’s probably not worth your time to read all that stuff online about the curving of the scores, and whether that particular logic game was the hardest ever. LSAT prep companies and tutors obsess about those minutiae because it’s their job. Your job is to get into law school.

So your next step is to make a decision about a possible retake —it’s too late to sign up for the September 8th LSAT but you have until October 8th to sign up for the November 17th sitting. (Conversely, if you already registered for September, you have until August 17th to request a refund if you decide NOT to retake it.)

That decision has nothing to do with how the June or July test stacks up against prior tests. It has to do with you, your test experience, and your career aspirations. So here are some thoughts to help you make that decision.

It’s important to first 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 several full-length practice tests?  Or did you kind of blow off your prep, what with end-of-semester demands, summer distractions, and whatnot? Can you realistically expect to prepare substantially differently in the three months remaining before the November 17th test (or the 4 weeks before September 8th)?

  • 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 much of your prep time for November will coincide with your fall semester work (if you’re still in school)—can you realistically maintain your focus on LSAT prep during that time? (If you’re retaking in September, your overlap with the semester will coincide with the week you should be tapering off from test prep anyway, so that’s an upside. On the other hand, you really have very little time between now and then.)

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 the September LSAT, which is still early enough in the admission cycle not to make a real difference. If you postpone your retake until November, 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. That said, the November score release is scheduled for the first week of December—assuming you have your applications ready to go at that time, your timing is still good, if not quite as ideal as applying earlier. With your current (June or July) score, you can apply right at the beginning of the admissions season.

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. Based on what we know of law school admissions in recent years, 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 unlikely to receive much if any 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 these days; 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 median, 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 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. I’ll be available beginning the week of August 27th.