Disappointing February LSAT - now what?

Another snowstorm, and this one comes with a disappointing LSAT result. What to do?

1. Finish applying with your existing score(s).

2. Sign up for the June LSAT,
2. Push back this whole law school application thing until next year.

The first step in considering each of these options is deciding whether a retake (in February or next cycle) makes sense for you.

So let’s 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 (and reviewing) several full-length practice tests? Or did you kind of blow off your prep, especially during the last month, what with finals and so on? Can you realistically expect to prepare substantially differently in the SEVEN (7) weeks remaining before the February 6th test, especially with the Spring semester starting January 23rd?

  • 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.)  Given the start of the Spring semester, 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.  A few schools still average the score (as LSAC used to recommend, until a few years ago), but most give you the benefit of the higher score. So a 4 point jump, at a handful of 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. Most law schools make decisions on a rolling basis, and earlier applications are, in general, more successful than later applications. If you take the February test, your score will be available in early March, so your application will not be reviewed until March (assuming you complete the rest of your application by then)—very late in the season. In fact, it’s so late that you should double check with each school to make sure they accept February LSAT scores. With your current score, you can apply right now—still later than ideal (which would have been in late November/early December), but not fatally so. Over the last several years, due to the significant decline in application volume, we have seen the admission seasons get extended at most schools. Application volume is up this year, but there’s a good chance the longer-admission-season trend will continue, at least this year. However, scholarship money is also offered on a rolling basis, and at a certain point, that money starts to run out. Earlier applications are likely to see much more generous scholarship offers. (As for option 3 above? Admission and scholarship reconsiderations do happen, but it’s probably not something you want to count on, especially this year.)

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 increasingly determines the likelihood and amount of any merit-based scholarships you might be awarded). So it is without doubt a very 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 disappear pretty much altogether at 145 or below. 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 much less likely to receive 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 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, please feel free to contact me.