Take the LSAT Early and Often

It used to be that nearly half of all LSAT takers registered for the test twice. About 20% registered, decided they weren't ready, and took it later instead. About 5% took it unprepared, canceled their score and retook it later.  Another 20% took it, get a bad score, and took it again. 

All that was before the ABA gave law schools permission to report the highest LSAT score an applicant gets, instead of the average.  Now, (as LSAT data reported here shows) both the schools and the applicants are playing LSAT roulette.  If you have a low LSAT score and don't retake, admissions officers are asking why not. 

So prepare before you take the LSAT the FIRST time -- a bad score early won't get you anywhere -- but plan to take it again, unless you have a really compelling reason why you can't.   HINT:  "I'm getting married that day" isn't compelling enough; the logical next question is, "Well what about the LSAT after that?"

2011 Update:

The myth of applying early was thoroughly debunked by an LSAC survey of 150 schools. 95% said the February test can help, and some were even willing to consider June LSAT scores at wait list time.

Test Day Advice

The most important rule for test day is the motto: be prepared. Bring everything you might possibly need. The test center may not have a pencil sharpener, a clock in the test room, a working soda machine or dollar changer. Remember not to park at a parking meter, since you won't be able to add money as needed. If you live a distance from the test center you might want to arrange backup transportation, especially if you have a finicky car. Bring aspirin, Band-Aids (for paper cuts), and food to eat at break. DO NOT eat chocolate during the test; aside from the potential damage to your answer sheet, it often metabolizes too quickly in a high adrenaline situation, leaving you more tired than before you ate it.

The test itself is about four hours long, but you may be at the test center as long as six hours. Initial processing includes taking your thumb print,

Special news bulletin: beginning with the June 2011 LSAT, test proctors will no longer take your thumb print; instead, you must bring attached to your test authorization a passport-sized photo taken within six months of your LSAT date. The photo will not be returned.

As I was saying, processing includes having you write out a handwriting sample, and reading detailed instructions aloud. Don't arrive any earlier than you must; if your registration ticket says to arrive between 8:00 and 8:30, arrive at 8:25, to avoid the extra half-hour of stress.

Important -- New LSAT Rules

Since 2006, LSAC has tightened the rules for what may -- and more importantly, may not -- be brought into the LSAT test room. Each year, more electronic or potentially electronic devices are banned.  I think earrings are next to go. (I'm making that up, but I can see a justification for it; I've seen electronic earrings that play music.) 

I'm not going to try to itemize a list that continues to grow.  Instead, I'm going to link you to the test day rules.  Read them -- CAREFULLY AND FULLY. FOLLOW THEM.

Mama Loretta's personal and professional advice is anyone stupid enough to break the rules and get caught deserves whatever repercussions they get.  Anyone stupid or arrogant enough to think they won't get caught is even worse

Keep or Cancel?

You have 5 working days after the test to decide whether to keep your score or cancel it. Try not to make this decision based on emotions. Your good or bad feelings may not match your actual performance. Instead, look at objective indicators of your score.

  • Did you complete as many questions in each section as usual?
  • Did you get confused on a section and have to redo something?
  • Did you mismark your answer sheet?
  • Were you adequately prepared for the exam?
You'll get a form in the test room for canceling on the spot. Never cancel on test day unless you become too ill to finish the exam. You can at least wait until you've had time to see how other folks felt about the test. A good place to get feedback about the exam is from Princeton Review's web site. Within 48 hours of the exam they post a pretty thorough analysis of the overall difficulty and how people felt.

How Is the Test Scored?

So many people ask me so many questions about how the LSAT is scored that I feel compelled to try once again to explain that which I do not actually understand.  

Most people have a sense of whether the games were easier or harder than usual, and think you can predict the way the scores will move based on this.  But the difficulty of the arguments and reading sections are much harder to sense.  So a slightly harder games section might be balanced by a slightly easier set of arguments. Moreover, each LSAT is equated and normalized.  (These words come to you direct from Law Services.)  What that means is that the raw score to scaled score conversion is adjusted for the overall difficulty of the test. In the end, there's no way to predict the score.  Of course, if the games are VERY easy or VERY hard, they may carry the curve in one direction or the other, but I never trust a client's sense that Saturday's games were near either extreme.  

Should I Retake?

NOTE that these numbers have been revised to reflect data gathered in 2011.

If your score is between 163 and 168, you're in No Man's Land. The 14 schools in the Top Ten are virtually out of reach for a mainstream applicant.

Settle for your state school, or retake.
  • Between 156 and 162 or so, someone will take you: the trick is finding out who.  You're almost always looking outside of the top 25 if you're a mainstream applicant.
  • Between 145 and 156, you'll get in someplace if you do everything -- and I mean EVERYTHING -- else right. If you have a 2.5 GPA, you haven't done everything else right. 

I can help any of these people: steering you to the right school, picking up the phone to see who needs people "like you" in whatever way that may be, or hitting you upside the head until EVERYTHING is as good as it can be, are all in my normal repertoire.

  • Below 145, I don't think it's possible to get in without going through some kind of conditional or head start program. And that's where the real trouble begins.
    • Conditional programs are very risky: You're not in law school; you're being given the opportunity to prove you deserve to be admitted. If you don't get admitted to the law school at the end of the program, you're sealing your fate for five or more years. No one will take a risk on a proven failure until you do something to show a clear change in how you approach study and writing.
    • Head Start programs are safe; you've already been admitted. Granted, you're not at a top school, but do you want a chance to be a lawyer or to impress Uncle Neil?
    • The real issue is that there just aren't enough programs like these, so people with LSAT scores below 150 often get rejected because of the simple laws of supply and demand.

So when my phone starts ringing with the 141s and 137s, I try to help the people who really don't think the way you need to think to survive law school. My experience has been bleak; the preparation you need take six weeks or more.  I can't give you that much of my life, you can't give me that much of your life, and I can't find anything else that works.  If you'd like to try on your own, look at the books at ther bottom of this page

Don't Schools Average Multiple Scores?

 For years LSAC recommended averaging multiple scores. Then they changed their minds and said nothing at all about multiple score. Once LSAC changed, the ABA allowed law schools to report the higher score in the data for their entering class.

Since June of 2006, law schools have offered seats and scholarships to people with a high second LSAT score.   Click here to see who's favoring the higher LSAT score.

Once schools started looking for higher scores, applicants started trying to produce them. What this means to you is that if you scored 5 or more points lower than you normally do, retaking is a good idea. If you scored within 4 points of your usual score, you shouldn't bother UNLESS you plan to prepare more thoroughly.

Retaking without better preparation is just taking a chance.
Don't take a chance unless you're willing to lose.

The number of LSATs administered in the 2010-11 application year was down about 10%, but still up relative to the number of applicants. In an effort to end the "LSAT Roulette" game that began when law schools started reporting higher scores rather than averaged ones, LSAT may no longer allow admissions officers to grant permission to take more that the present maximum of 3 tests in 2 years; instead, the request must go through  LSAC.


February LSATs

If you haven't taken the LSAT yet, you will be at a further disadvantage; many schools with February deadlines will not accept a February LSAT score (because the score won't be available until well after their deadline). And the time needed to prepare the applications and all the supplemental documents may catch up with you. You'll wind up choosing between a lot of sloppy apps or a few good ones.

"I'm Just Not Good at This"

Some people think they "can't" take standardized tests.  My question always is "Why not?"  Click here for some common problems and attempts to solve them.

"Why Can't They Ignore My LSAT Score?"

In 2008, new ABA regulations about bar passage rates set out, quite clearly, the dilemma faced by law schools admitting people with low LSAT scores.  Eliminating all the legalese, it said:

  • In order for the ABA to remain the group that accredits law schools, the Department of Education (DOE) must approve of the ABA's criteria.
  • One of the DOE's requirements is that the accrediting body consider successful passage of the state licensing exam.
  • The DOE has moved to requiring more numerical, outcome-oriented standards of accreditation.
  • In order to meet these requirements, the ABA must create and monitor numerical bar passage rates.
So whether we like it or not, law schools are forced to determine the probability of an applicant's passing the state's bar exam in order to make the admission decision.  It may not be fair, it may not be reasonable, but it is the law.  

Bad and Good Advice

A good prelaw advisor should, first of all, be available to advise you about taking the LSAT. If your prelaw advisor tells you not to take an accommodated test despite documented learning disabilities, you're getting bad advice.  If your advisor tells you that you don't need a prep course, you're getting bad advice. If (s)he tells you not to bother retaking even if you think you did miserably, you're getting bad advice.  


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