Apply to Law School with a Poor LSAT Score or Wait Until the Next Exam?

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Today’s post comes to us from our friends at the Ivey Files. Anna Ivey is the former Dean of Admissions at the University of Chicago Law School and founder of Ivey Consulting. She and her team help college, law school, and MBA applicants make smart decisions about their higher education and navigate the application process. She is the author of The Ivey Guide to Law School Admissionsand How to Prepare a Standout College Application, and also serves on the leadership team of the non-profit Service to School.

So you didn’t get the score you wanted on the September LSAT, and you’re planning on retaking in December in the hope of improving your score.  You and lots and lots of other people! What’s the best move for your application timeline?  Should you submit now with your existing score, or hold off until you have your December score?

I recommend submitting your applications with your September score, even if you think you’ll be retaking the test. You could always hold off on submitting until the December score comes in, or you could submit with September but ask the schools to hold off on reviewing your file until then (which is effectively the same as not submitting until the score arrives).

But that’s awfully late in the game to be submitting, and most repeat test-takers don’t go up by much. You might have wasted two months just to see your score go up one or two points, or even down; it happens. If you had a bad day in September, you might have another bad day in December. Some people find that they always have a bad day where they LSAT is concerned.

So it’s fine to plan on retaking in December, but don’t hold up your applications in the meantime.

Related question: When you’re submitting with your September score, should you let schools know that you want to retake the test? Here’s a pro tip: They don’t actually care that much if you’replanning on retaking — they care if you actually do retake.

You could let the schools know that you plan on retaking th test, but I’m not a huge fan of that option. You might not be able to take the test when the December date rolls around — maybe you wake up with the flu, or you’re snowed into your apartment, or some other emergency gets in the way. Life is like that sometimes, and it’s best to anticipate that kind of contingency. If you’ve told schools you’ll be retaking, and then don’t actually retake, it’s awkward to have to get back to them with a big old “nevermind.” Then it’s better just to send them a score if and when you have it. If all goes well and you do end up retaking the LSAT in December, the schools you’ve already applied to will automatically receive the new score.

And a word of advice to eary birds who aren’t applying this season: Make September*, not December, your backup. That means June should be the latest time you take your first test, so that your retake is in September at the latest. Then you won’t find yourself in these timeline pickles.

Good luck in December!

* Some years it’s September, in others it’s October.

18 Responses

  1. ariel says:

    I took the lsat this past February. I made a big mistake has I just took it with no practice and no studying and got a score of a 133 ): I have been studying since then and now plan on taking it in December I graduate with my undergraduate in May how can I start applying to law schools or should I even try just wait till December? I just don’t know how it works so I transfer my transcripts over already do I wait I am so confused.

    • Greg Nix says:

      I’d say in your specific case, it might be best to hold off. A 133 isn’t going to get you into any law school worth its salt, and by applying with a better score they’re likely to ignore your first result.

      So really buckle down on your studying to get a big increase, while also making sure you have your personal statement, letters of rec, and resume ready to go. That way you can apply right when you get your Dec results from LSAC, and maximize your odds of getting in somewhere.

      What are you getting on your practice tests right now? Frankly, you have a long way to go from 133 to get into solid acceptance range. I’d recommend signing up a class or some tutoring, as either will help you a lot.

      If you’re interested in one of Blueprint’s online or classroom courses, shoot me an e-mail at greg.nix@blueprintlsat.com and I can give you some good discounts. But even if you end up with a competitor, a class is pretty likely to boost your odds.

  2. Brittany says:

    I took the June 2014 LSAT and received a 154. I thought I could do better and decided to take the December 2014 LSAT after submitting all my applications previously. I dropped 2 points unfortunately–I was sick the week leading up to the test and the day of the test, not to mention received poor sleep due to protesters outside of my house all night. Do I need to address this 2 point drop to the schools I applied to? Or will they simply use the higher score to evaluate my application?

    Most things I have read, including from each school is that they require an addendum for a 4-6 point drop. I just worry that the score drop will be detrimental to my application, even though it was just two points.

    • Greg Nix says:

      Since that’s in the typical score range (going up or down 3 points on the LSAT is considered the typical score range – hence the scoring band on your score report), you probably don’t need to. However, each school is different so the best thing to do is to contact each school to which you’re applying and ask.

  3. RitaA says:

    If I accept a law school admission offer with low lsat scores, am I able to retake the lsat after admission?

    • Hi Rita,

      The only way that will matter is if you get an offer soon enough to take the exam and resubmit your applications this year, generally speaking by the February exam at the latest. That will mean you’re trying to get into other schools very late in the application process when most seats have already been given away.

      Some schools offer early admission, but that means that you sign a contract agreeing to go there if they accept you, regardless of what later offers of admission come your way.

      Long story short, if you’re planning on taking the September LSAT and you don’t get the score you want, you should just study for the December exam without consideration for which schools end up offering you admission. You’re still in time to get in a score at any school in the nation if you take the December exam.

  4. Jon says:

    Branden,
    I am feeling like I am in a pickle and could use some advice. I am approaching the sept. lsat and I am varying, drastically at times, between 151 and 159. I also am having to compensate for 3.32 accumulative GPA (for 8 F’s from 13 years ago) despite having a 4.0 over the last four years, and roughly 126 units. I, like most, am trying to land a T14. I have heard that it is best for someone like me to apply early in the cycle (especially for rolling admissions schools). However, I am concerned as what to do if I hit on the lower end of my varying spectrum come two weeks from now. What are the implications of submitting my application with the low LSAT, with intentions of re-taking? What if I get admitted somewhere, will a higher LSAT change things like a scholarship offer?? Given a big increase would be considered 3 points, and I am varying upwards of 8 points, I feel I could find myself in a hard spot after this sept. test. Your thoughts? Advice? Implications of various options? Thank you!

    • Hey Jon,

      First off, for T14 and 3.32, you’re going to have to get into the high 160s, and if you want a guarantee, then you’ll probably need to break 170. You basically have the exact same GPA as I did.

      As far as taking the exam multiple times, the main concern is that you can only take it three times within any given two year period. That said, I often recommend that students who don’t feel ready take the exam as a dry run planning to cancel. That gives you the edge of already having had the test day experience before you make your actual attempt. If you decide to keep your score, you should know that different schools treat multiple scores differently. Some average your scores, which might be a problem, and some just look at your highest score. At any rate, if, for example, you took twice and got a 155 the first time and a 165 the second time, your average would be 160. Even still, you’d be more desirable than someone who took it once and got a 160 because schools need only report a student’s highest score in their ABA disclosures. So they could report a 165 with you and only a 160 with your competitor.

      All of that is to say that I think it’s perfectly fine to take it twice, canceling the first score or to take it twice. To answer the final part of your question, it’s always better to apply later with a high LSAT score than it is to apply earlier with a low one. All schools accept the December exam and reserve the vast majority of seats until they get December scores.

      Hope that helps!

      • Jon says:

        It does thank you. Two other questions.
        1 ) Wouldn’t admissions view my low gpa with an asterick given I have had a 4.06 (by LSAC standardization) for the last four years of undergraduate work? Secondly, I am participating at in an Honors Program at UC Berkeley; would this mitigate some of the issues I am facing?

        Thank you very much for your time and answers; I appreciate it.

        • Admissions is a two-step process: first they look at LSAT and GPA, as measured by LSAC, and they discard a number of applications on that basis alone without doing a holistic review. The reason for this is that these are the numbers that they’re going to have to report, and upon which they’ll be ranked by entities like U.S. News & World Report. I don’t think that, at this phase, they’re going to look at your GPA with an asterisk because they have to report it as LSAC calculates it. So, unfortunately, this is about their own self-interest, and they’re unlikely to take a hit on their own numbers because there’s a good explanation for your current GPA.

          If you get past that stage, then I think schools will definitely look more kindly on your GPA since you’ve obviously changed the way you approach your education for the better. It is at this same phase that resume items, etc. will be weighed. Again, they will certainly be helpful to you. I wish I could tell you that the distant past stays in the past, but, for the purposes of law school admissions, it doesn’t.

  5. Diana says:

    Hi Branden!
    Do you have any suggestions for someone applying later in the cycle? I took the test in December and plan on taking it again in February. Should I tell the law schools that I plan on retaking it in February which will be a significantly higher score or just submit my apps and not take the february test or not notify them? Please let me know. Thanks!

    • Hi Diana!

      You should certainly call the schools in which you’re interested and tell them that you plan to retake. Some schools don’t take February scores, which means they’ll make their decision on the basis of your December score only.

      Just to clarify, if you cancel your December exam score and don’t have any other score until February, schools aren’t going to look at your application at all until they have your LSAT score (and every other piece of your application). The ones that don’t accept February scores just won’t look at your application at all.

      Hope that helps!

  6. Jaime says:

    Hey Branden!

    I’m looking for some guidance on what to do after the December LSAT. I took the September LSAT and got a 159 and decided to retake this December. While I was studying I did multiple timed practice tests and regularly scored between 165-170. However, I felt like I struggled through the December test. I’m aiming for a T14 school and am worried that I didn’t score as well as I had been testing at. Would it be best for me to cancel my score and try again for next year?

    • Hi Jaime!

      Without knowing your GPA, I can’t say what score you’d need for T14, but 165-170 is on the low side for the upper half of that list and mid-range for the rest. If you are set on going to one of those schools, you need to put up a score like that, and anything below isn’t going to help you.

      So, if you’re sure that you didn’t get there, then it’s probably marginally better to cancel, although I’d write an addendum saying what happened (if you can come up with a reasonable explanation for why test #2 went poorly). That said, as long as you didn’t go down from 159, I don’t think there’s much of a difference between keeping and canceling. Most schools nowadays are concerned with your highest score, because they only need to report one score to the ABA. While they’ll see all three scores if you keep your December score, it’s not that terribly important.

      I’d call the schools you’re most interested in and see how they treat multiple scores. Some will look at the average, and if that’s the case, it makes for a stronger case for canceling.

  7. Sydney says:

    Hello Branden!

    I previously took the LSAT in June and got a score of 142. I could not re-take the LSAT in September or December, because I am on a collegiate volleyball team and our travel schedule would not allow, so I am scheduled to take it in February. My GPA is about a 3.6 and I graduate in May of 2017. Since the June test, I have taken a couple of courses and increased my score significantly. Should I hold off on my applications until I receive my score in March?

    • Hi Sydney! If you’re confident that you’ll do well on the February exam, you should certainly apply to schools that take February scores. No harm in doing that at all. You can just apply again next year if you don’t get the school(s) you want. You should email those schools before you submit your applications to let them know that you are taking the LSAT again.

  8. Sarah says:

    Hi Branden,
    I was hoping you could give me some advice. I took the September test and scored a 148. I took the December test and scored a 156. I am signed up to take the February test as well. I am debating on whether or not I should tell safety schools that I am retaking in an effort to secure a spot. I would however tell my reach schools or schools that I am unsure about if I am. If I do not tell the school that I am retaking and get accepted or have not heard from them by the time i get my feb. score back, if it is better can I let them know of my improved score even if i did not tell them to begin with for scholarship purposes?

    • Hi Sarah,

      Any school to which you apply will automatically receive your February score if you retake it, so you might as well go ahead and tell all of them if you decide to retake. I don’t think informing them that you’re conflicted about it will do much of anything for you because they’ll probably just consider your application with the information in hand rather than dangling until the last minute. So, long story short, if and when you decide, tell all the schools. Until then, hold off.

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