Back Into the Lion’s Den: Should I Retake the LSAT?
Taking the LSAT is not a pleasant experience. Most students would rather spend a Saturday morning praying to the porcelain goddess after a night with Mr. Cuervo than slogging their way through those five hated multiple choice sections. Despite this aversion, I have been confronted with the same question from students countless times over the years: “Should I take it again?”
That can be a complicated question, and there are a number of factors that must be considered. There is the psychological strain. You will likely lose nights of sleep, your current waistline, and your significant other of the moment. There is the time investment. Returning to the LSAT world means late nights with passages about Native Americans and days filled with contraposition and modality. There is the effect that it can have on the timeline for submitting your applications. All things being equal, it’s usually better to apply earlier in the process than later. And there is the suffering. Of the kind that only comes with a 3-hour test that can determine the future of your life.
But attempting to weigh all of these factors together will only result in confusion and terror. So, let’s try to make it simpler.
Say a student can control for different extraneous variables. In other words, you can handle the psychological strain and put in the time to study again. Let’s also assume that retaking the test would not cause your applications to be submitted very late in the application cycle. Well, then, it really boils down to one question: will you do any better? Because, really, if you are going to go through the torture and stress of walking back into the lair of the beast again, you sure as hell want to get something out of it. Many people are not aware of this, but there are actually numbers to help answer this question.
Most people do not take the LSAT more than once: approximately 73.7% of all test takers subject themselves to the joy of the LSAT only once, 21.8% take it twice, and about 4.5% take it more than twice (these people also sleep on beds of broken glass or, of course, teach LSAT courses).
So, of those LSAT students who take the LSAT more than once, do they generally improve their score? And, if so, is it enough improvement to really make a difference? By analogy, if I were going to choose a new diet, first I want to know if it is going to work, and second I want to know if any weight loss would be enough to improve my luck with the ladies (the whole “I have a good LSAT score” thing is starting to fall a bit flat).
According to the LSAC, students who scored a 140 on their first LSAT and then took the LSAT again improved by an average of 2.7 points. In addition, 69% of the students who took the LSAT again improved their score, 7% saw no change, and 24% unfortunately had a decrease in their score.
Interestingly, the numbers are pretty consistent across the board. When people do swallow their pride and take the LSAT again, they generally improve by about 2 to 3 points and roughly 70% of students are able to improve their score. So it would seem that the answer to the first question is yes, it is likely that you will improve your score if you take the LSAT again (although far from guaranteed).
As to the second question, the answer also relates to the admissions policies that have changed recently. Let’s use an example, and let’s call him Leroy. Say Leroy took the LSAT and got a 160 and then took the LSAT again and improved to a 163. Does this make a difference in his applications? Law schools used to average scores across the board and thus Leroy would have applied with an LSAT score of 161.5. It is debatable whether this would improve his chances much over his initial 160 (especially considering the cruel and unusual punishment of getting the additional 1.5 points). However, the ABA recently changed the reporting rules and law schools are now required to report the highest LSAT score (rather than the average) for their incoming classes. As a result, we have seen that law schools are becoming increasingly friendlier to the idea of looking at the highest LSAT score. So that means Leroy now counts (probably) as a 163. And does that change things? Well, yes.
If I could set up a new LSAT company where I sold students LSAT points in packages of three, I think I could charge a whole lot of money and be sipping on fruity umbrella drinks full-time in a couple years. Three points is worth a lot. Leroy with a 160 is likely headed to a lower-ranked law school than Leroy with a 163. For example, the median LSAT score for students entering Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco last year was a 163. The median LSAT score for students entering Baylor Law School in Texas was a 160. According to US News & World Report, Hastings is ranked 39th whereas Baylor is ranked 65th. When one considers that these rankings can fuel opportunities such as the number of law firms that send campus recruiters to hire recent graduates, a higher ranking can be very desirable.
So, if you take the LSAT once and feel like you can do better, the numbers sure make it seem like they agree with you. And you always wanted to learn more about Native American oral traditions, anyway…