Real LSATs Have Curves: A Look at the 2013 December LSAT

December LSAT scores were released yesterday (for most), and a lot of discussion has centered around the test’s forgiving LSAT curve. According to the 2013 December LSAT score conversion chart, you could miss 14 questions and nonetheless get a 170, or 3 questions for a perfect 180. LSAT scoring scales are pre-equated; in other words, your LSAT score is independent of the performance of the other people who took the LSAT that day. So a forgiving LSAT curve means that this LSAT had relatively hard questions.

And so I sat down early this morning to take the 2013 December LSAT and to try to figure out why the LSAT curve was so forgiving. Question difficulty can be hard to subjectively determine, and can vary a bit from person to person. I fully expected to have to dig deeply to figure out what made this particular test so hard for the average test taker.

My verdict: holy **** that’s a hard LSAT! The difficulty wasn’t hidden; it was plain to see.

One of the two LSAT Logical Reasoning sections was one of the hardest I’ve ever seen. In general, the LR didn’t seem to have more killer questions than usual. What made it hard was a profusion of relatively hard questions early in the sections. The aforementioned section in particular had some really tricky questions early on.

The LR questions weren’t overtly strange for the most part, but a number of them had unusual or tricky elements. There was a describe question for which the correct answer described reasoning we normally think of as flawed, even though the stimulus didn’t appear terribly flawed. There was a parallel flaw for which it was critical to identify both the flaws in the stimulus. There was a strengthen question very well disguised as a soft must be true.

These questions plus a good number of typical but difficult questions made for a tough slog through Logical Reasoning.

The Logic Games were hard, too, though the first game was easy. Very easy. Better finish it in less than 5 minutes, with what’s coming next. The second game was a difficult unstable grouping game. The rules weren’t unusually complicated but they fit together in tricky ways. And the conditional questions often gave information that wasn’t easy to incorporate.

The third game combined ordering and grouping in an unusual way, keeping the two processes separate but for one rule that interrelated them. Once I figured out what was going on, it wasn’t too bad. And the fourth game was a typical game of fairly moderate difficulty.

The Reading Comprehension section of the 2013 December LSAT seemed fairly typical. The passages weren’t that bad, though one had a kind of hidden main point. And though some of the questions were brutal, that’s the case in any LSAT Reading Comp section.

Even though this test was more overtly difficult than I expected, it fits my general perception of LSATs with forgiving curves. They don’t necessarily have lots of weird stuff; the vast majority of what was on the December LSAT was perfectly normal. They don’t even necessarily have lots of killer questions. The hardest stuff on the 2013 December LSAT seemed to me to be pretty much in line with the hardest stuff on most other LSATs.

What made the December LSAT hard is that it had a bunch of harder-than-average questions where you’d expect average questions. On their own, few of those questions would be remarkable. But taken together, they help to explain why you could miss 14 questions on the December LSAT and still get a 170.

But that’s just one man’s opinion. What did you think of the 2013 December LSAT? Let us know in the comments.

14 Responses

  1. Darren P. says:

    My first ever LSAT sitting was the December 2013 exam. I had been PTing at 165. My score came back yesterday: 156. Needless to say I was quite disappointed. I felt good after writing it and was expecting above 160. Having read this blog, and many forum posts, I have been feeling a little bit better. Thank you for your insight into this test. I love your blog.

    • Yuko Sin says:

      Unfortunately, this isn’t a terribly uncommon experience.

      Here’s what LSAC has to say about scores:

      “Score bands for the LSAT are designed to include your actual proficiency level approximately 68 percent of the time. ”

      You should probably retake the exam. Make sure you try to take several practice tests under test conditions (5 sections, timed, in the morning, timed breaks, and inside the test center if possible).

    • Aaron Cohn says:

      Hi Darren,

      That’s disappointing, of course. But if that’s where your PTs were, I’d say you should give it another shot; odds are you’ll get better results as long as you keep your skills up.


  2. Alex J. says:

    Thanks for the great analysis, Aaron! I guessed you might be the author of this. lol. Thanks for being a great teacher last winter and helping me re-enroll in Blueprint online, I finally got a good score on this Dec 2013 LSAT!

    P.S. Darren, day-of scores are really unpredictable. I was in a similar spot when I took it in Feb 2013, but the important thing is to stick with it because you can always retake it. Best of luck!

  3. Matt says:

    Great post, thanks Aaron.

    Question: so what you’re saying is that the December ’13 LSAT was slightly more difficult than usual? But that difficulty was compensated for by the generous curve?

    Given this info, will the February 2014 LSAT be as difficult as this? Or will some other section (RC or LG) be a bit harder given that the LR was tricky this time around?

    • Yuko Sin says:

      I’ll give this a shot, it’s probably not too far off form what Aaron would say.

      The “curve” probably does compensate for a difficult test. But, if you got really thrown off by the unusually difficult questions early on and couldn’t keep your focus, then you might have suffered more.

      Matt Shiners will post his predictions about the February LSAT, so keep an eye out for that. It’s almost creepy how well he does with his predictions.

    • Aaron Cohn says:

      Hi Matt,

      By definition, a generous curve means that the questions were, on the whole, more difficult, as defined by how many people get them right. The difference is pretty subtle; what surprised me about this one is that I could see some of the difficulty pretty clearly. In contrast, I took the December ’11 test, which also had a very generous curve, on the original test day and didn’t walk out feeling like it was much harder than usual. I just felt like I rocked it.

      But to be honest RC on this test was probably a bit easier than usual for the last few years, so the differences aren’t really that big all in all. Prepare for the LSAT and don’t worry about the curve.

      And this means nothing for the February LSAT. No one outside LSAC knows what the February curves have been in recent years, since the February test isn’t disclosed. But, for example, in December ’11 you could miss 14 questions for a 170, then in June ’12 the number was down to 10. So I don’t think there’s any predictive value from test to test.

      Hope this helps!


  4. Mark says:

    I took this LSAT at Rutgers University, where there was TWO fire alarm evacuations during separate sections, so add in the already challenging exam and you could imagine my frustration taking this test. Plus, due to this discrepancy, the LSAC placed a hold on all of our accounts, so we are still yet to receive our scores. I am very frustrated with this entire process.

    • Hank says:

      No way. That’s brutal.

    • melany says:

      hey mark, we are in the same boat. I contacted LSAC and they said we would get our scores Monday, but as it is now Tuesday and we still have not heard back, I am getting worried and anxious. let me know if you are able to see your scores

  5. Emma says:


    I’m wondering when the December LSAT answers will be released? I would like to see what I need to focus on for February.

    • Aaron Cohn says:

      Hi Emma,

      If you took the December LSAT on the normal test date, that should all have been available to you as soon as your score came out. Check your LSAC account. The page with your LSAT scores should have your item response report, which shows your right and wrong answers, as well as pdf files of the test.

      But if you didn’t take the LSAT on Saturday, December 7th (your test was delayed because of weather, or you took the Saturday Sabbath version), or if you took the LSAT overseas, your test is undisclosed. Unfortunately you’ll never know what you got right or wrong.


  6. Claudia says:

    Thanks Aaron. Which ones were the killer LR questions? Thanks.

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