As an LSAT instructor, it is natural to receive the same questions from students over the years. It almost gets to a point where you can predict the issues that students will raise and when they will be raised. However, there is one question that reigns supreme: When is the best time to take the LSAT?
Now, before we actually attempt to answer this question (here’s another stab at the answer), it requires a bit of inquiry into what that question actually even means. The LSAT is given four times a year: February, June, September/October, and December. The summer test (September/October) is the most popular exam, with about 50,000 students sitting for this administration each year. December is a close second at around 40,000. And February and June bring up the metaphorical rear with about 25,000 test takers each. This means that there are a whole lot of people taking the LSAT for each administration. So what does it mean for one test to be easier or harder than another?
Essentially, the only factor that can be used to judge the difficulty of a certain LSAT is the curve. The “curve” is a term that has been coined for the conversion on the test from a student’s raw score (how many questions he or she answered correctly) to that student’s scaled score (the famous 120 to 180). This does change slightly from test to test. Really, if you think about it, there are two components that factor into the curve for a particular LSAT: the difficulty of the test and how well the test-taking population performs. And these factors have caused a great degree of speculation among students.
Is the June test harder because those are students that tend to plan ahead? Is the October test harder because those students have all summer to prepare? Is the December test harder because there are a lot of repeat test takers?
So this is the question that I set out to answer in the only way that I really know how – by checking the stats. To be honest, this was a slightly intimidating prospect. I have been telling students for years that the curve always evens out because there are so many test takers and, for that reason, there is no “harder” or “easier” time to take the LSAT. Moreover, LSAC has a vested interest in making sure the tests even out. If certain test administrations were more difficult than others, it would be unfair to candidates who took the “harder” LSAT (not to mention running against the very intention of the LSAT which is to provide a uniform standard). But what if I had been wrong all along? Also, as an owner of an LSAT preparation company, there could be significant repercussions from doing this bit of research. What if I had to report to people that the December LSAT was always significantly harder than the other tests each year? I am guessing that would not be good for business in the fall.
Well, I crunched the numbers, anyway. I calculated the average curve for the June, September/October, and December LSAT (the February LSAT curve is never released so it could not be included in my analysis) since 2001. That is a span of eight years and should be long enough to show any trends. In the end, as you can see on my chart, the results were surprising, but not surprising in the way you might think. Not only are there no significant differences between the various LSAT administrations, it is astonishing how little difference actually exists.
For each of the LSAT scores that I averaged (140 through 175 at 5 point increments), the difference in raw score (measured by percentage of questions answered correctly) varied by no more than 2%. This equates to about 2 LSAT questions. The similarities between the June and September/October LSATs are even more striking. The average difference between the two curves is 0.16% (or well under 1 actual LSAT question). If you are really pushing to find a trend, it does seem that in the middle range of scores, between 145 and 165, the December LSAT seems to be a little more forgiving.
In conclusion, over the years there is no “harder” or “easier” time to take the LSAT. There have been rough and forgiving curves for all test administrations and they even out over time. So quit worrying about when the LSAC thinks you should take the LSAT and give it a shot when you have a good amount of time to put into studying.