It’s one of the most common questions you’ll hear following an exam … “What do you think ‘the curve’ will be?” We’re just a week past the June 2019 exam, so it’s a question on a lot of people’s lips. Some are predicting that the curve will be “-11.” Other’s say, nay, it’s a “-10.”
We don’t want to be left out, so here’s our curve prediction … it’s going to be …
… Don’t Worry About
OK, not to make light of you totally understandable anxiety regarding the test you’ve taken, but the curve is one of the many parts of the LSAT that’s entirely outside of your control. The deadline to cancel your score has already come and went. You’ve either elected not to cancel your score, in which case you will be getting your score back on June 27, regardless of what this curve is, or you’ve decided to cancel your score, in which case the curve is re-a-a-a-lly irrelevant to you.
It’s nice to think of LSAC lavishing June 2019 test takers with a magnificently generous curve. Like a “-14”! But those exceedingly forgiving curves are rare, for one. Moreover, a forgiving curve won’t necessarily mean you scored better than usual on the June test.
We’ve gone over in “the curve” multiple posts from multiple angles already, but let’s summarize these discussions in this post. Today, we’ll discuss what these curves even refer to, why they’re less illustrative than they may seem, and why more forgiving curves don’t necessarily mean you’ll score better.
What Does a -11 (or -12 or -9 or -Whatever) Curve Even Mean?
This one’s easy. When people talk about a test being a “-11 curve,” they’re referring to how many questions you can miss and still earn a 170 on a given test. A -11 curve would mean you could miss 11 questions (on the entire test) and still earn a 170. A -12 curve would mean you could miss 12 and earn a 170. A -9 would mean you could miss 9. You get it? You get it.
Why does the curve people talk about reflect the number of questions you can miss and still get a 170? Why not a 160? Or 152, the quote-unquote “average” score? I don’t know. 170 was just sort of what everyone decided to go with.
I suppose it’s because a score of 170 is the target score of a lot of people who go all-in on the LSAT (AKA our people) set for themselves. It’s not terribly relevant to most LSAT takers, though. Only a little more than 2% of all test takers earn a score of 170 or higher. So “the curve” people talk about only refers to a number of misses that almost 98% of all test takers will exceed. Most will exceed that number by quite a bit … by like 20, 30, 40 questions. It’s sort of like a pilot of a commercial flight announcing, moments after takeoff, “Folks, we have about … [ahhhhh] … more than eight minutes left on a transatlantic flight from New York to London.” Not super informative!
But, even so, it would seem like these curves would generally indicate how difficult a test was. A test on which you could miss more questions and still earn a 170 would be harder … right? And conversely … a harder test would allow you to miss more questions and still earn that 170 … right? So a -12 test would be uniformly more difficult than a -11 test, which would be harder than a -10 test, and so on … right? Well …
Why These Curves Are Less Illustrative than They May Seem
… It’s not quite that simple. Remember the curve people refer to tells you about the number of questions you could miss and still earn a 170. It doesn’t tell you how many questions you could miss and still earn a 165. Or 160. Or 150. Or literally any other score. And just because you could miss more and earn a 170 on a -12 test as compared to a -11 test, that doesn’t necessarily mean you could miss more on the -12 test and still earn a 165, or 160, or 150, or literally any other score. Here, take a look at how some of recent LSATs were “curved.”
The 170 curve simply doesn’t predict what the curve will be for other scores. Compare the 170 curve for the September 2017 and the June 2017 exams. The September was “-11 test,” so it seems like it was a great deal more difficult than the June exam — which was a miserly -9 curve. And that may have been true … for people scoring in the 170s. But for those who were scoring in the mid-150s, the June 2017 exam was apparently more difficult — they could miss 36 questions and still earn a 155, while the September 2017 takers could only miss 34. These two tests were apparently about the same for people earning a 160, though.
Every LSAT is going to have some questions that are just more difficult, some that are just plain easier, and many that are somewhere in between those two extremes. The curves for 170 and 165 scores tell you about how test takers fared with the most difficult questions. For the vast majority of test takers, those are questions they’re skipping, or not getting to before the section ends, or attempting to answer but usually getting wrong. It’s not terribly informative about the questions that will make or break their score.
The curves for lower scores would tell you how people fared on the easiest questions. And that information wouldn’t be terribly informative for the people earning high scores — those are questions they’re getting correct without breaking much of a sweat either way.
The curves for the scores between 145 and 165 may be relevant to most test takers (since, of course, those are the scores that around 65% percent of test takers earn). But, as you can see from the chart above, those aren’t super well-correlated with the curves for a 170.
If this all seems kind of ridiculously intricate and overly complicate and perhaps even a descent into madness on the part of your blogger, then … yeah, we agree! It’s part of the reason why we don’t think you should worry about the curve. But, nonetheless, it’s OK to want a forgiving curve … right? Like a curve on that September 2016 test … right?
Why More Forgiving Curves Are Not Necessarily Better
I’m not so sure! It’s kind of a careful-what-you-wish-for scenario.
Let’s say I am A Person Who Wants to Earn a 170 on the LSAT. It’s my dream … it’s on my dream board and everything.
So, as A Person Who Wants to Earn a 170 on the LSAT, why wouldn’t I want a -12 curve? That’s a lot better than a -9 curve, no? I have precisely three more questions I can carelessly miss — which I, crassly, have taken to calling “F— Up Opportunities” (or “FUOs”) — on a test with a -12 curve than on a test with a -9 curve. That’s more room for error, right? And because I am a fallible human being in addition to A Person Who Wants to Earn a 170 on the LSAT, that room for error can only benefit me.
That’s perhaps true in the abstract, but those extra FUOs aren’t being magnanimously gifted to me by the LSAT Gods. They’re there for a reason. Most tests that have that many FUOs have a really, really brutal logic game or Reading Comp passage.
So let’s say I am not only A Person Who Wants to Earn a 170 on the LSAT but I’m also A Person Who Has Been Earning 170s on My LSAT Practice Exams. And in doing so, I’ve been crushing Logic Games section. I’ve been only missing, at most, one or two questions per LG section in my practice exams. To transition into A Person Who Did In Fact Earn a 170 on the LSAT, I’m counting on missing at most one or two questions on my LG section, even with a forgiving curve.
If I got my wish, and sat for that amazingly curve-alicious September 2016 exam, then one of the games I got was this totally unique, insanely difficult “computer virus” game (and this is to say nothing of the brutal passage about a horrible woman named Eileen Gray). It didn’t really look like any of the games I tried throughout my LSAT studies, because no similar game has ever appeared on the LSAT. Maybe I figured it out. But if I didn’t, then I’m missing four or five or six questions on that game alone, more than offsetting the advantage I’m getting with that forgiving curve. And I am, consequently, not becoming A Person Who Did In Fact Earn a 170 on the LSAT.
I don’t know about you, but I’d rather roll the dice with your typically difficult games and passages and a “normal” curve, rather than countenancing a bizarre and perhaps stupefying game or passage and a slightly more forgiving curve.
All of this is to say that you really shouldn’t worry about the curve of the June test. Some seemingly good curves are actually not-good, some seemingly not-good curves are actually not-that-bad, and who can say what a good and not-good curve even is, anyway?. So take some well-deserved timed away from the LSAT, its curves and otherwise. If you must agonize about something, try focusing your attentions to your law school applications.