Retaking the LSAT: Do Schools Average Your Scores? Would It Look Bad Taking the More than Once? Can You Take the Test “Too Many” Times?

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If you have multiple LSAT scores, will law school admissions officers hold that against you? Will they average multiple scores? Will they view you having to take the LSAT multiple times as a sign that you lack the intellect, the preparation, the acumen to be a law student? Is taking the LSAT more than once a moral failure?

These are questions that anyone who is even adjacent to the law school admissions process gets constantly (well, maybe not the last one). And for sort-of-obvious reasons — most law school admissions departments aren’t terribly candid on how they treat multiple LSAT scores, there’s a lot of outdated advice circulating the internet, and most law school applicants get their advice from other law school applicants, almost none of whom are particularly well-informed. As a result, people adjacent to the law school admissions process — like, say, yours truly, an LSAT instructor and blogger — get these questions from confused applicants a lot. I sometimes even get people who confidently assert, as a matter of fact, the wrong answers to these questions.

So let’s try to answer these questions today as definitively as we can. But first, we’ll need to take a brief journey into the past. So, let’s hop in the proverbial flux capacitor-powered DeLorean and journey back to 2005. In that year — and in all the years before it — the ABA required that law schools, when reporting admissions statistics, average multiple LSAT scores earned by accepted applicants. The all-powerful U.S. News & World Report — which ranks these law schools based, in large part, on the incoming class’s median LSAT scores — also averaged multiple LSAT scores. So, when assessing applicants, law schools also tended to average multiple scores earned by applicants. An applicant who earned both a 150 and 170 would be treated as if that applicant really earned a 160, more or less. This is why, by the way, you still might hear that law schools average multiple LSAT scores — they once did, based a mandate from their twin gods the ABA and USNWR.

But, fast forward to June 2006. The ABA loosened up that old mandate. The ABA decided that law schools could simply report the highest LSAT score earned by an accepted applicant who took the LSAT multiple times. And USNWR consequently decided it would use the highest LSAT scores, too. So it no longer behooved law schools to average the LSAT scores of applicants. It would be in any law school’s interest to just look at the highest score of applicants with multiple LSAT scores. Averaging scores would depreciate the entering class’s median LSAT score, along with that law school’s USNWR ranking. So, admissions deans had a strong incentive to just look at applicants’ high score.

Except, here’s the thing: 2006 and the next few years were boom times for law schools. Tons of people were taking the LSAT and applying to law school — way more than today, in fact. Law schools, especially highly ranked schools, didn’t have much trouble finding qualified applicants. So many of these upper echelon schools were slow to embrace the new wave of just looking at applicants’ highest score. They were getting so many great applicants that some could still afford to average. Applicants with more than one LSAT score could be put at a disadvantage, at least when applying to the tip-top schools. This is, again, why the rumor of score averaging persisted well after the 2006 ABA rule change.

But let’s travel forward once more to 2011. Those once-bustling admissions departments are much quieter. Those great applications with one amazing LSAT score aren’t rolling in quite like they used to. Struck by a dramatic decrease in applicants, law school admissions departments, slowly but surely, began to just start using the highest LSAT when assessing applicants with multiple scores. They could no longer afford to average the scores. And that continues today. Almost no law school still averages multiple LSAT scores. Anyone who tells you otherwise is just relying on outdated information.

But, is it still better to have just one LSAT score? After all, law schools can still see every LSAT score that you received. And when pressed, admissions officers will say stuff like they “look at applicants’ entire score history” or that they take a “holistic approach” to applicants’ score history. The answer to that is still, yes, probably. If an admissions officer were to get two identical applicants, who were the same in every way (GPA, quality of their personal statement and letters of rec, and cetera), except the first applicant earned a 172 the one time they took the LSAT, and the second applicant earned a 165 the first time they took the LSAT and a 172 on the second try — the law school would accept the first candidate first. Now, the law school would almost certainly also take the second applicant. And this hypothetical situation would never actually happen — no two candidates are that identical. But I suppose taking the LSAT once would give you a slight advantage. So ideally, you take the LSAT once, then apply with that amazing score.

Except almost no one lives in that ideal world. Many people have to take the LSAT more than once to earn the score needed to get into the law schools they want to attend. Which is totally fine! The small, nebulous disadvantage of having multiple LSAT scores will be more than offset by the significant advantage of having a higher LSAT score. So you should take the LSAT more than once, if that’s what’s needed to give you a reasonable chance to get into a law school you want to attend. Especially if you have reasons to believe that you can get a much higher score on the second try. Like, if there was a medical or family emergency that impeded your study plan the first time, or if there was some sort of test center disaster, or your practice exam scores were significantly higher than your test day score. You should, by the way, address any significant increase in your score in an addendum to your application.

But, we have one more year to stop by: 2017, when LSAC lifted its restriction on the number of times people could take the LSAT. Now that people can, theoretically, take the LSAT an unlimited number of times, is there a certain point at which someone has taken the LSAT “too many” times. That’s tougher to answer, since this change is still fairly recent, and law schools haven’t gotten that many candidates who have taken the LSAT five, six, seven times. My advice to someone thinking about taking the LSAT a third or fourth or seventh time is the same as my advice to someone thinking about taking the LSAT a second time. Do it, if that’s what’s needed to get into a law school you’d want to go to. Without an LSAT score that’s within the school’s 25-75 median LSAT score range, you’re probably not getting in. So if you don’t secure that competitive score, you don’t have a shot. With that score — even if it took you several attempts to get it — you at least have a shot.

In all, don’t look at having to take the LSAT more than once as some enormous failure in your application. Every applicant has their own story to tell — and if your story involves taking the LSAT more than once, that is totally OK.

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