Two Truths About Retaking

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June scores have officially been released, which means that at least some people are now faced with a difficult decision: To retake or not to retake? There are two big truths that you need to take into consideration when deciding whether to give the LSAT another try.

Truth #1: It will almost definitely help your application

If you think you can do better on the LSAT, then it will almost certainly be worth your while to retake, even if it means that you won’t be able to submit your applications until later in the cycle than you’d originally planned — given the choice between submitting earlier with a lower score, or later with a higher score, the latter option will pretty much always result in more success.

Truth #2: Most people don’t actually score much higher when they retake

LSAC has actually released data on what happened to people who took the LSAT more than once (PDF), and it’s pretty interesting stuff. The data shows that, although most people did increase their scores, on average their scores were only higher by a couple points. For instance, of the 531 people who originally got a 160 on the LSAT, 359 managed to score better on the second time around, while 42 got the same score and 130 actually did worse. (Yikes!) The average score for on the second try for those people who’d originally scored a 160 was 162. You see the same trend all over this chart — test takers at pretty much all levels snagged one to two extra points, but not much more than that.

Now, there’s no question that scoring even a couple extra points on the LSAT can boost your application (see truth #1). But there are a couple lessons we can learn from this information (if we leave the realm of verifiable data and enter the world of measured speculation).

I surmise that one reason scores change so little on average is that many retakers underestimate the amount of time they’ll be able to spend studying for their second take. If you decide to retake but then don’t have much time to actually prepare, your score isn’t going to change by much. On the other hand, if you’re able to continue devoting a lot of time to your studies, it’s more probable that you’ll “beat the odds.” So if you’re going to do this thing, you should be prepared to go all in on your studying.

At the same time, statistics are statistics for a reason. So if you’re choosing whether to give the LSAT a second (or even third) try, you should consider the very real possibility that your score will only improve marginally (if at all). Only you can decide whether it would be worth dedicating the extra time, money, and effort for that kind of change. Again, that’s not to say that your score definitely will follow the average trend; you just need to be cognizant that it’s a possibility.

You might think I’m trying to talk you out of retaking the LSAT, but in fact, it’s quite the opposite — if someone is unhappy with his or her score, in most cases, I’d advise that it makes sense to take the test another time. But the best decision is a fully informed one, so make sure you’ve considered all possible outcomes before you take that step.

2 Responses

  1. Priscilla Perez says:

    What do you think about students who were practice testing much higher than what the ended up scoring on their first try? Could have been a case of nerves or a mistake on a game or something that tanked their score. But if you have been practice testing much higher than what you ended up getting, do you think this same caution still applies? Or would a bigger score jump be more possible if the student continued studying with the same rigor?

    • Hi Priscilla,

      A lot of times a lower score on a real exam is a result of test day nerves; often, simply being more comfortable retaking a second time will contribute to getting a better score on the second try. The advice I always give to people in that boat is to spend even more time learning and practicing the strategies and skills. If you are very well-versed on how to approach each LR question, passage, and game, you can work your way through anything on the test, even if taking a real exam brings about some test anxiety. Test anxiety has the most dramatic effect on the scores of those who rely mostly on their intuition and hunches when doing questions, and aren’t applying the proper strategic approaches.

      Finally, to address your more general point about the “caution” retakers should exercise: As Laura mentions in this post, the statistics regarding the average score increase are just that: statistics. They will by no means determine how much your score can increase.

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