What happens if you take the LSAT multiple times? Policies have changed, some recently and some not so recently. Let’s run through a quick history so we can discuss what actually matters today.
You may hear something, especially from older lawyers, about multiple LSAT scores being averaged. That used to happen. Not anymore.
Law schools look out for their own self-interest. Part of that self-interest is keeping their rankings high. Part of keeping their rakings high is keeping the average LSAT score of their incoming class high. So, whether it makes any sense or not, the way that average score is calculated affects the way law schools make their decisions.
Until 2006, the ABA required law schools to report their incoming class’s LSAT score based on each student’s average LSAT score. So law schools had every incentive to consider their applicants’ average score. It simply meant they were judging candidates by same standard by which the rankings would judge them.
But in 2006, the policy changed. Yes, in 2006. Anyone who tells you about scores being averaged is, um, a little out of date. Since then, law schools have reported their incoming classes’ LSAT scores based on each student’s highest score. Since your highest LSAT score is the one by which U.S. News will judge the law school you attend, it’s in law schools’ interest to consider your highest score. So that’s generally what they do.
If only it were just that simple, however. There’s a lot of willful obfuscation. If you look at law schools’ official policies, they vary. Many are vague. Some law schools just come out and say they’ll look at your highest score — for example, Northwestern. You can believe them; following that policy is in their own self-interest. Others say something much more ambiguous — for example, Penn.
Even for the schools that are more wishy-washy about their policies, odds are they care a hell of a lot more about your highest score than about other scores on your record. Since the rankings will judge them by your highest score, they’d only hurt themselves if they were to judge you by a different standard. Claims that scores will be averaged should be treated skeptically.
I can’t guarantee that law schools won’t care at all about all your scores, but you should feel safe that your highest score will matter the most. By far. But if a law school suggests explaining a lower score in an addendum, humor them. Make sure they feel like they have permission to do what they want to do anyway and look at your highest score.
There’s another complication, and it’s a more recent one. Until last year, you were only allowed to take the LSAT three times in any two-year span. This meant you had incentive to wait and not take the LSAT if you weren’t ready. It also meant that most applicants had no more than three LSAT scores, because you had to be pretty committed to wait for your two years to expire and take the LSAT a fourth time.
Now, you can take the LSAT as many times as you want. But that doesn’t mean that you should. It starts to look not-so-good if you take the LSAT again and again and again. So what does that mean for whether you should take or retake the LSAT?
If it’s your first time taking the LSAT, no pressure. Taking the LSAT twice or even three times is totally fine. If, come the week before test day, you’re not scoring something that would put you in contention for the schools you want to go to, well, you can withdraw if you like. But you can also take the LSAT if you feel like the experience would be valuable to you and help you better prepare for a retake. You can always cancel your score if you know it’s just not where you want it to be yet. No big deal. And if your practice test scores are close to where you want to be, don’t get cold feet. Just take the test.
If you’ve already taken the LSAT, the pressure is on a little more. If you’re going to retake, you should be confident you’re in position to score higher. It doesn’t have to be that much higher; even small differences in score can make a big difference in admissions. But don’t just keep trying if you’re your practice test scores (the best prediction of your real score) aren’t substantially changing first.
What if you’ve already taken the LSAT “too many” times? Should you take it again? The answer, perhaps surprisingly, is that if you really think you can improve your score, yes, you should. The advantage of having your highest score be higher outweighs the disadvantage of yet another score on your record.
Don’t believe me? That’s fair … I’m just an LSAT instructor who’s never gone to law school or worked in law school admissions. But if you’re in this situation, check out this detailed post by veteran admissions consultant Mike Spivey. It covers a lot of what we’ve discussed, plus some stuff about the role of an addendum in your application if you have tons and tons of LSAT scores.
All in all, LSAT redemption is possible. You can always take the LSAT again, and if you do better you can know that it will matter and you’ll be judged mostly by your best.