Law schools consider several different factors when making admission decisions. Your academic record, work experience, personal statement, and recommendations will all play a role. A good LSAT score by itself won’t necessarily get you into your dream law school, but it is an important factor. All ABA-approved law schools accept the LSAT, and it carries more weight with most schools than your GPA does.
Understanding LSAT Scores
There will normally be around 100 scored questions on the LSAT. The exact total number of scored questions might be as low as 99 or as high as 103. The scored questions are divided between four sections of roughly 23–27 questions each. There will also be an unscored “experimental” section.
Your raw score is based on your total number of correct answers. There is no penalty or deduction for an incorrect answer. Your raw score converts to a scaled score between 120 and 180. When someone talks about an LSAT score, this scaled score is almost always what they’re referring to. It’s also known as the “reported score.”
No matter which test you take, or the total number of questions, 120 will always be the lowest scaled score that you can earn and 180 will be the highest. (This assumes the test creators won’t have a wild party one night and decide to totally change the scoring system. It’s possible, but doesn’t seem likely to happen any time soon.)
So, 150 is an Average LSAT Score, Right?
Not exactly. You’ll usually see the average LSAT score described as around 151, which is based on the scores that people actually earn when taking the test. More specifically, a score of 152 will put you above the 50th percentile. This means that you earned a higher score than 50% of the people who take the test.
Law schools approved by the American Bar Association are required to publish the 50th-percentile score for their school, which is the median LSAT score for their incoming class. Half of the school’s incoming students will have a score above the median, and half will have a score at or below. Among the 192 law schools ranked by U.S. News & World Report in 2019, the average median LSAT score was 156. If we were to speak about a good LSAT score in very broad terms, 157 or above would be a reasonable place to start. Anything above 160 is not a bad LSAT score.
Enough About Median…Let’s Talk About You
To properly frame any discussion about a good LSAT score, we need to consider the law school that you want to attend. What is your dream school? Where do you really want to spend these three years of your life? You’ll also want to have a few alternatives in mind as a backup plan.
Then it’s time to do research. You’ll be able to find admissions data on a law school’s website, including the school’s median LSAT score. As an example, here’s where you’ll find the information for Yale Law School.
Again, speaking broadly, a good LSAT score for you personally would be one that’s above your dream school’s median. An LSAT score above the median can significantly increase your chances of being admitted. If your LSAT score is below the median then you’ll be relying much more heavily on other factors, such as your GPA. You might still be facing an uphill battle, though, since the LSAT often plays a dominant role in admissions decisions even among other important factors.
In order to have a competitive application, you’ll generally need a score above the school’s median, but you’ll also want to note a law school’s 75th and 25th-percentile LSAT scores. A score above the 75th percentile will put you above 3 out of 4 students enrolled, which makes it a very worthy goal. On the other end of the scale, you could still be admitted with a score below the 25th percentile, but that’s far from an ideal position to be in when you apply.
“I’m Aiming for a Top Law School. What Kind of LSAT Score Do I Need?”
The average median LSAT score for top-14 schools in 2018 was just under 170. A 170 puts you in the 97th percentile among all LSAT test-takers. Two of the top three schools, Yale and Harvard, reported a median LSAT score of 173, which would put you in the 99th percentile.
Many people aim for scores in this range. And why not? If you want to go to law school, why wouldn’t you want an LSAT score that can get you into a top school? A high LSAT score can also lead to significant financial assistance. But only a small percentage of test takers actually achieve scores in the 170s. The percentile rankings tell the story. Earning a 97th-percentile score means that fewer than 30 people out of 1000 scored higher than you. If you hit the 99th percentile, it’s fewer than 10 out of 1000.
We’re not trying to freak you out or discourage you. On the contrary, our goal is to motivate you. Some fortunate folks earn scores in the 170s with very little effort, but a lot of people have to work for it. It’s not unusual at all for people to spend several months preparing for the test, especially if they’re aiming for a 170+ score, or even for the high 160s.
If you’re at the very beginning of your LSAT adventures, be sure to take a full diagnostic LSAT practice test. Everyone starts somewhere, and it’s important to know your own personal starting point. Some people are pleasantly surprised by their score on their first LSAT practice test. Others learn that they have quite a journey ahead of them. The LSAT tests a specific set of reasoning and reading skills. These skills can be learned and improved—that’s the good news.
However, the LSAT is not testing how much you know about any particular topic. Previous academic success isn’t a reliable indicator of how high your LSAT score is likely to be, either. The only way to know how you’ll do right now, with your current abilities, is to take a practice test.
“I’m Not Aiming for a Top-14 School. What Would Be a Good LSAT Score for Me?”
Even if you aren’t eyeing a top-14 school, you’ll still want to take a practice test, gather LSAT score information for the schools that interest you, and make a game plan. You should know the 25th, 50th, and 75th-percentile scores for the schools that you want to attend. Remember, among 192 law schools, the average median LSAT score was still 156. This is several points above the 151–152 average for all test-takers. People often find themselves needing a fair amount of prep to push their score into the high 150s or 160s.
And why limit yourself? Even if you’re looking at a school with a median LSAT score in the mid-150s, a higher score can expand your options—and could even help you go to law school for free. In five or ten years, when you’re looking back, the extra effort and time you spend preparing for the LSAT might seem like a very worthwhile investment. ?
Scott Miller is a Manhattan Prep instructor based in Raleigh-Durham, NC. Scott has over 20 years of experience as a teacher and trainer and a love for teaching that has led him to some interesting careers, including skydiving instruction, wildlife sanctuary stewardship, and online computer skills training. He worked hard for his 173 LSAT score, and he has as much fun helping people master the challenges of the test as had overcoming those challenges himself. You can learn more from Scott here.