The LSAT is quite different from other academic tests in a number of important ways. When it comes to the best law schools, some people are surprised to learn that a perfect score on the LSAT isn’t necessarily an ideal goal.
It might be reasonable to set your sights on a perfect score if you naturally excel at all the particular skills that are tested on the LSAT, or have an unlimited amount of time to prepare, but most people who take the test don’t have either of those luxuries at their disposal.
Fortunately, you don’t need a perfect LSAT score to be admitted to the best law schools. The top three U.S. law schools, based on the law school rankings published in 2018 by U.S. News & World Report, were Yale Law School, Stanford Law School, and Harvard Law School. These schools reported median LSAT scores of 173, 171, and 173, respectively. Your LSAT score isn’t the only factor that the best law schools consider, but it is a significant one. For these schools, a score at or above the median is highly desirable.
(In case you’re just learning about the LSAT, this is some basic information about the way the test is scored.)
Top 14 Law Schools and LSAT Scores
Here’s a list of the top 14 law schools as ranked by U.S. News & World Report, along with their reported 25th, 50th, and 75th-percentile LSAT scores:
- Yale University: 170 / 173 / 176
- Stanford University: 169 / 171 / 174
- Harvard University: 170 / 173 / 175
- University of Chicago: 167 / 171 / 173
- Columbia University: 170 / 172 / 174
- New York University: 167 / 170 / 172
- UPenn: 164 / 170 / 171
- University of Michigan–Ann Arbor: 165 / 169 / 171
- UC–Berkeley: 165 / 168 / 170
- University of Virginia: 163 / 169 / 171
- Duke University: 167 / 169 / 170
- Northwestern University: 164 / 169 / 170
- Cornell University: 164 / 167 / 168
- Georgetown University: 163 / 167 / 168
This information plays a significant role in planning your approach to the LSAT, in terms of both how you prepare for the test and your strategy on test day. To attend one of these top-14 best law schools, aim for a score in the high 160s at least. Any score in that range is an impressive feat… But there’s still a significant difference between scoring a 167 and getting every question correct.
On the November 2018 LSAT, a score of 167 required answering 85 questions correctly out of a total of 99. Even someone aiming for a score of 170 could have missed 10 questions and hit their goal. The exact number of correct answers required for a certain score will change somewhat from one LSAT administration to the next, but it generally corresponds to a certain raw score within a range of a few points. LSAC provides the exact score conversion chart for every disclosed LSAT.
None of this is meant to imply that you don’t need to do your best on the test. But people often prepare for the LSAT under the assumption that they must try to answer every question correctly. Those two things are not necessarily one and the same.
Attempting to get every single question correct leads people to make strategic errors during timed practice, like spending too much time trying to answer an exceptionally difficult question. It sometimes leads people to structure their prep plan inefficiently, focusing on the most difficult questions and unusual situations. It can make people reluctant to embrace a concept at the heart of an effective timing strategy: the idea that you should skip some questions when taking the LSAT.
The Road to the Best Law Schools Starts Where You Are Now
Looking at law school rankings and desirable LSAT scores is important when setting your goals, but you also have to consider another crucial factor: your current level of LSAT proficiency.
One of your first steps in preparing for the LSAT should be to take an LSAT practice test. If you haven’t done this already, make it a priority. This is especially important if your goal is to attend one of the top 14 schools. People start their LSAT journeys with a wide range of scores, and you need to know your own personal starting point.
If your practice test score is within two or three points of your goal, you might only need a modest amount of prep. It can be discouraging to see a practice test score that’s well below your goal, but it gives you a realistic view of what you’ll need to do to prepare.
LSAC’s official reports on score increases aren’t encouraging—on average, people who retake the LSAT only increase their scores by around 2.5 points—but this is the average, based on results from everyone who takes the test. Your goal is to be exceptional, not average. People can, and do, score much higher on the actual LSAT than they score on their initial practice test. Improving your score requires time and effort—but if you’re sufficiently motivated, it can be done. And then you can try for the best law schools.
The best way for you personally to prep for the LSAT will depend on a number of factors. Ally Bell, one of Manhattan Prep’s experienced LSAT instructors, wrote this article to provide some guidance. Ally points out that many students spend three to six months preparing for the LSAT. It’s not unusual for people to spend more time than that. When determining the amount of time you’ll need, aside from the score increase that you’re aiming for, you’ll also need to consider your other responsibilities.
Some people take time off to study for the LSAT, which is great if you can swing it. If you’re like a lot of LSAT test-takers, though, you’ll be studying for the test while working a full-time job or finishing an undergrad degree. This doesn’t mean that it’s impossible for you to increase your score, but it does increase the challenges. You’ll need to take a serious look at the number of hours per week that you can devote to LSAT prep, and consider that you might need to follow this schedule for weeks, and possibly months.
Our goal here is not to discourage you from taking the LSAT. It’s quite the opposite. If you’re serious about attending law school, especially one of the best law schools, we want you to pursue that goal with eyes open and a realistic view of the challenges involved, ready to make an effective plan. Things that are worth doing are often more challenging than they seem at first glance, and people who succeed aren’t always the ones who have it easiest. They’re often the ones who stay determined and persistent in spite of the challenges. 📝
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.