Every time LSAT scores are released, there are thousands of test-takers who are less than satisfied with their results. Luckily, you are allowed to take the LSAT again — you may actually take the exam up to three times in any two year period. Unluckily for those with unsatisfactory scores, the decision as to whether it is worth it (or even a good idea) to retake is hardly a straightforward one. Enter the Manhattan LSAT Retake Manifesto.
In the coming paragraphs, we hope to address all of the concerns that a potential LSAT retaker may have – in fact, should have – before deciding what their next course of action is.
Let’s start with a dose of reality. Most people see very little improvement in their LSAT score after retaking (an average of roughly two points for folks who scored between 150 and 167 the first time), and some actually see a decrease in their score. Take a look at the below chart for some analysis of the success of 2010-2011 ‘retakers’ with various initial scores:
*Data courtesy of LSAC.org’s 2010-2011 “repeater” statistics (pdf).
The most important take away from this data is the marginal nature of the score increases that repeat LSAT takers tend to achieve. This is simply an average, though, so by no means am I saying that substantial score increases are impossible to achieve when retaking the LSAT. There may have been very legitimate circumstances that applied to your first attempt at the LSAT that prevented you from realizing your full potential.
When considering a retake, it is important to make an honest assessment of your efforts the first time around. Here are the important questions you must ask yourself in order to avoid becoming the next sad repeater statistic:
Did I study like hell the first time I took the exam?
There are a large number of test takers who underestimate the beast that is the LSAT. The LSAT is a very difficult exam, and in taking it you should assume you are competing with the upper quartile of college students nationwide. If you approached your LSAT prep with the same fervor as your SAT prep, you’re in trouble. That would be the equivalent of jogging two miles a day to train for a marathon. Simply put, you should ask yourself whether you underestimated this test. If your answer is yes, you are a prime candidate for a retake. If your answer is no, you did not underestimate the LSAT and really did study like hell the first time, read on.
Did I have a “bad day” when I took the exam?
When we say “bad day” here, we’re referring to everything from the completely and totally disastrous, to the mildly distracting. First, the completely disastrous: if Murphy’s Law inconveniently applied itself to your test day experience, you should have a good sense of this and how it negatively affected your score. Were you late for your exam? Did you get very sick that weekend? Did a motorcycle gang decide to ride up and down the street your test center was located on during the Logic Games section? Was there a guy nervously tapping his foot on your chair throughout the test? Did the proctor flirt with you during the break and totally mess with your concentration? Were you abducted by Aliens during the break? If your answer is yes, hopefully you had the foresight to “cancel” (most extra terrestrials should have had internet access you could use), and are rightly plotting your course toward the next exam date.
Unlike the completely disastrous scenarios, slight distractions are more likely to rear their ugly heads again in future test implementations. If you found yourself slightly distracted on test day, you need to decide whether or not you believe you can overcome similar scenarios in the future. Was it really your neighbor tapping his or her pencil on their desk that destroyed your focus, or are you predisposed to test anxiety? Identifying whether truly external and unpredictable factors negatively affected your test experience is a crucial component to your retake decision. It can be unnerving to take such a high stakes test in a tense room full of prospective lawyers, but unfortunately that is part of the game day experience.
I prepped really hard, but did I prep long enough?
The LSAT is one of the harder or the hardest standardized exam that many people ever face. The skills it assesses are not only learned in 3 months of prep—they’re gained through a decade of rigorous high school and college courses. That’s not to say that someone who spent college staring at the bottom of a beer mug can’t do well on the LSAT, but it does mean that it may take some people longer than the usual 3-4 months to get to their best score. Tips and tricks can get you only a few points, really hitting your top means cleaning up and speeding up your thinking—and that’s not done in a weekend workshop!
I prepped really hard, but did I prep smart?
If you’ve read this far, I’m going to assume that you put in an earnest effort in prepping for your first LSAT, things went more or less OK for you on test day (no abductions, no illnesses), and you’re simply wondering if there’s hope of a score increase for you the next time around. The question to ask yourself now is: was that effort I put in to studying for the LSAT my first time around the best use of my time? In other words (and more to the point) did my LSAT prep suck?
Let’s face it, there are many, many options out there for preparing for the LSAT. It could be that you signed up for the first course that caught your eye (or perhaps the cheapest available option), and it simply did not work for you. A sub par instructor on an exam like the LSAT can make all the difference. At Manhattan LSAT, we firmly believe that the second most important factor in one’s LSAT prep, after their own hard work, is the quality of the instruction and the materials that they use to study. Finding a better prep program (or a more effective way to study) can occasionally be the missing piece of the puzzle.
If you studied on your own, perhaps you lacked the structure necessary to really maximize your study time. We have seen countless examples of structure alone being a “make or break” factor in one’s LSAT prep. Working through the quality material in the order that a 99th percentile professional LSAT tutor/curriculum developer has put together can make a significant impact on the result of that work put in. For some people, maybe you just need to take a class (or a different class, if you took one that didn’t work for you) to sharpen up on the skills necessary to dominate the exam.
Whatever your situation may be, do not think that you can continue to study for your next LSAT the same way that you studied for your initial test and receive greater results – provided you did put indeed put in the effort that first time. Doing so is the definition of insanity!
The Next Things to Consider
Admissions Policies of Your Target Law School
So you’ve taken the LSAT, did not cancel, and are not 100% satisfied with your score. You have reflected on what happened on test day, as well as on your LSAT prep. You’re convinced you have a higher score in you. Does that mean you should register today for the next exam administration? Not quite. You need to think about the schools that you’re trying to get in to, and what their policies on multiple LSAT scores are.
Earlier this year we did some research on what top law schools admission policies pertaining to multiple LSAT scores are. Four of the top ten (from US News and World Report’s 2010 rankings) said they would consider only the highest LSAT score on an applicant’s score report. Two schools said they would take an average, and four considered their review of applications to be a “holistic” approach (whatever that means – it’s a safe assumption is that they would consider more than just your top score).
Knowing the policies of the schools you are applying to is a crucial consideration in your retake decision. If your top two schools are only considering your highest LSAT score, you might be more inclined to have another go at the exam. If you’re looking at schools that consider an average, you’ll want to seriously evaluate whether or not external factors ruined your first test – or whether there are tangible fixes that you can make to your prep this time around, as coming in with a lower score could damage your chances of admission.
If you are applying for admission to law school for the fall of a given year, you will need to have taken the LSAT satisfactorily by December of the prior calendar year at the latest. The February LSAT is too late to use on an application to law school if you intend to start later that same year.
Do you have enough time to take the LSAT again? A thorough LSAT prep takes 3-5 months. If you are realizing in the middle of October that you did not optimize your LSAT prep the first time around (or perhaps completely underestimated it), will the six weeks remaining until the December test give you enough time to really dive in?
All things considered, what should I do?!
You’ve done a frank assessment of what went wrong for you during your unsatisfactory LSAT(s). You’ve evaluated your prior LSAT prep, the policies of the schools you will be applying to, and your admissions timeline, but you’re still not sure what to do. Here is our over simplified recommendation:
If tangible, identifiable factors contributed to your unsatisfactory initial score(s), you are in a solid position for a retake, provided that there is still time. Valid examples of these factors are:
- Freak happenings on test day (ie. late to the exam, sickness, proctor from hell)
- Lack of preparation
- Poor preparation
Do not retake if…
- You don’t have time to work hard on your prep.
- You re-study but are still doing about as well as you did on timed PTs before the first LSAT you took
- You have no idea what went wrong leading up to/during your unsatisfactory exam
As we saw in the re-take score table above, most students score only marginally better when retaking the LSAT. As hard as it may be to come to grips with, there does come a point in time when one needs to leave well enough alone, and move on to the next phase of getting in to law school (applications) – or reevaluate one’s plans completely.
Often we see students frustrated by stagnant scores after months and months of quality LSAT prep. The leading cause of this is typically fundamental issues with their reading and/or language skills. There is no doubt that the LSAT rewards people who can read dense material quickly. Conversely, the test can be brutal for very bright students who are not strong readers and/or are not native English speakers. For these students, the root of their problems may not be something that can be addressed in a few months time.
Here’s a little flowchart we put together once upon a time to illustrate some of the points we’ve made. This should be taken with a grain of salt, but not too much.
I hope you found this exercise helpful. As always, if you have any questions, shoot them over to us at StudentServices@manhattanprep.com/lsat/. Happy studying!