You’ve decided to go to law school. Excellent! Now you need to take the LSAT, and you’re doing your homework to find out what this test is all about. One question on your mind right now is, “When should I take the LSAT?” In this article we’ll look at a few different factors that will help you decide when to take the test.
The Law School Admissions Cycle
Law schools use a rolling admissions cycle. What does this mean? Instead of setting a single application deadline, accepting applications up until the deadline, and waiting until after that deadline to begin reviewing them, law schools evaluate applications as they receive them. They make admission decisions throughout the application period, rather than waiting until the end.
Most law schools start accepting applications in early September for students who will start in fall of the following year. They continue accepting applications through the end of January, and often beyond January, making offers to qualified applicants during this entire time.
In order to decide when to take the LSAT, you’ll need to consider when you plan to start law school… And the admissions cycle for that year. Be sure to research the exact deadlines and policies for the specific law schools where you plan to apply.
There are certainly advantages to applying early. Many applicants will have their LSAT score in hand well before September 1st. Because of the rolling admissions cycle, the conventional wisdom has been to apply as early as possible. Waiting to apply means you’ll compete against a growing pool of applicants for a shrinking number spots.
However, it’s well-known that the number of law school applicants has dropped in recent years, leaving law schools with a smaller pool of candidates to choose from. Schools have been waiting to make decisions until later in the admissions cycle.
There are still advantages to applying early, but it’s not as crucial to do so as it once was. Keep this in mind as you consider all of the factors involved in deciding when to take the LSAT.
This article from our blog explains the admissions cycle in more detail. But with these basics in mind, let’s look at some other factors.
LSAT Test Dates
Unlike some admission tests, the LSAT is only offered on specific dates throughout the year. The good news is that the Law School Admission Council, which administers the LSAT, started increasing the number of LSAT test dates in 2017. As of the 2018–2019 testing year, the LSAT is being offered nine times per year. That’s a substantial increase compared to 2016 and before, when the test was only offered four times each year.
The exact test dates will play a role in determining when you should take the LSAT. You can find a list of upcoming LSAT test dates on the LSAC website. This particular page will usually show LSAT test dates and deadlines for the next six months or so. Look for a link to “Future Test Dates” if you’re considering a test date that’s farther away.
As we mentioned earlier, many applicants want to take the LSAT and have their score in hand well before the admissions cycle begins in the fall. The June test date has traditionally been popular for this reason. With LSAC adding more test dates, the April and July tests are likely to be popular as well.
When Should I Take the LSAT…Again?
Most test-takers hope that the LSAT will be a “one and done” experience, and aim to get the score they need on the first try. The LSAT doesn’t always cooperate. Quite a few people take the test more than once. Always hope for the best! But in planning when to take the LSAT, it’s not a bad idea to allow time for a retake.
Let’s suppose you’ll start applying to law school in September of next year. Prepping for the April LSAT, or even the March one, gives you time to take the test, receive your score, then register for the June or July LSAT if needed and do additional prep before that test date.
On the flip side, let’s suppose you haven’t planned that far in advance. Maybe you’re reading this article in August or September as the start of the admission cycle looms, and you took the July LSAT but didn’t hit your goal score. Are your law school dreams dead in the water? No, not at all.
As we mentioned earlier, in recent years, law schools have been waiting longer to make admissions decisions. They still extend offers to highly-qualified candidates from the start of the admissions cycle. But they don’t tend to fill spaces as quickly as they once did.
Admissions offices now wait to view more applications, looking for the best candidates. Not satisfied with your score from an LSAT you took earlier in the year? You can take the LSAT in September or November and still have a fair chance. Depending on the school you apply to, a competitive score on the January LSAT might keep you in the running. Again, make sure you research the exact policies and deadlines for the schools where you plan to apply.
I Heard That You Should Not Take the LSAT In…
There are abundant legends and rumors about certain LSAT test dates being “bad” compared to others. The February LSAT has received a bad rap for a while, with claims that it’s more difficult than other tests. Let’s start by putting this rumor to rest… There’s no data suggesting that the February LSAT is more difficult than LSATs administered on any other test dates.
In spite of this, it’s likely that rumors will remain about tests on certain dates being consistently harder than others. Don’t buy into this. Law schools want to compare apples to apples when they look at scores from different LSAT test dates. It’s one of the main reasons why standardized exams exist.
Some LSATs are disclosed tests, while others are nondisclosed. If you take a disclosed test, you receive your score, percentile rank, a copy of the actual questions from your test, and your answers. If you take a nondisclosed test, you receive your score and percentile rank, but you won’t receive the actual questions or your answers.
There’s a disadvantage to taking a nondisclosed test if you have any desire to see what you did right/wrong. However, this shouldn’t be your highest priority when deciding when to take the LSAT. Other factors like the admission cycle and leaving time for a potential retake should play a larger role in your decision.
LSAC provides more information about disclosed and nondisclosed tests here. You can read more about taking nondisclosed tests, and the legends and lore of the February LSAT, in this article by Manhattan Prep LSAT ace Matt Shinners.
Consider Other Things on Your Calendar When Taking the LSAT
Now that there are more LSAT test dates, it’s easier to avoid taking the LSAT at a time that’s less than ideal for you personally. While deciding when to take the LSAT, don’t just focus on the few hours that you’ll spend taking the actual test itself. Think about what else is going on around that time.
Is the date that you’re considering taking the LSAT right around the same time as your exams for classes at school? Is a major project at your job happening during that month? Are you getting married the week after the test, or moving across the country the next day? All of these are good reasons to consider a different test date. I mean, you could ask your significant other to change the wedding date, but that might not fly.
Don’t Forget to Prep
The amount of time that you need to prepare for the test is also an important consideration when deciding when to take the LSAT. How much prep time do you need? That depends on a number of factors, starting with how much you need to improve your score. If you’re just starting out on your path to law school and haven’t taken an LSAT practice test yet, that should be your first step. You’ll find instructions here.
If you’re already hitting your goal score, or are within two or three points, you might only need a minimal amount of prep. Increasing your score by more than five points usually requires at least a month or two of prep time. If you’re looking to increase your score by 10 points or more, and are thinking about registering for a test date that’s a little over a month away, you should definitely look at later LSAT test dates. Achieving that kind of increase can require several months of prep.
Deciding when you should take the LSAT can require a bit more planning and thought than you might expect, but it’s an important part of your overall law school application plan. Understanding the factors that we describe in this article can help you plan and prepare to do your very best on the test. 📝
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.