If you haven't heard, the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) recently announced a change in their LSAT retake policy. Whereas prior to this change, law school applicants were limited to three LSAT administrations within a two-year period, applicants can now take an unlimited number of tests. Additionally, LSAT takers who have taken three or more LSATs in the last two years can now register for the September LSAT.
This raises an important question: Should you take the LSAT 3+ times?
The standard advice is to thoroughly prepare for your first LSAT and, ideally, to only take it once. Unfortunately, this isn't an ideal world, and oftentimes applicants will find that they did not perform to their full potential on their first take. In those cases it is often a good idea to attempt a retake, since in general law schools only consider the highest score. It is the only score factored into USNWR rankings, after all (more on this later). However, this principle begins to progressively deteriorate after 3 LSAT takes, barring a substantial explanation. (For instance, one of our clients experienced a significant medical issue during two of his LSAT takes, and after cancelling those scores he went on to score highly on his fourth test — these are the kinds of circumstances under which multiple retakes are likely appropriate. For him, it would have been great if he didn’t have to wait until the 2 year limit had ended to retake).
Additionally, it’s important to realize that schools may not look more favorably on additional tests just because you wanted to take them (just like they don’t want more letters of recommendation than they asked for!) An abnormally large number of testing attempts may show a lack of judgment to the admissions offices. There are, of course, exceptions, and the highest LSAT score will still be the most important. Does that mean you shouldn’t take the test again? Not necessarily. Admissions offices may question the judgment or obsessiveness of someone with five LSAT scores, but at the end of the cycle if their numbers aren't on target, they will still be likely to admit that applicant off the waitlist.
Here are some questions you might want to ask yourself before taking the test again:
1) Did something significant occur during my previous testing that I know impacted my score? (A medical issue, a family emergency that had your attention, a fire alarm kept going off in the testing center…)
2) Do I just think I can do better - why? Have I significantly changed my study strategy of the logic games and suddenly it’s clicked for me? Are my diagnostic tests significantly better than before I took my last exam? Do I really believe I can score higher or do I just want to score higher?
Ultimately, you may be able to take the LSAT for a fourth time this September and beyond, but the policy change doesn't alter the fact that, barring rare circumstances, you probably shouldn’t.
What we at Spivey Consulting are more excited about than this retake policy is the news that LSAC is expanding the number of times during the year that the test is offered (and should release those dates soon). Right now, if you know you’re busiest season at work is September but don’t want to delay till December you might still choose to take the test when you are already busy and stressed. Similarly, there are students who test in December, but the test is right after midterms and they haven’t had as much time to dedicate to studying. Expanded test dates (which have yet to be announced) will allow you to better plan your strategy for taking the test. Hopefully with that - you won’t need retake the exam anyway!
In summation, the big change is probably the expanded test dates, and not the policy itself. Why? Schools who have already been wary of 3+ test scores will still be wary. There are a number of experienced deans of admission out there who have admitted someone with 5 or 6 takes at their school and have seen it not go so well for that student post matriculation. We have seen this ourselves and have heard it from other admissions colleagues. It is a legitimate concern based on past experience. BUT, if you have real reasons to need a 4th or 5th take, this policy change could very much help. And never forget -- there are tremendous pressures on law school admissions offices to move their numbers. So if you have 3 tests scores in the 150’s and have strong reason to believe you can score in the 160’s, for above, for example, while you may look at the wait list for a good while, summer melting of LSAT scores will give you a strong pull for a late admit.
And about those rankings we mentioned above. The ABA used to collect all LSAT scores, and USNWR gets their data from the ABA. There has already been a small rumbling of going back to the old way -- such that some law schools aren’t benefiting from taking people with large number of LSAT scores who have just 1 score well outside their standard test-range. If this call comes from law school’s themselves, we may see an ensuing ABA policy change, that would change law admissions considerably. Something for all of us to keep an eye on.