LSAC has published the final counts for the November 2019 LSAT. There were 22,767 test-takers. 10,272 of them were first-time test-takers, for a rate of 45.1% first-timers. Overall this was a decline of 11,602 test-takers compared to the November 2018 test.
Neither the low first-time taker rate nor the decline in overall test-takers is surprising. There has been a multi-year trend of increasing retaker rates, which was already driving down the first-time test-taker volumes. This cycle that has been exacerbated by the July 2019 special offer of a cancellation and free retake. Cancellations still count as having sat for the test, and given that half of July test-takers took advantage of this opportunity, the very low first-time taker ratios were to be expected.
Meanwhile, given that LSAC has significantly expanded the number of tests offered each year, applicants have more opportunities to select a test that fits their schedule and preparation, instead of being pushed into one of just a few options. Registration and test-taker volumes for all tests (excepting July 2019 for obvious reasons) have declined notably.
So now we have final LSAT data for all the tests over the June-November period.
While our total test-taker volume is essentially unchanged from last year, the first-time taker volume is down by 4,305 individuals. That's a 7.27% decline in first-time LSAT takers compared to this point last cycle.
When considering applicant and application volume, we focus primarily on first-time test-taker volumes. While there's absolutely not a 1:1 relationship between first-time takers and applicants, it's better than total test-taker volume. If you take the LSAT 2, 3, or however many times, you can still only apply as one individual (we love saying obvious things as if they are deeply illuminating). First-time takers are the primary fuel a cycle runs on (reapplicants and non-LSAT applicants do play a role as well).
But despite the not insignificant decline in first-time test-takers, we've seen little change in overall applicant volume.
Our decline in first-time test-takers isn't translating to a corresponding decline in applicants. Again, there's absolutely not a 1:1 relationship. But we'd expect to see a bit more decline, given the comparative shortage of LSAT takers. And if you're wondering whether the GRE might be the cause, it's probably not. There has been growth in non-LSAT applicants, but it remains a relatively small percent of the pool; 4.6% and has grown by about 200 individuals over last year.
There are a few possible explanations for the lack of decline, each interesting and impossible to verify at this time. First, there could be a significant population of re-applicants, who wouldn't show up in our first-time test-taker volume. Second, the "conversion ratio" from LSAT first-time taker to actual applicant could have increased, i.e., maybe people taking the LSAT this year are more serious about actually applying. It could be that applicants are applying more quickly after taking an LSAT — aka "front-loading" the cycle by applying earlier.
Most likely it's a combination of all those factors, plus some things we haven't thought of.
If you're wondering whether January's test will continue the trend, probably. With 3 days to go registrants are down by 25% year-over-year, and that number will continue to decline.
That's it — just some interesting data. We'll see how things play out over the coming months!