The New Rules
As was initially reported, LSAC is updating their policy on LSAT retakes, to take effect starting with the September 2019 administration. You can read the full policy here, but we'll summarize the major changes below.
- Applicants will be allowed up to 3 LSAT takes in a single testing year, going from June 1 to May 31.
- Applicants will be allowed up to 5 LSAT takes in the five past testing years.
- There is a lifetime cap of 7 LSAT attempts, with an appeals process available.
- Individuals scoring a 180 are not allowed to retake the LSAT within a five year period (this policy is retroactive).
LSAC has confirmed that the numerical limitations are not retroactive, which is fantastic news and very fair to applicants who have previously taken the test. Any prior LSAT takes will not be counted towards the lifetime or yearly limits. Further, the July 2019 test will not be counted towards the numerical limits (adding to the already numerous benefits of taking the July test). Applicants already registered for July 2019 will have up to four LSAT takes this cycle, which is not an insignificant advantage.
Why the Change?
There are a number of possible reasons for this (somewhat unexpected) change in policy. However, this prior cycle saw the greatest percent of LSAT retakes of any cycle since records have been kept. LSAC has undoubtedly noticed the growing trend of applicants retaking to improve their score. And while LSAC has indicated that this policy will only affect approximately 1% of test takers, the "unlimited retake" rule was not in effect for very long. It's possible LSAC saw indications in their data that that 1% would grow into a larger percentage of the test taker pool and eventually impact the integrity of scores. While LSAC has done a good job of maintaining score percentile ratios to date, an ever growing number of retakers makes that difficult.
Related to this, according to Dave Killoran, CEO of PowerScore, “LSAC is looking to control the number of people repeating the LSAT in order to keep percentiles uniform, and, because LSAC reuses tests, this helps avoid having students see exams they’ve taken before.”
We've seen some speculation that the ban on 180 retakes is aimed at preserving the curve, but we feel this is unlikely. First, curves are set in advance and not based on test day results. Second, the number of 180s are so small, only a few dozen each year. The number of those 180 scorers who then choose to retake is minuscule. This is a very targeted policy likely aimed at curtailing retakes by high-end LSAT prep company tutors and content creators.
And we would be ignoring the elephant in the room if we didn't address the influence growing GRE acceptance may have had on this policy. LSAC has made it clear one of their key strategies for slowing growing GRE acceptance is to call into question that test's validity. By limiting retakes among its own test-takers, LSAC may be shoring up their position to argue that the GRE, with a more generous retake policy, is less predictive of law school performance.
Test Timing Strategy
Overall, the new policy will have only modest impact on applicants. As noted above, few applicants were taking advantage of LSAC's prior "unlimited retakes" policy. We foresee the primary impact of this change being not on number of exams taken, but on their timing.
The March and April LSAT administrations become much more appealing, as test takers will be able to "game" the retake limit by getting a test (or two) in before the one year June through May limit of 3 exams. In fact, we would suggest that the ideal LSAT planning strategy for those who anticipate multiple attempts becomes as follows:
- March or April prior to the application cycle: take 1 LSAT administration
- Chose 2 of the following administrations: July, September, October, November
- If still not scoring at your ideal range, or PT average, or if attempting to get off a waitlist then choose 1 of the following: January, February, March
This strategy allows you 4 bites at the LSAT apple in a single application cycle, with ample room between each test to refine your studying, try new approaches, take a break, etc. It also leaves you one final "emergency" LSAT take in your five year limit if you need it to reapply. Of course, if at any point you get a score you are satisfied with, you're not obligated to retake the LSAT over and over.
Will There be Other Changes?
It's very possible. LSAC is confronting a more competitive testing environment than at any point in its history. With 40 schools now accepting the GRE for admissions and a growing share of the applicant pool applying with alternative tests, LSAC is being forced to adapt, perhaps more quickly than it anticipated. Some of these changes may be popular among applicants, and some may not. The past does not guarantee the future, and changes in test policy or content aren't unimaginable. That said, it's unlikely that LSAC will make drastic changes right as the cycle ramps up this fall, or as they introduce the digital format. Don't lose any sleep over worrying about what LSAC does—focus on crafting the best application you can.
Written by Justin Kane and Mike Spivey