The first thing many applicants do when they receive their LSAT test score report is to check whether it falls into the LSAT range of previously admitted students at their target schools. If it does, they relax. If it doesn’t, they panic.

Neither of those reactions is really justified. While there’s no question that LSAT scores are an important factor in law school admissions, it’s crucial to remember that test scores are only one of many factors that the admissions committees consider in reviewing applicants.

“Many applicants believe that their LSAT score is the determining factor as to whether they will be admitted,” notes Senior Consultant Heike Spahn. “That’s because the LSAT, from an applicant’s point of view, is usually the last piece of the admissions puzzle. After all, they already have their academic record, personal statement, letters of recommendation, and resume before they receive their test score.”

But, Heike cautions, admissions committees view LSAT scores differently, as an integral part of the overall application. “The LSAT is a large part of the admissions process. But if the rest of your application is weak, a strong LSAT score rarely carries you through,” she says.

On the other hand, Heike encourages applicants to remember that the 25th to 75th percentile score range reported by law schools gives only a partial picture of the last entering class. It reports the LSAT scores of just one-half of those students. That means that the other half of the class got LSAT scores either above or below the median range. An LSAT below the median range for your target school is a difficulty to overcome but by no means an absolute barrier to winning admission.

Heike says that it’s not unusual for an applicant’s actual LSAT score to be somewhat lower than the scores from their practice tests.

“Many applicants will be wondering if they should retake the LSAT to try to get a better score. On the practical level, this decision must be made quickly. The registration deadlines for LSATs fall not long after scores are released. And LSAT test sites fill up quickly, so I don’t recommend waiting until the late deadlines to decide.”

But Heike thinks that many applicants re-take the test when they don’t really benefit from it. “Many people who are disappointed with their score automatically think they should re-take the test,” she says. “But I don’t think re-taking the test is the right decision for everyone.”

Heike reminds applicants that their practice test scores may not give a reliable guideline to what their official score should be. “Rarely do people score their best on the actual exam date,” she says. “In my experience, actual results are typically 3 to 5 points lower than the scores for practice exams. So, if you are within that range, re-taking the test might not provide a better result.”

– Contributed by Senior Consultant Heike Spahn, a former Associate Director of Admissions and Assistant Dean of Financial Aid at the University of Chicago Law School.

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