The American Bar Association (ABA) now requires that law schools report only the higher (or highest) LSAT score for repeat test-takers when they report the statistics for their entering classes. This change in reporting will benefit both applicants and the law schools – though not in the ways that some people have suggested.
For law schools, the bottom line is that from now on they only have to report the highest score for repeat test takers. That could raise the LSAT profile of their entering classes.
When there is a substantial difference in the scores for a particular applicant – more than 5 or 6 points – then some law schools will evaluate the LSAT scores with a bit more caution. The bigger the difference in the scores, the more likely it is a law school will not simply ignore the lower score. This is likely why there are some schools saying that they are still evaluating all LSAT scores.
That is not to say that the admissions committees would not evaluate the applicant’s academic potential based on the higher score. However, they would certainly want more information regarding the circumstances surrounding the lower score. Did the applicant prepare differently – or insufficiently – the first time she took the test? Was there a particular incident – e.g., an illness or a family emergency – that affected the applicant on test day? Was the applicant simply much more relaxed and confident on the second attempt?
Whatever the case may be, it is important that the applicant provide this information in an addendum. This will help the committee understand why there was such a difference in scores and make it more likely that the committee will base its decision on the higher or highest LSAT score alone.
When the difference in scores is not so substantial – for example, 5 points or less – I think the admissions committee will not be as cautious. I can’t imagine that any law school would not simply evaluate an applicant in that situation based on the higher score.
That’s because LSAT scores fall into a ‘score band’ of about 6 points. A score band is something like the margin of error in a statistical survey. It accounts for the possibility that anyone might get slightly different scores if they took the test a number of times. That means that if your official LSAT score is 162, your notional ‘real’ score (the average score you would be expected to get if you took the test over and over again) is somewhere between 159 and 165. The majority of repeat test takers get scores that only differ by a few points, falling within the score band. That means that a repeat test taker who scores within or very close to the band would not be atypical, and thus, the committee would likely accept the higher score without question.
The ABA’s change in LSAT score reporting policy could certainly help applicants. For example, take an applicant who gets a 160 the first time she takes the LSAT and a 166 the second time. Under the previous reporting policy, which asked schools to report the average of two or more scores, her score would have been considered 163. Under the new policy, she is a 166. Although that 3-point difference does not make a significant difference in the applicant’s raw score, it does mean that she is now more within reach of the law schools whose 25th percentile LSATs are higher than a 163. This could certainly change some of her “reach” schools into “target” schools.
But there’s an important caution for applicants here: this does NOT mean that an applicant should keep taking and re-taking the LSAT in an attempt to increase his chances of getting into a more selective school. That’s an unwise choice, for several reasons:
1) Law school applicants always need to seriously evaluate the pros and cons of retaking the LSAT. They need to HONESTLY assess their chances for improving their score if they re-take the test. If an applicant has put her best foot forward in terms of adequate LSAT preparation the first time she took it, it is unlikely that her score would differ by more than a few points on a retake – and that could mean a few points higher OR lower.
2) Keep in mind that the admissions committees will continue to see all of your LSAT test scores. They’ll know how many times you took the test and whether you improved your score or not.
3) Preparing for the LSAT and taking the LSAT are costly, in terms of both time and money. You could spend this valuable time more profitably on improving other aspects of your application, such as your personal statement and optional essays.
You could also put this valuable time to good use by submitting your application sooner. Remember, in a rolling admissions process, timeliness matters. Waiting to retake the LSAT means delaying submission of your application and/or review of your application by the admissions committee. And law schools are less likely to dip “lower” into the applicant pool than they were earlier in the process. As fewer “spaces” in the class become available, law schools are even more cognizant of their enrollment statistics.
On the other hand, those applicants who can affirmatively pinpoint a reason for a lackluster performance on the LSAT – little or no preparation, illness, etc. – are the ones who are more likely to significantly improve their score. But that’s only if they are willing to a) put in the necessary time and commitment for additional practice and preparation, and b) delay submission of their applications.