The night before I took the LSAT, a fire alarm went off in my college dorm and I had to wait outside in the dark for help to arrive. The next morning, I barely made it to the test in time. My first section — which I later realized was experimental — was so hard that I finished only half of it.
Ultimately, I persevered and performed better than I had even hoped. But at the time, it felt like a disaster.
Don’t be too hard on yourself if your first LSAT goes awry. Everyone has off days, and many people face overwhelming test anxiety before their first exam. On the remotely proctored LSAT-Flex exams, test-takers have reported problems ranging from late proctors to software glitches.
Fortunately, there is no longer a penalty for retaking the LSAT. Law schools typically take an applicant’s highest score.
Still, there are downsides to taking the test beyond paying the registration fee again. Here are five questions to ask yourself when deciding whether to retake the LSAT:
— How did your score compare to your average practice test scores?
— Could you prepare better this time?
— Will retaking the LSAT delay your application?
— How many times have you taken the LSAT before?
— Where did your score fall in the bell curve?
How Did Your Score Compare to Your Average Practice Test Scores?
Base your decision to retake the LSAT on the evidence of your proven potential from past practice tests rather than on your aspirations.
It may be hard to match your best performance ever, but was your score more than two points lower than the average of your three most recent practice tests? If the result was roughly in line with your past tests, save your energy for other aspects of your application.
Could You Prepare Better This Time?
It is always possible to prepare more for the LSAT. The more important question is whether you could prepare more effectively. Is there a skill you have not mastered? Is timing or endurance an issue? Could a different preparation method produce better results?
If your practice was not consistent, methodical and comprehensive, then there is more you could do.
However, be realistic about upcoming time commitments. When a test date is several weeks away, it may seem easy to find time to study. If you lacked time to practice before the last test and your schedule has not changed, how will you make time now? Will you be busy with exams or starting a new job?
Without time for consistent study, you will not gain ground.
Will Retaking the LSAT Delay Your Application?
Law schools consider applications on a rolling basis. Even if you do not plan to apply early, submit applications as soon as possible, ideally by late October or early November.
If the next available test date is in December or later, consider postponing applying until the next fall. As frustrating as that may be, it would be wasteful, risky and demoralizing to apply with lowered odds. Moreover, law schools discourage applicants from applying two years in a row.
Schools are often willing to accept updated LSAT scores after you submit your application, but be sure to confirm this policy with the admissions office. You may need to make a formal request.
How Many Times Have You Taken the LSAT Before?
Applicants may take the LSAT up to seven times overall, five times within the current and five past testing years, and three times in a single testing year from June to May. Note that the May, June, July and August 2020 LSAT-Flex tests do not count toward these limits, to accommodate the disruption caused by the pandemic.
Remember that law schools will see the score of every uncanceled test you take. It is not a good look to have several test scores with little variance. If you do not see improvement, focus on finding other ways to show your academic potential.
Where Did Your Score Fall in the Bell Curve?
The LSAT is graded on a bell curve, with few scores at the extreme ends. So if you score in the middle, around 145 to 155, then an extra five points would allow you to leapfrog over a large clump of competing applicants.
In contrast, both a 172 and a perfect 180 are scores in the 99th percentile, separated by a handful of questions. Retaking the test after performing in this elite range would mean risking a lower score. There is no need to be a perfectionist — put your energy into strengthening your candidacy in other ways.
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